Whilst living in America, Christopher Hitchens derived great pleasure by reminding the American conservatives, who had become his allies following his support for the war in Iraq, that if they really were the enemies of big government then they ought to be avid supporters of secularism.
He had spent the later years of his extraordinary life fighting religion and promoting humanist ideals, two very rare hobbies for a supporter of George W Bush. The day after Christopher Hitchens died in December of last year, David Cameron gave a speech in Oxford to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. In the speech he declared that "We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so... the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today". The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams was present at the speech, only a month after he had very publicly described the coalition governments welfare cuts, specifically the £500-a-week cap on benefits per-family as "profoundly unjust". This had come shortly after the prime minster had dismissed the Archbishop's calls for a 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial transactions.
Strangely, the views of Rowan Williams weren't mentioned by the Conservative Party co-chairwoman, Baroness Warsi, when in February she complained that religion was being "sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere". Instead she cited the lack of God's name in the texts of the European Union constitution as an "astonishing" example of what she describes as "militant secularism". The problem is that the Conservative government has consistently ignored the views of religious leaders who oppose the government's stringent austerity measures, probably because the morals of the Bible are roundly regarded as being much less important then economic growth.
Only last week the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brian described the prime minister as "immoral" and told him to do more then "just protect (his) very rich colleagues in the financial industry". He too urged David Cameron to reconsider a Robin Hood Tax and he too was brushed off by Downing Street. It is becoming increasingly clear that the advocacy of religious values in the public sphere by senor conservatives is little more than posturing. The virtues of faith-based politics is recommended to the public but not adopted by the politicians who are selling it to us. The British government has made its mind up and decided that economic growth is the priority, even if that means the voices of religion being sidelined, marginalised and downgraded. So why do they bother to emphasise the importance of the religious perspective in the first place if they have no intention of paying any attention to it themselves?
David Cameron, who had ended 2011 by espousing the importance of Christian values, soon found himself using a "financial privilege" to force though a £26,000 benefits cap on state benefits because it had been so roundly rejected by the bishops sitting the House of Lords, by the second month of 2012. Meaning he has now publicly acted to circumvent religious morality; presumably the morality the bishops were placed in the lords to represent.
Perhaps it is fair to say that Cameron doesn't really consider religious values unless he has been asked to give a speech defending their importance. Perhaps like almost every other issue, it's simply the lip service that matters. In a way it reminds me of Pascal's wager; the idea that one should stay safe by maintaining an otherwise irrational belief in god, just in case it turns out to be true. Because while almost nobody will vote to defend secularism, a few or even many might vote to defend Britain's supposed Christian identity. So why not maintain an otherwise irrational belief in a religious vote, just in case it really exists? As Christopher Hitchens wrote last year, in one of his last articles for Slate "religion in politics is more like an insurance policy than a true act of faith. Professing allegiance to it seldom does you any harm... and can do you some good. It's a question of prudence."
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