This Easter our brave leader has announced that Britain is still a Christian country. In fact he has said so repeatedly. Unfortunately for him, some British people, including Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, disagree and have written an open letter to this effect. Moreover, they believe that him saying so has negative consequences for politics and society.
I suppose that we are still a Christian country insofar as we celebrate Easter and Christmas. Generally though, I do not think that it is fair or right to characterise Britain as a Christian country. I don’t have a problem with religion per se. I know a lot of people think that religion is a negative thing and only causes conflict, and some go even further and say that without religion there wouldn’t be wars. This is a very narrow way of thinking to my mind. I can name more wars not caused by religion than those that were. Of course many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but equally many atrocities have been committed against religion in the name of something else altogether, the Holocaust being such an obvious example that I am almost embarrassed to cite it.
Generally I think that religion is a very personal thing, and as such really isn’t something that should be applied to a whole country. I do also think that religion isn’t really fit for purpose when it comes to governance. Many religions turn to a holy book for advice, which inevitably has to be read in context and taken with a pinch of salt when it comes to hard and fast rules. They often also value different members of society in a very different way, women being the obvious victim under many religions.
I believe that David Cameron feels the urge to mark Britain as still Christian as a point against immigration, to remind people that we still insist that people who come to live in this country live by our rules. I don’t disagree with that idea in it’s broadest terms. If you wish to live in Britain, I do agree that you have to behave like a British person. This includes abiding by the law, speaking English and paying your taxes. However, I do not believe that Christianity defines Britishness.
Many of the things that are good about Christianity are duplicated across all the major religions, so there is really no need. In fact, it is fostering divisions between us and them, Christians and non-Christians, British and non-British, which is completely unnecessary. We all have to try and get along with everyone else. Just because I was born here doesn’t mean that I am automatically a better person than someone who wasn’t. I don’t think that we can or should grant asylum to everyone that wants it, if only because of a lack of resources, but once someone has been granted British citizenship they are as British as me, whether or not they are Christian.
I think it is far more braggable to be a secular nation. Relying on a religion to help you govern your country is a lazy option. It means that you don’t really have to think about the rights and wrongs of a situation. This can be shown in Cameron’s love of marriage. I have previously discussed my opinions on marriage and I really don’t find that it is a more valid type of relationship simply because it is a marriage. Similarly, this country isn’t a better country when it is labelled as Christian, and heritage isn’t a good enough reason to do so. Some more thought is required by our Prime Minister, and not for the first time.