Overview:

Nigel Farage has recently decried UK census statistics about religion and ethnicity. Perhaps he needs better inform himself on these matters.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Nigel Farage, one of the architects of Brexit, and continued xenophobe-in-chief in UK politics, has again been caught stoking the embers of cultural discontent. As recently reported at OnlySky, the 2021 UK census results have shown that Christianity is now a minority belief and that immigration has shifted demographics in certain cities.

On the back of this news, Farage has been capitalizing on his right-wing GB News show, and in his own media.

However, there are some serious questions to be asked of his claims, one of which is simply incorrect as per the very data he is citing.

The census problem

In the above video, Farage makes the following claim:

“Massive, massive demographic change is taking place in our country. More significantly for the country as a whole, it shows that only 46% now identify as Christians. So there is a massive change in the identity of this country that is taking place through immigration. You may think it is a good thing; you may think it is a bad thing.”

Farage obviously thinks it is a bad thing, but what is certain given the causal language used in this quote (“so there is…”), Farage blames the most significant change—Christianity being a minority religion or identity—is a result of of the “massive change” brought about by immigration.

Unfortunately for Farage, the statistics show him to be precisely and completely wrong.

While people identifying as “Christian” fell to 46.2%, they were still more numerous than those with “no religion,” the second largest group at 37.2% (although 32,000 “Agnostics”, 14,000 “Atheists”, and 10,000 “Humanists” registered under “Any other religion”). But the devil is in the details.

The number of white Britons who identify as Christian has fallen by almost 7 million. But, as Kenan Malik points out, ‘the numbers of black, Asian and “white other” Christians have risen.’ And at the same time, the most diverse areas in the UK, with the most migrants and non-white populations and communities, have the lowest proportions of people with “no religion.”

It is the immigrants who are keeping Christianity from declining at an even faster rate. It is the white population that is losing its religious identity faster.

Farage is wrong.

(It is worth checking out left-wing commentator Owen Jones pick apart Farage’s claims here.)

The UK is a Christian country

In for a penny, in for a pound. Because he has gone on to make other pretty “massive” claims. This is where I was going to show you his monologue intro to his GB News show, but they have, in the last hour, changed the video to private. But not before I could transcribe some of it. In the ellipsis section below, he gave a sharp attack on the Archibishop of Canterbury, and this could be why it was retracted. On this show, he stated:

“Frankly, everything that Western civilization was built on was Judeo-Christian culture. The Ten Commandments, in a sense, being the fundamental basis for all of our laws. Our Constitution: We were built and founded as a Christian country. Now, it doesn’t mean that anyone is forced to say they are a Christian, but to seed this drop in just 10 years from 50% of the population to 46%, that is a very dramatic fall.

“What is it down to? Well, I have to say, I believe personally that is a fundamental weakness in the leadership, especially with the Church of England….

And even in schools, which call themselves Church of England schools, there is now a lack of morning assembly, a lack of prayers, a lack of fundamental teaching. I think that children should actually have those things, and they can choose when they’re older to accept or reject those things.”

These statements are akin to the sorts found across the pond and in the US, where conservative Christians often claim that the US, the Consitution, and its Founding Fathers are all somehow Christian in identity, and that Christianity is fundamentally causally responsible.

For everything good.

I am not sure whether Farage realizes that the UK does not have a formal written, codified constitution. Instead, if it has one at all, it is spread throughout the many entities—institutions, Acts of Parliament, laws, and suchlike. As the Constitution Society explains:

Unlike in the United States, where the constitution is the ‘supreme law’ the UK system has no clear concept of a ‘higher law’: there is no clear distinction between what is a constitutional law and what is a regular law. This also means there are no special procedures for changing the constitution itself in the UK. If it is determined to do so, a ‘constitutional statute’ can be repealed or amended by simple majority votes in Parliament, like any other legislation. This differs from the situation in countries such as the United States, where the constitution is ‘entrenched’ – in other words, needing to satisfy additional requirements in order for it to be amended. The UK constitution can be altered relatively easily by the government of the day, meaning it changes more frequently than many other constitutions. It is often said that the UK Parliament is ‘sovereign’. This parliamentary ‘sovereignty’ means that Parliament can make or unmake any law, without being limited by a constitutional text.

(For a discussion of ideas connected to this, see “Is Britain a Christian country and, whatever the case, what then?” but The Constitution Unit for UCL.)

Farage is just showing his ignorance of the country he holds so dearly. He is trying to cling to something that doesn’t actually exist.

However, his claims were far more egregious than this: “Everything that Western civilization was built on was Judeo-Christian culture.” This is so problematic for a variety of reasons, but the two major ones will suffice. First, “Western civilization” is not really a coherent concept to be able to pin down in the way Farage would hope. Second, does Farage also attribute all the horrific things that have come out of “Western civilization” to Judeo-Christianity? At one and the same time, such a civilization has produced the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf.

Let Australian Oliver Waters explain:

The first problem with this conception is that ‘Western Civilisation’ is not actually a thing. To say this is not to indulge in some far-left, postmodernist, self-flagellating relativism, but simply to state a rather obvious historical point. There is no coherent historical, ethical or political project one can refer to as ‘the West’. At best, one can say that many of the ideas that underpin today’s successful modern civilisations had their origins in Western Europe. But this is like saying that Vegemite originated in the Southern Hemisphere. Technically accurate, but ultimately misleading.

To speak of ‘Western Civilisation’ as a coherent whole tends to paint ‘the West’ as some unerring geographical source of great ideas, when it’s clearly not. Many, many more terrible ideas arose in this part of the world than good ones. From industrialised imperialism, Fascism, Aryanism, Communism, the Atlantic slave trade, advanced chemical and nuclear weapons — these are all products of ‘Western Civilisation’.

The Ten Commandments

The idea that the UK is a fundamentally Christian country in terms of law and culture is to get everything the wrong way around. Over time, society has forced Christianity to adapt to it, and the religion has obliged, if with an awful lot of resistance at times.

Farage relies on a sort of genetic fallacy here: This is how we came to be (so he thinks) and, thus, this is how we should continue to be. So I guess Farage still advocates for slavery, the death penalty (he probably does…), and given his predilection for the Decalogue, has never worked on the Sabbath and demands our shops and pubs close.

Should we stoning adulterers still? Nigel? Only, you had a mistress for 10 years, right?

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I hear. I’d put on a really thick jumper and a bike helmet.

In one of the best recent statements I have seen from the British judiciary, Lord Justice Laws, writing on behalf of the Court of Appeal in a case concerning fostering, homosexuality, and Christianity laid out the Court’s views on the law and Christianity. He highlighted took to task the proposition that discrimination is validated by Christian morality as well as the idea that Christian morality underwrites our laws:

“… The general law may of course protect a particular social or moral position which is espoused by Christianity, not because of its religious imprimatur, but on the footing that in reason its merits commend themselves. So it is with core provisions of the criminal law, the prohibition of violence and dishonesty. The Judea-Christian tradition, stretching over many centuries, has no doubt exerted a profound influence upon the judgment of law-makers as to the objective merits of this or that social policy, and the liturgy and practice of the established church are to some extent prescribed by law. But the conferment of any legal protection or preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply unprincipled; it imposes compulsory law not to advance the general good on objective grounds, but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion. This must be so, since, in the eye of everyone save the believer, religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence. It may, of course, be true, but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society. Therefore it lies only in the heart of the believer who is alone bound by it; no one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims.

“The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified; it is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective, but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion, any belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”

Harry Small, “This is not a ‘Christian country’”, The National Secular Society.

The idea that the Ten Commandments are “the fundamental basis for all of our laws” is insanely preposterous. Let’s remind ourselves of these laws that are so fundamental to our own laws:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images. 
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet.

These rules are absolutely not fundamental to our own laws. Most of these are not remotely evidenced in our laws. The rest are represented in laws because the principles are so generic. “Thous shalt not kill” is not a Christian ideal. Indeed, the Ur-Nammu Law Code featured murder, robbery, and adultery as capital crimes all the way back in 2100 BCE, before Christianity was a thing.

I don’t see Nigel Farage waxing lyrical about Sumerian law codes being fundamental to the British legal system.

And our children

What is perhaps even more depressing is Farage’s views on education. He advocates for children to be inculcated into the Christian faith, learning the fundamentals of Christianity (which are…stoning adulterers?) and then being able to choose. Because, of course, he would accept this with any other religion. He must surely love that, around the world, millions of other children are indoctrinated into Islam, a religion he abhors…

In a pluralistic society, one which we have and cannot poof into nonexistence, such a Judeo-Christian outlook is a pipedream: It’s not something remotely workable.

But I don’t for a minute think that Farge is actually a committed Christian. Instead, he is much more opportunistic. He is a traditionalist, a cultural Christian who will happily cherry-pick the ideas and notions of Christianity that fit his rose-tinted idea of what the UK should be.

Farage’s idea of this “Christian nation” was already so changed from what George III’s was, or Oliver Cromwell’s was, or Henry VIII’s was, that the whole Faragian project is an act of arbitrary fruit-picking.

Rather than settle for Farage’s poisoned cherries, we would be setting our sights on a better, more inclusive future. He is welcome to come along for the ride, but I feel it will be a massive, massive disappointment.

That’s okay though, after Brexit, rumors are he applied for a German passport (as did his children, who got them). He’s welcome to see how welcome Germany has been to ex-pats immigrants.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...