Is the Bible’s ‘Moral Code’ right for Britain?

Liam Duffy

Image © ckpicker

In a speech marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the Prime Minister announced that a revival of Christian values could combat Britain’s moral collapse.

But what exactly is this apparent ‘moral collapse’, and how would Christianity counteract it? According to a recent Home Office report, crime rates are at their lowest for thirty years, yet indifference and scepticism towards religion is at its height. Does he mean the depictions of sex and violence in our culture? The majority of the video games, TV, and cinema which some find abhorrent are largely imports from the USA, a nation in which Christianity is far more influential than it is in the United Kingdom.

No, Cameron cited the threat of Islamic extremism, the financial crash, and last summer’s riots as the evidence for the moral collapse. He stated that ‘passive tolerance… just isn’t going to cut it anymore,’ but atheists are among the most outspoken in condemning religious violence, and particularly Islamic terrorism. On the other hand, some comments from Christian voices have often been far from helpful regarding such matters; refer to Vatican comments on the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, or Jerry Falwell’s 9/11 comments.

The financial crash does not seem to fit as evidence either. The worst financial disaster in memory was the Great Depression of the 1930s, at a time when Christianity in Europe and the USA was far more commonly observed and practiced.

So the riots which scarred several English cities were the culmination of our moral collapse? More likely the latest outburst of a violent underclass which has long been present in Britain. This is demonstrated by the mods and rockers clashes during the 1960s, or football hooliganism which has caused intermittent moral panics for decades.

The fact is, Cameron’s speech was muddled and bizarre, from the inconsistencies discussed above, to the implication that Christian values and the Bible could provide us with a helpful ‘moral code.’ Even the Bible’s most recognisable moral pronouncements are ambiguous and, to my mind, questionable. Only two of the Ten Commandments are criminal acts in this country, and it seems likely that our attitudes towards murder and stealing preceded the Old Testament. If the Bible provided us humans with our moral basis then presumably civilisation was impossible prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai.

Reaction to the speech was mixed but it was biologist Richard Dawkins who met Cameron’s speech head on, declaring the Bible an ‘appalling moral compass.’ Dawkins points out that people very often cherry pick the verses which apply to our modern sensibilities. Indeed, Christian morality gave us the Crusades, the bloodthirsty Inquisition, and the deaths of thousands of young women in witch-hunts.

But this is not the only problem with the proposition that Christianity, or belief in general, can afford us the foundations of a healthy and moral society. According to a European Commission poll, the populations of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are among the least religious in Western Europe but they also have some of the lowest crime rates in the continent. A 2011 prosperity index also ranked Norway and Denmark as 1st and 2nd in the world in terms of wealth and wellbeing. Sweden ranked 5th. Are these countries really suffering due to an absence of Christian values?

Of course there is a good chance that Cameron’s comments were a hollow attempt to satisfy traditionalists within his own party. Nonetheless, if the Prime Minister intends to lead a revival in Christian values then there is a great deal of evidence which needs to be brought to his attention first. Harking back to days of superstition and myth is unnecessary and should be opposed. The King James Bible has shaped so much of our language and our literature, but a text which advocates misogyny, homophobia, slavery and genocide cannot be reconciled with our modern morality.

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