Is the UK a Christian country? Hmmm, interesting question. As an annoying politics student, I’m going to say that it depends rather on how you look at it. Is the United Kingdom a country populated solely by Bible-wielding, leper-hugging, tambourine-bashing, cardigan-wearing Jesus worshippers?
Well, no. Probably a good thing too, for the sake of my sanity. However, I don’t think that really gets to the essence of the undeniable Christianity of Britain (and Northern Ireland!). And yes, in very narrow ways we are empirically a Christian country, both in the sense that we have an established Christian church, with the Queen as its supreme governor and also in that the majority of people self-identify as Christians. But to focus on these constitutional arrangements is to miss the point of what it is that makes the UK a Christian country.
Firstly, we have a great Christian heritage which we should be truly proud of. Along with other Europeans like St Thomas Aquinas, British Christians have been at the forefront of advancements in science, philosophy, art and literature. Just to choose one example, the Enlightenment thinker John Locke has been more influential on the way we think about rights than anyone else I can think of, and he was entirely driven by his belief in the Christian God – it is impossible to separate his works from his theology.
There is also a unique Britishness to the Christianity we hold in these isles, one which permeates through to the nature of British identity. The Christianity of the United Kingdom is not a brash, fundamentalist zealotry to be forced down people’s throats. It is a religion of tolerance, which embraces diversity and debate and rejects extremism.
This can be seen in the way Christian Britain has been embraced by faith groups across the spectrum, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and pretty much anyone else I can think of. Why is it that the only people who feel threatened by Britain’s existence as a Christian country are the likes of the British Humanist Association, a hardline militant organisation if ever I saw one?
And when I look at those determined to deny that Britain might be a Christian country – miserable po-faced Bottersnikes who manage to combine the sanctimoniousness of a Guardian editorial with the shoutiness of a Richard Dawkins’ twitter rant – I feel even more proud to call myself British, with all the connotations of Christianity that that brings.
Because ultimately I believe that it is when we are at our most Christian that we showcase the best of Britain. The message of Christianity, as articulated by Jesus in the Bible, is most simply a message of love. This is no attack on other faiths, for which I have the utmost respect admiration. In fact, I remain intrigued both by the questions faiths such as Islam pose, and the answers they offer.
The multi-faith ethos of Cardiff University, embedded as it is in the context of our Christian culture (the very word itself as part of our English language deriving from the Latin ‘cult’: worship) is made possible by the fact that we are lucky to live in a tolerant and Christian state.
Certainly, when I compare the mistakes made by Christian countries throughout history to the reality of life in the avowedly atheistic countries that have existed, from 17th Century revolutionary France to Soviet Russia to North Korea, I am glad that our country has been shaped by Christianity rather than by some of the voices I hear denouncing any mention of religion in the public sphere.
There is definitely still more that I would like to happen to see the UK as a more Christian country, I will not deny. In particular the fact that in this day and age there are still homeless people on the streets of Cardiff, despite all our affluence, is one that I think should shock more of us out of our complacency.
Christianity should inspire us all to open our hearts to compassion and be more willing to care, forgive and ultimately to love others. But while there is still room for improvement for all of us, it seems pretty clear-cut to me that the UK clearly is a Christian country, and that being so is one of the greater forces for good both throughout our history and now in our society.