A nurse was recently dismissed from the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust for repeated inappropriate behaviour towards patients. Sarah Kuteh claims that she simply offered to pray with patients that she dealt with in the surgical pre-assessment unit. However, the Trust say that they received numerous complaints from patients, who said that she had attempted to push her own religious beliefs on them, even after they’d told her they weren’t interested. The Trust gave her a warning, but her behaviour continued, so they had no choice but to dismiss her. Facing surgery can be very worrying and distressing on its own. But when the people you are reliant on to take care of you turn out to be intent on converting you to their religion, that isn’t going to make things any less stressful.
Now, I don’t like to condemn someone without having seen the facts for myself, but we have the nurse’s own word, set against that of the NHS Trust, and the patients that complained (unless the Trust were lying about the complaints). You would think that for any journalist worthy of the name, the only story to write, based on the evidence available, was ‘Nurse sacked for inappropriate behaviour’. But for a large proportion of the UK’s media, led by The Daily Mail, it was just another opportunity to practice religious sycophancy and continue their narrative of the persecution of Christians in the UK. The Mail ran with the headline ‘Nurse sacked for offering to pray with her patients despite call by equality watchdog to end persecution of Christians‘ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4021094/Nurse-sacked-offering-pray-patients-despite-call-equality-watchdog-end-persecution-Christians.html).
You might be tempted to dismiss this as nothing less than you would expect from a scurrilous rag that wouldn’t know balanced reporting if you beat them around the head with it. Until you look at the name of the ‘journalist’ (I use the term loosely) who wrote the piece. As is common amongst the privileged (he went to Cambridge), Jonathan Petre isn’t content with just one high-profile job. As well as ‘Mail on Sunday Religion Correspondent’, he also happens to be ‘Head of Media’ for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Notice the conflict of interest? So what we have here is not just a newspaper that’s biased in favour of religion. We have a newspaper which appears to have handed over its reporting on religious issues to the Church of England. A newspaper which is allowing itself to be a vehicle for the Church to peddle misinformation and propaganda. According to the Press Gazette, The Mail has a circulation of over 1.5 million, with 15 million on-line hits every day. Imagine the effect their daily drip-feed of disingenuous reporting is having on their readers. Who needs fake news stories when you can manipulate genuine stories to make them suit your own agenda?
The Sarah Kuteh story is just the latest in a long line of one-sided, disingenuous articles by Jonathan Petre (or, to put it more directly, from the Church of England). It looks very much like a concerted campaign to make us think that Christians are disadvantaged (whereas the reality is the exact opposite). And it isn’t just in the media that The Church enjoys an excess of influence. In parliament, for instance, they have repeatedly used their influence to vote down a string of attempts to grant people the right to assisted dying (a right that, according to polls, has consistently been supported by around 80% of the population).
Sarah Kuteh (that’s ‘Kuteh’, not ‘Cutie’ – being a bully isn’t cute) is taking the NHS Trust to an employment tribunal, with the support of the Christian Legal Centre,who seem to have money to burn when it comes to supporting lost legal causes. They’re part of an organisation called Christian Concern. One look at their website is enough to show you the kind of lengths they will go to support their aims of spreading Christianity throughout society (whether society wants it or not).
We have a terrible imbalance when it comes to religion. On the one side we have large, very wealthy organisations, with great influence (like The Church of England and Christian Concern), who are prepared to use any tactics, however underhand, to push their religion onto society, at the expense of our basic human rights. On the other, in defence of the rights of those of us who aren’t religious (as well as those who are, but don’t want their behaviour to be dictated by religious groups) we have small groups, with limited funds and limited influence. To quote a biblical reference, it’s a ‘David and Goliath’ situation, and I don’t think we take it seriously enough; we’re not being sufficiently forthright in defending ourselves and our rights. The National Secular Society, for instance, aims to separate church and state, and to remove religious privilege. At the same time, it’s sufficiently magnanimous to campaign for the right of individuals to pursue their own religious beliefs, should they wish to. I support this, but bearing mind the weight and aggression of the opposition, I think it’s time we had a more robust contender on the side of Atheism.
We have this idea – an idea we’ve been sold – that we are free to believe in what we choose, and to live our lives accordingly. But we’re not. How can there be freedom of choice, when we’re sold religion as being factual, from the moment we’re born? When we face a daily diet of indoctrination, in childhood and beyond? When the media is so biased, and takes every opportunity to sell us the creation myths? When the people who are supposed to represent us – the Parliamentarians – are disproportionately religious, and abuse their power to pursue their own agendas (or those of their church)? When religions are allowed to lie, to cheat, to misrepresent, but we’re still not free to criticise religion? It’s around five year since the blasphemy law was repealed, but since then the state has found other, existing, legislation to limit our right to criticise religion, and indeed, has passed new laws to do that, under the auspices of restricting our right to ’cause offence’.
And outside of the law, religious groups become ever bolder in what I would call vigilante action. Christian groups for instance, learning from their counterparts in America, are increasingly targeting abortion clinics. Under what circumstances would the state allow protests that are so aggressive, that openly threaten, abuse, bully vulnerable people and health professionals going about their legal business; unless the aggressors happen to be religious?
I think it’s time we stopped showing religion so much respect; time we began to start pushing the Atheist cause. Religions have no qualms about proselytising, so why should we? Aren’t the beliefs of Atheists every bit as heart-felt as those of the religious? So why are we so shy of upsetting people? Church groups justify their often very aggressive, disrespectful tactics, by claiming that they are offering us ‘The Truth’, and therefore the end justifies the means. But don’t we have the Truth (backed up by scientific evidence and solid rationale, rather than by the confused scribblings of superstitious, primitive peoples)? What we’re facing is little short of a war on our rights – including the right to choose what we believe – and we’re woefully unprepared. It’s time we started arming ourselves. It’s time that we began to stand up for ourselves against the religious bullies. The worst atrocities of the church seem far away – far in the past, or in faraway countries, but we can’t afford to be complacent. Look below the surface, and even the C of E is far from the misguided but well-meaning, bumbling uncle we think it is. More like a wicked stepmother. Which is quite appropriate for this time of year, and brings me nicely to my closing statement, which is simply to wish you all –
(You’re welcome to call it Christmas if you want to).