For a moment last week, I felt like I was back in the United States.
When the prime minister proclaimed last week that "we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible," he reminded me so starkly of the arrogant populism and gleeful deceit with which American politicians routinely discuss religion. I thought that such pathetic attempts to score points with religious voters were more suited to the likes of Rick Perry than to David Cameron, but I was wrong.
So let me answer this argument directly: Cameron, and those in America who agree with him, are flat-out wrong.
The values which define modern Britain and modern America are not Biblical values. They are profoundly secular. Foremost among these values must be democracy, the bedrock of Western civilisation. Democracy is conspicuously absent from the Bible. There is nothing democratic about the idea that God dictated a set of rules to us that we must obey without question, without consent, and without the possibility of change. And it must therefore come as no surprise that the Bible has consistently been the enemy of accountable citizen-government, from the infallible Papacy to the divine right of kings. Rather, democracy is the product of the rationalist, secular Enlightenment that questioned authority and rejected blind faith.
What about tolerance? Is this not a fundamental British and American value? It is surely not a Biblical value: not of a book that orders the execution of those who choose to leave the religion. Or those who have sex outside of marriage. Or those who pursue relations with a member of the same sex. And what about free expression? Surely not the value of a Bible that instructs its followers on what not to wear, what not to eat, what not to say, and what not to even think. Again, these are secular values, the products of our modern rational morality, and unquestionably count as defining ideals of Western society.
The values which Cameron actually referred to in his speech- "responsibility, hard work, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, price in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another"- do not originate in the Bible. While they may appear in its pages, these are not Biblical values. They are universal human values that stem from our innate sense of morality and our capacity to reason. They pre-date the Old and New Testaments (and the Book of Mormon too), and they find a welcoming home among non-Christians and non-believers just as often.
But the most important point of all is this: why does Cameron brag about values like "compassion" and "honouring the social obligations we have to one another" when his government has consistently undermined these ideals? How has this government demonstrated "compassion" by saddling young people with £27,000 worth of debt from tuition loans or by cutting public sector pensions? This is particularly interesting because the same phenomenon exists in the Presidential race in America: the Republicans candidates claim in one breath to be compassionate Christians, but then in the next breath they promise to repeal Obama's (very modest) extension of health insurance, to cut job seekers' benefits, and to end foreign aid donations.
So shame on David Cameron for hypocritically using religious talk to buy public support for his flaying of the welfare state. Shame on him for misrepresenting both what the Bible actually says and what truly makes Western civilisation special. Shame on him for encouraging racism and xenophobia against those who don't fit into the 'Christian Nation' mould. And shame on him for stooping to the level of the Republicans in America that I am sadly accustomed to.