Looking forward to the first atheist Prime Minister

Here’s a heart-warmer for some fellow Sluggerities, though from the Guardian again, I’m afraid. Secular philosopher AC Grayling has a lot of fun, speculating on the impact of declared atheist David Miliband as Prime Minister.


“Atheist leaders will not be tempted to think they are the messenger of any good news from above, or the agent of any higher purpose on earth. Or at very least, they will not think this literally”.

“Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland’s bleak lesson in this regard.”

  • Pete Baker


    Mischievously wishful thinking by AC.

    It may be futuring too far, but I doubt Miliband will ever achieve that office.

    Where he does strike a chord, though, is in the final paragraph.

    Despite appearances, the world is not seeing a resurgence of religion, only a big turning-up of the volume of religious voices. This is itself a response to increasing secularism among people tired of the disruptions, obstructions and conflicts religion so often causes. Public acknowledgement of atheism by a senior politician who might soon lead his country is just one indicator of the fact that the tide is actually running in the opposite direction: and that is a welcome and hopeful sign.


  • Garibaldy

    I’d almost like to see him get PM just to watch the evangelical wing of the CofE do their nuts.

  • dosser

    So? The former Yugoslavia contained a singular and undifferentiated concept of citizenship and all children went to secular schools.

    It didn’t help much, did it?

  • Rooster Cogburn

    Perhaps we should hold a competition to see quite whom the most lovely atheist head of government thus far in the history of humanity has been? Very possibly searching amongst the ruins of Gori (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Goristatue.JPG) will be as good a place as any to start looking for the answer.

  • Big Maggie

    I have the sneaking suspicion that there have been atheist PMs in the past but none of them was prepared to come out of the closet. Now they can, thanks to saints like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

  • ulsterfan

    An atheist Pm will have some fun nominating Bishops to HM Queen for ratification.

  • Brian Walker

    Ulsterfan,Gordon Brown has already declined to recommend bishops, the first PM to do so. Up to his appointment, the CoE sent in two names, with the first expected to be recommended. Margaret Thatcher didn’t always play ball, however. From now on, the Downing St Appointments Secretary will act as post-box to the Palace for as single recommendation which the Queen will ratify.

    Big Maggie, you’re close to the bone. In C20 probably only Baldwin, Alec Home and to some extent when at Chequers Margaret Thatcher despite her Nonconformist background, were anything like conventional Anglicans or even regularly observing Christians of any sort, though all accepted the CoE as force for stability or didn’t want to rock the boat. Nice quote from the laconic Attlee:
    “accept the ethics: no time for the mumbo-jumbo.”

  • Garibaldy

    Tony Blair was C20th.

  • ulsterfan

    Brian W

    The PM can at any time change the rules and even with the Appointments Secretary he will exercise undue influence.

  • Brian Walker

    Ah but Rooster when push came to shove when the Nazis were at the gates, Stalin expressly ordered the Kazan icon of the Holy Virgin to be flown over the city to protect it and Leningrad too. (See Sebag Montefiore). Here is the church’s splendid version of it.

    “The Holy Virgin interceded on Moscow’s behalf, Right after the Kazan icon of the Mother of God was flown around Moscow on a plane, the Nazis fled from the city, as if driven by some panic terror, leaving behind the dead and broken weaponry. None of Hitler’s generals could comprehend just what had happened: why their excellently equipped and trained troops, already flush up against Moscow, suddenly retreated.

    Once an Orthodox novitiate, always a…

    Garibaldy, sorry yes of course, TB was C20 but I was counting him as C21. Despite his personal faith, he seems to have taken no liner at all re bishops. Remember: ” we don’t do God?”

    ulsterfan, you name yourself so well. You just won’t be told anything, will you?

  • Driftwood

    I think Nick Clegg is atheist. Does anyone know if any of our MLA’s are?

  • ulsterfan

    “We don’t do God”
    Is that not a quote from A Campbell and not TB?
    I could be wrong but will have to check source.

  • Big Maggie


    “Does anyone know if any of our MLA’s are?”

    I have it on good authority that Iris Robinson is a closet atheist.

  • Brian Walker

    ulsterfan–(sigh), yes indeed it was A Campbell wot said it. That does not detract from the point. He said it to my friend Michael Cockerell for a BBC2 film about Campbell’s role – but in TB’s presence, who happened to walk into the room, unaware that filming was going on. So he fixed his grin and bantered through the scene. The quote is accurate and memorable.

  • Rory

    This is silly. For the purposes of the excercise of power Cameron’s avowed atheism matters not one whit. He is first, foremost and always a Tory. And as to Grayling’s assertion that “Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war”, I fear he is wrong. They will always heed the call of the Great Voice from Beyond (the Atlantic).

    Driftwood tells us that Nick Clegg might be an atheist. Of what possible interest can this be when he is a LibDem and therefore quite inconsequential unlike the driver of the N73 night bus from the West End to Tottenham who is also an avowed atheist and a very important person indeed especially on dreary wet mornings at about 3am when he is often the answer to my boozy prayers?

  • McKelvey

    “Does anyone know if any of our MLA’s are?”

    I have it on good authority that Iris Robinson is a closet atheist.
    Posted by Big Maggie on Aug 21, 2008 @ 09:12 PM

    I suspect, at the end of the day, most fundamentalists are

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    What a great combination, an atheist PM for a predominantly secular country, despite all the pomp and circumstance of god, royalty and parliament, tis only superficial wallpaper now, yet some common folk and upstarts are still entranced by the whole historical thing.

  • abucs

    If an atheist has been or will be the PM of Britain then that is surely a win for ‘freedom of religion’.

    I hope all of the atheists who complain about religious political leaders bringing their faith to politics will be just as critical of an atheist PM who tries to bring his beliefs to office.

    Be that the belief in matter as the basic reality (abortion), or that religion is irrational(schooling) or dangerous (trying to squeeze it out of the public space) or any other beliefs many (not all) have.

    This includes of course the belief they have no beliefs (some not all) and religion is a gene based invention of the mind.

    I’ve often heard the comment here that “I don’t mind a person having certain beliefs, but they should keep them to themself”.

    We’ll see if this belief is maintained with an atheist PM (by some, not all).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Stalin brought religion back in because he realized that superstition was one useful way to bolster the morale of the men fighting at the front. In the same way, he also dropped hints liberally that, in the post-war period, the repressive atmosphere, censorship regime, and other harsh realities of Soviet life would be relaxed. Of course, once the war was out of the way, this did not happen. He was a supreme manipulator; almost everything he did or said was carefully calculated to maximise his own power and interests.

    I’ve heard that facile argument before, that Stalin and Hitler were atheists, and therefore letting them in control is bad. It’s right up there with “we need to have religion and a set of rules, otherwise, how would people know right from wrong?”. The clear implication being that atheists are therefore implicitly characterized as tyrants whenever they get hold of power, whereas those who are religious and pray every night to a made-up invisible man in the sky are somehow not, even despite the activities of large-scale organized religion right throughout history.

    Listening to George Bush talking about how God told him that he needed to strike down against Iraq, and hearing Tony Blair subsequently confess his religious faith, should be enough proof that this is not a one-way debate. I think it was a point made at an Obama rally recently. Christianity is supposed to be about peace, tolerance, sharing, loving your fellow man, and all that good stuff, so why do so many people show no evidence of any of those positive attributes and yet still call themselves Christians with a straight face ?

  • abucs

    Christianity is supposed to be about peace, tolerance, sharing, loving your fellow man, and all that good stuff, so why do so many people show no evidence of any of those positive attributes and yet still call themselves Christians with a straight face ?

    Good and very fair question.