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For & Against: Is the UK still a Christian country?

For –Babatunde Valentine Onabajo

It’s a question with as seemingly an obvious answer as whether a triangle has three sides or if all bachelors are male, but that has not prevented controversy from brewing over the Prime Minister’s assertion that Britain is a “Christian country.” So  does the claim itself have any merit?

Consider this: Britain is the only country in the world to reserve a space for bishops in its legislature. This is reflected in the second and upper house of the UK Parliament known as the ‘House of Lords,’ with the first and lower being the House of Commons. The House of Lords reviews and amends bills (‘draft laws’) that are passed on from the House of Commons. The House of Lords is made up of 834 seats, 26 of which are reserved for bishops from the Church of England in what is known as the ‘Lords Spiritual.’

Consider something else: That the sitting of each Parliament begins with a prayer. In the House of Commons, the Speaker’s Chaplain (the incumbent being Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin) invokes the name of God, petitioning that all sitting members pursue the common good of the nation and not lead the nation wrongly through ‘love of power, desire to please or unworthy ideals.’ A similar gesture occurs in the House of Lords. This practice entered into common practice just under 450 years ago and has persisted ever since.

Consider one final thing: That the Queen is a religious figure. She is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and her Coronation Oath required that she promises to preserve the ‘worship, discipline and government’ of the established church.

These are just the facts. They all invariably point to Britain being a Christian country. To deny that there is some truth in the Prime Minister’s comments is to stick one’s fingers in their ears.

It is impossible to penetrate into the beauty and depth of British history without understanding the history and theology of Christianity. Britain is teeming with artefacts and symbols of Christianity. Monuments, statues and medieval parishes all reflect the Christian foundation upon which Britain was built. Take a walk around Cardiff and what do you see? Besides Bute Park are the remains of Blackfriars Priory. Tiger Tiger is located on a street named Greyfriars Road.’This street is so named because the Franciscan Order of Preachers had a site there and were distinguished by their grey cloaks.

Yet we should not accept the Prime Minister’s comments brusquely: There has been a great loss of faith in Christianity. That this question is even being asked at all is indicative of that. Britain’s Christian past should not prompt us into the complacency. There are many people in Britain today who do not know the Lord’s Prayer. Now more than ever an enormous responsibility has been placed on the most devout of Christians to help impart the faith and to win back what was once known as the ‘Dowry of Mary.’

The year 2014 will be an important juncture in our nation’s history.

On the one hand it has been called the “Year of the Bible” because of the number of movies being released with allusions to biblical epics such as Noah.

On the other hand there is the New Atheist movement with an insatiable thirst for the soul of this country to its alien paradigm. I hope that this article shows why Britain is fundamentally a Christian country and why a revival of faith is needed to stay true to our religious and cultural heritage.

 

Against – James Smith

Recently David Cameron claimed that the UK is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so”. However, the last time I went to a church service Night at the Museum had just come out in the cinema, A Moment Like This by Leona Lewis was number one in the charts and the word ‘iPhone’ did not exist.  My life certainly does not reflect someone living in a Christian country and what’s more, I am really glad that’s the case.

Firstly, I am not the only one to be a tad annoyed by Cameron’s views on ordinary British people’s lives. A group of 55 leading public figures, including authors Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman all publicly spoke out against the Prime Minister’s view on everyday British life. I believe that like me they were offended by the Prime Minister speaking on their behalf, particularly on an area as sensitive as their beliefs.

The UK has changed; we are a diverse group of individuals whose own religious views should not be overwritten by a politician, acting like a pushy parent who keeps signing us up for tennis lessons.

Moreover, to claim the UK is a Christian country is disrespectful to all the other beliefs that British people have. Over 2 million of us are Muslim, whilst 800,000 are Hindus and in the 2001 census 0.7% of the respondents declared they were Jedi. I personally am a member of the ‘Church of Whiskeyanity’ and usually pray for the return of the Lash.

Additionally 16% of the population claim they belong to no religion at all. Without question the UK is a pluralistic nation with many different faiths and views forming its makeup.  This is something to be proud of as it shows how far the UK has advanced over the past century.

Also Christianity does not affect modern British politics and Cameron is wrong when he views the Bible as essential to British life. To see this we only need look at the debate over same-sex marriage. Had the Church of England and the Catholic Church got their way the UK would have continued to consent to the discriminatory view that gay people do not have the same rights as straight people. Thankfully the British public took that opportunity to choose equality over out-dated tradition, with polls frequently showing they supported the law change. Thus it’s clear that political decisions are better when they are based on the present situation and not on views that are over a millennium old.

However, I am not saying Christianity is not part of the UK. Particularly during the holidays Christian views are evidently within our society. Recently during my family ‘get together’ for Easter Sunday my Granddad announced that he had been to church in the morning.  Thus despite the decline in Christianity’s role in the UK, it is obvious that it still has a role in his life, especially around holidays (though not in my Granny’s since she was furious that he ruined her lie in). Therefore it is still a factor that makes up British life, much like Boxing Day football, driving on the left or a new episode of Sherlock. However, it is neither our most defining factor nor a factor for everyone.

David Cameron’s view on British society is clearly a misunderstanding on his part. As part of our Plural society it is right that he can be a practicing Christian. However, it is wrong for him to claim that we all share similar views since the UK is such a diverse place with many different faiths. Also, his silence on the Solus renovation issue has really put me off him.

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