Prime Minister David Cameron last week called on the United Kingdom to embrace its Christian heritage and for Christians to become “more evangelical” in their faith. His statements created uproar in the atheist community, with fifty prominent signatories – who included author Terry Pratchett, and broadcaster Dan Snow – writing a letter to Mr. Cameron, stating that his comments risked “alienation” and were “divisive”.
The letter argued:
“Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities and at a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces.
“We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and a largely non-religious society. To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society.”
Here I will come in with some ideological theory. For many Liberals the argument from the signatories would ring true. Individuals are the centre of society, they say, and so design the make-up of society. Furthermore, individuals are free to practice their own faith or religion, without fear of obstruction or intimidation. Thus, David Cameron’s claim that the UK should embrace its Christian heritage could be argued to be alienating those of different religious faiths.
However, the Prime Minister did make the point that he was not attempting to diminish the faith’s of other people in the country. He said he did not mean “doing down” of other religious faiths, or of pushing those of no faith to the side. Indeed, leaders of faith’s such as Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have come out in support of Mr. Cameron’s claim.
“No one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country, with deep historical and structural links with the established Church. The 2011 census indicates that more than 60 per cent of the English self-identify as Christian. We respect that,” said the leader of the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
These words are wholly true, and one would have to be blind to see that the UK is not a Christian nation. I would like to make a clear differentiation here between a Christian nation, and a Christian population. The UK is steeped in Christian heritage; the spires and churches that are stand above the houses in most towns; the Church of England is represented in parliament by 26 bishops; our monarch is the head of the Church of England; the founder of the Labour Party, the Scottish Keir Hardy, was a Christian Socialist; and, as Farooq Murad stated above, 59.3% of England and Wales identify themselves as Christian. In Scotland it is only slightly lower at 54%. Therefore, it is foolish to claim that since the times of the Crusades and beyond Britain is a predominantly Christian nation.
This argument is backed by the findings of a poll released today by YouGov. Albeit that 50% of respondents said that they did not identify themselves as religious, and 77% said they were not religious at all, more than half of those surveyed said that the UK was a Christian nation. Furthermore, 50% to 35% agree with the PMs statement.
So, it would seem that in making themselves appear more pluralist, those whose signature was written at the bottom of that open letter to the PM would appear to have put themselves in the minority. Albeit that there are a number of faiths throughout the UK, and we are in an age where out government is always going on about a “family of nations” and being part of a diverse society, the United Kingdom remains itself Christian in it heritage and tradition.