At the final Prime Minister’s Questions of 2015 both the P.M. and Jeremy Corbyn wished everyone a happy Christmas and Cameron repeated his view that Britain is a Christian country. Whilst it may be unseasonal to ask this question, is he right?
40% think Jesus is a mythical character like King Arthur and never actually existed. 52% may identify as Christians, only 6% regularly manifest their faith in church worship. Undoubtedly Britain has a Christian heritage and the Queen will reflect this in her Christmas message but this is gradually being eroded by major changes in our national culture.
The recent decision by a cinema chain to ban the Lord’s Prayer on their screens is only the latest sign of this. Others included, the Registrar who was sacked for refusing to conduct civil same-sex marriage ceremonies, the nurse sacked for offering to pray with her patient and the airline check-in person denied the right to wear a cross at work. Changing the meaning of marriage to legalise same-sex marriage was another.
Underlying these examples is the subordination of religious freedom to an overriding commitment to equality which demands that every belief must be equally respected, nothing can be condemned. Of course that is nonsense because child sacrifice, for example, is universally condemned, but if there is a clash between a traditional religious practice and the demands of equality, the latter usually wins now. Thus, denying those in the line of succession to the throne, the freedom to marry a Catholic without renouncing their place in the line, is considered a breach of a basic human right. Similarly the absence of woman on the bench of Bishops had to be ended. Changing any of these practices may have been right, but subordinating religious freedom to other values is not something people of faith should ignore for several reasons.
Religious freedom is of crucial importance because history teaches that denying people the freedom to practice their faith is something that tyrants invariably see as an obstacle to their exercise of power. The history of communism in Russia and China are examples, as are the persecution of believers in North Korea and Eritrea. It may be argued that these are extreme cases but British humanists who want faith to be treated as a purely private matter but oppose faith schools and the presence of Bishops in the House of Lords or the Coronation as a religious ceremony, are seeking to displace the influence of Christianity in our society. Students of British history know that the development of our democratic freedoms owed a lot to the influence of Christianity. The principle author of Magna Carta was Archbishop Simon Langton. The Christian influence of Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Hannah Moore and Josephine Butler all made Britain a more humane society.
Sadly, there is little evidence that Church leaders and people are aware of the threat to religious freedom that is gaining momentum and, I suspect that most readers of this blog will dismiss this as faithless nonsense. My hope is that those who don’t will recognise the need for a robust and sustained counter-cultural movement to reverse the secular trend and make it an issue for serious prayer.