The census and religion

Our census questionnaire hit the doormat yesterday.  As usual the census is stirring up a bit of controversy.  Simon Beard is worried about the data being managed by Lockheed Martin, a defence contractor.  I’m not overly bothered by this, but I do find myslelf getting exercised about how to answer question 20, “What is your religion?”

The British Humanist Association has been urging people to tick the box for “No religion” if they are not practising members of a faith, rather than tick “Christian” if they are merely baptised, or write in “Jedi Knight” as a general wind-up.  As I will explain, I agree.  But the main heat arises from the BHA’s advertising campaign; following  a ruling from part of the Advertising Standards Agency that some people might take offence at the ads, and they have been banned from railway stations as a result (although some buses have carried them).  This has generated lots of media coverage, which may have been the original idea, but I still find the whole episode very annoying.  The three ads are posted below.

But first, how to answer the question?  I am an agnostic, as I have already explained on this blog.  I am a confirmed member of the Church of England, but I don’t belong to a church.  I am not an atheist.  But I refuse to call myself a Christian either.  When I was a practising, I did not approve of people who did not commit to the faith, but still called themselves Christians.  I am happy with the label of “no religion” however, and so it won’t be difficult for me to answer the question.  Unlike the NHS job application form, which asks applicants to choose between various faiths and “atheist”; I have to tick “won’t say”, even though I am quite public about my religious status.

So far, so good.  But what does annoy me is that so much of officialdom treats people like me as a lower form of life.  They protect Christians and others from even quite mild offence, but we don’t count.  This is actually quite offensive.  Fine.  There is no liberal principle that people should be protected from being offended, and accordingly I put up with it: the BBC not allowing humanist speakers on Thought for the Day; the Pope implying that I don’t have any moral values because I don’t believe in God; women wearing the niqab because I can’t be trusted to look at their face.  But it  annoys me that we have to mollycoddle people of faith against being similarly offended.

Suddenly ticking the “No religion” box feels like an important assertion of my identity, rather than a simple statement of fact.

Nowquestion 15, “How would you describe your national identity?” is something else.  I think I’m going to write in “European” alongside British and English.

Liberals shouldn’t be scared of Murdoch

Here is a short piece of mine published on Lib Dem Voice.  In it I argue that Murdoch is part of scrap amongst right-wing newspapers which those of a liberal persuasion can observe without taking sides.  It attracted a few comments, but of pretty poor quality.  Mainly it was from people who so loath the Murdoch empire that they automatically oppose anything thing he does.  Somebody launched a rant against the BBC licence fee.

I have a wider concern.  By focusing so much on Mr Murdoch liberals are in danger of losing a bigger and more important argument; they are attacking the messenger rather than the message.  It’s a sort of displacement activity for people uncomfortable with the right-wing press.

Hello world!

This blog has been long in gestation, so here’s hoping that lives even longer in execution.

It is a platform to express my thoughts on the issues of the day.  My interests are pretty broad, but the idea is to concentrate on politics, with a special interest in the economy and public services.  I’m no expert (a mere BSc in Economics doesn’t get you beyond the lowlife in the economics profession); still less am I an insider, drifting around the outer fringes of the Westminster village.  I hold no public political office.  But I’m a free agent and I will not feel bound to any party line, though I am no political neutral.  And I’ve been around quite a long time, and I’ve done some interesting things (well, I think so) – I think I have some interesting insights to offer.

Another thing I am not, is a journalist.  There’s no particular virtue in being quick off the mark at the expense of insight.  The best insights take time to emerge.

What do I mean by “thinking liberal”?  I’m a political liberal; I want people to be free to take the course they choose and say what they like, so long as they don’t harm others.  I believe that society should organise itself so that as many as possible have the practical freedoms that come with their basic physical and emotional needs being met, and a decent education.  Thinking is a big part of what I’m trying to do.  Emotional reactions and partisan advocacy have their place, but not here.  I want to promote insights and understanding.  I want to find a better way.

And there’s something else.  I want to be constructive.  So much of what passes for comment is negative, telling us what’s wrong with an idea, without trying to put up an alternative.  Of course alternative ideas will usually have flaws – but the only way to find the best ideas is to keep trying.  Which means being brave enough to be wrong.