David Cameron urges us to be “more evangelical”

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David Cameron has once again made himself the epicentre of a debate with his recent comments regarding Christianity and the state. In an issue of the Church Times, Mr Cameron re­marked that Britain was a “Christian nation”, and that it was time for the British public to be “more evangeli­cal about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

Cameron illustration (1)

Through these remarks Cameron has unwittingly alienated an over­whelming proportion of the British public, but also asserted a belief that the State and the Church should re­main fundamentally intertwined. These statements show Cameron to be severely out of touch with the public, as well as the values of a modern day, multi-cultural Britain.

It is first worth noting that Mr Cameron is not wrong in calling Brit­ain a Christian nation. Since the reign of King Henry VIII, the monarch has remained head of the Church of Eng­land; as such, Britain is a Protestant country. Bishops are sworn in by the Queen under the advice of the Prime Minister and many senior members of the Church – such as the Archbish­ops of Canterbury and York – have seats in the House of Lords.

However, recent statistics tell a very different tale. According to re­cent data, the proportion of people calling themselves ‘Christian’ is in steep decline, whilst the number of people calling themselves ‘Atheist’ is on the rise. Human rights campaign­er Pater Tatchell, in light of the com­ments, drew attention to a recent YouGov poll, in which 65% of people questioned described themselves as ‘not religious’, while only 29% said they were. What’s more, modern Britain is home to many more reli­gions. One in twenty of us is Muslim, and the number of Hindus and Jews are rising towards a million and a quarter of a million respectively.

So whether or not it is technically correct to call Britain Christian, the question emerges of whether, in this day and age, it is right to. The British government represents the people of Britain, and hence people from many different faiths. Should the Church be allowed to have this much influence in the State when it repre­sents relatively few of its citizens?

Also at issue here is not just the question of how best to represent the country’s current religious situ­ation, but more fundamentally of how close the State and the Church should be in principle, regardless of actual statistics. Even if the coun­try were Christian by a vast major­ity, would it still be right to let the Church have a profound impact on government? After all, we live in a scientific age and we reap the ben­efits of this – from public transport networks to medicine to a fair jus­tice system. How right is it that our liberties are still controlled, to a cer­tain extent, by religion?

The British government represents the people of Britain, and hence people from many different faiths. Should the Church be allowed to have this much influence in the State when it repre­sents relatively few of its citizens?

David Cameron’s main argument appears to be one of morals. In the article, the Prime Minister urged British Christians to be “more evan­gelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a differ­ence to people’s lives.” My question, Mr Cameron, is since when did peo­ple of any other faith, or no faith, lack this ability to ‘make a difference’? It is here that Cameron shows how vastly out of touch he is, implying that people must abide specifi­cally by Christian principles in order to be morally sound, and that every atheist, Muslim, Jew or otherwise, is inherently wrong for not adhering to this.

The issue of whether the State and the Church should separate completely is not an easy problem to solve. Aside from the question of the Church’s role within government, there is the simple fact that Christianity is a fundamental part of this country’s cultural history and heritage.

Many good things arise from its influence – from magnificent architecture, beautiful music and inspiring art, through to good old-fashioned philanthropy. Just as the British monarchy exists relatively harmlessly, without inter­ference, the Church can exist within the state as a benign tribute to our cultural heritage, without upsetting an otherwise fair and democratic society. In the same way we admire ancient monuments such as Stone­henge without necessarily believ­ing in Paganism, people of all faiths should be able to feel proud of our Christian heritage without fear of it interfering with our government.

Illustration: Catherine Wallis

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