I never thought that I’d be defending David Cameron, but in relation to his remarks that Britain is a Christian country, I feel that I should. His statements have fostered much controversy with writers with novelists penning a letter in the Telegraph accusing him of ‘fostering divisions’ with his comments; it is noteworthy, however, that many of them are of an atheist or secular persuasion. On the other hand, those of us that are followers of a faith have had little to say on the matter, although it could have been us penning a letter accusing Cameron of undermining the role of other religions in Britain. In fact, religious organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain have come out in support of him.
Unsurprisingly, I am still quite cynical of David Cameron’s newly found evangelical spirit, as I am sure are many other people. The effects of punitive welfare reforms were strongly and openly criticised by the Anglican Church. His comments may have been received rather well by a few UKIP members, but the icing on the cake is that his political rival, Ed Miliband, is a Jewish atheist. Make of that what you will.
However, as a Muslim, am I offended by David Cameron’s comments? Not really. Firstly because I don’t actually believe this is a Christian country and this is where I agree with the critics – Christianity may inform large aspects of British history and may underpin some of the values we hold, but besides the narrow constitutional framework of the Church of England being the official state Church, there is very little that is ‘Christian’ about Britain. In terms of numbers, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of people identifying themselves as Christian from 2001 (75%) veto the last census of 20ll (59%) and there have been increasing concerns surrounding falling church attendance which has only recently stabilised.
It appears that Cameron wants a Christian revival, proclaiming “Get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.” The irony shouldn’t be lost on him (being the devout Christian that he is) that he and the coalition have undermined core Christian principles. The government’s entire rhetoric on austerity has been anything but Christian. They have assigned blame to the poor instead of helping them and have disabled the disabled further. As for being kind to the stranger, their immigration rhetoric has really made a mockery of that Christian principle. Whilst the support of religious organisations for Cameron is understandable, it would actually serve us all better if they did more to hold him and the coalition to the standards of moral responsibility that most religions share. With the exception of the Anglican Church, the religious voice has been rather mute in holding the coalition to account for its many regressive policies. In not doing so, they run the risk of people viewing religion as a club that sticks together bound only by dogma and hypocrisy.
However, I also reject the knee-jerk reaction against anything related to religion particularly from those who wield the power to articulate those views. There is a place for religious thought and conviction and we shouldn’t be so dictatorial as to order people to leave their faiths at the door when they enter public life. I am equally suspicious of aggressive atheists, humanists and secularists using instances such as this to drive their own agenda under the guise of defending religious minorities.