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    A Christian country

    by Rumbold on 2nd March, 2010 at 8:38 am    

    Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has attacked what he perceives to be the failure of people to stand up for Christian culture in Britain:

    ‘I cannot imagine any politician expressing concern that Britain should remain a Christian country. That reticence is a scandal and a disgrace to our history.’

    Britain has been a Christian country for much of the past two thousand years. Our laws and culture have been shaped in part by Judeo-Christian ideas. Anyone who disputes that is in error.

    However, it doesn’t follow that is an inherently good thing that Britain remains a Christian country (if indeed it is one now). That is not a plea for moral relativism, but rather a recognition that the foundations of a civilised society do not depend on religion, or on one particular religion. Religiously-inspired laws and actions can be good or bad. So can ones without the impact of religion.

    What does is matter what a person believes about deities and the afterlife? A more atheist, or agnostic, or Sikh, or Jedi-worshipping country wouldn’t by definition be a worse place to live in (or a better one for that matter). People of all faiths and none live in Britain, and no one faith should retain a monopoly on Britain.

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    Filed in: Culture, History, Religion

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    1. pickles

      Blog post:: A Christian country http://bit.ly/d32tqV

    1. MiriamBinder — on 2nd March, 2010 at 9:14 am  

      Faith, or the lack thereof, is a personal sphere matter and not a state concern.

    2. James — on 2nd March, 2010 at 10:13 am  

      We used to be a Pagan country.

      All the former Bish is saying is that he doesn’t like change and can’t abide all these people holding different views to his. Well what a surprise, coming from an authoritarian Tory.

    3. Bill Corr — on 2nd March, 2010 at 10:38 am  

      Craven spineless Carey!

      When he was in a position to speak out and be heard throughout the world, he said f*ck all.

      Now, like a retired ambassador, he can run his mouth to his heart’s content but almost nobody is listening.

      The cruel and harsh fact is that Britain is a post-Christian country; mention the C. of E. clergy and we think of squealing queeny vicars fondling the choirboys in the vestry, while all the RC clergy are assumed to be guilty of unspeakable crimes in Nazareth House orphanages and Letterfrack Industrial School.

      There are several male RC clergy doing splendid work with impoverished kids in Thailand, Father Joe Maier among them, but if one starts talking about them in front of any normal audience one’s hearers automatically assume that they’re active pedosexuals.

      I’d respect Carey far more if he’s spoken out two decades ago.

    4. damon — on 2nd March, 2010 at 10:39 am  

      I still like some of the services you get at places like Westminster Abbey now and again, with all the establishment figures there and a few nice hymns.
      Princess Diana’s funeral for example.

      (Not to be taken too seriously of course).

    5. douglas clark — on 2nd March, 2010 at 12:02 pm  

      Funnily enough, I think it was Nick Griffin on Question Time that also claimed ‘this is a Christian Country’.

      There is little or no evidence for it and I agree with MiriamBinder @ 1.

    6. soru — on 2nd March, 2010 at 12:04 pm  

      Well, yes all religions are equal in the case where their believers don’t actually hold them to be factually true.

      There tends to be a bit of confusion around the word ‘culture’, where some people use it to mean only the things that shouldn’t be taken to seriously, and others everything that is not biology.

      In any case, what you don’t want is Jedi claiming ‘Mandelson is a Sith Lord, so better go and chop his limbs off’.

      (I wrote that originally with Brown, but Mandelson is obviously a lot more plausible).

    7. Boyo — on 2nd March, 2010 at 12:42 pm  

      Culturally Christian (as it is) is different from religiously Christian (as it isn’t).

    8. Muslim — on 2nd March, 2010 at 1:36 pm  

      Britain being a Christian country (eg the head of state also being the head of the church) actually helps religious minorities as there is more acceptance of the place of religion in public places.

      Compare this to a militantly secular state like France which bans and restricts religious symbols of minority groups.

    9. Don — on 2nd March, 2010 at 3:06 pm  

      I agree with your main points, but I’m a little wary of the term Judaeo-Christian. It’s so flexible a term I’m not sure it has any value except in a very specific context. By the time christianity reached Britain it had repudiated its roots as a jewish sect and did not exactly seek to embrace specifically jewish values in the centuries that followed.

    10. Dan — on 2nd March, 2010 at 3:21 pm  

      It’s a good thing that he brings attention to Britain being a Christian country. It’s an anachronism, that we should seek to remove from our legal and political system.

      The state should be agnostic, acting to create a framework within which people of all religious persuasions (including atheism) are free to act on their beliefs within the boundaries of a commonly agreed law.

      Thanks for bringing it to our attention Lord Carey, we’ll try to deal with the oversight.

    11. persephone — on 2nd March, 2010 at 3:32 pm  

      What aspects is Lord Carey looking at? When looking at church attendance, reports show:

      - 40% of adults attended a service over Xmas Eve/Xmas Day in 2002
      - In 2001 census 71% cited their religion as Christian

      And the causes of decline are a myriad of things:

      - parishes provide services during the week so as not to compete with leisure pastimes associated with the weekend. In one diocese, Oxford, an online parish has been established for those who want to opt out of the traditional parish structure.

      - Many attending church are of the older generations, few 15-30 year olds go to church

      - There are now more people claiming a clergy pension than there are ordained stipendiary (paid) clergy which is causing pressure. This is despite charitable giving to parish churches continuing to increase by more than inflation every year.

      Plus, the alienation caused by stances on ordination of female priests, same sex marriages and views on homosexuality in general. Or is that to be laid at the foot of politicians too?

      Quoting from the link on Lord Carey: “he has backed limits to immigration, criticised Islamic theology”

      You’d think he’d see immigration as a growth area since reports cite: “the Diocese of London has an increasing churchgoing population due to the rise in immigrants from Africa and the importance of the church in African and Caribbean communities”.

      And rather than criticising, perhaps Savoy could learn something from the ‘immigrant’ Muslim community:

      David Voas, population studies, Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester: “The difficulty is in retaining the children who have churchgoing parents. So long as churchgoing is something that gets you laughed at, so long as there is a social stigma attached to being a churchgoing young person, it will be difficult to reverse the trend.” He said that young Muslims operated in a different environment. “Being religious is a way that you show you are different, that you are proud of your heritage. One of the ways young Muslims assert their identity is by being more observant than their parents”

    12. soru — on 2nd March, 2010 at 4:45 pm  

      It’s an anachronism, that we should seek to remove from our legal and political system.

      Distinguishing between the CoE and agnosticism is almost certainly beyond the metaphysical power of any plausible legal/political system.

    13. douglas clark — on 2nd March, 2010 at 10:50 pm  

      soru @ 12,

      Good point!

    14. platinum786 — on 3rd March, 2010 at 11:38 am  

      Is britain even a Christian country anymore?

      How many people attend Church? How many people obey commandments of the bible? What makes you Christian?

      Within 10 minutes walking distance of my house there are 7 churches. Two are now used as Mosques, one is only a community centre, one is a rock climbing centre, leaving 3 active churches. All three are used by the Black community only on a Sunday.

      There are 4 gudwaras, all 4 of them are used, they are mainly busy on a sunday, but you see people coming and going during the weekdays too.

      There is 1 hindu mandir, there is not a lot of activity there. I only ever see people on Diwali.

      There are 10 Mosques. All of them have a congregation packed on a Friday. All of them have childrens classes in the evenings on Weekdays. All of them are packed for the entire month during Ramadan.

      How are we a Christian country? Is it just by “heritage” or by practise?

    15. soru — on 3rd March, 2010 at 3:01 pm  

      How many people obey commandments of the bible?

      A very large number obey at least one. Although in some cases it is because they misheard ‘though shalt not worship false idols’, as ‘watch Pop Idol’.

    16. persephone — on 3rd March, 2010 at 3:10 pm  

      Who knows which religions are actually practised in the traditional sense. From Platinums example it seems most attendance is on certain days/ceremonies.

      Which begs the question, as religions say they invite others to their place of worship to help understanding etc, it would make economic sense for several of them to share the same building - save money & space and be better for the environment.

      It would be great to see religions behave like unifiers rather than dividers. Especially since they have a commonality of values.

    17. Don — on 3rd March, 2010 at 3:30 pm  

      Surely the main thing they have in common is the certainty that everybody else is wrong?

    18. persephone — on 3rd March, 2010 at 4:42 pm  

      @ 17 heh

      I obviously don’t get this religion thing. Y’know the common values of being a good person, humanity, believing in a spiritual being/s, groupthink (!) etc should mean they see themselves as one godly community

    19. persephone — on 3rd March, 2010 at 4:46 pm  

      ” Two are now used as Mosques, one is only a community centre, one is a rock climbing centre, leaving 3 active churches.”

      Puts into question the hype about mosques taking over churches when it seems to be hobbies/interests & social needs are replacing needs for places of worship.

    20. Dalbir — on 3rd March, 2010 at 4:54 pm  

      I don’t know, the country doesn’t feel very Christian to me.

      Truth is that the religion has become quite formalised, so for many [the majority?], going church is something only done for weddings, death and maybe for new births (last one mainly RC). Other than that it doesn’t really seem to have an important place in society.

      If you spoke to the majority English youths (you know, the ones who’d be out on the town on the weekend), I doubt many would have a first clue about Christianity. If anything they seem quite apathetic if not antipathetic towards religion?

      Maybe there is a whole hidden white Christian world out there that I haven’t encountered?

    21. Jai — on 3rd March, 2010 at 5:01 pm  


      Surely the main thing they have in common is the certainty that everybody else is wrong?

      That’s more the case with the ultraorthodox “exclusivist” versions of the “Abrahamic” faiths. However, it’s not necessarily a binary “either/or” situation with the Indian-origin religions along with most of the mainstream South Asian versions of Sufism, all of which broadly promote the positive concepts summarised by Persephone in #18.

      I’ve already written several PP articles about Sikhism and South Asian Sufism during the past 6 months, although you should also do some research on ‘bhakti’ Hinduism. A lot has happened in the subcontinent during the past thousand years, including various theological & historical developments specifically dealing with the issue you’ve mentioned.

    22. Don — on 3rd March, 2010 at 5:41 pm  


      Of course you are right. I have the unfortunate habit, when tapping out a brief post at the end of work, of immediately thinking of the Abrahamic religions whenever the subject crops up. I’m working on it.


      This is not a scientific poll, but thinking of the people I work with (in a Newcastle school) about half, of the twenty or so I can speak of, identify as christians in the sense you describe - attending key events but otherwise not at all active or particularly interested. About a quarter are atheists or agnostics and the remaining quarter are actually active church-goers who also have church as a key part of their social lives. None of the last group are under 40. So, yes, there probably is a sizeable but quiet (rather than hidden) white christian world that you have not encountered. I guess it depends where you live. Get into the smaller towns and villages and the church is still quite central, although not as much as it was a few decades ago.

      My local methodist church (in Northumberland)seems to have a pretty high attendance, but again almost all in the second half of their lives.

      Personally I like church architecture, church music and rituals such as blessing the fishing fleet. I often attend midnight mass in the Abbey on Christmas Eve. High CoE and put on a good show with organ, choir, incense and robes. I always put a little extra in the plate because I’m aware I’m there as audience rather than participant.

      But, no. To describe the UK as a christian country does not really ring true.

    23. Dalbir — on 3rd March, 2010 at 5:50 pm  


      Thanks for the info.

      Do you think that there is a stark difference in attitudes towards religion across the old North/South divide?

      I’ve always suspected the Southeast may be in more ‘advanced stages’ of Godlessness? I say that without any judgement attached btw.

    24. Don — on 3rd March, 2010 at 6:41 pm  


      I’m not sure about the North/South divide - I seldom get down south - but I suspect the more metropolitan areas are the least likely to have a strong traditional church presence among the white population.

      In farming or fishing communities (and there are still a few) there tends to be much more of a focus on the church, whether in the North, in Scotland, the West Country or wherever. The old pit communities used to tend to be strongly methodist, but since Thatcher trashed them that has died out a lot.

      You may well be right about the South-East, maybe because over the last century or so it has absorbed a lot of people who have left established, cohesive and traditional communities for new towns and new ways of engaging with neighbours. The tennis or cricket club started to compete for standing as a way of inter-acting with the people around you, parental and grand-parental pressures diminished, choice became available.

      Back in the late sixties when I was a youngster about half of the kids at school regularly attended church and Sunday School and that was considered normal.

      Hell, at thirteen, even as I was becoming an atheist, I was part of a group that was shuttled around the more remote chapels in our Sunday best to read the lesson from the pulpit. I was good at it, in the states I might have turned it into a very lucrative career. The congregation (which even then tended to be mainly eldely ladies) were delighted to see young people being active and biscuits were provided.

      Now any kid over the age of ten who regularly attends church is likely to be seen as a bit wierd. Probably with good reason.

    25. Dalbir — on 3rd March, 2010 at 10:28 pm  

      You may well be right about the South-East, maybe because over the last century or so it has absorbed a lot of people who have left established, cohesive and traditional communities for new towns and new ways of engaging with neighbours. The tennis or cricket club started to compete for standing as a way of inter-acting with the people around you, parental and grand-parental pressures diminished, choice became available.

      What do you think of this ‘availability of choice’? To me it seems to have many positives as well as negatives. But this society seems to focus on the former and pretty much ignores the latter?

    26. platinum786 — on 4th March, 2010 at 9:59 am  

      I was talking about the same thing to a friend, talking about Christian identity and Britain. A point was made that perhaps Britain is not christian from a religious point of view, but from an identity point of view.

      We were wondering what the rights problem with Muslims was when it came to identity and we thought, since British society is becoming more and more atheist, Christianity is becoming less visible on the street, maybe they don’t like that Islam, despite being small in numbers is quite publicly visible as a religion.

      But then again, c’mon, in the bigger cities in some areas i can understand that, but in the vast majority of England, it’s hardly a presence. What are they claiming to be threatned by.

    27. RAMIIE — on 4th March, 2010 at 3:21 pm  

      Islam is a threat not just to Christians, but to all other religions that love peace. That is not the same is saying that Islam is intrinsically threatening, but many of you who now embody the creed are in a state of war with the non-muslim world and I for one support a greater clampdown and surveillance of muslims across the western world until we non muslims are satisfied that you no longer threaten our way of life.

      I find it amazing that some ppl here should question whether Briatin should remain a Christan country. Clearly some of you wont rest until, to paraphrase Powell, there is more blood on the streets.

      BTW I am proud to be an Islamaphobe

    28. MiriamBinder — on 4th March, 2010 at 4:57 pm  

      And I am proud to say that I am sorry for you RAMIIE

    29. Don — on 4th March, 2010 at 7:09 pm  


      Interesting question. Religion and the church of course remained among the choices available to people who were faced with having to define the community to which they felt they belonged, having left the long established communities of their forebears. The CoE was generally slow off the mark in providing for rapidly growing conurbations but Methodists and others filled the gap.

      (To be clear, I’m talking here about the huge influx of clerical and administrative workers drawn to the metropolis and the S.E. during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.)

      Many of the alternative groups available, whether culturally aspirational or social/sporting or (pseudo) spiritual, naturally had shallow roots. Part of human nature, I believe, is the urge to conform to the norms of our group, but when that group has not had time to evolve norms then we tend to busily create them. And then police them keenly. I suspect that one down side was a growth in petty snobbery and the need to identify as part of the in-group by watching for minor violations of artificial shibboleths. This was a time when people actually cared whether you said napkin or serviette, the hour at which you ate, the knot in your tie, the split infinitive. They were a generation away from working the land and were insecure in their new white-collar status.

      What do you see as the negatives of availablity of choice?

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