Prime Minister David Cameron’s hypocritical and provocative Christmas message has really ruffled my feathers. So much so that I’ve taken time out of my busy balancing act of family time and strenuous studying to tell you why.
Firstly I would just like to clarify that I believe all people should be free to practice whatever religion they want and that no religion is inherently good or evil: people do good and evil things and that is very different. I am an atheist and I would never tell anyone that their beliefs aren’t true: it would be incredibly arrogant for me to say that I definitively know that God doesn’t exist as such knowledge is impossible.
Cameron said that Christmas should be a time to reflect on Christian values and celebrate the UK’s “important religious roots”. Ok, so I understand that Christmas is clearly etymologically derived from Christ (Christ’s Mass), but the holiday has evolved far beyond that. For most, Father Christmas/Santa Clause is a much more prominent figure at Christmas than Christ. Santa Claus is not merely Christian. He is a conglomeration of cultures: English, Greek, Dutch; a merging of the Christian St. Nicholas and the Norse god Odin. Many of the Christmas traditions come from pre-Christian pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. If anything, Christmas is a celebration of different cultures coming together. Regardless, the holiday has been hijacked by companies wanting to make money. Is Christmas really about Christianity or is it about consumerism? Is it a Christian holiday or a Capitalist one? This may sound cynical but it’s true and we all know it. Do we care? Not really: Christmas is a magical time, even for a skeptical atheist like me. Gift-giving, festivities with family and friends, the season of goodwill and peace to all mankind.
These ‘Christian values’ Cameron talks of are, I assume, the usual universally accepted moral values of generosity, love, selflessness, kindness etc. But I see these as human values rather than specifically and exclusively Christian (and I will discuss why this specification is provocative later on in this post). Despite the distinction, these values he would like us to reflect on are undoubtedly along the lines of: care for the sick, feed the hungry and, presumably, don’t bomb anyone. Ever the hypocrite, with his slimy sleight of hand, Cameron isn’t practising the values he preaches.
‘Mr Cameron highlighted the plight of people spending Christmas in refugee camps having fled the civil war in Syria’. After extending the UK’s bombing of Iraq to Syria in an attempt to deal with the fallout of a civil (proxy) war it helped fuel by arming and training the freedom fighters, some of whom splintered off to create or join extremist groups, Cameron’s sincerity in sympathising with Syrian refugees can be called into question. It’s as if he thinks just by mentioning the issue he will be absolved of all blame. More bombing was Cameron’s solution to the refugee crisis, and it was his solution to Isis, despite the powerful arguments against further bombing without ground support to secure the bombed targets and an overall diplomatic solution. Bombing alone will be ineffective, there will be civilian casualties and it will cost us. Only Syria can solve Syria’s problems, and that means a government democratically elected by the Syrian people. Then again, our democratically elected government ( who won by majority with a mere 37% of the vote) decided to bomb another country without its citizens’ consent.
‘“Throughout the United Kingdom, some will spend the festive period ill, homeless or alone,” he said’, which is quite an unusual concern considering that as a result of his government’s welfare reform poverty has increased at an appalling rate from 2,814 people dependent on emergency food aid in 2005 to 346,992 in 2013. Furthermore, thousands of people with disabilities have died after being declared fit for work and losing their benefits.
‘“Jesus said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. It is a similar maxim that inspired our party: ‘From each according to their means, to each according to their needs’”, said Cameron. A similar maxim? Hmm *see above*. The conservative’s austerity measures have hit the poorest hardest. An analysis of UK incomes by the Social Market Foundation revealed that the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that the gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing and continues to do so. Despite this, top rates of tax have decreased and cuts to welfare have increased.
Finally, the whole message is very provocative. In a time of heightened religious tension, as the leader of the nation, for David Cameron to attempt to impose a Christianity upon the country is at best insensitive and at worst inflammatory. While a small group of extremist terrorists misuse Islam to justify atrocities (just as the Ku Klux Klan misused Christianity to justify theirs), the backlash towards British Muslims has been shameful, especially from the media. Some stupid people who can’t grasp the concept that an individual isn’t responsible for another individual’s actions, or the downright racists and xenophobes who refer to acts of terrorism to justify their own vile, ignorant hatred of others, have been targeting British Muslims as if they are guilty by association. Are all Christians guilty by association for the crimes of the KKK? Or all atheists for the crimes of Hitler? No they are not, and neither should Muslims be by an imagined association to Isis. These associations are as imaginary as the borders from country to country, the distinctions between nationalities, religions, races, sexual orientation etc. etc. etc. We are all human. For Cameron to call the UK to reflect on its Christian values is to alienate those of other religions, particularly Muslims, living in the UK who are already experiencing racism and hatred. It implies a distinction of us as the Christian West versus the Muslim Other of the East. It sanctions anti-Islamic behaviour. It is irresponsible for the PM to bring his religious beliefs to his governmental position. A secular state is the only rational and fair way to manage such a multi-cultural society. Part of the issue in Syria (similar to the conflict in Egypt) is a struggle for a non-secular state in a country of diverse religions and cultures; Isis want an Islamic State.
In a multicultural modern world in which most countries contain people of many faiths, nationalities and cultures, secular statehood is even more important than ever. The extremists who hide behind Islam as an ideological armour do not want this. They want war. They want it to be clear-cut black and white. Us vs Them. And it seems that many people in the West are playing into their hands. Bringing religion into politics will only exacerbate this. Even Jesus knew that church and State should be separate.