Tuesday, 22 April 2014

In Temperament and History, We Are A Christian Nation. Cameron's Still Annoying Though.

We are a Christian nation. Many years before Scotland or England existed (and thus many more years before the United Kingdom as is appeared), Christian Kings ruled on these isles. And even before them we were briefly under the influence of the Roman empire, whose Christian beliefs were late to appear but quickly spread. Visited by soon-to-be saints, and an important part of Christian medieval Europe (and Christian medieval empires), we really can't pretend our little islands aren't steeped in Christianity.

Our villages and towns are adorned with elaborate churches, crucifix gravestones and pubs named after saints, Bishops and monks. Important local and national history is often set against important moments involving religion: Thomas à Becket, the Reformation, the Armada, the Glorious Revolution, the Jacobites and even Catholic emancipation come together to form the tapestry of our national narrative.

When one visits a new town or city as a tourist you will almost always find yourself in the ruins of a monastery, in a cathedral or being regalled by tales of some saint or pilgrimage that visited the spot you are standing on.

Just as Buddhism and Spiritism are intrinsic to Thailand's way of life, and Hinduism influences so much in India, our very cultural outlook and morality is based on Christianity (though we rarely even aspire to live up to things I see as great virtures, such as turning the other cheek). And, above all else, our head of state is also head of an established Christian church which, unlike any country other than Iran, has seats in our legislature put aside for its clergy.

So when David Cameron barks on about us being a Christian nation he isn't completely wrong. To pretend otherwise is delusional.

But let us not pretend that this is the only narrative. We have, for many years, had a proud history of non-conformism within the Christian faith which has lead to an openness towards other faiths and non-belief that marks us out as one of the most tolerant countries on Earth. Our people are diverse and faith is a complicated, and currently waning, theme in modern Britain. To describe ourselves as a Christian nation without a whole list of caveats is to greatly misrepresent our country and insult a large number of citizens.

And that is where David Cameron just goes too far. He doesn't just want us to acknowledge the fact that yes Christianity has been a foundation on which this United Kingdom has been built, he also insists we ponder the benefits to us it has brought. And Christianity has brought us benefits (I'd much rather live here, in a western nation, than pretty much any other I could name). But to ponder its benefits without considering its problems is a fundamentally flawed and misty-eyed approach.

Christianity brought us divisive tribal politics (and wars) whose affects we still feel to this day (especially in places like Northern Ireland and Glasgow). It brought us morality laws that greatly reduced individual liberty and free thought. It allowed, and allows, unelected agents of a minority religious organisation to influence our laws. It has caused deaths through war, murder and execution in such numbers that every citizen of this nation should be ashamed.

So yes we are a Christian nation. This gives us a fascinating history, some pretty buildings, a few decent cultural traits but also a whole heap of trouble that probably outweighs the benefits. So let's try and move forward and do things better so that we live in a country with greater religious freedom, less murder and happier people.

1 comment:

Paul Brownsey said...

Trouble is, any statement by a person of authority that this is a Christian country will be seized upon and exploited by those Christians who want to clamp their faith upon everyone.