Simon Kelner: Blaming society’s ills on Godlessness is senseless

I wonder what Christopher Hitchens, who died some 24 hours earlier, would have made of David Cameron’s speech, in which he implored Britain to follow the values espoused in the Bible. In fact, there’s no need to wonder. He’d have employed his most excoriating polemic.
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Hitchens, as we know, was a militant atheist and, of the Bible, he said that it contains “a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery... and for indiscriminate massacre”.

Mr Cameron, on this occasion, veered away from the Tony Blair playbook – “we don’t do God,” Blair was told by Alastair Campbell – by making a series of faith-based pronouncements and attacking last summer’s rioters, greedy bankers, corrupt politicians and Muslim extremists from a moral standpoint.

To some, this was seen as an attack on PC and a perceived moral turpitude of the left. Promote Britain’s Christian heritage, was the message from the PM. He may have added: “We haven’t got any time for the schools who won’t put on nativity plays, or councils who won’t call a spruce a Christmas tree, or those who insist it’s an infringement of their human rights to have the Christmas message rammed down their throats.”

He is right, of course, that Britain is still a Christian country. It is the predominant religion and informs the values of tolerance, fairness and respect which help make Britain such a very great country to live in. But these are universal values, not ones on which Christianity has an exclusive call. I am a secular Jew and I couldn’t find anything wrong with what Mr Cameron was suggesting. Bankers shouldn’t have their noses in the trough – any more than MPs or journalists should – and I would also like to live in a society where people didn’t smash up city centres or want to blow us up for being infidels.

But I question whether religion is the right implement with which to tackle society’s ills. All right, bankers may be a Godless bunch. Yet is it really an absence of faith that has led them to gather unprecedented riches at such a huge and terrible cost to others? If Mr Cameron wants the City of London to show humility and restraint, he’d be advised not to give it primacy over other considerations when discussing the nation’s future in Europe.

Likewise, it’s somewhat simplistic to suggest that a failure to “stand up and defend” Christian values helped spark this year’s inner city riots. Lack of opportunity, social deprivation and a nihilism bred from those aforementioned inequalities could possibly have had more to do with it. Mr Cameron, however, spoke for most of us when he said he is “constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues”.

Christopher Hitchens would have had no such uncertainty. “The main source of hatred in the world is religion and organised religion,” he said.