Following on from the comments made by the Bristish Prime Minister David Cameron on The UK being a ‘Christian country’ and the follow-up letter in the The Telegraph (20/4/2014), I would like to wade in.
The confusion around this whole debacle is astonishing, not only are the comments by Cameron strange, but the letter by his learned critics is equally strange. I don’t care much for politicians who use religion in general and Christianity in particular to make their claims. I don’t know if Cameron is a Christian in the Bible sense of the word, or just sympathetic to a large group of people in the UK who can and do fulfil his idea of a Big Society. For one thing, if he thinks the idea of the poor and needy being helped by others is his idea, he’s clearly never read his Bible.
That aside, what I would like to point out not only what was correct in the letter, but also the wild assumptions and blatant untruths contained within it to the The Telegraph, signed as it was, by a right regal host of famous and learned men and women. Here’s the letter:
“SIR – We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders.
Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.
At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.
Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.”
As a Christian myself, I find some of what they say correct, for example, Britain is not a Christian country. The Bible knows nothing of ‘Christian country’, only individual Christian men and women, and most thoughtful Christians would say the same.
It is also true that most people in the UK are not Christian in belief or identity. The plurality of multi-culturalism has shown us this, even if large portions of other cultures are Christian, others are not.
It is also fair to point out that social action by Christians should not be exceptionalised over and above those of other and no belief (though I would be very interested to know, from the signataries, who among them engages in genuine social action).
The scare-mongering assumption was the claim that if Britain is characterised as a Christian country, it will have “negative consequences for politics and society…” This assumption, based on something untrue (a Christian country) is poorly disguised anti-Christian secularism masquerading as cultural astuteness.
Another off-the-cuff comment designed to look like cultural awareness was that Britain “has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian and post-Christian forces.” Here, I would have loved some thoroughly convincing examples, of the kind that genuinely show how this is true. I’m sure it is in some cases, but it sounds like the claim is over-reaching itself.
It is also a mistake to assume that a plural society equals a largely non-religious society. This is also untrue. Most (I think all, if the Christian view of people is correct that all are made in the image of God), people are religious, to some extent, even in atheism and secularism. What I think they mean, is that most people do not hold to the classic Judeo-Christian view of a Christendom culture – that’s different, but certainly most (all) people are religious.
Finally, the “negative consequences” of the first paragraph is now slightly explained in the last one, that all this will “foster alienation and division in our society.” Will it? Really? Among who? Why? A tolerant society is surely a tolerant society. A tolerant society with rhetoric like this is in fact proving its own bias and intolerance of Christianity. Tolerance doesn’t mean the negation and silencing of Christians, it means allowing for their flourishing, not sowing the seed that this “needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates.” It doesn’t, letters like this, mingled as it is with truth, assumumption, mis-information, untruths and wild assertions of various social outcomes fuels secarianism.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that when Cameron speaks he speaks for Christians.
Neither make the mistake that when letters like this are written, they speak for the people.