WE the people have been invited to discuss, by heavyweight politicians and celebs, whether we are a ‘Christian Country’.
David Cameron, Jack Straw, 50 atheists and TV sofa experts have joined the scrum, for and against.
The atheists say that we are a ‘secular’ country, God is out of the public square or shopping mall or town hall, religion is private and there are lots of them, Christianity is just one.
The cheeseboard is secular, there are lots of cheeses on it, including humanism and religions and all sorts of philosophies. Cameron, Straw and now Attorney General Dominic Grieve say this is missing our history, that for some 1,500 years Christianity has bonded the tribes of these islands together, making peace, even converting the Danes before the Norman Conquest.
And still today our very constitution is centred on an ancient Medieval Christianity, the Queen crowned by the Archbishop, authority flowing symbolically from God as a gift of service — and our present Queen certainly takes that vocation very seriously. The courts, Parliament, universities, hospitals – all have Christian customs woven into them.
Our very calendar is marked out by Christian festivals.
Yes, we are welcoming of other faiths and none, but the ‘cheeseboard’ — to keep this analogy — is not secular but Christian. And of course several Chief Rabbis have said they prefer this sort of social basis to the French ‘secularist’ constitution, which can turn out hostile to faiths it does not like, notably Judaism.
But under a third of people go to church each week, although over half the population still want to identify as ‘Christian’ culturally, and atheism itself is like the ‘froth on top of the beer’.
Perhaps then we should say that the skeleton of the nation is still Christian, but only dry bones?
Does a ‘Christian Country’ need more actual Christian worship and preaching?
We can look at England before 1740 when Wesley began to preach.
It was also structurally Christian, but faith was very faint. Wesley’s ministry among the poor changed thousands of hopeless lives, gave hope and self worth, and inspired churches to grow up and down the land, the ‘Evangelical Revival’.
By the Victorian era all manner of charities thrived, schools, the nursing profession was turned from Sarah Gamp to Florence Nightingale at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Altruism, care for others, became a cultural norm.
Today’s NHS flowed from this concern for the sick whoever they are, ‘a secular church’ as one of its founders called it.
Christian faith and virtue was taken for granted in British culture as the ideal.
Governments have successively tried to pick the fruit off this Christian tree and assume it will grow detached from it — the jury is out as to whether this can happen.
Consider horrible examples such as Baby P, the Francis Report, the binge drinking culture aka gin palaces, the vulnerability of young women ‘in care’ to sex gangs, the TOWIE culture, and the general abandonment of altruism in favour of the ‘selfie’ culture of worshipping me and pleasing myself at whatever moral cost.
Christians feel a frost has come down on them, they feel scared to preach in case it ‘causes offence’ in the eyes of the law, the very law that grew on the Christian tree.
No wonder we can feel confused by the question whether we are a ‘Christian Country’ – ‘yes and no’ has to be the answer: politicians are not helping the gospel at all by their chilling of the freedom to express Christian faith in the public space.
Each generation of Christians it seems has the task of making the dry bones live afresh.