Secular Conservatism


This is a term I’ve coined to try and place a stake in the ground within Conservative party ranks. When people think Conservative several images are conjured in the mind… some none too flattering! Preservation of a national identity, keeping our Union together, opposition to outside forces and influences on domestic policy, maintenance of tradition. Over the years there has also been a strong undercurrent of religion too. Tony Blair famously didn’t do God when it came to politics. No such squeamishness exists on the Conservative benches in Parliament.

Thankfully this being the UK we are still a long way from the neo-con obsession with pushing religious ideals within most main stream policies. Weirdly this understatedness seems to have led to a complacency within the Press and the popular psyche. Even though we regularly hear criticism of the Church of England we in the UK seem to refrain from criticising religious influence within policy when it does arise. Whether this is because many people wish to maintain the status quo of the British Establishment, of which the Church of England is undoubtedly a part, or they just don’t care is up for debate. Undoubtedly though political parties of all stripes do seem vulnerable to being influenced by religious groups and their concerns. Perhaps this is because they just shout loudest?

I would describe myself as a Secular liberal Conservative, and Atheist. I believe in an open liberal (note the lowercase) democratic society. After years of too-ing and fro-ing I see my own outlook as being broadly in line with that of the Conservative Party too. Smaller Government, local solutions, lower taxes where possible, strong defence and a strong economy with free and fair trade at its heart. I also believe in a separation of Church and State, and preventing religious indoctination, and not giving any one religion’s adherents any special favours or privilige over another ones, so I am a Secularist. I also happen to be an Atheist too.

I say ‘also happen to be’ because there seems to be a common misconception that to be a Secularist you are also an Atheist, and believe everyone else should be an Atheist, and all religion should be removed from the world. I couldn’t disagree more with this characterisation. When I was a school council rep aged 15 I campaigned to prevent our school from foisting religious services at morning assemblies on to its students. This was successful with several months passing before one RE teacher – who just happened to be an ordained vicar – left prayer books out on chairs for our arrival and started a religious assembly. The teachers who brought everyone to assembly and would normally site on their forms’ rows were all at the back, as far away from the service as possible. The students didn’t know they didn’t have to be there. I stood up and walked out mid assembly, causing a smirk from the RE teacher who considered herself somehow victorious, and visible concern from the teachers who thought I was about to blow a gasket.

Prior to this though as I say we in the school council succeeded in getting the headteacher from holding off on religious assemblies. You cannot accomplish something like this on your own. Thankfully one of my friends happened to agree with my position that no one should be forced or coerced in to taking part in religious assemblies. He agreed with this secular principle – we each have the right to choose our religion, and to choose to take part in collective worship or not. It just so happened he was not an Atheist. He was a member of the New Life Church. We talked this through together and through debate at a school council meeting, with the headteacher taking part, we managed to convince an overwhelming majority of the school council reps to vote for a ban on enforced religious assemblies. It was a clear victory and opened my eyes to others’ ability to understand and agree with a secular argument – even if they were not an Atheist suffering from such discrimination themselves.

My friend also happened to be a staunch Conservative. Amusingly at the time I was quite the pro-Blairite (I was 15 remember, young and foolish!). He’d probably get quite the kick out of me having ‘turned’ or grown up in to a Conservative. My personal Secular Conservatism leads me to conclude that informing students of their rights, and enshrining them in law is a good idea. Currently schools in the UK are required by law to have an assembly incorporating collective worship of a Christian character. Quite how Jewish and Muslim schools get on I don’t know. Although many schools and teachers ignore these rules, many do not. I think this is wrong. The push for religious academies is wrong. Parents faking religion to get their children in to good religious schools is wrong. It leads to segregation, privilige for the few over the many, mistrust, and as we’ve seen in Ulster and Scotland, religious violence.

To be clear as a Secularist I do not advocate the destruction of religion, or pushing it underground and out of public display. I want to live in a society where we are free to talk about our own beliefs without being shouted down as proselytising. I want all young Atheists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and everyone to have an understanding of each others’ faith. I want to allow Catholic children to go to Catholic school and take part in Catholic mass. What I don’t want is for children to continue to be brought up thinking they must take part in enforced group worship, or intelligent design taught in science classes rather than RE where it belongs.  I don’t want public policy written so that money flows to religious groups with loud voices rather than where it is needed, just so some politician can have an easier life.

A Secular Conservative believes there is a place for a strong Church of England, a place for religious schools, a part for religion to play in the community. What a Secular Conservative does not believe is forcing any religious agenda, including that of no religion, on to people.

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