Thank God for Nick Clegg
This is slightly awkward for Mr Clegg, who is personally and politically opposed to faith schools. Urged on by their own (former-)resident atheist Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats have voiced strong opposition to schools that select by faith because they are ‘discriminatory’ (you can’t get much past a LibDem). In their 2010 manifesto, their policy was to force faith schools to develop an ‘inclusive admissions policy’ (ie, to negate their religious ethos). They wrote:
Parents who wish may bring their children up in their own religious tradition, but this is their responsibility at home, in cooperation if they wish with their church, mosque or temple. The schools provided by everyone's taxes should respect the autonomy of their pupils, providing them with information and education, not with disputed religious doctrine.This ideology is indeed challenged by the Clegg praxis. We saw it with Labour’s Diane Abbott and also with Ruth Kelly: both preached state-comprehensive for the masses but chose to educate their own children privately. Such hypocrisies irk, to say the least. It is a little like David Cameron exalting the virtues of the NHS while paying a family subscription to BUPA. How these things are viewed by the media and interpreted by voters is far more important than nuanced argument on points of personal or political philosophy.
Mr Clegg justifies his decision, saying: “I’ve never made my kids an issue in politics. My kids are more precious to me than anything else in the world and the fact (is) that my wife is Catholic, I married in the Catholic Church and my children have been brought up by Catholics and go to a Catholic state primary school. It therefore shouldn’t be entirely surprising that maybe, maybe just maybe, my wife might consider, we might consider as parents sending our children on to a state-funded Catholic secondary school.”
And the cries go up of ‘hypocrite’, ‘two-faced’, ‘one rule for them’, etc., etc.
But they miss the point spectacularly.
Nick Clegg consistently shows himself to be an enlightened, tolerant, liberal sort of atheist – exactly the sort with whom those of faith can do business. Admirably, he is more concerned with honouring his wedding vows and the precepts of his wife’s faith than with perpetuating his own particular narrow worldview. He is an ecumenical atheist, a catholic sort of atheist. His more extremist co-anti-religionists at the National Secular Society or the British Humanist Association would doubtless tell him that if his ‘kids’ were really ‘more precious to him than anything else in the world’, he wouldn’t allow them to be inculcated with superstitious claptrap or inducted into a brainwashing belief system which, as Dr Richard Dawkins would say, is manifestly evil.
Such extremist atheists will doubtless tell us that Nick Clegg’s decision to educate his children in the Roman Catholic faith is bigotry (at best) and child abuse (at worst). But they seem to have a habit of fighting what they perceive as bigotry with an even greater bigotry, and so the bigotry is really theirs.
To the hard atheist, a bigot is anyone who happens to disagree with their point of view on the role of religion in society. Yet believers who defend a Christian moral perspective in the face of overwhelming social pressure are only following their conviction, which is deeply rooted in Scripture and Church tradition. Nick Clegg’s atheism embraces the role of religion in society, and this is manifestly anti-bigotry.
The word ‘bigot’ has an accepted meaning which few now grasp: it is the obstinate and blind, often nasty and hypocritical, attachment to a particular creed. No doubt some people who profess religious adherence are indeed like this — venting hatred towards foreigners, homosexuals or those of other faiths. But many are decent, conscientious and thoughtful, as is Nick Clegg.
So, before you condemn him as a hypocrite, pray for him. Before you pour scorn upon his inconsistency, thank God for him. For broad-minded atheists such as this are willing for their own children to be educated with a knowledge of Christ. And who knows what miracles of salvation may result or political policy may be wrought as a consequence?