David Cameron has every right to call this a Christian country

Apr 24, 2014
Crispin Black

Christianity came to Britain within a century of Jesus’s crucifixion – whatever the humanists might say

THE Prime Minister held his annual Easter Reception at Downing Street just before the Bank Holiday where he made a charming and understated speech about the importance of Christianity to both him and his country, reported in full in the Church Times.  

Some of it was political, some of it personal, but he came out as a believing member of the Church of England. “I have felt at first hand the healing power of the Church’s pastoral care,” he said; a clear reference to the support and love he and his family received during the short life and tragic death of his disabled son Ivan.  

Last week in my column I sought to draw parallels between  Cameron and his predecessor during the American Revolutionary War, Lord North. There are many but the saddest of all (which I left out as not relevant) is that both men suffered the death of young children.  North was heartbroken by the death of his six-year-old daughter Catherine who drowned in a pond on his country estate. Cameron’s feelings about his late son are well known and made his tribute to the Church genuinely moving.

Cameron made the speech in one of Downing Street’s lovely state reception rooms, but he could have been making a cameo appearance in Richard Curtis’s gentle and affectionate sit-com homage to the established church, The Vicar of Dibley.

Nevertheless, more than 50 prominent supporters of something called the British Humanist Association sent a stroppy letter to the Daily Telegraph saying:  “We wish to object to his [Cameron’s] repeated mischaracterising of our country as a ‘Christian country’ and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders.”  The steel ideological hoops of political correctness grip ever tighter.  

A couple of stylistic points – only George W Bush can get away with using a word like ‘mischaracterising’. There is no blue pen thick enough to deal with the ghastly ‘engenders’.

Their self-importance comes bouncing off the page: every title, honour or area of expertise lovingly laid out – like the out-of-control committee of a provincial golf club.  Some of their qualifications look rather thin: ‘ex-member of the Welsh Assembly’ or ‘stand-up comedian’.    

Let me just look briefly at two of the more serious signatories – prominent scientists secure in their atheistic beliefs.   

First, the top signature on the letter, Surrey University professor of physics and BBC broadcaster, Jim Al-Khalili, president (no less) of the BHA. Born in Baghdad in the early 1960s he settled in this country aged 19.  In the 30 or so years he has lived here he seems to have come to the conclusion that a prime minister supporting (gently) the religion that arrived on these shores within a century of Jesus’s crucifixion (there were Christian soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall in the Second Century AD) is “a wrong thing to do” and part “of a disturbing trend”.

Al-Khalili is of Shia descent and one hopes is even-handed in his atheism.  It would be a cowardly act simply to attack Christianity.  No doubt he is bold in telling his former co-religionists of their errors -which makes him a brave man: in most Muslim countries and no doubt these days parts of the UK many people believe that to abandon Islam for atheism is a very serious matter indeed.    

Second, Sir Harold Kroto, FRS, Nobel Prize Winner, Professor of Chemistry.  A clever man with a Nobel Prize for some extraordinary achievement to do with molecules that I am too dim to understand.  He clearly feels he has a superior insight into the human condition as a result.  

Peering down a microscope, Kroto seems to have grandly concluded that we all originate from a meaningless primordial soup - yet seems to lack any sense of his own origins.  

His parents came to England to escape the Nazi persecution and eventual mass murder of Germany’s Jewish population. A man who owes his very existence to both the tolerance of 1930s Britain and its military defiance in the 1940s should have a gentler view of its Christian heritage and character – if not from conviction, simply from good manners.

At the top of the BHA’s website is a mission statement by the devoutly atheist philosopher AC Grayling, which includes a glamour piccie of the great man – gorgeously long wavy grey hair coiffeured like a 1970s air hostess.

“Our lives,” he says, “are less than a thousand months long and to make the best of it we need to have fun, form strong friendships and make the best of the gifts we have.”  

Fifty years of studying philosophy, most of it at the taxpayers’ expense, and the meaning of life sounds like a swingers’ charter.  

Give me the Sermon on the Mount any day.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Take out the ad-hominem and pejorative weasel words and there's not much counter argument here, is there?

What a grubby little article. Rather than address any of the points brought up in the BHA letter you choose instead to suggest that those of foreign descent should shut up and be grateful? Really?!

It may be worth considering that non-religious people might take issue not with Christianity in particular, but with the leader of the country characterising a nation as religious when 25% of its population identify as "non-religious"
Cameron's personal tragedies have nothing to do with the rest of the country, in the same way that the ethnic backgrounds and family histories of BHA advocates (ie characteristics that they were born with) don't automatically undermine their personal convictions.
Perhaps, if anything, given their ancestry, Al-Khalili and Kroto understand and are sensitive to the dangers of mixing religious fanaticism and government more than most.
Something so devoid of critical thinking and academic rigour belongs in a Ukip pamphlet, not a magazine whose strapline is "Clarity, Brevity, Daily"

Though Crispin Black need not have couched his point with such careful ad hominem details, surely what he says is absolutely right. As a matter of fact a considerable majority of the population of the UK claim to believe in God (which can mean a very wide variety of understandings of course) - and a substantial majority of those who record their belief in God also consider themselves to be Church of England - though for most of them church is something reserved for what is sometimes called "hatching, matching and despatching". In any case regardless of what people are deemed to believe, there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that this is in every identifiable way a Christian country - culturally, historically, in its literature, and in its assumptions. It has been a Christian country for most of the last 2000 years and it does not look like stopping any time soon - however much tolerance it may have as a country for other belief and faith systems. Humanism originated in the 15th to 16th centuries as a Christian movement - adorned by the genius of the Catholic but tolerant and very thoughtful Erasmus. Humanists may these days prefer not to think or speak about the idea of God. But could that be because of the power of ideas?

NO country is Christian in the sense that to be a Christian mean to hold certain beliefs and to a have some kind of faith. Countries CANNOT do neither, only thinking entities can do that; people can be Christian, countries cannot.

Alternatively, if a Christian church controlled the government, we might say the country was Christian, regardless of beliefs.

The UK is NOT Christian. I suspect the majority do not really believe there is a god(s). It is just that the churches indoctrinate people in schools so thoroughly* that many are afraid to say what they think. It is a bit like Pascal's wager.

*eg Nativity plays. Christmas carols. Morning assembly. All indoctrination, at an early age.

"As a matter of fact a considerable majority of the population of the UK claim to believe in God"

When asked, their indoctrination kicks in. It costs nothing to say "I believe in God, or a god" and it avoids the perceived risk of saying no, there are nor gods, which I suspect is what most believe. It is the vile indoctrination by organised religions that creates the fear to be honest (the RC's even called it indoctrination, until quite recently that was not in their interest. They stopped saying it, but carried on doing it. As do CofE, with their substantial control over school assemblies etc.).

I am not a Christian. Please do not suggest I am by saying my country is Christian. It is NOT.

Interesting that the discussion seems to have tailed off into personal insults, which is a sure sign that the insulter has run out of convincing arguments...and Sandy Sure has a valid point, it is the people who constitute the religious base, not the country in which they live which is just a platform...What Cameron probably should have said was that Britain is a country that espouses many of the Christian beliefs....but then examine the other major religions and they all have similarities of belief and creed, including respect for one another, for Justice, etc. The problem arises with the extremists from any and all religions, who mistakenly use their religion as a means to justify otherwise unjustifiable acts. The bloodiest wars have all had their origins in religious differences.

Hear, hear, coming from The First Post this is refreshing. BHA is the neo-evangelical denomination of the atheist’s faith. Cloaked in their robes of self-importance they are always on the edge to be offended by anything with Christian connotations to it. It is precisely why this anti-Christian atheistic secular humanism never takes offence with Muslims or worse Islamism or any other faith for that matter. Their weasel attack on Cameroon’s article in the Church Times, Anglican Newspaper (many outside that faith I’m sure which I’m one had never heard of it) was a publicity stunt to get maximum coverage. BHA’s argument is akin to arguing that this country is a republic and not a monarchy.

As much as I intensely disagree with his theology it is difficult to refute the observations from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when he says “It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society…All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. The influence of a moderate and careful and generous Christian faith has enabled us to be welcoming to other faiths. That sense of generous hospitality provides the basis for tough discussion, and it is a hospitality that protects atheists as well, and so it should.”

Even Nick Clegg says: “I'm not a man of faith, but it think it's stating the flamingly obvious that we as a country are underpinned, informed, infused by Christian values. “Christian heritage, Christian history, Christian culture, Christian values and I think that is something that is obvious about our identity as a nation. “We are also a very tolerant nation, in fact one of the great Christian values is tolerance, respect for other people, other nations, other faiths, other views so I think our Christian heritage sits very comfortably alongside our plurality, our tolerance as a people.” Even I strangely find myself agreeing with Nick.

Nit-picking much? Btw are you suggesting whatever entity controls the government of the day that country becomes? The Church is only "persona ficta" for the purposes of administration in owning property & getting charity relief etc, in essence, a christian church is not a building or institution it is a people i.e. thinking entities.

Nit picking? WTF?

What does it mean to be "Christian"?

Christianity was the vehicle that brought much of the culture of the UK...that doesn't mean it wouldn't have happened much the same without it.

If we were to define the country by its people's beliefs the UK would be agnostic. (Regardless of what the fiddled surveys claim and that only because of indoctrination).

Why are most Jews/Hindus/Sikhs/Muslims/ Christiians/Etc the offspring of Jews/Hindus/Sikhs/Muslims/ Christiians/Etc? Why so few cross overs?

Because all religions survive on indoctrination.

Figures for the numbers who state that they "believe in God" are obtained by the usual research methods - and it is ridiculous to imagine that opinion-polling simply throws up the results of long-past "indoctrination". What most people understand by "the idea of God" is a sense of the reality of "goodness" - which the idea of God personalizes in a way that relates to age-old religious discourse, dating back many of thousands of years and preserved in traditions of extremely different varieties around the world. As it happens, in terms of population figures the Christians are at present the largest number, and the Muslims the next largest.
What people mean when they say they don't believe in God is also a variety of different things - usually it relates to their sense that life goes on eternally and was not started by a power external to life as we know it for particular reasons relating to the human race at a finite time and in a place (namely our planet) which we now understand to have a limited though very long lifespan. So science today says.
Religions are there because people have needed to anchor their understanding of goodness over the aeons - and religions, rooted in particular cultures, reflect the best assumptions that seem to have grown up about goodness in such contexts - goodness being always and everywhere a difficult discernment that also has to be organic, and I mean by that "in context". One person's good may be another person's bad. The moral systems and wisdom that religions embody belong within particular cultures and have their specific life cycles. Making sense of any ideas requires accurate appreciation of context.
In popular parlance in Great Britain the phrase "That's not being very Christian" is understood by very many people as meaningful - which suggests there continues to be a firm understanding of what "being Christian" in fact is. Religion is all about tapping into the buried reserves of wisdom in the culture of a particular people and place. Humanists are of course like everybody else prone to many assumptions about goodness. Belief in a divinity outside or beyond everything of which we seem to be aware as living human beings is not the only possible doorway to such concerns. Why impoverish life by trying to pretend that none of these things have any worth? Culture is infinitely complex and fascinating. Go and read De rerum natura - wisdom is not just about gods, but goodness is a serious business.