Attorney General Turns Into a Preacher

June 17, 2009

In a week that Britain elected two fascists to represent it in the European Parliament there's plenty to be depressed about. We can do little to relieve the despondency by reporting that the new Attorney General Baroness Patricia Scotland, has come out as yet another Governmental religious zealot who thinks "faith" has all the answers.

Speaking at the Churches' Media Conference (abridged version of the speech here), Baroness Scotland trots out all the Blairite canards about "faith" having all the answers to the world's problems, rather than being the cause of them. She has fallen for the idea that constantly categorizing people by their religion will somehow help them to understand each other. The reverse is true. Forcing people to identify themselves first and foremost as a member of a particular religion is a sure way to put a wedge between them.

This style of "inter-faith" thinking leads to the Government policy of religious promotion – more faith schools, more religious education, more money poured into the pockets of "faith leaders" and "faith groups" and the promulgation of the idea that social work is only done by people who are motivated by "faith".

There is also the blinkered approach towards the fanatics that infest all religious traditions. Baroness Scotland writes: "Every religion has extremists. Even if it's not hate speech and hate actions there's the idea that if you don't share my exact beliefs you must be cast out as an inferior human being. I have always thought that idea diminishes God. It seems to turn him into the God of a group not the God of all – as if his action can be limited to just one group."

That's the problem in a nutshell, but she smoothly sidesteps providing any answer to this intractable problem.

She avoids the question of who is an "extremist", who has the "real" interpretation of the religion, how you overcome the never addressed issue of the fact that all religions fundamentally contradict each other (Jesus is divine according to the Christians, but Islam finds that idea blasphemous – how do you have inter-faith dialogue when the religions think each other's very foundations stink?)

Patricia Scotland's approach is typical of the naïve, rose-colored view that apologists for "faith" often display. She imagines that people would not — indeed could not — behave in philanthropic ways if they did not have the "impetus of religion". This is nonsense.

Plenty of non-believers are impelled to do good works and behave well towards their fellow human beings. I contend that all the good works that Christians do, they would still do if they were not Christians. Empathy for the suffering of our fellows is not a religious impulse, it is a human one.

This did not stop a gaggle of MPs in Wales this week lavishly praising the "people of faith" for their apparently unique and highly superior efforts in "working for the community." The gaggle was led by the usual suspect – Stephen Timms, MP, the man who is using his political position to drive us all into the arms of Jesus.  Read about it here.

Baroness Scotland is also a member of a Government that is already overburdened with people who share her view. The result? More emphasis on what separates us than what unites us. Policies that burden people with religious identities that they might not even want ("The Muslim World" anyone?).

Because religion is important to Baroness Scotland, and Gordon Brown and Stephen Timms, it is simply assumed that it is important to everyone. Well, all the research shows that it isn't. If it were, how come the Christian Party secured only 1.6 percent of the vote at the recent European election?

If we want a cohesive society we must — we really must — take the emphasis off religion. And Lady Scotland and Stephen Timms should take their "faith" back to church, where it belongs, and keep it out of our legislature.

Terry Sanderson is the vice president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on June 12, 2009. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.


Editor's Note: The spelling and punctuation in this article have been edited to conform to American standards.