Delia Smith

For my latest piece for the award-winning Pod Delusion podcast, I recorded my thoughts on Delia Smith’s position on secularism. You can listen to the podcast here, and below is the transcript of my article. Enjoy!

As a fan of Norwich City Football Club, this report on Delia Smith’s anti-secular stance is rather troublesome for me. For those that don’t know, Delia Smith first found fame in the UK in the 1970’s as a TV cook, and she has gone on to sell over 21 million copies of her numerous recipe books. Her wealth allowed her, along with her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, to become majority shareholders of Norwich City FC back in 1996, a position they hold to this day. They saved the club from bankruptcy, and, in this Norwich fans eyes anyway, have secured themselves a place in the history of the club, and I still think all Norwich fans owe them a debt of gratitude. Since their takeover, the club have had it’s ups and downs (you may remember Delia’s infamous “Let’s be ‘avin you” speech back in 2005) but they are currently riding high in the Premier League, and right now it’s a great time to be a Norwich fan.

So, imagine my displeasure when I woke up on the Sunday morning of the recent QED conference to find my Twitter stream awash with messages from fellow skeptics keen to point out Delia Smith’s position on secularism. On her website deliaonline.com she’d launch an appeal for lent, aiming to raise money for the Catholic charity Cathod so that they can deliver clean water to the needy. No problem there you might think, but it’s the following paragraph that has got so many people’s backs up:

There is a running battle going on in the press, and militant neo-Atheists and devout secularists are busting a gut to drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist.

As a proud secular humanist, I do despair that someone I admire so much could hold such, well frankly, deluded views. Delia appears to be jumping on the same bandwagon as Tory MP Nadine Dorries, convinced that Christianity is in some way under attack from atheists and secularists.

Is there any meat to Delia’s claims? When she says atheists are trying to “convince us that we hardly exist”, she made it clear in a recent interview that she was talking about a survey carried out by Richard Dawkins. The survey in question was carried out in response to the recent census, which asked the rather poorly phrased question “What is your religion?”. The British Humanist Association’s Census Campaign highlighted the problems with this question, and Dawkin’s IPSOS-MORI poll attempted to straighten it out. The 2001 census came back with 72% of the UK population being Christian, whereas Dawkin’s poll put the number at 54%. More than this, Dawkin’s poll went into detail and looked at WHY people ticked Christian. I think the most interesting finding was that when people who ticked Christian were ask “Would you turn to your religion for moral guidance”, only 10% said yes! This is not, as Delia Smith would seemingly like to to think, an attempt to convince Christians that they aren’t Christian, but an attempt to show that Christianity is not as influential as some people believe, therefore there is less justification for the religious privileges that are enshrined in UK law (Bishops in the House of Lords being a good example). It’s not a fight with atheists pitching themselves against Christians, rather an attempt by secularists to fairly represent reality.

So, what of secularism? Judging by her comments, it seems that Delia thinks that secularist’s want to do away with the Christian festival of lent. What her evidence for this is I have no idea, but I think it’s worth examining what secularism is. According to the National Secular Society, “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.”. In other words, it’s separation of church and state. It guarantees freedom of religion, ,which logically means that it allows freedom from religion. So, in a secular society you are free to be an atheist, or to follow any religion you choose. In fact, Delia Smith should be profoundly grateful that we live in a secular society, as she was baptised in the Church of England, and converted to catholicism at the age of 22. If the UK was a protestant theocracy she would not have been able to do that, however we are a secular society, so she could. In fact, you could say that any religious person who values their religious freedom should stand up and be proud to be a secularist.

In reporting on what I think of Delia Smith’s position on secularism, I hope people don’t think I’m being too harsh on her. I think her support of a charity to provide clean water to the needy is extremely commendable, and is only a continuation of her selflessness that we’ve seen in her other charitable work and what she’s done for Norwich City football club. I’d happily support her statement that “Secularists and believers have got to work alongside each other” if only it was made clear that you can be both a believer AND a secularist! I’d like people like Delia Smith to properly consider what secularism is, I think they would quite happily call themselves secularists if they did. Secularism is vital for our society, and I for one will continue to recognise that. By the way, Stephen Fry is a director at Norwich, I’d love to sit in on the next board meeting!

Before I go, I’d like to congratulate the Pod Delusion for winning the Occam award for best podcast at QED, and especially James and Liz who put so much work into this fine endeavor. Saying “On The Ball City!”, this is Tom Williamson for the Pod Delusion.