A Response to the Prime Minister

Dear Dave

I thought that some kind of response was needed to your recent speech about the King James Bible. As you’ve chosen to speak to the church with the media listening in, I hope you won’t mind me responding in this way on my blog.

Firstly, there’s some positive things that I want to say. That must begin by a big thank you for engaging in a debate about religious matters. Though (as I think we’ll discover a little lower down the page) I don’t agree with much of what you said, full marks for trying. It is good that the anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible has given people the excuse to reflect on the influence of the Bible on society. It was good that though you gave something of a nod to the particular translation in question, your remarks were generally about the Bible itself rather than the KJV in particular. After all, though we in the churches often claim to love it, we don’t actually read that translation any more than you do. Some would think that the country went to the dogs when the KJV stopped being the religious soundtrack of choice in our churches. Be boldened by the knowledge that the translators themselves, though they would have every right to be proud of their achievements, might well dismiss this cloying sentiment as very far from what they were trying to achieve.

Now, you say that the Bible gave Britain a set of values and morals which make the nation what it is and we need to actively stand up and defend them. You know Dave, life is just a bit more complicated than that. What values are we talking about? Those that people in our nation used to argue in favour of slavery? Those they used to argue against women’s suffrage? Those they use still to argue against accepting the full humanity and citizenship of God’s gay children? Is it those values that you’re keen on or others?

You referred to some of these things in your speech. Curiously, you seem to think that the Bible argues for human rights. Most peculiarly, you argue that the Bible has been at the forefront of the emancipation of women. Have you ever read it? (Oh, and by the way, did Samantha promise to obey you? Just wondering).

The point of recognising that people have inalienable human rights is that we do so because we are agreed that they have them not because we have a mandate from scripture.

Has it occurred to you that the ethics of the Bible are as much a pick and mix morality as anything you’ll find in our gloriously multi-ethnic Britain. How are we to interpret the Bible, Prime Minister? You seem to speak as though there is one view about morality that comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition. What is it, now? Maybe we should ask the Rabbis – after all they had the chance to sort out the bulk of the text before Christians got their hands on it, and we know they all agree, don’t we?

You refer to “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing.”

Well, what values? What morals? Can we come to a language of common morality in our nation today? You know, I bet we can but I bet the starting point is moral neutrality not Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or….. well maybe I’ve made my point already.

You go on later to speak against “secular neutrality”. Oh David, please. Don’t you know that some of us (including some of us religious types) will thrive best in a state that embodies the best and highest goals of secular neutrality? There are strong voices who believe that the state should be founded on religious values. You know, those people frighten me Dave. Don’t add your voice to theirs.

Prime Minister, ethics and religion are different things. You’ve got them muddled in a way that the press just love, but they are muddled in your mind all the same. Oh yes, religious people have ethics and quite a lot to say about how to behave. However, our common life in the UK needs to come from a place where laws are recognised as good because they are, well, good. We can’t be in the business of commending some laws more than others because they have their genesis in one religious text or another, now can we?

I do admire your gall in suggesting that we need to so vigorously defend the Christian heritage of our nation whilst describing yourself as merely vaguely practising as a Christian yourself. Full marks for honesty. Full empathy marks from the religiously bewildered public I bet, but go on, show us you mean it. Take the kids to church.

Finally, you said that “The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.” and immediately went on to say, “Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, …we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Oooh, tricky thing to invoke Lady T in this argument, PM. Tricky, tricky, tricky. Do you think her values align with the Biblical values you want us to follow?

One last thing. You seemed to imply that the churches had short-changed the country in not standing up for these good decent biblical values that you are on about. This, you seem to say, has led to the decline in public life – the politicians expenses scandal, the awful mess that the bankers have made and so on. Lucky you to have the Christians to blame. (Throw them to the lions….). We could add the trouble with the tabloid press too, couldn’t we?

You know what, I think it was dishonest politicians who brought parliament into disgrace.  I think it was greed that got the bankers into the mess we are in. Not just their greed either. We’ve shared our greed rather than our prosperity in recent years and that has not brought us to a good place. And, I think it was behaviour verging on the criminal at the highest editorial levels that got the press into such a pickle. Still, at least we know you had nothing to do with those kind of people.

Anyway, enough from me for now. All good wishes for Christmas when it comes. Who is coming to lunch at Chequers this year?

Wishing you every blessing, as they say,


PS – full marks for taking a sideswipe at the Archbishop of Canterbury for not being robust or clear enough in his liberal Christian concern for the poor and the marginalised btw. He is so hard to understand, even if you are religious. That is what you meant, right?