The militant atheists are at it again

The Parish Church of Benátky nad Jizerou reflecting Czech cultural heritage © Ricky Yates

The Parish Church of Benátky nad Jizerou reflecting Czech cultural heritage © Ricky Yates

I awoke this Easter Monday morning, after a tiring but exhilarating Easter Day, planning to write a blog post all about our worship yesterday in Prague and Brno. I still plan to write that post, but in the meantime, I hope my readers will excuse this little rant in response to a prominent news item that was on the home page of the BBC News website this morning.

During Holy Week, the ‘Church Times’ published an interview with the British Prime Minister David Cameron, in which, amongst other things, he said that Britons should be “more confident about our status as a Christian country”. He then rightly added that saying this did not mean “doing down” other religions or “passing judgement” on those with no faith. The interview was widely reported, such as here on the BBC News website. Whilst I’m not normally in the habit of defending conservative politicians 🙂 , I have to say that on this point, I totally agree with David Cameron. I also believe that in his position as Prime Minister, he has every right to say what he said in that interview.

Today, one of the leading headlines that greeted me on my early morning visit to the BBC News website read, ‘David Cameron risks ‘alienation’, public figures claim’. According to a letter written to the ‘Daily Telegraph’ by over fifty ‘public figures’, David Cameron referring to the United Kingdom as a Christian country, ‘fosters alienation and division in our society’.

Firstly, I do wonder what makes someone a ‘public figure’. I think I have a fairly good knowledge of British life and culture yet I struggled to identify even ten of the signatories that I knew. And even if you are a ‘public figure’, what makes your opinion any more important or relevant than that of anyone else?

However, what did immediately get my attention and made me realise where the letter was coming from, was that the lead signatory was Professor Jim Al-Khalil, president of the British Humanist Association (BHA). Here I hope that long-standing readers of my blog, will forgive me for returning to a topic I previously wrote about two-and-a-half years ago.

According to the website of the BHA, they have ‘over 28,000 members and supporters’. Their website has said this for at least the past three years. Clearly their level of support hasn’t increased in that time, otherwise I’m sure they would have broadcast the fact. Notably, they do not differentiate between ‘members’ – those who have put their hands in their wallets and paid a fee – and ‘supporters’. What makes someone a ‘supporter’? A person who sent a friendly email over five years ago? Or someone who clicked ‘like’ on Facebook?

Back in August 2013, I wrote to the BHA, asking for a breakdown between paid-up members and ‘supporters’ and asking for their definition of a ‘supporter’. Whilst I got an out-of-working-hours acknowledgement of my email, I never got an answer to my questions. There is a clear reason why I got no reply. To reveal their actual membership numbers, showing that they are ridiculously small, would be embarrassing and would damage the credibility of the BHA, as it should. In my opinion, their lack of transparency borders on dishonesty.

The timing of the intervention of the BHA could not have been more apposite. On a normal Sunday, over three million people attend Church services in the UK – somewhere between five and six percent of the population. Yesterday being Easter Day, that number would have at least doubled if not tripled. Once the BHA has that level of support, then it has a right to be heard. Until it does, it remains an irrelevance and in no way justifies the column inches and air time, news organisations unfortunately give it.

The UK has a Christian heritage and culture and there is absolutely nothing wrong in saying so. Whilst I would like the numbers who actively attend Christian worship to be larger than they are, they are infinitely greater than the supporters of humanism and militant atheism. I rest my case!

16 comments to The militant atheists are at it again

  • Fergus

    Well said Ricky- the Humanists are a very small grouping, even if they are rather vocal. It’s worth remembering how strong the nonconformist movement was in the nineteenth century (and often expressing similar views about secularisation and the position of the C of E, although for different reasons), by the twentieth century their influence had totally declined. The same will happen to the embittered atheist voices we hear today.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Fergus! You make a very interesting point regarding nonconformity in the nineteenth century. I do hope that ‘the embittered atheist voices we hear today’, will decline. Unfortunately, in the name of ‘balanced reporting’, the BBC in particular, as well as other news organisations, always turns to the British Humanist Association or the National Secular Society for a sound bite, whenever a leader of the Christian Church says anything, regardless of the minuscule level of support that they enjoy.

  • Helva (Julia)

    Hear, hear, Ricky! Don’t they just display such excessive arrogance, and are far more bigoted than the Christians they denigrate? Rant on – I’m considering a similar reply via the Telegraph (& I’m sure I’m not the only one). Maybe you ought to send a copy of your blog to them, too.
    Looking forward to your next blog.

    • Ricky

      Hello Helva – welcome to the blog & thank you for commenting here for the first time. Arrogance & bigotry indeed! And many thanks for the encouragement to rant on 🙂

      Please do reply to the Daily Telegraph. If enough like-minded people do so, their editorial staff will think twice before giving the BHA any more unwarranted publicity. I’ve already sent the BHA a link to my blog post & requested an answer to my enquiry of August 2013. I’ll be very surprised if I get one. I’ll also do as you suggest & send a link to this post to the Daily Telegraph.

  • I think it is very difficult to get a set of meaningful statistics when it comes to religious beliefs. Polls and censuses try to capture it, but not everyone identifies with the headings next to the tick boxes. What makes someone a Christian? They were born into a Christian family? They were baptised as a baby? They go to church regularly? They follow a Christian moral code but never go to church? When we ask the question about atheism and humanism it gets even more complicated. I identify as being an atheist and when I read the BHA website a while back I felt all of their thinking rang true with me, but I don’t feel the need to join the BHA. Organised religion brings people together in worship, whereas to my mind, it would be meaningless to meet up once a week to talk about how you don’t believe in a god and have events based on a non-belief. Perhaps for lobbying being part of a group such as the BHA could be useful, but that’s about it. So, I don’t think their membership and supporter numbers give a clear picture on the number of atheists/humanists in the UK.

    I found this census info online, giving percentages which gives an indication of the rise in atheism (below). But I fancy it is just more people coming out and stating they are atheists instead of ticking C of E because their parents are or they were christened as babies.

    Many people live their lives without organised religion, but don’t feel the need to shout about it. Others become militant. I don’t think it is fair to say Ricky that the BHA should not be heard as it’s number of members/supporters may be less than the number of active Christians. Everyone in society has a right to be heard, whether we like what they are saying or not.

    I do agree that Britain has a Christian heritage and the head of state is also the head of the Church of England, but does that mean it will and should stay that way? I know our views here will differ! 🙂

    With regards to column inches and airtime given to the BHA, I feel free thinkers/atheists/humanists are massively under represented in the British media. I don’t think this will improve though while they continue to turn to unlikable characters such as Richard Dawkins for atheist viewpoints.

    I do hope that “the embittered atheist voices we hear today” do disappear, but not, I think for the same reason as you, Ricky and Fergus. I hope we can live our lives peaceably, without the need to justify our beliefs or indeed non-beliefs and without any one group impinging on the rights and lifestyles of others.

    On a different note entirely, I am glad that you had a great day of Easter worship. I hope it brought joy to you and your congregation. I also had a lovely Easter weekend, but in the more original pagan sense of celebrating spring and new life and enjoying making Easter floral arrangements. I did eat a few hot cross buns though, as I happen to like them 😉

    • Ricky

      Hello Lynsey – Thank for this long and articulate comment. I do agree with your first couple of paragraphs about the difficulty of measuring the level of religious belief. It does very much depend on what questions are asked & how they are phrased.

      However, I did not say that ‘the BHA should not be heard’, but they shouldn’t be heard from all the time. What I would like is a bit of proportionality. I agree that not every humanist chooses to join the BHA. But I could equally argue that their are millions of British people who don’t attend Christian worship or contribute towards the running costs of the Church, but who very much want the Church to exist and in principle support what Christianity stands for.

      Certainly, for a group of fifty-odd self-important individuals, orchestrated by the BHA, to declare that what David Cameron said in his interview, ‘fosters alienation and division in our society’, is utterly absurd. As Helva has already said, such people ‘are far more bigoted than the Christians they denigrate’.

      I do agree with you that Richard Dawkins is not a good advert for the atheist cause. He is an unlikeable character as you say. Rather, I’m very much with you when you say that ‘I hope we can live our lives peaceably, without the need to justify our beliefs or indeed non-beliefs and without any one group impinging on the rights and lifestyles of others’.

      I’m glad to hear you had a lovely Easter weekend. I’ve enjoyed seeing your floral creations on your blog and wish you every success in your new career. And enjoy the hot-cross-buns 🙂

  • Myra Blackmon

    As we say in the American South, “preach it, Brother!” Such groups are called front groups. They are funded by some external source, their membership is impossible to verify and they claim to be “grass roots” when nothing is farther from the truth. I’m working on an article about these kids of folks in the education”reform” movement which is being funded by a few big business interests, but try to look like thousands of people supporting their cause. Don’t let up!

    Miss you still!

    • Ricky

      Thank you Myra – I will! 🙂

      It is the lack of transparency regarding membership numbers in particular, that I take issue with. What have the BHA got to hide? They try to pretend that they represent the views of a large proportion of British society when their actual supporters are minuscule in number. Don’t worry – I won’t let up!

      PS We still miss you & Tom 🙁

  • Dear Rev. Yates,

    I completely sympathize with your rant! I don’t agree with Dave Cameron about everything myself, but he was making perfect sense this time and everyone seems to have jumped all over him. Britain is steeped in centuries of Christian culture — there’s really no way of getting around it. However, there are those who try. Do you remember two years back when that lady who worked for British Airways was fired for a wearing a cross around her neck at work? I think that was just another manifestation of the general mood of suspicion against Christians.

    I remember also Cameron getting beat-up-on for something he said recently, encouraging English people to encourage their Scottish friends and relations to vote for the UK in September. I didn’t think that was so unreasonable, but he got accused of “brow-beating.” Maybe it’s just the way he says things, or maybe being a “public figure” just doesn’t do him any favors!

    Anyway, I hope you and your family (human and feline) have a blessed Easter Season!

    God bless,

    • Ricky

      Hello Pearl – Like you, I’m not a fan of all that David Cameron says or does, but with regard to what he said in his interview with the ‘Church Times’, I both agree with what he had to say & strongly defend his right to say it. The letter to the ‘Daily Telegraph’, signed by fifty-odd individuals, rather full of their own self-importance, is just another example of a very small but vocal group of secularists trying to dominate the news agenda.

      We’ve had a wonderful Easter. I will eventually write about that too 🙂

  • Mike in Bohemia

    Hi Ricky,
    I think the media contact the BHA to create a story and some conflict. News has to have drama in it these days, facts are not enough it seems. Easy journalism in one phone call. Many in the BBC promote their secular agenda too.
    And the “public figures” against Cameron’s views are just attention junkies who just want to stay in the limelight, I feel.
    Remember all their activity (BBC and the humanists, Dawkins etc) when the Pope was coming to the UK ? They didn’t expect all those crowds turning up at all.
    Most people in the UK have some kind of belief in God and this winds up the BHA etc.
    The media are often out of sync with the public on many things, but give the impression of being in the know.
    You have my support. Best wishes, Mike

    • Ricky

      Hi Mike – You’ve hit so many nails on the head in your comments here. Thank you!

      The media want opposing views in a news story to supposedly make it interesting. The BHA, together with their even smaller twin, the National Secular Society (NSS), have become very adept at providing the easy sound-bite that the lazy journalist wants.

      In replying to earlier comments, I’ve already said these so-called ‘public figures’ are rather full of their own self-importance. ‘Attention junkies’ is an equally apt description 🙂

      I do think you are right in saying that with regard to religious belief, much of the media is out of sync with the public they are meant to serve. I’m grateful for your support & for being a regular commenter here.

  • When I looked down the list of signatories to that letter to the Telegraph, I saw the names of almost all the usual suspects, Ricky. Theirs is an almost automatic push-button response to any sign that Christianity is getting favourable mention from those in the public eye and to be honest I usually sigh with resignation and move on. I really don’t think most people (even the small minority who read the Telegraph in the first place) take a blind bit of notice of anything they say and that of course is what annoys them. 🙂

    Far more importantly at this season: Christ is risen! Alleluia!

    • Ricky

      You obviously know more of the names of the self-important British humanists and atheists than I do Perpetua 🙂 You are right in saying that most people just quietly ignore what they say & that is very much what annoys them. But I do get frustrated with the number of times the BBC gives the BHA & its twin, the NSS, the opportunity to air their views, when their membership numbers are minuscule but they don’t have the honesty to admit that they are.

      Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

      • For my sins I get to see/hear them more than you do nowadays, Ricky. 🙂 To be fair to the BBC, it is expected to be impartial and even-handed, which means giving the atheist point of view a reasonable hearing. Whatever the Beeb does, it gets hauled over the coals for bias by one side or the other.

        • Ricky

          Perpetua – it is via the BBC that I read what these self-important characters are saying as the BBC News website is my main English-language news source. You are right to say that the BBC is ‘expected to be impartial and even-handed’ & that there are always those who want to criticise it for bias, regardless of what it does. However, I do agree with the earlier comment by Mike, that there are those within the BBC pushing a secular agenda. Mike is also right when he calls it ‘easy journalism’. Ring up the BHA to get the necessary sound-bite which they have become very adept at providing.