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Baroness Warsi misses point of ‘we don’t do God’, writes a pro faith atheist

Posted on 16 September 2010 | 10:09am

For the umpteenth time, Baroness Warsi, ‘we don’t do God’ was not a major strategic statement, but an attempt to bring to an end an interview in which an American journalist was asking ‘one final question’ after ‘one final question’ and ‘finally, finally’ asked TB about his faith.

I suppose I ought to be flattered that my throwaway remarks somehow enter the national debate and are still being used years later. It’s just a shame that the context gets mangled, and then further mangled when political opponents try to use it for political advantage pegged to a Papal State visit.

There is something of a nasty streak in these Tories, always on the look-out for an opportunity to take a whack back at the previous government. Nice to hear the Pope showing a bit of manners to the previous government just now.

When I tweeted this morning that Baroness Warsi had missed the point, I also said it was possible to be a pro-faith atheist. Fair to say this did not meet with universal approval from my fellow twitterers. But I think it is entirely possible to be an atheist without feeling the moral superiority that so many atheists seeem to display, and without denigrating those who do have a faith.

Inter-faith diaolgue is in its own way going to be as important as political and diplomatic dialogue in the coming years and it cannot and should not be willed away. My ‘we don’t do God’ was simply part of a view that in UK politics, it is always quite dangerous to mix religion and politics, not least because the electorate are not keen on it, and the media and politicians tend to misrepresent it whenever it happens, Baroness Warsi providing the latest example.

  • Helen Lawson

    I think I have missed the point of Baroness Warsi. Unelected, homophobic and completely without charm. I can’t imagine you and her will ever see eye to eye, she and I most certainly wouldn’t.

  • Sorry Alastair but this just won’t wash. As I tweeted the whole idea of a “pro-faith atheist” is bereft of any intellectual substance, oxymoronic – and very silly. As far as inter-faith dialogue is concerned I disagree with the whole idea for reasons that I have expressed here:

  • Andrew Jenkins

    I absolutely agree with you when you say that it’s possible to be a ‘pro-faith atheist’. I am an atheist yet many people in my life are of strong faith and I not only respect that, I’m glad for many of them their faith serves as a source of strength, guidence and support.

    I have always disliked those militant atheists who, in my opinion, are no different from militant Christians or militant Muslims. I call myself sometimes the ‘Atheist Christian’ in that I am an atheist who appreciates the philosophical meanings within Jesus’ teachings. Oh well, I don’t think Baroness Warsi would understand.

  • Testyfly

    She is a loathesome creature, just how did she become a Baroness?
    Dumped as a candidate and smothered by the then leader she was suddenly elevated to keep her quiet.
    I fail to see what she has ever contributed to this nation and even her own faith leaders deride her.
    The epitamy of the sharp elbowed ethnic who has little to give and nothing anyone wants.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Alastair Campbell famously said “We don´t do God”. What did he mean by that?
    Well, first as he has just written he wanted only to get rid of a journalist who had overrun his alloted time. But there was also a fear that papers would run stories like “Tony Blair tells Christians must vote Labour”.
    Tony Blair on the other hand was prepared to talk about his faith. He thinks also that religion is at the centre of good community. On the other hand he was afraid that he would be labelled strange.
    And not for nothing. Many people in Britain regard religion with suspicion. Not to mention the media including the Private Eye.
    Tony Blair has later admitted that faith had a hugely important part in his decisions.
    Faith can provide genuine insights into our global condition. And many problems in Britain have no material solution.
    Without religion we get “man worship” as Churchill said. You do not have to go to North Korea to understand this.
    Religion is not a private matter. The whole Western civilisation is based on Christianity and ancient Greece.
    Nick Cohen recently appeared to claim that atheists are more moral than religious people. Judging by the comments he received in the Observer many did not agree. Many other things than religion affect the way how we behave.
    Science cannot say whether God exists or not. Faith is mystery – a gift from God. Religious decision is taken at deeper level than reason – intuition and feelings are also involved.

  • Anonymous

    She’s an idiot!

  • John Slinger

    Alastair Campbell blogs today that Baroness Warsi has completely missed the point of his “we don’t do God” from the halcyon days of the Blair govenment. In the blog, he sets out, quite plausibly, that “it is entirely possible to be an atheist without feeling the moral superiority that so many atheists seeem to display, and without denigrating those who do have a faith.”

    This leads me to wonder whether any of the plethora of ‘inter-faith’ charities have ever bothered to engage with the 43% of the UK population who describe themselves vast majority of Britons who are agnostic or atheistic (according to the British Humanist Association). It’s perhaps time for for the organised religions to engage more with this sizeable minority of humanists, agnostics and atheists who are, if present trends continue, soon to become the majority. A world inhabited by humanists is no more to be feared than than our present world, so dominated as it is by organised religions. We humans make our own utopias and dystopias. If there is any hope for humanity, it must be that those of different faiths, nations and ethnicities, together with those who do not profess a faith, are able to work together in the shared interest of humanity itself. So Alastair Campbell is right, it is possible to be a “pro faith atheist”. But it is equally important that more people of faith, even perhaps the Pope himself, become “pro atheist believers”.

  • Fozzie

    Great post Alastair i watched her this morning on the daily politics and frankly she seemed out of her depth banging on about this but even now i’m not sure what she was trying to say all it seems was something designed to get her on TV and have a go at that wonderful soundbite of yours,no policy,no points made.

    In the end even Andrew Neill looked embarrassed for her,

  • Sarah

    And as a pro-humanist Christian I could not agree more. From where I stand there is much to be said for those who manage goodness for it’s own sake, as opposed to those seeking a slice of glory from somewhere to come.

  • Robert Jackson

    Like many others I am researching my family tree. There is one popular and very useful free resource on the internet that lets people submit educated guesses. One such guess that somebody had recorded for my granny’s grandparents was “married about 1835 Leicestershire”.

    That might have been perfectly valid as a theory at the time it was entered on the database.

    My own research proved the true story was more complex – a first marriage failed and my granny’s grandparents lived together for several years before marrying after her first husband’s death.

    In my view faith as an educated guess, as a first stab at the truth, as a model that is open to revision, a theory open to and seeking to challenge itself is a faith worth following.

    But if someone insists on telling me my granny’s grandparents were married about 1835 in Leicestershire (despite what I have proved for myself) just because it’s printed in some holier than thou database – well – who’s being aggressive? Who’s being rude if one chooses to disagree based on personal experience?

  • Yann2

    i hear you on two counts:

    1) these tories (id actually say members of the coalition) are showing a quite a heavy nasty streak. they seem like they are still bitter that labour won 3 elections back-to-back and really did change the political landscape.

    2) its good to be an atheist without the superiority complex- a rare combination today.

    id also like to highlight that the recent news coverage shows that even after entering government, the tories in particular are still as obsessed with you as they were in the early 90’s

  • NewnhamDan

    …”always on the look-out for an opportunity to take a whack back at the previous government.”

    Pot and kettle springs to mind.

  • Mrs.Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    Of course it’s probably possible to be a pro-faith atheist – given our wonderfully generous, largely unwritten and therefore flexible UK constitution which may provide for just about anyone to mind the business of their own religion so to speak, without fear or favour (so long as it is a proper vehicle of religion, to coin a current phrase, and not some awful monopoly pretending to be ethical)

    However, the Baroness’ opinion that the Labour government were apparently too suspicious of faith’s potential for contributing to society isn’t true, as far as I’m concerned. Even so given the way some so-called religious people behave towards others it’s not unreasonable to be vigilant about the broader context of conversion and exclusivity which may be behind or even worse – in front of any faith-based charity. This isn’t prejudice, in my view it’s common sense – the same common sense that tells us to be very careful about how we “push power down” to the local level (which I believe is the in thing at the moment) without a properly standardised, fully inclusive way of conducting public consultations ie one which recognises citizens come first.

  • This is Warsi’s futile attempt to grab a bit of moral high ground and perhaps more importantly (for her) ingratiate herself with her fellow Muslims.

    However, it doesn’t help that Dave managed to insult the entire nation of Pakistan with his ignoramus remark about Pakistan and terrorism. Had he overlooked the fact that Pakistan makes itself a target for terrorism because our troops are based there for operations in Afghanistan? Had he forgotten that their PM, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by terrorists? Also, there’s some evidence that his remarks were partially connected with the slow start to fund-raising to help flood victims in Pakistan. And all that just to try and ingratiate himself with India, What a tool. Oh, he cut aid to India as well – didn’t mention that, did he?

    Actually, I certainly do ‘do God’ when I think about Dave as Prime Minister. I think… God help us!!!

  • HampsteadOwl

    Now of course the Labour Party would never take a political opponent’s comment made in good faith, twist it out of context and use it against them for years and years and years, would it?

    I expect you can guess what I am referring to.

  • The comment that I think sums up the stance to take to avoid being offensive, is from Charles Darwin himself:

    The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain agnostic.

  • Oliver Campbell

    I have voted Conservative for the last 15 years. I even voted for them in May, if rather unconvinced. After the Baroness’s comments the other day, I’ve simply had enough, not anymore.
    First, I agree with Mr Campbell, that mixing religion and politics is usually an unwise strategy.
    Secondly, re: her Big Society comments… the creation of the post-war welfare system came about partly because we could no longer rely on the Church to provide social goods in an efficient, fair and universal way. The “Big Society” is a bad enough idea without having to take us back to the Dark Ages with Warsi’s calls for a heavy religious involvement.
    Finally, Ms Warsi (I can’t bring myself to call her Baroness, churlish of me, I know) is perhaps not aware of just how insulting her comments were with insinuations that only people of faith can and do carry out charitable works in a way that we non-believers never could.

  • Anonymous

    Another person trying to conflate outspoken atheists, attempting to have a society where no one faith dominates, to militant religious people trying to force their view of their sect’s morality into law to control other people’s actions.

    And that’s without mentioning violence. I will stick to things like abortion, equal rights for gays, blasphemy, licensing laws, pornography, consensual adult sexual conduct, euthanasia, medical research etc. etc. All these things are strongly affected by militant Christians or Muslims, pushing their own agenda; where are the people driven by atheism to one side in these arguments?

    No, Mr Jenkins, you should not be perpetuating the idea that atheists are ‘militant’ in the same way as the religious are any more than they can be ‘fundamentalist’.

    These ‘militant’ atheists are, in fact, secularists and if any religious person wanted to ensure their freedom to continue practising their religion they’d do well to support a secular government too.

  • LOL, what furious back-peddling.

    If that really is your position then why wait until now to state it? Why not have stated it immediately after you made the statement?

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