There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether Britain is Christian and it has gone through the same arguments it does every time, it is hardly a new controversy.
Personally I don’t consider Britain, the country I was born in, grew up in, and still live in, to be Christian. And I am talking about right now, this year, our present moment. I also don’t think that is such a bad thing.
Historically, a lot of our little group of islands’ history is obviously Christian. For most of the last 2000 years we have been at the center of our faiths debates, issues and, sadly, wars. The Reformation had a large stronghold and we are famous for John Knox, the Tudors, and the beginnings of the Protestant church in the Britain. I’m not denying this, but in order to suggest from this that we are still now a Christian country is to forget the history that came before: the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses, and the Celtic legends of nature gods, goddesses, heroes, and spirits in many forms. We also have history with the Vikings but I don’t see David Cameron suggesting that Thor was inspiring the Big Society. To suggest that civilisation, or society, or British history, only existed from the introduction of Christianity is dangerous and a little arrogant.
Even when we refer to the laws of this country as Judeo-Christian there are some pieces we forget: primarily the Jewish bit. As a Christian I don’t rely on every law in Deuteronomy because my beliefs rely on Jesus and His fulfilment of the law. Of course it is a part of Christianity, Jesus was Jewish, but it’s a little odd to miss this bit in Britain’s labelled faith, no? It is also getting less and less true because laws that the church may have had far more influence in have been abolished, changed and reinterpreted. Interpretation is so much a part of the Christian faith I would suggest it’s almost impossible to set out practical laws based on it – mainly because the Bible is not, and was not meant to be, a rule book (otherwise monks wouldn’t have felt the need to write them!). I would suggest that although a secular-based morality is stupidly difficult to lay out, our political conscience is hardly based on one ideology or faith anymore.
I don’t find this a worrying issue most of the time. Politically speaking I will personally be guided by my faith, but I often have moments of wishing certain politicians would keep their “faith” to themselves (they can’t seem to help dragging the rest of us down with them). Margaret Thatcher often spoke of her Christian faith and yet her interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan was horrendous, based in greed and capitalism, and seemed to wholly miss the point. Tony Blair publicly declared his Catholicism as if he should get a sainthood and seemed to push people further away than ever from this particular denomination. More recently, David Cameron seemed to assume the church and charities of the UK were utterly stupid when he suggested Jesus was behind the Big Society, as if He would be smiling down whilst vulnerable, poor and struggling people had every piece of welfare minimised, and bankers and politicians got bonuses… Hardly!
My faith may influence me, but it is also personal. If I am allowed to worship and live in my own way (within reason) then I don’t need Britain to have some special label to make me feel welcome. I don’t want to be persecuted, but nor do I require some warped idea of political credentials to belong.
I also doubt the ability for a patch of land, a government, or organisation to be Christian. I don’t understand what exactly would make them so. Do they only hire Christians? Would that be truly Christian? Do they stick by certain laws? Is each building blessed and anointed with holy oil? Is baptism a prerequisite for a contract of services? I understand that people can start businesses and charities with the best of intentions, but these groups do not have an individual soul and cannot give their lives to God because they do not have a life to give.
Instead, the Britain I see around me is diverse, full of multiple faiths, ethnicities, and cultures. In an ideal world, multiculturalism would also mean tolerance and I pray for that. Do I hope that those who do not believe in God will find Him? Of course, but I cannot force it upon them, as I would hope they would not force belief on me.
Personally, I feel that the church has always done better outside of the privilege of a state relationship. Whenever the Christian church has held political power we have been corrupted and forgotten our humble beginnings and our responsibility to the least of our brothers and sisters. Spiritually speaking I believe the church needs to remember that our faith is based on a heavenly king, a politics of love, and the economics of the Jubilee.
Do we need Britain to be a Christian country to be Christian? No. Do we lose anything of value by being Christian in a non-Christian country? Not in my opinion.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I would love to hear yours. Comment below!