Home > General Politics, Labour Party News > Ed Miliband is atheist – so what?

Ed Miliband is atheist – so what?

An hour ago, the press association ran a piece entitled “Ed Miliband: I don’t believe in God”. This relates to an interview with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 Live, where the question was raised, and the answer carefully noted how important it is to be tolerant of people whatever their view.

This will not stop the insults unfortunately. Nor will it help matters much that Miliband is the son of a Marxist heathen, unmarried, and the brother of an atheist who at least did his best by sending his child to a Roman Catholic school.

None of these things matter of course; and as Miliband said in his interview, his views should be a private matter, much like the atheism of our deputy Prime Minister.

But remember it is not just believers who have over-fetishised God in politics. Few may remember two years ago, when David Miliband was thought to be brewing a leadership bid, the philosopher and atheist A.C. Grayling making a plea in the Guardian for an atheist Prime Minister.

It levelled many ridiculous claims that should divide a believing PM from a non-believing one; atheists will not receive messages from beyond if going to war; they will be sceptical about giving special privileges to religious organisations; sectarianism through faith schools will be a thing of the past; neutrality between religious pressure groups will be the order of the day; and they’ll take more “down-to-earth” views.

Let’s throw this nonsense out of the water, just in case Grayling tries to write it again.

Of course, nobody can actually receive messages from beyond, but if we are dealing with stupid reasons to go to war here, suggesting this is the preserve of the religious is to forget the wars authored by such tyrants as Stalin and Mao.

This might evoke the redundant reaction given by the new atheists, usually that Communism is merely a demi-religion without supernatural Gods, and thus subject to the irrationality reserved by the religious (nb it also helps the “Ditchkins’” out in their mission to single religion out as only evil; secular reason as bringing only good).

Will an atheist be any more or less sceptical about giving privileges to religious organisation? The infection that says some religions are more evil than others strikes through even the most ardent atheist too. Christian schools have long been a feature in the UK educational system, yet Islamic schools still have the effect of discomfort for some people, whether that person is religious or not. This may be more political than theological, but then many attitudes on religion today are.

By no means am I saying that Ed Miliband will come to favour one religious institution over another, but what I will categorically suggest is that his atheism will not de facto ignore the level of favouritism or ill-feeling that is levelled at some religions, or even the level at which some secularists believe certain religions are far less compatible with secularism than others.

Furthermore, on the question of educational sectarianism, such institutions do not have a state sanction to be sectarian, but to open a school with a certain religious value system. I’ve little doubt that Ed, even as an atheist, will be happy, or even indifferent, to religious values being attached to schools. Sectarianism in schools, where it exists, is kept quiet, and is certainly not allowed as such – in fact admissions in most schools are still subject to anti-discrimination measures.

Moreover, this accusation, made by A. C. Grayling was made about David Miliband; who, as mentioned, did send his son to a Roman Catholic school.

On possible neutrality between faiths, Ed Miliband has already upset Israeli supporters by speaking at at a Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East reception. It is inevitable that a political position will eventually upset faiths when politics and faith have become so intertwined. It is quite clear, therefore, that an atheist is just as liable as a believer – a further element overlooked by Grayling.

And as for the point about Miliband being more level headed, this remains to be seen, but frankly the dividing line is not drawn between believer and non-believer, only in Grayling’s black and white mind.

  1. Simon
    September 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Why go to the trouble of constructing so many strawmen just to tear them to shreds?

    • September 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm

      Ask yourself who created those straw men, and the answer won’t be me

  2. September 29, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Wow! What a diatribe against Grayling. What got up your nose, eh Carl?

    I can’t be bothered pulling your post apart. Maybe you should bone up on ‘straw man’ and a wee bit of critical thinking and even philosophy.

    No one from my life has a problem with atheists be they leaders or no. Ed is certainly more interesting than his brother and it will be interesting to see where Labour goes from here.

    I feel sure Grayling would say the same.

  3. Alex
    September 30, 2010 at 12:18 am

    “it also helps the “Ditchkins'” out in their mission to single religion out as only evil; secular reason as bringing only good”

    Please provide citations showing that Dawkins and Hitchens make these two claims.

  4. September 30, 2010 at 11:41 am


    What is the point in me linking to articles if I’m going to be accused of building straw men? You seem to be something of a Grayling fan and I wonder if you’ve read his article on David Miliband, if not you can see it here as I’ve kindly linked to it.

    You’re probably an atheist judging by your blog, and I’m asserting here that it is more honest to admit that it matters for nothing that Ed Miliband is an atheist. The view that atheism would affect a person’s leadership may once have been the sole preserve of a batty-minded God oik, but Grayling took atheism fetishism to a new low with this article – and anyway, I thought he dismissed the word atheism as being on the terms of the theist, preferring naturalist instead.

    In short, you can’t come here patronising me about your heroes Veronique, and levelling ad hominem charges like they’re going out of fashion; I’m built of better stuff than that.


    The Ditchkins as a single entity is a fan of Hitchens’ challenge; that is to name an act that is done by a religious person, which could not be done by a non-believer. If you remember, this is to curb the argument that religion is not “poisonous” because all the good things done in the name of religion, for example the end of slave trade.

    It’s fair game, but it is never inverted; that is to say, is there an act of evil done in the name of religion, that could not be done by an atheist?

    Now maybe, if you sat the two down, they would admit that evil acts are done both in the name of religion and not. But the futile way in which they both discuss evil acts committed in, say, the twentieth century, appeal to the view that though there had been notable cases where religion was absent (Hitler’s Nazi party were anti-clerical in the thirties, possibly atheist, certainly social-Darwinist, Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust was strongly anti-Christian up until his death; Stalin was an atheist; Mao too yada yada) Communism and Fascism are demi-religions where leaders are demi-Gods, one starts to think, it is not atheism or secular reason they are arguing for, but for liberal democracy, since evil is done by both believer and non- .

    (Apologies for a long paragraph)

    All in all, anything that doesn’t fit Ditchkins’ view of Good is either religious or demi-religious, makes you question the criteria. If we were honest, which we like to be here, there’s good and bad in everyone, and importantly, just because someone says or thinks they’ve done evil in the name of something (Christianity, Islam, Communism, Fascism) doesn’t mean we should necessarily believe that to be true.

    Until Ditchkins publically accepts this, what you’ve quoted of me, I feel, is totally correct.

    (And just in case you were wondering, Hitler started to make speeches with religious rhetoric coincidentally around the time the Roman Catholic church found common cause with his project, and started throwing large donations at him. His religious sounding talk in Mein Kampf may have been an emerging religiosity in old age, may be pantheism in the way Stephen Hawking talked about God, could be gratitude towards the Roman Catholic church, who knows? Not me, not you!)

  5. Fraser
    September 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    “Furthermore, on the question of educational sectarianism, such institutions do not have a state sanction to be sectarian, but to open a school with a certain religious value system.”

    If you are as honest as you portray, you will accept that single faith schools are breeding grounds for sectarianism be that overtly (seldom), covertly (not so seldom) or unintentionally (the norm). If you don’t accept this you should visit Glasgow schools with an open mind. Your statement doesn’t challenge the assertion that if this vehicle for division didn’t exist, neither would sectarianism.


    • September 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      Look, that may well be the case, and I’d be interested in the stats which say whether religious sectarianism is disproportionately linked with people/communities who have attended single faith schools, but it is not conclusive, and that is my point

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