On Monday Theresa May was all over the news. She’s the Prime Minister, nothing unusual about that.
These headlines were troubling however. They basically proclaimed that our Prime Minister’s decisions, specifically over Brexit, are guided by God.
I am an atheist and I voted to remain in the EU, therefore these headlines should have made me angry.
And they did, they made me very angry.
But not for the reasons you might suppose.
Let’s take a look at those headlines:
The Independent: “Theresa May reveals how her faith in God gives her confidence she is ‘doing the right thing'”
Huffington Post: “Theresa May Says God And Her Faith Are Guiding Brexit Decisions”
The Telegraph: “Theresa May says her Christian faith helps her make difficult decisions”
The Sun: “GUIDE ME, O THOU GREAT THERESA Theresa May says her faith in God will guide our path out of Europe as she admits Brexit is keeping her awake”
My Twitter and Facebook news feeds were cluttered with these headlines, being forwarded along with furious reaction.
And they made me angry too.
But then I did something that apparently few of the social media warriors did: I read the articles.
All of these stories came from an interview with Theresa May by the Sunday Times. I couldn’t read the interview itself as I don’t have access through the paywall. That may also be why my internet search didn’t turn up any dramatic headlines from the Times or Sunday Times – either that or they were just more measured.
However, all of the articles say pretty much the same thing, just spun slightly differently.
The order of the actual interview is difficult to ascertain without seeing the full version, but if you pick through the spin and editorialising it seems that Theresa May was talking about the fact that she is having to make some tough decisions and that they, including Brexit, mean she isn’t getting much sleep. Such is the lot of a Prime Minister.
When asked about how she makes these difficult decisions she says, “I’ll think it through, have a gut instinct, look at the evidence, work through the arguments, because you have to think through the unintended consequences.
“But ultimately, if you’ve done all that and you believe it’s the right thing to do, then you should go and do it — but sometimes it is difficult.”
She also says: “It’s about ‘Are you doing the right thing?’ If you know you are doing the right thing, you have the confidence , the energy to go and deliver that right message.”
That all sounds like good, positive stuff: trust your instincts but look at the facts and consider the arguments. When you think you know the right thing to do, do it. Surely that’s what we need from our PM.
At some point during the interview she was asked if that was a “moral” approach, to which she replied: “I suppose there is something in terms of faith.
“I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.”
Now I would absolutely prefer that religion played no part in her decision making at all. I’m glad that she has a moral approach to what she does, but I’d rather it wasn’t specifically based on religion.
However, despite what many choose to believe, PMs are human and they come with baggage just like the rest of us. In Theresa May’s case, she is the daughter of a clergyman, so her baggage almost inevitably includes religion.
But answering a direct and leading question about her morals by basically saying “I suppose that my faith has a bearing on my moral compass” seems to be to be a world apart from the headlines which suggest she said something more along the lines of “God told me to do it”.
It’s almost as if the newspapers were deliberately creating click-bait headlines to entice people to vent fury across social media.
And this is what makes me angry.
I am angry that “post truth” is now a thing – that we all make knee-jerk decisions based on false or exaggerated information.
I am angry that people believe this bullshit and pass it on not only without questioning its veracity, but also apparently without reading it. Forming strong opinions based on nothing more than sensationalist and deliberately misleading headlines.
And I am angry that I am playing their game by adding more fuel to the ill-formed debate caused by the newspapers’ cynical actions.
If we all ignored them do you think they’d go away?