At the end of a week where David Cameron was found to have appointed a crony who became a bankrupt to run the financing of government quangos, one might have imagined that he would show the utmost care in being seen as judicious by the country as a whole.
However, although the PM is quite meticulous in managing his holiday arrangements, he appears to be totally injudicious when it comes to the comments he makes regarding Christianity. In an article for the Church Times, the prime minister said that Christians should be confident in standing up to defend their values and that his did not mean doing down other religions.
However, Writers, academics and scientists – including authors Sir Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman – make the claim in a letter to the Daily Telegraph. Its lead signatory is Professor Jim Al-Khalili, president of the British Humanist Association and other signatories include performer Tim Minchin, journalist Polly Toynbee, philosopher AC Grayling and presenter Dan Snow. In the letter, the group says: “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’.”
His own well-feathered ilk may well be churchgoing Christians, but to announce that Britain is a Christian country is simply and wholly wrong. In the 2011 Census, Christianity was the largest religion, with 33.2 million people (59.3 per cent of the population). The second largest religious group were Muslims with 2.7 million people (4.8 per cent of the population) 14.1 million people, around a quarter of the population in England and Wales, reported they have no religion in 2011 (Office of National Statistics). However, the British Social Attitudes survey asked the question “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?” where 41.22% of respondents selecting ‘no Religion’ in 2001 and 50.67% selecting ‘no religion’ in 2009. The trend continued with the European Social Survey, which asked the question “Which religion or denomination do you belong to at present?” with 50.54% of respondents selecting ‘no religion’ in 2002 and 52.68% selecting ‘no religion’ in 2008.
Referring to a 2011 speech in which he made his comments about Christianity, the Downing Street spokeswoman said: “As the PM set out in his speech to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the UK is a Christian country and should not be afraid to say so.” (BBC) This echoes comments made recently by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, who said “I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish […] Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.” I am sure that most of the people in this country see Mr. Pickle’s comment as an attempt to impose his politically correct intolerance on us.
What is certain is that our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors, all pagan worshippers, celebrated seasonal events such as the winter solstice, when the days would begin to lengthen. Equally, they must have delighted in the advent of Spring, when nature’s rebirth brought the warmer weather to the hunter gatherers’ world. Theirs was a world that followed experiential happenings rather than doctrinal beliefs. They would almost certainly have celebrated Spring because of the enormous importance that it would have had to such people. Their lives were focused on such chronological happenings because celebrating the very happenings that nurtured life would have been deemed important.
However, it will come as no surprise that this tradition died out and was replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the mythological resurrection of Jesus: the very word Easter is not a Christian word at all, but one the Christians ‘borrowed’ to make their own celebration ‘comfortable’ for the naive recipients of nascent Christianity, as Eostre was an ancient reference to Easter that may have been connected to Eos, the Greek goddess who rode a chariot across the sky bringing in the dawn.
Saying that Britain is a Christian country, when coming from a Conservative prime minister, creates a false impression of our country as a whole. We are a plural society encompassing many faiths, but by far the largest swathe of the population do not anything to do with religion. What I am sure of is that the ancient Britons would have celebrated the fact that winter was over, and, to borrow a quote from a friend of mine, the same will be said for Mr. Cameron’s career if he continues to spout such nonsense.