The UK is a Christian nation: damn those pesky High Courts and Humanists

December 28, 2015 • 12:30 pm

by Grania Spingies

Although most Americans correctly regard Europe as a fairly secular place with far lower levels of religiosity than the US; countries within Europe often find that there are still people in positions of power who find this immensely annoying and pine for the imaginary halcyon days of yore when European nations all bent the knee under the One True God.

It’s easy to do, so long as you forget such terms as The Dark AgesThe Wars of the Three Kingdoms (not a Middle Earth saga) and countless other wars and misery and ignorance that characterised the period.

The UK Secretary of State For Education Nicky Morgan has published new guidelines that states that contrary to a recent High Court ruling that atheism and humanism had been excluded unlawfully from the school curriculum; schools do not have to teach non-religious world views and should let students know Britain is “in the main Christian”. Interestingly, the inclusion of material on non-faith perspectives is an issue that had a very high public support level (over 90%) even amongst people of religion.


The Telegraph reports a spokesperson for the Secretary saying:

“Nicky has had enough of campaign groups using the Courts to try and force the teaching of atheism and humanism to kids against parent’s wishes.
“That’s why she’s taking a stand to protect the right of schools to prioritise the teaching of Christianity and other major religions.”

The whiff of imaginary persecution is strong in this one. Damn those humanists and their dastardly underhanded tactics of resorting to law courts to gain equality.

Religious schools have welcomed the guidelines (quelle surprise).

It is possible that eventually the Secretary will change her mind once she realises that everyone in the UK does not feel threatened by the inclusion of material on non-religious viewpoints. She used to be of the anti same-sex marriage persuasion, voting against it in 2013 but changed her mind a year later when it transpired that her constituents did not agree with her.   If she comes to understand that the public consensus is in favor of including material on Humanism and Atheism, she may come to see the light.

73 thoughts on “The UK is a Christian nation: damn those pesky High Courts and Humanists

  1. Perhaps Nicky Morgan thinks that preserving the right of schools to proselytize is essential to maintaining the whole “faith” school system that — quite legally — discriminates against kids from non-religious families while being funded by the taxpayer.

    And we’re still getting the same “Christian nation” talk from Cameron in his latest Christmas message (my own rant about that here).

    I do wonder if they’re right in their calculation that this stuff goes down well with the electorate.

    1. If we’re a Christian Nation, we’re clearly bungling the job. All this secularism and free speech and religious freedom is simply bizarre when apparently we’re all Christians first and foremost (or better be). The Head of the Church of England is basically a political figurehead, the official religion itself basically weak sauce, and the few Christian festivals that survive have long since been shorn of their religious significance. Christianity could vanish overnight, and it would barely change anything.

      Next, you’ll be telling me a Briton can be an atheist without punishment or ostracism. 😉

  2. This sentence seems to have some punctuation hiccups:

    “The UK Secretary of State For Education Nicky Morgan has published new ….”

    1. I am also puzzled about
      “… everyone in the UK does not feel threatened…”
      That would be easily understood, by a person from the country geographically ambiguously called ‘America’, to mean
      ‘… not everyone in the UK does feel threatened…’. And that’s presumably what was intended.
      But I thought other English speakers of the world (and since it’s logic, not just those) had abandoned the anachronistic ambiguous usage of Milton and Shakespeare’s time which would say that, despite the fact that
      ‘not tall’ means ‘shortish’,
      ‘All persons are not tall’ would not mean
      ‘All persons are shortish’
      It should mean that. (The “..ish” is to fend off the quibble about average height.)

      But maybe I’m just a cranky old fart!

      1. “abandoned the anachronistic ambiguous”

        I agree that the parsing of that sentence is ambiguous, but I didn’t stumble over it. One of the two interpretations is much more likely than the other.

        “But maybe I’m just a cranky old fart!”

        Not mutually exclusive. 😉

  3. It’s a shame the U.K. did not take at least one tip from the colonies on this problem. Then she would not have to worry so much about such things.

  4. Much amused to read this line in the Telegraph piece:

    “force the teaching of atheism and humanism to kids against parent’s wishes”

    So teaching about things that don’t exist is all right but teaching that they don’t exist isn’t.

    And in the new science curriculum, N rays. In geography, Atlantis. And people voted for her?

  5. Whats’ next? Teaching about Wiccans and Satanists? Actually, that would be a good thing. Even better would be to teach about none of the above in public schools.
    That reminds me, there was a mini-documentary on CNN recently about the Satanists in Detroit who opened a center and had that big statue of Satan brought in. All the while being chased around and protested against by hysterical Christians who were convinced that this group was who they imagined them to be. But in fact, the Satanists seemed a pretty reasonable, nice, and very pluralistic group of people. I liked them.

    1. Even better would be to teach about none of the above in public schools.

      I think it’s a fine thing to teach young people about the religious beliefs of their friends, neighbors, and other fellow citizens. It will ideally help them to empathize with people different from them and dispel a lot of crazy crank rumours they might have gotten from other sources. (True story: we had an evangelical protestant on our freshman hall who thought Catholics sacrificed chickens). However if you’re going to do it, you need to do it in an academic manner (not proselytizing any of them as true). And if you’re going to do it, then teaching kids about the beliefs of the non-Christian religious 8% of the population while you don’t teach them about the beliefs of the nonreligious 50% of the population makes no sense. Just on representation in the population alone, you pretty much can’t cover Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. without also covering atheism.

      1. “… we had an evangelical protestant on our freshman hall who thought Catholics sacrificed chickens.” But they do! Surely they do! Oh wait; it’s a sort-of-human god/man that they sacrifice. And then eat. Magic incantations, and a little bell. No feathers. No clucking. It’s so hard to keep these things straight.

        Surely we don’t want to wreck young lives by suggesting that there are people in the world who neither sacrifice and eat their gods, nor even commemorate the fact that it was once done.

        1. Don’t forget the incense, the pagan holidays, the priests’ fancy dresses, the saints, angels and devils, exorcism, and the elaborately decorated houses of god built on the backs of poor believers in which this all takes place.

        2. “… we had an evangelical protestant on our freshman hall who thought Catholics sacrificed chickens.”

          Typical anti-Papist calumny from the snake-handlers. 🙂

        3. Not only do they sacrifice sort-of-human god/men, and then eat them, they have to first age them up on a cross in the open air and then down in a tomb for two or three days.

          Would you like dry aged or wet aged god/man meat cracker with your red wine?

      2. Hmm, I do concede that you are right, on the whole. We cannot rely on parents, especially many of the fundamentalist parents, to teach their children to be open-minded and pluralistic. That duty probably should fall upon the greater society, via the public school system.
        OK, kids, today we are going to learn about Voodoo! Now, where is that doll? Timmy! Stop putting those pins into Jeremy!

        1. I know you were being somewhat sarcastic/cynical in order to make a point, but I’m actually okay with teaching kids about Santeria and other similar Caribbean faiths. Again, the point being to help young folk understand the people around them. Granted, this makes more sense if we’re talking about a school in Louisiana vs. Essex. But the point is, a survey course on religion should cover the religions of the population, no matter how strange.

          In terms of “what to spend time on given 12 weeks of classes” that would get a low priority, just because the per capita number of followers is low. But in principle, no I wouldn’t put it off the table even though most of us find voodoo to be laughable folk belief.

      3. It happened (sort of) in my high school back in the day in Montreal. Many religions were presented positively in sort of a wishy-washy weakly culturally relativistic way, but the choice of “none” was not presented.

    2. … the Satanists seemed a pretty reasonable …

      From my glancing familiarity with what they do, that seems to be because they approach the whole thing with tongue-in-cheek. I doubt there are many full-on, “Rosemary’s Baby”-style cultists among them.

  6. There are so many weak minded Tories hungry for a place in government over here. They’re a shabby lot generally, and The Torygraph is only too happy to promote them.

  7. The British Humanist Association has been to the forefront in pursuing this one. Following the high court judgement it looked like we’d won. Sadly it looks like the battle continues. Any Brits who feel inclined to send them a donation to continue the fight, I’m sure it would be gratefully received.

    1. I’ll look into joining the BHA, and of course I’m going to Jerry’s talk in London in February.

      In the meantime I’m busy writing to Nicky Morgan, for all the good it’ll do, and copying in my own MP. I’ve reached an age where I intend being as annoying as possible.

      1. Me too! And I would encourage all UK readers to do the same. This is a very secular country on the whole, and religion has little impact on public life. However we do have to regularly put up with stupid politicians trying to impose their backward religious views on us. If we don’t let them know this is not welcome they’ll keep doing it.

  8. Being as she seems insane she most likely will not come to her senses, insane people seldom do. (can pressure from constituents work twice, maybe, maybe not, I wouldn’t bet barn on it)

    1. Hopefully she’s one of those MPs who regularly change their minds along with public opinion. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given that she’s supposed to be representing the views of her constituents. Given that she’s also obviously out of touch with them, they need a new MP though.

  9. … pine for the imaginary halcyon days of yore when European nations all bent the knee under the One True God.

    Imaginary alright, since (as you allude, Grania) these halcyon days included religious wars measured by the decade, Torquemada, and Savonarola, merely to scratch the surface.

    Those who wish to foist religion on a demurring public often seem to be sitting atop their own personal roiling, boiling cauldron of resentments. Though I hesitate to project this onto the UK, inasmuch as I’ve rarely encountered a Brit who takes the C-of-E seriously, outside of Richard Dawkins’ occasional debate partners.

  10. Does having your head of state double-jobbing as the head of the established Christian church mean your country is de facto “a Christian nation”? Who knows when nobody’s ever bothered to write down the constitution of the land?

    1. Actually yes. The Church of England is an established church. It is legally a Christian country with an official religion. Three cheers for the first amendment.

      1. Yes and no. We have an established church. We are not *legally* a Christian country. Statutes do not prescribe how people should worship (as they once did) and case law has explicitly ruled against Christian privilege in legal matters.


        1. Re the latter point:

          But the conferment of any legal protection or preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply unprincipled. It imposes compulsory law, not to advance the general good on objective grounds, but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion.

          — Sir John Grant McKenzie Laws, The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Laws, McFarlane vs Relate Avon Limited (April 2010)


    1. I originally read that as “Keeping Sauternes in Saturnalia” and thought … are we on the appetizer or dessert course? I don’t remember even ordering our entrées.

  11. I want to wish the British Humanists the best of luck. There is no doubt they’ll win this case, eventually.

  12. “Damn those humanists and their dastardly underhanded tactics”

    Cool language; the phrase has a nice ring to it, especially the dastardly underhanded tactics. Not sure why I like it so much, though I’m trying to reverse-engineer it, as Steve Pinker suggests doing when coming across an example of good writing.

    Maybe it’s sarcasm delivered with refinement and also the meter. Though I’ve not studied poetic beat formally, my amateur attempt to see the meter is here:

    __ __ — __ __ __ — — — —

    The above is how I’d represent the beat, as I hear it in my mind. There is a repeated pattern of double stress followed by a quick triplet, and the phrase is ended with three staccato doubles, giving it punch.

    1. I’m no scansion expert, Charleen, but what may have caught your ear are the two dactyls (“humanists” and “dastardly”) followed by the three trochees (“under” “handed” “tactics”). The four one-syllable words also follow a trochee-like stressed-unstressed pattern, thereby emphasizing the two dactyls.

      But I could be all wet here.

        1. Part of the cultural detritus I’ve accumulated over the years, Charleen. I try to keep track of this stuff, but not to think about it too hard when writing.

          You do, and it’s like dissecting that frog in high-school biology class: You learn a lot in the process, but the patient ends up dead on delivery.

          1. Hahaha. Nice imagery. I’ll think of formaldehyde next time I struggle to write!

            Yes, osmosis and appropriation from reading and recognizing good writing is the way to go!

            Consciously straining to make a phrase or sentence sound fabulous can be paralyzing and time-consuming. It can be worth it, but it’s easier to have acquired the knack from previous exposure. That said, I do keep the American Heritage Dictionary’s page open at the top of my screen. I’ve visited it no less than nine times just today! And I keep track of usages that are extraordinarily cool.

            1. Yeah, I keep a dictionary page open, too. I use it to check unfamiliar words used by other commenters, or by Jerry in his posts.

              I also use it when I write something, look back over it and think, does that word really mean what I think it means? I try to catch it to check it before hitting the “post comment” button and embarrassing myself.

              Just as often, though, it’s the words I don’t think I need to look up (sometimes simple ones I use regularly and think I know) that slip through and do the embarrassing for me.

              1. “do the embarrassing for me”

                Ah, I like how you’ve taken embarrass and snapped it up by making it a noun and by making familiar words your miscreant minions.

                There is something about seeing that that does the learning for me 🙂

            2. BTW, I agree with you that “Damn those humanists and their dastardly underhanded tactics” is part of a nicely turned sentence. Grania does that regularly. There are a couple more of them in her post above.

              1. Yeah, “pine for the imaginary halcyon days of yore” is fairly fabulous.

                And from the same sentence: “when European nations all bent the knee under the One True God.” All bent the knee is new to me, though I just looked up the phrase and see it isn’t brand new to the world. Still, the single knee here works better than having said they all bent their knees, as the singular knee limelights the faux unity.

                I also like:
                “The whiff of imaginary persecution”

  13. Nicky has had enough of campaign groups using the Courts to try and force the teaching of atheism and humanism to kids against parent’s wishes.

    The Ateismophobia is strong in this one.

    Morgan is hoist on her own petard when she forces the teaching of religion on kids, perhaps against parent’s wishes. You would think bigotry would be problematic in a politician, or even the refusal to hanker to minorities equally.

    1. “You would think bigotry would be problematic in a politician, or even the refusal to hanker to minorities equally.”

      This might be true for European politicians; the current Republican politicians in America use it shamelessly and make headway in the polls with their bigotry. It’s gotten very ugly here; I’m saddened at how Obama’s Presidency really ratcheted up the hate of so many millions of American bigots. I hope it doesn’t get hopelessly out of control…perhaps it already has.

    2. As fa=r as I know parents have always been able to withdraw their children from ‘Religious Education’ in schools, and even from ‘prayers’ in morning assemblies.

      I have to say though that most parents and children are not that bothered by the whole RE thing. If you treat something as unimportant it doesn’t matter.

  14. When listening to those who insist that this is a nation built on “Christian values” it is worth remembering that this year is (still, just) the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – and the (Christian) pope issued a papal bull anulling Magna Carta.

    It is also worth remembering that Elizabeth II is the head of the church of England because Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church and broke from Rome so that he could divorce his wife – and went on to divorce or execute 3 more wives. Not really the best foundation for building a nation.

    1. A damn good foundation for building a nation, since Henry had quite legitimate reasons for revolving wives – he wanted a legitimate male heir, to forestall future civil wars over the royal succession, which is a highly laudable objective. And the Pope, manipulated by foreign interests, was getting in the way – so, yet another good reason for Henry’s actions.

      The music-hall idea that Henry was just a randy sod doesn’t really stand up, since he could have had as many mistresses on the side as he liked and nobody would have found it particularly odd.


  15. … even amongst people of religion.

    Are some of these people who recognize the cognitive dissonance they find themselves trapped in, for any of the usual reasons, and wish they’d had the opportunity at a younger age to know that there was a way out?

    Relatedly, since this is the UK and there are (I think) %-wise a lot more Muslims there than in the US, are there any anecdotal accounts from immigrants to the effect that it was a revelation to find that there were people living happily who don’t subscribe to any imaginary fables?

  16. “Damn those humanists and their dastardly underhanded tactics of resorting to law courts to gain equality.”

    Ironically, not only is Nicky Morgan the Secretary of State for Education, but she is also the Minister for Women and Equalities!


  17. Thanks for including the history links. I shouldn’t be surprised, perhaps, that we weren’t taught about the Wars of Three Kingdoms in school in the U.S. but it’s a little amazing that I had never even heard of the contemporaneous religious warfare in these very United States.

    See, e.g., Leisler’s Rebellion in New York (Leisler feared “an attempt to impose popery on the province”), and the lightheartedly named Plundering Time in Maryland. Hitch was right, it does poison everything.

    1. “Hitch was right, it does poison everything.”

      I was once brought to task for saying this very thing on a thread. My response was to ask for a single example of something that religion doesn’t poison. The reply was stamp collecting. I was forced to concede that, ok, religion poisons nearly everything.

      What I didn’t know at the time was that the Royal Mail issue festive stamps each year and alternate between religious stamps and secular stamps. Often when it is secular stamp year, certain Christian types pretend not to know about the alternating thing and make a fuss about Christ being expunged from Christmas. So yes, even stamp collecting.

      1. I’ve always understood the dictum to mean that it posions everything that it touches, or is involved in, not that it touches everything.

  18. Nice article Grania.
    I think the govt. should be more concerned about Islam! There are more mosqque attendees than Church goers!… and we all know how insistant they are about being listened to or… In theocratic countries, Islam is destroying Christian churches and Killing Christians, with a goal of world domination, trying to prove that they have the best invisible friend….

    1. “There are more mosqque attendees than Church goers!”

      You say that like more churchgoers would be a good thing. 😉

      “In theocratic countries, Islam is destroying Christian churches and Killing Christians”
      You have evidence of that?


  19. Nicky Morgan and religious leaders reacted furiously to a report a couple of weeks ago called Living With Difference, which basically said that the UK is no longer a christian nation and should adapt its institutions accordingly. There is a surprisingly good report in the Daily Telegraph, “good” because it nicely reflects the outrage:

    The BBC has a more dispassionate report:

    1. Interesting!

      « The Church of England said the report was a “sad waste” and had “fallen captive to liberal rationalism”. »

      Well, since it seems the country would rather embrace liberal rationalism than religion …


  20. Typical bloody Tory, pining for the Cap doffing ,forelock tugging, Royalty adoring good old days. Wouldn’t surprise me if she believed in the Divine Right of Kings , Roll on the day when we grow up as a Nation into a Secular Republic.

  21. Christians do love to have their nation endorse their suffering, I mean faith.

    It’s win win. Authorities become more powerful with religion and its easier to control sheep that humans. Government sponsored opium dens, just what the enlightenment was looking for.

  22. Michael Gove was a reviled education secretary, but Nicky Morgan is a ridiculous one, in terms of intellectual equipment simply not up to the job. If she weren’t in a position to do so much damage she’d be laughable.

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