Nick Clegg: ‘I don’t believe in God’


by Leon
20th December, 2007 at 10:34 am    

When I read the news yesterday that new LibDem leader Nick Clegg openly admitted he doesn’t believe in god I had one reaction: “Brave man”.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ new leader, has defied political convention with a frank admission that he is an atheist.

During a round of media broadcasts on the morning after his election to the post, he was asked by one interviewer: “Do you believe in God?”

“No,” Mr Clegg answered simply, during an appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live. [Via The Times Online]

But why is it brave for a leader of a political party to openly express his non theistic views? Thinking about it how much does a politician’s religious (or lack off) beliefs actually matter when voters consider electing them? Surely an ‘Atheist’ can do just as a good a job as getting the buses to run on time as a believer?

Perhaps sensing the political capital to made out of his frank answer he felt the need to issue a statement afterward:

His statement said: “I have enormous respect for people who have religious faith. I’m married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics.

“However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.”

Isn’t it strange in this day and age you still have to be careful talking about what beliefs you don’t have? I mean, it’s not like we’re living in Saudi Arabia now is it? Why should anyone fear being honest about not believing in god?


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Filed in: British Identity,Party politics,Religion






42 Comments below   |  

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  1. Kev Keegan

    [Yo! Liverpool] Lib/Dem leader, I dont believe in God.: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/1598

    http://wwwhttp://bit.ly/bxOPN3




  1. ourman — on 20th December, 2007 at 10:56 am  

    Exactly. Not sure I’d ever vote Lib Dem but I just got a lot closer.

    Just blogged this and after the Bush/Blair double act more non-believing politicans are welcome.

  2. Jai — on 20th December, 2007 at 11:21 am  

    Leon,

    Why should anyone fear being honest about not believing in god?

    It depends on the specific country and what the prevailing mainstream cultural norms are at the time, particularly in relation to expectations from its leaders, ie:

    1) Not anything really “brave” about it in the UK, 2007. I think that atheism or at least agnosticism seems to be the general view here these days (amongst English people anyway, there are obviously differences in other ethnic/religious communities).

    2) Possibly fairly brave in the UK, 1957 (I read in one of the major British newspapers earlier this week that apparently about 90% of British adults at the time possessed a copy of The Bible — the figure has dropped dramatically since then).

    3) Very brave indeed in the USA, 2007, which is a much more overtly religious country (even amongst the “non-Bible Belt” liberal types) than the UK. With regards to politicians, imagine what would happen if Hillary or Obama said they were atheists — the impact it would have on their chances of winning the Presidency.

  3. Bert Preast — on 20th December, 2007 at 12:02 pm  

    Well done to Clegg. I’ve long found it worrying when you suspect the man at the top thinks he’s being guided to doing the right thing, or that praying will help when he’s done the wrong thing.

  4. CharlieBeckett — on 20th December, 2007 at 12:11 pm  

    Well done Nick, and then he blew it by the “I’m not religious but some of my best friends are” statement.
    I have no objection to anyone’s faith either, but I do resent that religious believers (including Brown and Blair) subtly (or blatantly in the case of the MCB or the CoE) imply that their opinions are somehow more noble and important than the opinion of non-believers. That’s why we still have Thought For The Day…

  5. Dave S — on 20th December, 2007 at 12:43 pm  

    If he’d just left it at “No”, without issuing the statement afterwards, that would have been great, and shown some mettle.

    As it is, it seems like a hasty back-pedal to cover his arse and not offend any believers, so I don’t think he’s particularly brave. Or at least, when he realised he had potentially been brave, he glossed over it just in case anybody realised.

    No, what would have been truly brave was if he said “No” as if it was an almost irrelevant question, and then if challenged on it later, respectfully defended his atheism.

    But what do I care? I’m an anarchist who votes for Nobody, so as much as this new LibDem guy seems pretty OK in many ways, I can’t vote for them (or anyone else) on principle.

    Nobody is the only person I trust to represent me, so that’s who I wish to have in government. Vote Nobody!

  6. Don — on 20th December, 2007 at 1:34 pm  

    Agree with Charlie and Dave, good that we have an ‘out’ non-theist as head of a party, not so good that he felt he had to soften the blow.

  7. Kulvinder — on 20th December, 2007 at 1:58 pm  

    I’m not bothered about his personal faith either way and im not sure many people in Britain are.

    I’m am curious about the ‘soften the blow’ comments above. It sounds weirdly like people on the tory hard right – or trots on the left – calling for absolute and nonconciliatory language.

    The last thing i would ever do is vote for a man who to all intents and purposes ranted against his own children. As it is saying ‘no’ but releasing a statement trying not to alienate certain members of your electorate (let alone your wife) who say ‘yes’ is just part of being a politician.

    My point is his personal beliefs are completely irrelevant to me but im not sure why anyone would begrudge the man some ideological leeway. I’d much rather vote for a Catholic who said he ‘had faith’ but put it to one side whilst doing his job and accepted atheists and agnostics than a Catholic who ranted against the non-believers.

  8. Dan | thesamovar — on 20th December, 2007 at 2:48 pm  

    I can’t give him too much respect when he says he’s committed to bringing his children up as catholics. If I were having children with a catholic, I would make it quite clear that I would be doing my best to convince them of the non-existence of God (and I would be expecting her to do the same for her beliefs). As an atheist, it’s not respectful to religion not to challenge it if you think it’s wrong. It’s not respectful of any idea not to challenge it. And it certainly isn’t respectful to his children to be happy for them to be brought up believing something he must think is nonsense. If anything, it shows contempt for them. It also suggests to me that he is a little bit too compromising about what he believes in.

  9. Ismaeel — on 20th December, 2007 at 2:52 pm  

    Sounds to me like he is an agnostic not an atheist

  10. Dave S — on 20th December, 2007 at 2:58 pm  

    Dan #8: absolutely, couldn’t agree more. In fact, I was going to say something just like that, but couldn’t get the wording right.

    Ismaeel #9: Indeed, maybe he is, but I still reckon he ought to not just bow to his wife’s beliefs when it comes to their kids.

  11. Don — on 20th December, 2007 at 3:41 pm  

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to tell the man how to arrange such matters within his own family (nor would I expect him to, as it were ‘do a Hitchens’, Kulvinder) but it does seem as though a simple ‘no’ would allienate a lot of people.

  12. Dave S — on 20th December, 2007 at 6:12 pm  

    Don, fair enough I guess. I’m not exactly saying that anyone should tell him how to organise his family either.

    I just think that as an indication of his character, it’s pretty weak to be non-religious yourself but allow your children to have a full religious upbringing, when it’s something you don’t personally believe in. You’d at least hope there’d be an even mix of both parents beliefs (or lack of) in there.

    I dunno… I shouldn’t talk about things I don’t really give a shit about.

    I’m not really interested in how other people run their lives or their families, but if those people have an interest in running aspects of my life (in which I have no say in the matter), then as much as I’d rather they weren’t there, I feel we do have a certain right to analyse the way they live, their character and so on.

    In many ways, I don’t have a massive problem with the LibDems and liberals in general. Bit wishy-washy and not radical or even “progressive” enough in any direction, but nothing they say offends me massively.

    Don’t tell me how to live my life, and I won’t tell you how to live yours – that’s all. Any government – even a liberal one – is authoritarian by definition of the existence of centralised power. Some are just more authoritarian than others.

    Don’t be authoritarian towards me, and I couldn’t care less what goes on inside your home or your family.

    But there’s no government like no government! :-)

  13. Rohin — on 20th December, 2007 at 7:14 pm  

    I am glad the gradual acceptance of public atheism (or agnosticism if you prefer – although I think agnostics are people who just haven’t thought about it properly!) has permeated politics.

    But I don’t think this will change much, Lib Dem supporters – I believe there are nine left in the UK – are generally the type who won’t be fazed by this. In fact the kind of people that read PP won’t be fazed by this, but I imagine much of the UK still looks down at non-believers. Does it?

    Look how most comments (including mine) have welcomed this statement, we’re a self-selected population. We didn’t like Blair’s sickening religious zeal, but I guess lots of people did.

    What’s prevailing British opinion? Not the middle classes, but middle England?

  14. Sid — on 20th December, 2007 at 8:17 pm  

    I’d have more respect if a politician said to the reporter:
    “Fuck you that’s a personal question”

  15. Gibs — on 20th December, 2007 at 8:19 pm  

    Not particularly brave for a British politician to admit he is an atheist (possible exception being if his constituency was in Northern Ireland where religion is very important).

    It would however be VERY brave for a young British Asian to admit that he is an atheist (possible exception being if he lived in somewhere like Norfolk where there aren’t many other Asians about).

  16. Clairwil — on 20th December, 2007 at 8:39 pm  

    If he and his wife married in a Catholic church they’d have to agree the children would be brought up Catholic. I would imagine that a Catholic wedding would have been important to his wife. Well done to him for being so honest.

  17. Rohin — on 20th December, 2007 at 8:41 pm  

    “It would however be VERY brave for a young British Asian to admit that he is an atheist”

    Why?

    I’m an atheist. I speak and write publicly about the evils of Intelligent Design and religious pseudoscience. I occasionally criticise religious zealots on an Internet blog called Pickled Politics. I am a British Asian and live in London where there are lots of brownfaces. Give me a medal for bravery Gibs.

  18. Gibs — on 20th December, 2007 at 9:21 pm  

    Rohin #17.

    Unfortunately there are countless other Asians who would face a backlash from their communities – ranging from ostracism by at best to death threats at worst.

    Too many Asians living in the UK don’t seem to recognise that “freedom of religion” also means “freedom from religion” or “freedom to give up relgion”.

    My personal opinion is that it would be a good thing if the “average” young British Asian’s religiosity was similar to the “average” young British white person’s.

    It certainly would not make the average young British Asian a worse person for being so.

  19. Don — on 20th December, 2007 at 9:37 pm  

    Sid#14,

    Followed by another leadership contest. Although, minus the ‘Fuck you’, a reasonable response.

    Rohin’s question in #13 is a puzzler. About two-thirds of the people with whom I significantly communicate are middle-class, free-thinker/atheist types. A self-selected and non-representative group. Y’know, my peers.

    The remainder are believers in one way or another and I don’t get the impression that they look down on me.

    Actually, that’s about the same proportion as maintain that there is ‘something in’ horoscopes and homeopathy, although not always the same individuals.

  20. Ravi Naik — on 21st December, 2007 at 12:58 am  

    I follow religion, but I must say I feel very uneasy when politicians say God tells them to do things.

  21. Deep Singh — on 21st December, 2007 at 10:28 am  

    Rohin @ 17.

    “I’m an atheist. I speak and write publicly about the evils of Intelligent Design and religious pseudoscience. I occasionally criticise religious zealots on an Internet blog called Pickled Politics. I am a British Asian and live in London where there are lots of brownfaces. Give me a medal for bravery Gibs.”

    Rohin, I take your point concerning the “medal” comment, however I don’t believe one needs to be an atheist to “speak and write publicly about the evils of Intelligent Design and religious pseudoscience” or “criticise religious zealots”.

    There are many religious people who do exactly the same.

  22. Sid — on 21st December, 2007 at 10:46 am  

    If Clegg happened to be an active believer in, say, Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit and North American shamanism, then it would be a lot easier to say, “I don’t believe”, and avoid horrified reactions from Middle England than face a red-top led campaign of derision and, as Don says, another leadershipo contest.

  23. Jai — on 21st December, 2007 at 11:34 am  

    About two-thirds of the people with whom I significantly communicate are middle-class, free-thinker/atheist types. A self-selected and non-representative group. Y’know, my peers.

    Ditto for me, whether the “peers” are white or Indian.

    Personally I’ve found the Pakistanis I’ve met to be a little more devout (plenty of exceptions, though, and the same applies to black people), but the 2nd-generation Indians ? Hell no. They mostly tend to be a mixture of agnostics and atheists. Generally the former, at least in my own highly-subjective experience.

    It would however be VERY brave for a young British Asian to admit that he is an atheist…..Unfortunately there are countless other Asians who would face a backlash from their communities – ranging from ostracism by at best to death threats at worst…..Too many Asians living in the UK don’t seem to recognise that “freedom of religion” also means “freedom from religion” or “freedom to give up relgion”.

    1. Absolutely huge generalisation and a massive false stereotype.

    2. By “Asian”, Gibs, exactly which sections of the Asian population are you referring to ? What have been the backgrounds of the people you have personally had the greatest level of direct experience with ?

  24. funkg — on 21st December, 2007 at 11:35 am  

    Sorry to point this out but its interesting how its mainly the ‘non ethnics on this posting who state their selves as atheist. This is a pattern familiar in the public services in big cities, with plenty of Africans/Carribeans and Asians expressing a belief and non ethnics who tend not to.

  25. ceedee — on 21st December, 2007 at 11:40 am  

    It’s a win : win situation!

    Nick Clegg can respond to any criticism of his atheism with the request that they “pray for him.”

    Master stroke!
    :-)

  26. douglas clark — on 21st December, 2007 at 11:47 am  

    ceedee,

    I see the ghost of Bill Hicks in your post. After his usual gig, he was approached by some angry, red necked guys, who said:

    “Hicks, we are Christians, and we really took exception to your act.”

    Hicks says:

    “Well, forgive me.”

  27. funkg — on 21st December, 2007 at 11:49 am  

    Interesting point Jai,

    I work with a predominantly Bangladeshi male clientele and whatever depths they may find their selves in whether its drugs, crime, homelessness they would NEVER disrespect their Islamic faith or state they have no belief in God.

  28. Rohin — on 21st December, 2007 at 12:12 pm  

    True Deep Singh. I just mentioned those as I imagine the religious zealots are the ones who are likely to threaten/criticise atheists in Gibs’ hypothetical situation.

  29. El Cid — on 21st December, 2007 at 12:41 pm  

    I think this matters more to the atheists than to everybody else. I don’t give a shit about a person’s religion. I care more about how people carry themselves and whether they respect others without kowtowing. So good for him for being straight, but on the other hand, so what?

  30. Random Guy — on 21st December, 2007 at 3:56 pm  

    El Cid, I think its supposed to be a big deal because you don’t get many politicians saying they are atheist straight out. And I guess the atheist voters will feel a bit more vindicated, and ‘represented’ now that he came out about his faith…

    Mind you, a question like that is quite barbed, as it will have an opposite effect on the (greater?) number of voters who do profess a belief in God…

  31. Don — on 21st December, 2007 at 5:00 pm  

    I doubt it will damage him much. People who would feel that not having a religious belief is a disqualification for office would be unlikely to vote LibDem anyway.

    Is he actually the first UK party leader to admit (odd word, really) to being a non-theist? I suspect so, although I’m sure there have been a few who kept their lack of faith quiet. At least it moves us away from the situation in the US, where candidates are more or less required to publicly kiss Hank’s ass.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDp7pkEcJVQ

  32. El Cid — on 21st December, 2007 at 5:27 pm  

    Random Guy,
    As I said, it matters more to the atheists. But there’s just chillin’ atheists and latent stalinist atheists.
    I (probably) won’t be voting liberal but I couldn’t give a toss about the religion of my political representative, as long as he doesn’t start making a big issue about it.

  33. Matt M — on 21st December, 2007 at 6:35 pm  

    Clement Attlee, according to Francis Beckett’s biography, was an atheist. Though back in those days it probably wasn’t considered good form to question someone about their religious beliefs.

  34. Meral — on 21st December, 2007 at 8:04 pm  

    Rohin No.13- actually 6 million voted Lib Dem in the last election, so all the people above who bother to write in to say they aren’t bovvered ….doh!

  35. Desi Italiana — on 21st December, 2007 at 9:04 pm  

    “Isn’t it strange in this day and age you still have to be careful talking about what beliefs you don’t have? I mean, it’s not like we’re living in Saudi Arabia now is it? Why should anyone fear being honest about not believing in god?”

    Or, it’s not like you guys are living in the United States :)

    In the US, the more you flaunt God, the more you can rest assured that God fearing folks will vote for you which is a sizable chunk of the population. Of course, it has to be a certain god though– preferably of the Protestant and Baptist Christian tradition. If you’re a Catholic, you’re risking a lot, political calculus wise (but it works in places like Louisiana, ex: Bobby Jindal). If you’re Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever else, forget it.

    Also, Clegg might have tempered his comment out of fear of “disrespecting” religiously minded folks. “Secularism” also probably has something to do with it.

  36. Ravi Naik — on 22nd December, 2007 at 11:38 am  

    If you’re a Catholic, you’re risking a lot, political calculus wise (but it works in places like Louisiana, ex: Bobby Jindal).

    Not necessarily. Don’t forget that JFK – one of the most charismatic US presidents ever – was Catholic, and I think since then, it hasn’t been an issue. John Kerry is a Catholic, but his religion wasn’t made a liability back in 2004, except for the Catholic church itself, which was pondering not giving him communion for his views on abortion.

  37. Muhamad — on 23rd December, 2007 at 12:42 pm  

    I’m an atheist but…don’t let that stop you from having delusions of grandeur.

  38. Don — on 23rd December, 2007 at 6:20 pm  

    Who are you talking to?

  39. George — on 23rd December, 2007 at 10:30 pm  

    Tony believes alright:

    http://neoclassics.blogspot.com/

  40. Muhamad — on 30th December, 2007 at 8:31 pm  

    I’m just asserting my secularity, Don. People have a godgiven right to celebrate mediocrity, stupidity, etc.

  41. dd — on 2nd January, 2008 at 1:52 am  

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