James Arbuthnot, a Conservative Member of Parliament, was debating against a bill that would allow prayers at council meetings when he revealed a secret:
During a Commons debate on a bill which would allow prayers at the start of council meetings, Mr Arbuthnot — a former minister — told MPs he was brought up in a Christian household, having been christened and confirmed.
“But since then I have lost those beliefs and faith that I once had and I am perfectly comfortable with that. But this is the first time I have ever actually acknowledged that in public,” he said.
“And it may be true that the pressure on a Conservative politician, particularly of keeping quiet about not being religious, is very similar to the pressure that there has been about keeping quiet about being gay.”
“For the avoidance of doubt,” he added, “I am not gay either but I just wanted to say that it is telling that it has taken me 28 years in this House, and frankly in the knowledge that I won’t be standing in the next election, to make this point.”
Good for him. I know little about his politics, but his story is all too familiar. In the U.S., too, there are undoubtedly a number of politicians who are atheists, but who know it would be political suicide to admit it. Even Rep. Barney Frank, a liberal in so many ways, waited until he was out of office before saying he didn’t believe in God.
Right now, all we can hope for from our own politicians is that they’ll acknowledge their atheism at some point. Maybe, like Arbuthnot, they could do it when they’re still in office but not running for re-election… though it’d be nice if some of them, like former Rep. Pete Stark, had the courage to do it even with another campaign on the horizon.
***Update***: The National Secular Society praised Arbuthnot for finally admitting he wasn’t religious:
“It’s a sad reflection of British politics that Mr Arbuthnot felt unable to publicly declare his atheism for so long. The ‘Christian Country’ narrative being peddled by prime minister and secretary of state for communities only serves to marginalise non-Christians, when what we should be doing is promoting a secular, pluralistic society in which people of all faiths and none are given equal standing,” he added.
(Image via Wikipedia)