Jack Blackburn 6.00am
Q: Is Britain a Christian country?
A: Is the Queen both Head of State and Supreme Head of the Church?
There is no more fatuous question than this, for to deny it is to deny our history and our heritage, not to mention the constitution.
However, it is also foolish simply to say that “Britain is a Christian country”, not because that description is woefully inaccurate but because it is quite simply inadequate. This is not a country that is defined by religion.
David Cameron, when he stated his belief in Britain’s Christian credentials in a speech to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, was partly pointing out history and heritage. Certainly he was not defining Britain as exclusively Christian and he went to painful lengths to emphasise that the country admits all faiths.
It caused a bit of a reaction but for the wrong reasons; there was great cause for concern in the Prime Minister’s speech but it has not been adequately addressed by the national media. It centres on the appalling methods of David Cameron’s speech writers.
The truly controversial thread of the speech was the attempt to draw from our rich Christian cultural heritage a system of “Christian” values for present day Britain. He summarised this position in this section:
“Those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code. Let’s be clear. Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. There are Christians who don’t live by a moral code and there are atheists and agnostics who do. But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction, and whether inspired by faith or not, that direction, that moral code, matters.”
That is truly impressive speech writing for a national leader: 102 words of total incoherence.
He begins by saying that we must have moral values, and that for some people faith is very important in forming those values. He then says that the role faith plays for some people in asserting a moral code is absolutely non-essential for any given person.
All of this is fine, but he was attempting to support Lady Thatcher’s claim that “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible”. This equating of British values with biblical values is just unhelpful, particularly when, as the Prime Minister pointed out, faith is not a pre-requisite for morality.
Mr Cameron did seem to be attempting to assert what British values are:
“Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities: these are the values we treasure.”
He identified these values as ‘Christian’. Yet they are by no means exclusively Christian values. They are human values.
If Mr Cameron had wanted to make a point about values in our society, he would have been well advised to point more clearly at the admirable moral teachings of all aspects in our society, whether they be humanist or religious.
Religion’s role should be celebrated. It has its demons, like any other facet of society; but the corporate action of faith is by far and away more beneficial to Britain than it is detrimental.
Mr Cameron was right to recognise this. However, in his search for a system of values, the Prime Minister should have sought exemplars of human values that this nation could treasure, rather than reverting to totems that will only serve to divide.
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