The Prime Minister has declared Britain “a Christian country ‘ and we should not be afraid to say so”. It’s not unusual, of course, for politicians to make assertions that have no basis in fact. Sometimes this is done out of ignorance, sometimes out of dishonesty, sometimes out of self-denial, sometimes out of malice, sometimes out of hubris, sometimes out of simple foolishness. It’s hard to know which – if not all – of these is the wellspring of Cameron’s announcement. But, whichever way you cut it, it is not true.
The most recently published results of the British Social Attitudes survey showed that less than twenty per cent of respondents considered themselves to be part of the Church of England. Less than 10 per cent considered themselves to be non-denominational Christians, and less than nine per cent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic. Those who said they had no religion of any kind numbered a little over fifty per cent. In other words, Britain is not even half a Christian country. Indeed, there are considerably more people who consider themselves not Christian than voted for the parties comprising the coalition government. For whom does Cameron believe he is speaking?
Given that he must know – his advisors anyway must have pointed out – that his claim would likely alienate and repel rather more listeners than it would please (and besides, those pleased would be overwhelmingly dominated by those whose support is already assured), what did he think he was up to? Can he have been fending off in a subterranean way those filthy foreigners in the non-C-of-E European Union: Catholic France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland and Ireland, Lutheran-Calvinist Germany? Could it have been a low piece of point-scoring against the Jewish Ed Miliband? Was it a crude attempt to identify himself with the spirit of Christmas? If it be the latter, he’d have done better by volunteering to switch on the lights in Oxford Street or accepting a cameo in the Christmas Day editions of either ‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. The seasonal worship indulged by the vast majority of the British electorate is of those great gods, Retail and Telly.
The obvious question arising from Cameron’s asseveration is: does this supposedly Christian nation have a Christian government? Well, let’s just consider how far it measures up to the more obvious of Christ’s teachings and tenets. To begin at the beginning: “I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24]. Two-thirds of the Cabinet are millionaires, several of them (including Cameron) multi-millionaires. So Cabinet ministers – all of them, it’s fair to say, because even the non-millionaires are rich by most people’s standards – are booked for eternal damnation; which rather reduces their credentials as Christians, wouldn’t you say?
On the subject of damnation, Matthew has another pertinent passage for this government: “Then shall [God] say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:/For I was an hungred [i.e. hungry], and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:/I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not:/Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?/Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” [Matthew 25:41-5].
You notice how Christ does not suggest that we are all in it together or that helping the deprived is too expensive because of the “mess” that God inherited or that there needs to be a “stranger” quota, at least among those from outside the European Union. It is a given that the “least” must be “ministered” to. Neither does Christ suggest that the top rate of tax ought to be lowered. The government clearly does not subscribe to the philosophy as expressed here in Matthew’s account.
The government’s constant harping on eliminating the deficit puts it on the side of the Pharisees whom Christ excoriated: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone./Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” [Matthew 23:23-4].
Nor did Cameron bear in mind, when he exercised the summit veto the other week, another dictum of Christ’s quoted by Matthew: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” [Matthew 19:19]. Nowhere do the gospels suggest that Christ advocated putting the British interest first. Funny, that.
Of course, one can make a case for pretty much anything, however perverse or unchristian, with selected quotes from scripture. But these I have cited are widely-known and understood, even among those like me who find no place in their lives for supernatural mumbo-jumbo. It seems to me that those who publicly profess their conviction ought to act in a way that does not readily undermine the credibility of those convictions.
In sum, Britain is by no stretch of the imagination a Christian country. And nor does it labour under a Christian government. I wish all my readers a very cool Yule.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by W Stephen Gilbert