Why the people in the UK are better than us
I’ve ranted a bit about the UK recently. Their National Health Service is doing some silly things, supporting homeopathy and the like, and the British Chiropractic Association (not a governmental entity) recently sued Simon Singh for libel because he dared to state scientifically that chiropody is not nearly as effective as its practitioners would like to believe. However, Richard Dawkins recently, in response to education legislation, proposed the creation of an entirely secular, skeptical (note: not atheist…teaching reason instead of indoctrination…) charter school, much like the very many religious charter schools in existence. Well, the UK Secretary of Education said to Parliament:
“One of the most striking things that I read recently was a thought from Richard Dawkins that he might want to take advantage of our education legislation to open a new school, which was set up on an explicitly atheist basis.”
Now, there are at least two points I’d like to make here.
First, it seems that the UK department of education is actually, at the very least, competent. That’s an interesting and useful change.
But think about what would have happened in a senior government official of the USA had said that? A cabinet member, almost supporting the idea of a not just neutral, but actively secular school? Think of the response to that!
The crazies are already up in arms because they don’t think Obama’s a christian, despite his claims that he is. Despite the fact that it doesn’t matter. Because he dared to invite a few atheists to a meeting at the White House called “Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses”. If the Secretary of Education expressed actual interest in this idea, they’d want his head.
But think about the US and the UK a little bit. One of these countries was founded on religious grounds. One has an official state religion, named after that country. One has the head of that church as it’s leader, at least in name. The other was founded as a secular nation, by mostly people who would be today described as deists or secular humanists, rather than theists. It has a rather important law forbidding the government from supporting any religion over another. But the country religious in name is the one that seems more secular in practice, at least in this issue, and the country that is supposedly secular has a huge right-wing group that can’t seem to keep their religion out of their politics. Prayers at city council meetings, people who want religious memorials on public property, and until recently the president, legislature, and supreme court have been exclusively religious (there are a few nonreligious congressmen now).
For comparison, Britain had an atheist prime minister in 1945, forming the National Health Service and the Welfare State, things we still haven’t gotten quite right (not that they have either…), and have had at least three. Britain’s population is about 15% nonreligious, about the same as the USA, however they manage to have a generally more tolerant and more secular system.
Well, except for homeopathy. And Ireland.