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10:18am on Monday, 21st April, 2014:

1 in 55


I have a letter in The Telegraph today. OK, so I'm just one of 55 signatories to it (and am billed as Dr Richard Bartle rather than Professor Richard Bartle, unlike several other professors on the list); however, there I am.

The letter is from the British Humanist Association, complaining about the Prime Minister's characterisation of Britain as a "Christian country". Constitutionally it is, for the sub-class of Christianity that is Anglicanism; however, it's also anti-Christian, in that the one religion it explicitly takes against is Catholicism. According to the 2011 Census, about 60% of the population is Christian; this means 40% of the population isn't. (To save you looking, the next-most-popular religion is Islam on 5% ; 25% of the population has no religion).

Of course, within religious beliefs there are different degrees. Some believers will visit a place of worship at every opportunity and pray on a daily basis; others will do neither. Therefore, it's always a risk when a politician talks about their own faith as even among fellow believers some are going to think they're too religious or not religious enough. People generally respect others' right to believe in whatever they want to believe in, but when a politician talks religion their position always ends up looking like an error of judgement.

I don't know whether or not the Prime Minister was trying to firm up his own vote by using Easter as an opportunity to appeal to Christians while they were perhaps feeling more religious than usual. I don't really care why he did it. I do care that if he's the leader of a country in which 40% of the population (and growing) is non-Christian, he's misrepresenting it to call it Christian. If he'd said "largely Christian" he would have been on safer ground, but he didn't.

I did actually make a difference to the final text of the letter to The Telegraph. The final paragraph originally started "To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society."; it now starts "Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society.".

Well, we wouldn't want to foster alienation and division by splitting an infinitive, would we?

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).