In Godless France

Jeremy Harding

Four hundred up for the King James Bible and David Cameron has this to say:

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

The French say bad things about our economy. We respond that we’re not the sort to sneer at people for their religion or tell them what they shouldn’t wear. Ours is a big tent full of believers and unbelievers, with an altar at the far end, the bailiffs at the entrance and Group 4 Security on the perimeter. Theirs is a profane republic, with an army of sapeurs-pompiers hosing down the bright flame of multiculturalism wherever it appears.

So what to make of Cameron’s case for a tolerant offshore Britain? And where is the Christian underpinning? Here are some tentative findings.

1. Income inequality is greater in Britain than three-quarters of OECD member countries. France, in recent OECD findings, is one of five member countries ‘where income inequality and poverty have declined’. Britain spends the equivalent of roughly 12 per cent of GDP on social transfers, France roughly 22 per cent. (On redistribution, follow Luke the Evangelist, at 138 characters including spaces, Chapter 14, tweets 13-14: ‘But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the lame, the maimed, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee.’)

2. British household debt, before the hit in 2008, was 176 per cent of disposable income; in France, 93 per cent. (For the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, see Matthew 25.1-13. On debt in general, see Romans 13.8. ‘Owe no man anything, but to love one another.’)

3. Prisoners per 100,000 in the UK in 2008: 158. Secular France: 93. (See Jesus to the crucified thief, Luke 23.43: ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.’)

4. Detentions of unauthorised underage migrants in the UK in 2009: c.1000. France: c.320. (See Luke 10.30 passim for the parable of the good Samaritan.)

5. And a merry Christmas to Jews, Muslims and especially unbelievers around these islands who think that multifaith is just two faiths too many, or even three.

PS Total number of mosques and synagogues in Britain: c.1900. In godless France: c.2500.


  • 20 December 2011 at 7:09pm
    Anaximander says:
    Oh, come on, this France I live in is scarcely a haven of tolerance, and they usually also pretend to be Christian although formally secular. Cameron is largely wrong, but values which happen to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist etc are often the only ones we can find. But don't adduce France in evidence: it is rapidly trampling on all Harding holds dear, I'm afraid. And you wouldn't like a French prison, which suffers inhumane conditions far worse than most Brit ones.

    • 21 December 2011 at 5:30am
      Bob Beck says: @ Anaximander
      Not sure what you mean by claiming that nominally-religious values are "often the only ones we can find," but taken at face value, it's only trivially true. Most people in the world are nominally religious. Relatively few, it may be, have taken the trouble to develop a coherent set of secular values.

      Anyway, are we somehow obliged to take values, or persons seriously just because they're nominally religious? There's considerable reason to think not.

  • 21 December 2011 at 12:15am
    c.e.w. says:
    Possibly more than a “tentative finding”, and arguably a stronger metric than pre-2008 household debt (?) as an indicator of relative tolerance, is the 1st round of the 2007 French presidential election. One spring Sunday that year more than 3.8 million citoyens backed an unpleasant right-winger to lead their nation - and his name wasn't Nicholas.

  • 21 December 2011 at 10:25am
    semitone says:
    Not sure I follow the logic of number 3. I never thought "today thou shalt be with me in paradise" meant "people shouldn't incarcerate other people for committing crimes". I always thought it meant "you're gonna die, dude."

    • 22 December 2011 at 11:56pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ semitone
      Considering the situation, I don't think that would have been news to him. If you rewind a couple of verses, Thief 1 says to Jesus, "if you're the son of God, get us all down from here"; Thief 2 retorts, "hey, we're the thieves here - we deserve this, he doesn't", adding, "Jesus, think of me when you get to Heaven". It's then that Jesus replies to Thief 2, along the lines of "hey, you'll be there too".

      As for what this has to do with penal policy, it suggests that Jesus didn't believe that all sinners deserved to go to Hell - and there's a strong tradition in Christian social thought of keeping punishment of criminals to the bare minimum, essentially on the grounds that if God is going to forgive it would be pretty damn presumptuous for us to condemn.

  • 29 March 2012 at 4:36pm
    gotnotruck says:
    Jeezle! You seculars sure can quote chapter and verse. Frankly, I don't see what income inequality, (though highly important), has to do with religious freedom. Muslim women i France wear chadors in protest or for religious purposes. If it's their choice, good for them. A guy wore a gold mask in solidarity. Was he arrested? I've seen swastikas and "Juden Rein" in Vienna. Was asked on an application to reside there: Eyes: green. Hair: brown. Nose: (Was that a scan for "Jewish"? I'm not Jewish but felt so then). Wrote "Runny". We saw a swastika on a building in the French countryside near Toulouse five or ten years ago. Hear of anti semitism and anti Islam in most European countries. Are there any w/o Nationalist Parties? Can Marine Le Pen win? If you want to see hate groups in America google Southern Poverty Law Center/ Hate Map. The prevalence of anti semitism is why Israel MUST exist, much as a pain in the butt they are. The US must force them to STOP the settlements. But no way with Aipac buying congress. I was appalled in Albi deafened by tour leaders with loud microphones as they pointed out history and art. As a few people knelt to pray on the stone floor. No quiet for me to meditate. Didn't like it when a French movie showed an actor throwing a shirt over a saint's head before performing there. I'm an atheist mystic, but believe in respect for religion everywhere, as I debate believer about their beliefs.

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