Friday, 17 February 2012

Are we really a Christian country?

Barely a week passes without the words appearing somewhere, uttered by a politician or, more likely, by an ageing Anglican clergyman...

“...Britain is a Christian country!”

This cry – used down the ages to exclude Jews and, more recently, to marginalise Muslims – may have been true once but I do not believe that we can make that claim any more. But first to understand the claim.

In one respect the argument is about numbers – two-thirds of the population express their identity as Christian so we are, ipso facto, a Christian nation. We still grant a privileged position to representatives of the protestant hierarchy – not just seats in the House of Lords but an almost divine right to airtime wherein to pontificate about the issues of the day.

And these bishops are listened to, just as the local vicar gets a hearing that you as just a bloke in the village won’t get. The established church as an institution also exercises power through its secular role as one of the nation’s two or three biggest landowners. Wherever we look we see evidence of the worldly presence of the church and every day we hear that church express its worldly power.

However, like other institutions (the political parties spring to mind), the church is all fur coat and no knickers. Those self-identifying Christians are little better than agnostics – only about 5% of the population turn out to the established church’s weekly offering. This is little different to that rather more secular religion- association football.

These grand, purple-robed men (and maybe women in a year or so) are sustained by a vast property holding not by the support of the populace. Indeed the public’s general view of religion is to mutter something about “good men” and then shrug. Our religion has declined to the symbols and sounds of a forgotten faith – we sing carols, get the vicar to conduct rites of passage and pay no attention at all to the message.

Our Christianity is hard to distinguish from believing in fairies, ghosts or boggarts. That hard-nosed faith founded in the idea of grace and personal salvation has been replaced by a mushy set of superstitions.

 “Maybe there’s a god and we were told something about Jesus at school. I like those hymns. Did I tell you about the clairvoyant I went to at the pub?”

I do not make these observations in some sort of skeptical rapture – the skeptics like Dawkins are ghastly and ignorant in their denial of metaphysics. I wish simply to point out that we are an agnostic place, we like the comfort blanket of the church (especially when it’s a beautiful piece of gothic splendour or Norman survival) but we do not see that the church offers us anything beyond that comfort.

So while I have no beef with faith schools and see the obsessing about creation that typifies atheist debate as largely an irrelevance, I do not think that we’re a Christian country. I don’t believe that Christians deserve any special treatment – any more than I believe that so-called “faith leaders” should be afforded a special place or privileged access to power.

We should be gently moving the Church of England towards the retirement home. Not some drastic, painful and purposeless disestablishment but a gradual recognition that priests have no more rights to influence than publicans.  Religion will never go away – as Gordon Dickson observed in the Dorsai trilogy, part of man’s psyche is a preference for certainty, order and the direction of a god. But as someone once said, the work of the state is no business of god’s:

“And Jesus answering, said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's: and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.” (Mark 12:17)



Anonymous said...

Not only agnostic, but apostated, some of them. It's not entirely uncertainty, but also beliefs distorted into falsehoods that aren't even of Christ but of church leaders, of men. There once was for certainty a Church Age, where religion was a bigger role in governing than today, but if the Church Age is already behind, the churches apostated and the Millenium is approaching, what then might it be, something much truer to truth one would hope, though not without extreme tribulation, deceptions and false prophets beforehand. It seems a major shift going on in government and religion both, but I think if it comes down to a one-world-religion, to encompass all, it will be a patch job, like the EU or UN is to politics and not based on a universal truth at all, just a hodge-podge of mediocrities.

farmland investment said...

A good post. But, would it not be a kind of unconditional surrender to pure atheism and/our Islamic fundamentalism? Rest assured, Abu Hamza and his ilk have no problem promoting their own feelings, and it certainly does not involve the quote above about Caesar.