Of course the UK is a Christian country (and we don’t need the PM to tell us…)

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during the Easter service at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during the Easter service at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. The Prime Minister has found God. Just in time for Easter, it seems.

Rather than the usual platitudes and inoffensive quotes from the gospels, this year ‘call me Dave’ spoke of the importance of his own faith, assured us Britain was still a Christian country and told us we should be confident about the fact.

In doing so he somehow offended a bunch of people and even prompted a well-known collection of humanists (I thought we were all humanists, but there you go) to write to a national newspaper accusing the PM of fostering alienation and harming society.

What a load of rubbish.

While I find it difficult to stomach faith being used as ammunition by politicians, the hypocrisy of people being offended because the UK is described as a Christian country is laughable.

Indeed, I‘d go so far as to say that only in Britain would a debate like this even take place because we seem to live in a society where everyone seems terrified of upsetting someone else.

The fact is Britain has been a Christian country for around 1,500 years and, technically, we can still be described as such given that 59 per cent of respondents in the 2011 census indicated they felt an attachment to Christianity.

This figure may have fallen sharply since 2001 (72 per cent) but, nevertheless, it’s still a majority.

Yes we are a cultural melting pot and other religions are welcome and are flourishing. However, it is fair to say that – if pushed – a majority of people in Britain would still probably pigeon-hole themselves as ‘Christian’.

The problem is, of course, that a vast majority of people in this country don’t go to church and are not practising Christians.

Therefore, it is probably more accurate to say that most people in the UK aren’t actually religious at all.

Earlier this week public figures including writers such as Sir Terry Pratchett, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, prominent broadcasters and even comedians argued passionately that the Government has no right to “prioritise” religion or any particular faith.

Ironically, it is once again Christianity which is being challenged here. I suspect that had a leading politician spoke out in support of another faith no-one would dare take issue with it for fear of being labelled intolerant or worse.

You see, it’s easy to criticise the established faith of the UK and the followers of that faith. In fact, what surprises me is that Christian leaders and their flock are so timid in the defence of their religion.

Being an atheist seems to be rather trendy and cool these days. Social media, for instance, is full of sarcastic images and slogans denigrating religion. Some people without faith look down upon those who trust in God as if they have professed belief in fairies or the Easter bunny.

Personally, I’m glad that religion is being talked about and I do believe that our fragmented, struggling society can benefit from people of faith offering spiritual guidance. After all, you’re unlikely to find it at Westminster.

Let us also not forget that it is predominantly Christian organisations who are running huge numbers of foodbanks across the UK at this time of austerity.

I only have a problem with what Mr Cameron says when this proclamation of faith seems to come out of nowhere.

After all, we didn’t see much acknowledgement of Christian beliefs when the current Government was pushing through the gay marriage legislation last May.

I wasn’t bothered either way. However, it seemed to me that those who opposed gay marriage on religious grounds were often painted as out-of-touch bigots.

Now that doesn’t seem very tolerant, does it?

My view is that politicians, or rather political parties, make token gestures in order to garner favour with certain sections of the electorate – whether that be gay people or Christians.

I object to either being used, as and when it suits politicians, in order for parties to create the illusion that they stand for certain values or groups of individuals.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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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.