Atheist census campaign: 'If you're not religious, for God's sake say so!'
The British Humanist Association (BHA) are evangelising again. They preach their gospel, propagate their creed and disseminate their dogma just like any other religion.
And yet they insist they have no religion.
And so today they launch a campaign calling on people who are not religious to say so (‘for God’s sake’) during next year’s census.
His Grace has already reported on changes to the ‘religion’ question from 2001.
The BHA are concerned to distinguish between the practising/believing Christian and the cultural Christian, encouraging the latter to tick the ‘No Religion’ box.
The reason for this, they say, is that data from the 2001 census is constantly used by journalists and politicians to promote policy and defend the status quo, viz. the Established Church, bishops in the House of Lords, prayers before Parliament and a Head of State who also happens to be Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
All of this persists, according to the BHA, because 72 per cent ticked the ‘Christian’ box a decade ago, which ‘over-inflates’ the significance of the faith.
His Grace must have missed something.
We have just been through a decade of some of the most illiberal, anti-Christian legislation in centuries. Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship were subsumed to an aggressive secularism under the guise of ‘equality’. There were numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are quite unacceptable in a civilised, liberal democracy.
The Christian foundations of the nation have been gravely undermined by Labour: under the premierships of two ostensibly professing Christians, we have seen Christianity relegated to the peripheries of public life.
We witnessed nurses, teachers, foster parents, registrars, hotel owners, B&B proprietors, bishops, street preachers, and adoption agencies all suffer immense detriment as a result of Labour’s profoundly anti-Christian agenda.
Bishops of both the Church of England and the Church of Rome have expressed their concern at the hostile culture which seemingly has no tolerance of Christian orthodoxy.
And yet the BHA believe that the results of the 2001 census privileged Christians by influencing the policies of the last Labour government, as though (for example) the decision to abolish the blasphemy laws or enact the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act were developed by ministers cognisant of and sensitive to the consciences of the professing Christian majority.
Is the BHA deluded, or is this their faith position?
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that many people tended to treat the 2001 census question on religion as a question of ethnicity - and there are indeed valid concerns to be expressed - the BHA appear to be dismissive of those many millions for whom the Christian culture of the nation is something with which they clearly wish to be identified: the ‘cultural Christian’ is not necessarily irreligious; he or she may be content to believe without belonging.
That is not the same as atheism, agnosticism or scepticism.
The BHA trumpet that a British Social Attitudes Survey conducted earlier this year found that 59 per cent did not describe themselves as religious when asked how they would describe their level of religiosity. It suggested that 62 per cent of people in the UK never attend a religious service and only eight per cent attend a weekly church service.
His Grace would like the BHA to consider that very many Christians would not wish to be identified as being ‘religious’, not least because of the negative social connotations and assumed corollaries of the term. It is possible for the Christian to profess a faith and belief in Jesus without being remotely concerned with the classification ‘religious’.
But His Grace would also like the BHA to consider the observation of Edmund Burke: “Man is by his constitution a religious animal; atheism is against not only our reason, but our instincts.”
The study of philosophy is a religious pursuit; the desire for spiritual satisfaction is a religious pursuit; the yearning for freedom and time is a religious pursuit; the search for ultimate truth and meaning is a religious pursuit; the desire to be loved is a religious pursuit; the quest for self-discovery is a religious pursuit; waiting for Godot is a religious pursuit; the exaltation of sex is a religious pursuit; supporting Manchester United is a religious pursuit; desiring fame and fortune is a religious pursuit; to be patriotic or nationalistic is a religious pursuit; dealing with the inevitability of death is a religious pursuit; and the accommodation of mystery, paradox and infinity is a religious acceptance, a resting ‘in faith’, of the unknown.
Hope is what makes life bearable: it dispels despair, wipes away bitter tears and stays the hand of suicide. To live is to hope, and to hope is to have faith; to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Far from ‘religion’ being in decline, the institutional monolith of a bygone era has simply fractured and fragmented into a plethora of micro-spiritualities, each propounding a distinctly religious way of life, all now competing in the market place for preeminence. If 72 per cent are no longer practising Christians, it is a fair bet that 95 per cent are ‘religious’, whether they eat bread, drink wine, consult horoscopes, wish with the new moon, stand in stone circles, hug trees…
…or dedicate their lives to the propagation of atheistic humanism.
If the BHA are concerned that the 2001 census produced inaccurate and misleading data on religion (in that it grossly undercounted the number of non-religious people and greatly inflated the number of Christians), they must equally be concerned that the 2011 census accurately measure the amount of ‘religion’ and ‘non-religion’ in the country.
Insofar as the BHA are keen to identify themselves patriotically as British, philosophically as humanist and by disposition associative, they are all actively involved in the affiliative pursuit of the ‘religious’.
By ticking the ‘No Religion’ box, the BHA simply perpetuate data inaccuracy.