Tory MP James Arbuthnot reveals pressure to hide atheism

Jan 17, 2015


There is pressure on Conservative politicians to keep quiet about not being religious, a Tory MP has claimed – as he revealed his atheism for the first time in his 28-year career.

James Arbuthnot said he felt he could only now say that he is an atheist because he is not seeking re-election.

The North East Hampshire MP likened the need to keep quiet to the pressure that has been faced by people who are gay.

His was speaking in a debate on a bill to allow prayers in council meetings.

Mr Arbuthnot predicted that his public acknowledgement that he is “not in the least bit religious” was likely to “disappoint” some of his constituents and family members.

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32 comments on “Tory MP James Arbuthnot reveals pressure to hide atheism

  • With friends like Sir Edward Leigh , who needs enemies.

    Back before I came out, I was one of the most anti-gay people you could imagine. I think two things were at play:

    wanting to appear super straight.
    anger at myself for being gay.

    For Leigh, only (1) applies.

    The solution is more atheists coming out publicly. This bursts stereotypes. It means less targeting of any out individual since the furor is spread thinner. The first out really get it hard, but they pave the way for everyone else.

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  • James Arbuthnot said he felt he could only now say that he is an
    atheist because he is not seeking re-election.

    Hypocritical politicians. What is new?… they always went hand in hand with church. Two vampires. This Sir Edward Leigh said:

    such a deracinated population would be much easier to manipulate
    whether it’s a Hitler or Stalin or some other modern day tyrant whose
    dominion you fear.

    Can You believed this? From the mouth of obvious tyrant! …and he says that non believers

    encourage religious extremism, because often it’s the families where
    there is absolutely no religion that people are led astray sometimes
    into following bizarre sects and the rest.

    Perhaps someone should recommend psychiatric evaluation or observation of this persona!

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  • “”a little religion actually stops outrageous intolerance””

    No Sir Edward, moderate religion is the incubator for extreme religion. We need less religion not more of it, especially in a multicultural, multi-religious country as Britain is today (and where the great majority of people aren’t interested by religion at all).

    Hitler, as you ought to know, was (probably) a Christian, and his followers certainly were. He wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without the unthinking zeal religiousity brought to his followers.

    In any case, the supposed inspiration for your religion specifically forbade public prayer:

    when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
    for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets,
    that they may be seen of men. (Matthew 6:5)

    when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,
    pray to thy Father which is in secret;
    and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:6)

    You can follow your scripture, or push it down people’s throats, but you can’t do both

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  • I seem to recall Eric Pickles (Minister for local government) a couple of years ago declaring that he’d allow councils to start meetings with prayers when the Daily Mail (of course) ran a story about one council being prevented from doing so. I’m assuming he’s a Christian.

    I’m not sure if it’s actually currently banned though, just not explicitly allowed in the procedural rules and those that do it by tradition are being called on it. Could be wrong on that score – going by memory.

    Anyway, Pickles made it a bête noir (along with weekly bin collections) but obviously the Government weren’t prepared to sponsor a religious bill so Pickles had to find a backbencher to take it via the Private Member’s route. The fact that it has passed in the Commons is symptomatic of the prevailing culture whereby nobody gives a stuff about religion but few public figures wish to be seen to be actively anti it. The “Where’s the harm?” attitude to religion is very common in the UK and we lack the separation of church and state argument to fall back on so I think most MPs just didn’t care enough to raise their head above the parapets and try and publicly argue that prayers are bad.

    It will, of course, cause problems in those boroughs with mixed religious councillors as they try and choose which sky fairy to pray to and I expect the ones that embrace the new rules most will be those with a majority muslim presence. So the Daily Mail will have reaped what it sowed.

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  • The reporting of Mr Arbuthnot’s confession at the report stage of the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill seems to be at the expense of mentioning his other noteworthy contribution – that he failed to portray the National Secular Society (NSS) as incompetent (either directly, or by implication)…

    For example, Mr Arbuthnot said:

    ”So I shall disappoint some of my constituents, some members of my
    family—many of whom are strongly religious—and some hon. Members and
    hon. Friends by saying that I believe that the National Secular
    Society has a point: not everyone is religious.”

    The BBC report linked to only quotes a small part of that quote, and does not mention the NSS anywhere in its article, even though the NSS helped bring the court case whose reasonable outcome infuriated the Government and prompted the Bill.

    This bill seeks to allow religious majorities in local authorities to intimidate minorities (and not just in council chambers). Throughout the whole of the passage of this bill through the House of Commons, Mr Arbuthnot has been the only voice to express any sympathy with any NSS objections to the Bill.

    I guess the Government realise how repressive the Bill is. Why else would they try to minimise scrutiny of it? Yes, the Bill went through the Committee stage at which detailed scrutiny should occur, but read through the report of that Committee meeting and see if you can spot any rational arguments.2

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  • To defeat the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill, it would not have been necessary to argue that prayers are bad. In the case [ 1 (PDF)] that prompted the Bill, Bideford council were asked if they would hold prayers just before the council meeting, rather than make it an official part of the meeting. Their refusal to do so reveals the sectarian motive that MPs should have highlighted.

    Or are MPs afraid to tackle sectarianism too? And are MPs also afraid to point out that “it’s traditional” is not a valid excuse when someone challenges that tradition. (The ‘tradition’ argument was used a number of times when the Bill went through the Committee stage and Report stage.)

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  • There was a similar case like this before wasn’t there? that atheist Nick Clegg who came out as a secret tory supporter after the last election.

    you have to feel sorry for politicians having to hide their shame just to get a vote

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  • There is pressure on Conservative politicians to keep quiet about not being religious, a Tory MP has claimed – as he revealed his atheism for the first time in his 28-year career.

    The right-wing and discriminatory bigoted Xtanity have long been bedfellows!

    It is noteworthy that both Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat Leader and deputy Prime Minister) and Ed. Miliband (Labour Party Leader) are both atheists, but Tories have to hide their lack of religious affiliations from their fellow party members.

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  • There is no agenda. In the US even though the Constitution says there can not be a religious test to hold office, you have a slim to none chance of getting elected if you are not religious. A politician could kill someone, say he made a mistake and Jesus forgave him and he will be re-elected. If a politician admits he is an Atheist,his career in politics is over. It is not his agenda,it is Christianities agenda

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  • It is a (possibly temporary) tory problem. Conservatism and cleaving to entrenched religion are two sides of the same coin. These are anxious people simply fearful of cultural change. Like the change-phobic Geert Wilders these people simply want a world like it was when they were seven. They are uber homeostats.

    Scandiwegian change phobics have an improved status quo to hang onto. They don’t really realise they have been frogs in slowly heated water.

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  • I don’t know if it’s linked, but in many measurements (income inequality, healthcare provision, teenage pregnancies, etc.) the UK’s figures are usually closer to the USA’s than to the other European countries’. Maybe a tendency towards religiosity just comes with the package? Cameron hasn’t been shy about calling us a “Christian country”.

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  • phil rimmer Jan 20, 2015 at 4:13 am

    It is a (possibly temporary) tory problem. Conservatism and cleaving to entrenched religion are two sides of the same coin. These are anxious people simply fearful of cultural change.

    They are highly motivated against any changes towards altruism, equality, or social responsibility!

    By 2016 the richest 1% of people in the world will own over 50% of its wealth, according to a study by Oxfam.

    The latest calculation shows an increase on the 48% of wealth owned by the wealthiest 1% in 2014.

    “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.

    Oxfam’s study shows that the world’s wealthiest individuals – simply dubbed ‘the 1%’ – boast average wealth of $2.7m each.

    Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim more than doubles New York Times stake

    Those sheeples need to be spoon fed media drivel to have their heads kept in the sand!

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  • Conservatism and cleaving to entrenched religion are two sides of the same coin. These are anxious people simply fearful of cultural change.

    I disagree that they are simply fearful of cultural change. They haven’t been slow to jump on the economic neoliberalism bandwagon, which is hardly a traditional cultural heritage unless you count Thatcher’s and Reagan’s years as far enough back.

    I think it’s more that they have a relatively pessimistic view of humanity (or, at least, of strangers and distant acquaintances rather than family and friends) as individualistic, selfish, short-sighted, and cronyist and nepotistic. That view says human tribes, families, and other smaller social units are barely held together with other human tribes, families, etc. in modern society by social obligation, hierarchy and status, the desire for a quiet and easy life, threat of punishment, and knowing where the money is.

    Conservatism and pro-religious views (at least for organized religion) go together because they’re both broadly strategies to meet that pessimistic vision: hierarchical in structure, appealing to higher powers capable of meting out deterrents in the form of harsh punishment, looking for scapegoats and hated “outgroups” to demonize and unite people against, emphasizing and even fetishizing personal choice and failings when (other) people have problems, and meting out rewards, status, and privilege to those who have “earned” their way through a “meritocratic” system. The idea is to get people to behave with judicious application of the carrot and stick, and possibly a healthy paranoia of fellow strangers, too.

    This would explain why they’re so big on family and personal spiritual growth on the one hand, but also willing to cast the rest of humanity as willing to do you in, especially the riffraff at the bottom of the social hierarchy and the outgroups, were it not for the tough, protective policies they promoted. It’s not cultural change per se they fear, but the sort of boat-rocking that they consider naive and optimistic and therefore dangerous to the established order. That seems to me to be a bigger connection between the two.

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  • The bulk of conservatives are in the 99%. Why?

    Social responsibility is high up on the conservative agenda in Haidt’s analysis of political moral values.

    The right, whose minds I simply don’t grok, aren’t the sociopathic self serving 0.1% nor the indifferent 1%, they are the 49.5% (say) who vote against their own best interests out of fear of change.

    Reaganism/Thatcherism was sold as a return to good old economic values. Away from this scary new fangled socialism and dirigisme.

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  • You ought to read Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. It’s not as rigorous in its analysis as The Spirit Level and it’s focused on the UK rather than internationally, but it makes The Spirit Level look like a cheerful fortune cookie by comparison.

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  • Unfortunately, we are not good europeans, so our role model has become the USA and our once proud position of PM only stands for ‘Puppet’ and ‘Muppet”.

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  • Reaganism/Thatcherism was sold as a return to good old values. Away from this scary new fangled socialism.

    Yes, but only when it suited. Manufacturing and mining were pretty traditional, but that didn’t stop Thatcher and her government from replacing a good chunk of them with service-based industry and banking. And “traditions” can be conjured out of thin air, as many homophobes do every time they claim marriage was traditionally a union between man and wife, with same-sex marriages a modern aberration rather than, say, something that’s been done dozens of times before, even in England. Let’s not even get started on the religious side, where traditions have often (if reluctantly) given away to new heresies either from scientific discovery or civil rights movements, only for the change to be rebranded as compatible, even integral, to the church’s teachings.

    Certainly, a defence of traditions is one way they brand it. But the more significant factor is promoting status and dominance competition within a meritocratic hierarchy of rewards up the ladder (even if no one can actually climb it). They then claim that those at the top have proved themselves worthy to wield authority, especially by defending said hierarchy with appeals to punishments. This is not to mention general scaremongering: threats from criminals, foreigners, low-status commoners, whatever topical enemy of the day there is, and some form and degree of societal breakdown. I don’t think the conservatives are lying: they likely believe their own story.

    Traditions and cultural immobility are the means, not the ends. There’s certainly a lot of mythmaking involved (hence the anti-science positions that occur occasionally), but that doesn’t mean the pessimistic view most conservatives sell to their electorate isn’t one they believe themselves. They could well be giving the electorate a story that “works against their own best interests” because they believe the threats are real enough to make the cost worth it, I imagine?

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  • Traditions and cultural immobility are the means, not the ends.

    Only for the exploiters of the masses of the right. The ends of the exploiters (the politicians etc from the aspirational <1% and their good “friends” the <0.1%) is a passive exploitable mass. The ends of the great mass within the 49.5% is a safe passivity with dreams of better days. Unfettered free-market meritocracy is both excuse and promise.

    The exploiters of the right mainly co-opt support by exaggerated stories of threat, both moral and social. But this hinges on the right leaning masses being nervous nellies and feeling readily threatened.

    In short, I think we will mostly agree, but for me the opportunity for rightist exploitation arises precisely from the more anxious half of the population. I think the anxiety is a natural evolved response to societies of much greater threat than today. The re-imagining of society by those on the left (also historically exploited in different and interesting ways) I propose evolved in times of growing plenty and reduced societal threat when investment in social capital could be risked with great overall gains. The choice of strategies hinges on how threatened we feel. In times of war or other great threat, conservative values of societal lockdown with an emphasis on loyalty and obedience to authority will come to the fore and arguably (!) for the greater good.

    Must, must work. Try not to write anything interesting…

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  • Phil Rimmer mentions the ‘exploiters’ of both the right and the left in his post above, (whatever right and left mean) and also ‘socialism’ mentioned. It reminded me of the short clip (2 mins) from the BBC’s website about Marx and Alienation

    With the representatives of the 85 individuals who own some half the world’s wealth and the rest of the 1%, meeting in Davos this week to discuss the state of the world’s economy, I just wonder how often “God” will be cited, as the attendees tuck into their lobster and champagne in the Alps ? Of course we all know God loves inequality, which is abundant in His creation ! How many children die every day of poverty related issues ? 20,000 was it ? Well that will about 100,000 dead by the end of the Conference then.

    Off topic a bit, but maybe of some interest ?

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  • As lunatic as global inequality is, as corrosive to political stability, as appalling in its consequences for the rational application of capital to improve our collective lot and as scandalously and perniciously immoral as the frittering of the money on a set of polo ponies instead of saving ten thousand lives is, 85 individuals do not own half the worlds wealth. 85 individuals own as much as the poorest half of the planet.

    The trail for the program, “The Rich and Us”, screwed up. But at least the error allowed me the first paragraph scream. Thank you for the opportunity, Mr DArcy.

    For me left and right are best described by Jonathan Haidt’s 5 or six moral imperatives. Other more sophisticated descriptors of moral imperatives are available but these broadly map to Haidt’s and require less translation by researchers reducing risks of researcher bias. The set of five are, for the left, a concern mostly for issues of harm and fairness/justice, and for the right these two plus a co-equal concern for loyalty, authority and purity (preservation of traditional principles etc.). These more numerous concerns for the right have the effect of comparatively diluting concerns for harm and fairness compared with the left.

    Exploiters are mostly political leaders and the circle they mix in. I have to say though I have met and talked to a few UK MPs and former MPs. I have been mostly impressed by their integrity. (Though these would have been classed as those most likely to care about their job.)

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  • There is an interesting survey showing voter profiles here:

    A big gender divide exists between men and women in their 40s in belief in God and life after death, a poll suggests.

    Of the British men surveyed, 54% said they were atheists or agnostics compared with only 34% of women.

    The study also showed that Muslims in the survey had the fewest doubts about the existence of God and the afterlife.

    The research involving more than 9,000 British people born in 1970 was analysed at the University of Essex.

    The figures showed a substantial proportion of those who had said religion was an important part of their lives at the age of 16 became relatively unreligious as adults.

    The figures, published by the UCL Institute of Education, were analysed by David Voas, professor of population studies at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

    Sixty per cent of the women in the study believed in life after death but only 35% of the men.

    Of those who were religious, 71% of those who described themselves as evangelical Christians had no doubts about God’s existence.

    However, only 33% of those who said they were Roman Catholics had no doubts. Among Anglicans and Methodists, the equivalent figure was 16%.

    A quarter of those who called themselves agnostic said they did believe in life after death.

    However, nearly a third of those people who labelled themselves as “religious believers who have occasional doubts” did not believe in an afterlife.

    Some 88% of Muslims in the survey said they knew God really existed and had no doubts.

    So it appears that the evangelicals are only slightly behind the Muslims in their % of members with certainties!

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  • I am not surprised about the practical need for politicians to be outwardly religious. The interesting question for me is why?, especially in the light of the figures in the above post.
    If a political candidate says they are a christian (or whatever), the voting public at least know they subscribe to a written code of morals and ethics (such that it is). In a World where we choose our politicians on the basis of a soundbite or two, an atheist candidate would have little chance to express equivalent humanist credentials.
    I personally would welcome atheist politicians as it is evidence of free thinking and some courage, but I doubt the if the majority of my fellow voters would think the same.

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  • 31
    Dr raza says:

    Blockquote Some time we believe unbelievably for we see what could never become our sight.

    Not necessarily we see in our whole life what is there but could not become our vision; though in spite we do not deny in disbelief;

    What could not be seen does not make thing fake or false.

    Puzzle is difficult for many but a matter of sight for few;

    Idea is when you idealize not visually and then execute it manually making idea in to virtual reality.

    Idea can be treacherous for many yet it is always a breath taking start for the one fond of ride.

    This is the difference between doubter and believer.
    A doubter believes in God to gain only and believers believe without reason of gain or lose.

    MR Tory MP James Arbuthnot / North East Hampshire;
    How can you deny God when it was always your belief publically for so many years when you were crossing the phase of fear to lose?

    This is “God” The One who let people succeed in life in spite and although they don’t believe him and this is human nature that in spite they don’t believe God yet they Claim so to get whatever they can gain”

    God always benefitted you as long as you believed him publically but when you denied him ;its not him who made you looser but its you yourselves who is responsible as looser (DR Raza)


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  • God always benefitted you as long as you believed him publically but when you denied him ;its not him who made you looser but its you yourselves who is responsible as looser (DR Raza)

    You seem to have forgotten to mention which god you are talking about. There are so many of them, with so many conflicting claims and views – according to their followers.

    Believers love wishful thinking, using “faith” and regularly try to claim badges of false authority for unevidenced assumptions, while those promoting logical reasoning and evidence based science, reject mystical sky-fairies!

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