By Laurence Boyce
Last year at the Conservative Party conference, a little reported altercation took place between John Gummer and the British Humanist Association (BHA). According to one report, Gummer was heard to say to his companion, “Do you know, there is nothing I hate more than these humanists?” He then launched into a tirade directed at the BHA stand, claiming that they had “no right” to be there, and that “the Conservative Party is and always has been a Christian party.” With that, he stormed off without further ado.
This bizarre and unprovoked attack led Hanne Stinson of the BHA to file a letter of complaint (pdf) to Conservative Chairman, Caroline Spelman. What response, if any, was received I know not. To be fair to Gummer, as one must be, he claims that nothing of the sort occurred. According to The Independent, Gummer maintains that the whole story has been blown out of proportion, describing the incident as being merely a “polite conversation.”
Polite conversation or blazing row? – I guess we shall never know. But I can’t help feeling that, broadly speaking, Gummer is right. Of the three major political parties, the Conservatives do appear to be the most religious and in particular the most Christian party. The flip side of the coin is that humanists and secularists also seem to be a bit left-wing. I hang out with my local humanist group where there is more than a whiff of left-wingery in the air, although there are also a couple of exceptions who might protest at the generalisation.
But logically, why should Conservatism be linked to Christianity, or humanism to the left? Humanism is the belief that there is no God, no afterlife, and therefore that we ought to make the best of the “one life we have” – namely, this one. Doesn’t that make all politics essentially a humanistic enterprise? Since when did Parliament pass a measure to take effect in the next life? Surely we are all humanists now? One might easily conclude that whatever religious biases persist in politics are merely historical vestiges.
Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing about the political landscape. The Conservative Party has finally got around to setting up its own humanist group – The Conservative Humanist Association. “There is a great tradition of free thought in the Conservative Party,” declares Chairman, Jeff Peel. “Many leading Conservative thinkers have not required religious belief or superstition to define their lives or their political views: Hayek, Popper, Friedman and, indeed, Adam Smith.”
The group has the backing of former London Mayoral candidate, Andrew Boff, and for its inaugural conference meeting, they have secured a prize speaker – none other than the ayatollah of atheism himself, Professor Richard Dawkins – who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voted Conservative in his life. It should be a fascinating encounter. But whatever you do, please don’t tell Gummer!
Laurence Boyce is a Liberal Democrat and humanist/secularist/atheist/whatever