When it comes to religion, British politicians tend to heed the advice of Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell: “We don’t do God.” In contrast to the United States, the deity is rarely invoked on the campaign trail or in political speeches.
But a Muslim cabinet minister has become the latest member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to urge the country to embrace its Christian heritage. Sayeeda Warsi also said “militant” secularism posed a threat to Europe, a comment that has angered atheists and highlighted the divisive political potential of religion.
Her views will strike a chord with some religious Britons who feel threatened by growing secularization and by recent antidiscrimination cases, including one in which Christian hoteliers were fined for refusing to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room.
In an article published Tuesday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Warsi urged Europe “to become more confident in its Christianity.”
“You cannot and should not extract [the] Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes,” she wrote.
“My fear today is that a militant secularization is taking hold of our societies,” she added, accusing some atheists of having the same intolerant instincts as authoritarian regimes.
Warsi, a prominent member of Cameron’s Conservative Party, led a delegation of British government ministers to the Vatican.
In a speech in Rome this week, Warsi said, “Too often there is a suspicion of faith in our continent.”
But Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat lawmaker and vice president of the British Humanist Association, said Warsi’s talk of militant secularism was “self-serving paranoia.”
“There is nothing militant about calling for an end to blasphemy and apostasy laws or wanting religious persecution of women and gay people to end,” he said. “Secular liberal democracy, which involves the separation of church and state and an end to religious privilege, is the best guarantor of religious liberty and free expression.”
Though U.S. political candidates often talk openly, even boastfully, about the role religion plays in their lives, British politicians usually avoid deep professions of faith.
Blair, prime minister between 1997 and 2007, is a committed Christian, but he rarely spoke about his religion while in office and waited until he left power to convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said his experience of Christian faith was like the signal on a faulty radio: “It sort of comes and goes.”
His deputy, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, is an atheist, as is Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition Labor Party.
In the United States, the Republican presidential candidates battling for their party’s nomination routinely emphasize their religious credentials while accusing President Obama of taking antireligious stances.