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If Joey Barton were Prime Minister?

I was asked by Premier Christianity to respond to an article by the footballer turned philosopher, Joey Barton, in The Independent on why he would ‘privatise’ religion. You can read my article here –

the words are below…

Dear Joey, please don’t give up your day job
Feb 2015
If he were Prime Minister footballer Joey Barton would call on religion to be ‘privatised’ and for churches to lose state support. David Robertson writes an open letter to Barton pointing out some flaws in his plan.

Dear Joey,

Congratulations for getting involved in serious debate and putting forward your ideas on what you would do if you became Prime Minister. It certainly helps dispel the somewhat unfortunate media image (aka mindless football thug) that you have. So… kudos.

There are those of us who would agree with some aspects of what you propose. For example, I am not personally opposed to the bishops losing their automatic seats in the House of Lords. Although I wonder why you pick on bishops – why have a House of Lords at all? Are bankers more worthy than bishops?

However, I’m afraid that your article about privatising ‘religion’ is wrong in several areas. You seem to think that the church is living in rent-free property that belongs to the State. You seem to think that a great deal of taxpayers’ money is subsidising religion in general and Christianity in particular and that therefore you, as an atheist, are subsidising the livelihood of vicars and priests.

Do some fact checking
But your ‘facts’ are all wrong. The government does not own the 20,000 church buildings or the land on which they are built. What you are proposing amounts to a state land grab of all the assets of the church (something that has actually happened in some of the worst examples of totalitarian atheist regimes). That’s what we call theft!

Your taxes do not pay for vicars and priests; they are paid for from the congregations of the church. Yes, churches with charitable status are allowed to reclaim Gift Aid on donations (like any other charity). They receive the income tax that would have gone to the government, from the donor’s earnings. But don’t worry, the taxes from your generous football pay packet won’t be involved in supporting the meagre income of the average parish priest. In other words the church already pays for itself, so the first part of your proposal is completely redundant.

Take my own small church for example. We have provided a £1 million public building which is well used by the local community, we provide youth work, debt counselling, relationship counselling, family support, musical concerts etc. without a single penny coming from the tax payer… as Prime Minister you should be offering us money to do the work that we do (at a fraction of the cost that the State does), not threatening to take away our buildings and freedom! We actually save taxpayers a massive amount of money. Church social work alone costs over £2.5 billion per year in the UK.

The small matter of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Lets talk about your proposal for faith based state schools. It’s kind of you to say that parents are free to teach their children in their own homes. Thanks for allowing us that. But your statement that parents are not allowed to educate their children according to their own faith is contrary to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights – which in article 26 declares – “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

But you will say, ‘not with taxpayers’ money’. You are forgetting that the majority of people who send their children to faith-based schools are taxpayers as well. Do they have no say in how their children should be educated with their money?

The UN article 26 also declares ‘Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.’ Your problem is that you seem to think that education based upon your humanist principles is ‘neutral’. But education can never be neutral. It is always based upon some particular philosophy and ethos. Given that the Christian faith has served as the philosophy and ethos for most of the education in this country for the past several hundred years, why would you want to exclude it now? What value system would you want our education system to be based upon? Yours?

Shall we nationalise football?
Finally, you declare ‘we shouldn’t waste public money on religion when we can better serve the common good by spending money saved on social housing, the NHS and a pluralist education.’ Do you actually know how much public money is spent on religion? A pittance compared with the amount that is spent on sport! Maybe we should close down the Premier League, nationalise all football grounds, and spend the vast amounts of money used for footballers’ wages on social housing, the NHS and education?!

The trouble is that your analysis of the ‘problem’ is all wrong. Its not that there is too much Christianity in the UK – it’s that there is too little. The Christian Church provides much of the youth work in the country, most of the food banks and much of the social care. Yet you regard us as some kind of parasite on the nation’s taxpayers.

If I were Dictator
Your article should really be entitled ‘If I were Dictator’, not Prime Minister. The Joey Barton dictatorship would rob the churches of their resources, cancel the UN charter of human rights on education, and insist that every child is indoctrinated into your philosophy. Thankfully I grew up in a democracy based upon Christianity, where tolerance, freedom of choice and a good education were still valued. I want to continue to live in that country – God forbid that we should ever turn into the kind of authoritarian, intolerant, Secularist State you propose!

Anyway thanks for the stimulation and the encouragement to debate. Maybe you and I could get together some time to discuss these things further. It is after all better to ‘jaw, jaw than war, war’! All the best,

David Robertson is the minister of St Peter’s Free Church and director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity in Dundee


  1. Good points David. Joey Barton is modelling himself on Wolfi Smith. I remember Barton saying a few years ago, something to the tune of, ‘We are the WHY generation’. Really Joey? Because we are saturated by Ipods and instant communication? A good read for Mr Barton would be Neil Postmans ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. The saturation of TV images etc is examined to show exactly what is happening. Instead of Mr Barton’s ‘Why’ generation, we are getting the ‘Triviality’ generation, where every footballers after game comments are seen as pearls of wisdom. What a joke. Mr Barton’s comments are a good reflection of this kind of zeitgeist, a populist cry for ‘Like me and please take me as seriously as I take myself’.

  2. Hi David,
    It’s disappointing that you continue to trot out the old canard that education can’t be neutral. It certainly can where neutrality of religion is concerned. If you disagree then please explain the United States, where education, along with government, is secular. Or are you suggesting that the USA is an “authoritarian, intolerant, Secularist State ” ?
    best wishes,
    Linear C

    1. Linear, I’m afraid you have offered no evidence for your faith claim that education can be neutral. Secular education in the US is certainly not ‘neutral’ and the education system as a whole there is dreadful, with the elites getting a more privileged education and the poor having to suffer.

      1. David,
        Wow!! Secular education in the US is certainly not neutral with respect to religion ???!!
        I’m sure this will come as news to the American population! Perhaps then you can enlighten us as to what specific religion or religious dogma is taught in these American schools? And the question you missed; are you suggesting that the USA is an “authoritarian, intolerant, Secularist State ” ?
        Linear C
        Posted 18:45 3 March

      2. Linear you may indeed ‘be sure’ but it is the American public who have informed me of this. US state education is quite specifically in many places secular humanist (with a tinge of Buddhism) and anti-Christian. And the US is only prevented from being an authoritarian, intolerant, Secularist State because of its Christian heritage and the fact that it has a large Christian population. When the US rejects Christianity it will become hell on earth!

      3. Don’t be vague David, what specific religious dogma is taught as part of the curriculum?
        And I’m glad you agree that Secular goverments aren’t necessarily authoritarian or intolerant!
        best wishes,
        Linear C

      4. I’m actually for secular governments – but it all depends what you mean by secular! The ones that work best are the ones that are influenced by Christianity and have Christian values at their core. Atheist secular governments have so far been disastrous!

        The problem with your first question is that you assume that dogma can only be religious!

      5. So after all that dancing around, we find that secular governments are alright, and secular education is neutral after all with respect to religion.
        Glad we got that cleared up! Please remember next time you are ranting against secularism!
        best wishes,
        Linear C
        PS By secular, I mean secular! See that’s the beauty of secularism – in the US, despite most of the population being Christian, the non Christian minority is protected. Isn’t secularism wonderful?

      6. Linear….stop clutching at straws.

        Who said that secular education was neutral? There is no such thing as ‘neutral’ education.

        The statement is that some secular governments are alright – not all and not just by virtue of being secular.

        By secular you mean secular? And from that circular meaningless statement you then go on to extole the beauties of secularism which just means secularism. Until you actually define what you mean, then it is meaningless. For some people secular just means the State is independent of the church, for others it means that Christian values and ethos are excluded from public life. North Korea and China are ‘secular states’ – is that what you mean? Or do you mean the Western democracies with a Christian heritage and tradition such as Sweden, the USA, France and the UK? Or do you mean a secular state like Turkey? Can I suggest that before you comment again on this subject you read some books and get some information about the various types of secularism? And then you can tell us which one you are advocating….

      7. David,
        It’s indicative of your position that you resort to the desperate claim that words don’t mean what they mean!
        But I can quote from the NSS, and I have no doubt that you are aware of this:
        “Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law”
        Now are you going to claim that the NSS definition is not ‘correct’??? Who cares? If I had a different definition of Jesus than you, and I argued only against my definition but not yours, I doubt you would be impressed! So let’s not kid anyone that there is any doubt about what secular or secularism means.
        It’s clear you want Christianity to be privileged, and that’s why you argue against secularism. But please stop the dishonesty in claiming that secularism, in the way that secularists define it, is not neutral with respect to religion.
        best wishes,
        Linear C

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