James Arbuthnot: Being Atheist Is As Hard for Tories As Being Gay

James Arbuthnot

A veteran Tory recently said it is as hard for conservative members of Parliament to admit they are atheist as it is for gay individuals to be open about their sexual orientation. James Arbuthnot, who has previously chaired the defense committee as well as served as defense minister and Chief Whip, informed the Commons on January 16 that he had withheld some important information from them. He went on to reveal to them that he has not been religious for as long as 30 years.

The Member of Parliament from North East Hampshire said he was stepping down from parliamentary elections, after having served the Commons since 1987. He said it was only now that he was exiting Westminster that he felt courageous enough to admit he has never believed in Christianity.

“I am not in the least religious,” he said. “I was christened and confirmed, but since then I have lost those beliefs and faith I once had. And I am perfectly comfortable with that. … This is the first time I have ever actually acknowledged that in public. … The pressure on a Conservative politician particularly of keeping quiet about not being religious is very similar to the pressure that there has been about keeping quiet about being gay. … For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not gay either. But I wanted to say it is telling that it has taken me 28 years in this House, and frankly the knowledge I won’t be standing at the next election to make this point.”

Arbuthnot said he was aware that his decision to reveal he is not religious would dishearten most people in his constituency as well as some other family members, who have very strong religious beliefs.

A spokesperson for National Secular Society however congratulated Arbuthnot for voicing his secular principles and taking a stand against religious privileges.

“It’s a sad reflection of British politics that Mr. Arbuthnot felt unable to publicly declare his atheism for so long. The ‘Christian Country’ narrative being peddled by prime minister and secretary of state for communities only serves to marginalise non-Christians, when what we should be doing is promoting a secular, pluralistic society in which people of all faiths and none are given equal standing,” he added.

While David Cameron describes himself as an evangelical, both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband denounce faith in God or religion. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles stirred a controversy last year, when he said Great Britain is a Christian nation and militant atheists need to come to terms with that fact instead of agitating against it.

Photo Credits: BBC News

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