Tick Christian if you really want to

Hands up all those who had heard of the British Humanist Association more than a month ago.
I rest my case.
Most of us hadn’t a clue this organisation even existed until its much-publicised campaign surrounding the Census documents which have just hit our doormats.
The BHA is campaigning vigorously to prevent people ticking the ‘Christian’ box when they fill in the forms if they don’t attend church or identify themselves as Christian in what they term a ‘meaningful way’.
Campaigners – including letter writers to The Sentinel – believe that ticking ‘Christian’, rather than ‘No religion’, influences central and local government policy.
They argue that it has led to an increase in faith schools and a disproportionate amount of funding being given to faith groups.
Having used this column before to criticise our churches for being dull and often less than relevant, as a lapsed Methodist Potter I feel duty bound to leap to their defence on this occasion.
This is yet another attack on religion here in the UK – specifically that most embattled and timid of groups: Christians. The archetypal soft target.
You see, I simply don’t see it as a bad thing that 70-odd per cent of people who filled in the 2001 census forms considered themselves to be Christian.
Yes, there’s no doubt that many of us will have done so out of some misguided sense of loyalty – or a yearning to belong to an identifiable group: a need to have a label rather than calling ourselves ‘non-religious’.
But so what?
We all know that the number of people actually attending churches in this country is small percentage of the overall population.
It is also a fact that the multi-cultural nature of our society means that Christian is no longer the dominant religion it once was in the UK.
The reason that most of us don’t attend church is because life gets in the way.
We are having our weekly lie-in, taking the children swimming, playing football, walking the dog, having a little quality family time or, heaven-forbid, working like yours truly does every Sunday.
But that doesn’t mean that many of us don’t still consider ourselves to be Christian.
Many of the things the BHA argues against I actually see as positives in our fractured society.
In my experience faith schools are generally excellent – which is why so many parents are desperate to have their children attend one.
Relatively small numbers of people may sit in pews and sing hymns on a regular basis but to assume that the church impacts only on those who do is naive in the extreme.
The Christian church, or perhaps more accurately those who make up its congregations, are very often at the heart of our communities – staging events which bring people together and providing love, care and support to some of the most vulnerable people.
David Cameron talks of the Big Society. I would say our churches adopted this idea a long time ago and have been practising what the PM is now preaching for many years.
I don’t take kindly to being told what boxes to tick by the anti-spiritual brigade.
Furthermore, I certainly don’t view the casual adoption of the Christian tag or the defaulting to a particular religion for the purposes of a statistical exercise as somehow dangerous or undemocratic.
It doesn’t matter to me whether someone is Christian, Muslim or athiest so long as he or she is a decent person.
If that feeling of belonging to a particular group helps someone in their life then I refuse to view it as detrimental.
Surely one’s faith is a personal thing. I attend church sporadically but I pray daily and my faith is very important to me. Crucially, I suspect I’m not alone in this approach.
So by all means tick Christian if you want to.
After all, only you and him upstairs really knows whether or not you are telling the truth.

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