Cameron The King: We’re Christian, or if not Christian, just not non-religious. God Forbid!
David Cameron has recently been playing politics with religion, namely by calling Britain a Christian country and elucidating an ambition to “expand the role of faith based organisations,” and I thought it was Chris the King, not Cameron! It cannot be doubted that much of our culture, art and history derives from Christianity, but to call the country Christian is nonsense, perhaps post-Christian would be better. This has led to Cameron’s assertion being challenged by many concerned members of the public.
This country has many faith groups and those who have none; the latter are usually wholly overlooked though. The 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey records 48% of the entire nation’s population identify as non-religious [Edit: YouGov poll 2015, 62% non-religious]. Add all of the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’i and other religious communities – and non-religious – to this and it is extremely divisive to claim that somehow Christianity must maintain its prominence in Great Britain. But, I’m not angry about it, honestly, because that would make me one of those ‘angry atheists,’ and we all know that they’re just too angry.
Let’s indulge the notion of a Christian Britain though. It’s true that the Queen is the Head of the State and the Church of England, an oft-cited and by now boring point of fact which should have no meaning post-Magna Carta, although, our particular monarch does actually try to veto laws. It’s also true that many of our laws reflect religious heritage, however, I would argue many come from a healthy process of critical reasoning as sufficiently evolved social creatures with big brains, rather than being Christian in origin. Who could dispute that the UK comes from Christian origins though? Oh that’s right, all of the invaders over the centuries who weren’t Christian, and all of those customs within Christianity that aren’t even Christian. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate things that are Christian though, like the architecture of a Gothic cathedral, I really like those … I just don’t like the fear mongering and swindling that went into building it: call me fussy. But, I’m not angry about this, I’m just disappointed that we keep being sold the meme of Britain as a Christian country, despite polling going the opposite way. I’m not angry though. A recent article explains a few of the arguments for and against Cameron’s Britain, but what about some other Christian influences?
If this were a Christian country and not the plural democracy we find ourselves in today, then what might we see? Churches taxing the population for repairs perhaps, discrimination against school children and parents, censoring of exam questions, and tax exemption for religion would exist. But wait, that’s exactly what we can see and more isn’t it. As an example of how far this sense of religious privilege pervades, I was personally asked to sign a declaration of faith before being given a paid position as a mental health charity’s clinician! To be blunt, a person’s ability to perform a job and provide evidence based treatment is not predicated on supernatural beliefs or adherence to doctrine. But, I’m not angry, just concerned that a charity might target vulnerable patients with its faith based ethos. Upon questioning this (as well as consulting employment law) I was told my lack of Christian belief, expressed in a personal capacity online was of concern to my employer. This is exactly the everyday discrimination and sense of entitlement to Christian privilege that exists in society – it doesn’t even seem to register that this is discrimination to some! Incidentally, one would have thought that it shouldn’t matter who does a charitable act, just that it gets done, especially when the extended community seems to vicariously share in the kudos despite having done nothing but add to the collection plate; “remember all the charity Christians do though” you’ll hear them bemoan when challenged on anything. I have also written on the lack of representation on remembrance day for the non-religious, and the Christian influence that stops us from honouring the dead, so won’t belabour that point further than to say it happens, and imagine if we were still a Christian Army, that thought should make us shudder. However, I’m not angry, I just think a little parity should be forthcoming, and that I shouldn’t be coerced or discriminated against on the basis of not believing in the supernatural. It’s not a big ask, is it?
We also shouldn’t forget that although Britain isn’t a completely Christian country, many, including David Cameron, would see it as a primarily religious one anyway. This is further enshrined by appointing and unelected minister of faith in the guise of Barroness Warsi. The central themes of Christian privilege are also seen running throughout other faiths. Elements of the Islamic faith for example do very well in assuming a privileged status: Sharia compliant wills, bank accounts and student loans, censoring of the national curriculum (Christians wilfully teach the untrue as well don’t forget), censoring of free expression, and the imposition of discriminatory cultural norms like gender segregation even in universities. Many in the Islamic and Jewish communities also see nothing wrong with genital mutilation, as apparently it’s a religious or cultural right, but at least a prosecution for this crime seems to be forth coming this year. Such an entrenched system of religious privilege and exception to many of the rules that should govern all of us undoubtedly exists in British society, and provides a benefit only to special interest groups, which seems to be one of the main things undermining an inclusive and equal society. But I’m not angry remember, there are 55 countries on earth minimum who legislate against the non-religious and Britain isn’t one of them, so I can’t really be angry can I. It’s those damned angry atheists giving us a bad name with their observations, facts and criticism!
The point is that whilst Britain is not a Christian country some people and organisations make it seem like one, and whilst religious belief is declining in the UK as a whole [Edit: YouGov poll 2015, 62% non-religious], many religious groups still hold a privileged status here – often giving them the confidence to declare that criticism of their beliefs, practices, or social and political agenda is tantamount to a prejudice against people or a phobia, even when criticised by their co-religionists. I suppose Britain being Christian, or if not Christian, then overtly religious, is better than allowing the heathens to have an equal voice in society? The heretics have done quite well though, even supported sometimes by elements of the religious community on issues like equal marriage and free expression, and isn’t that fantastic. It shows that when we notice an injustice or something in need of improvement, that we can band together under humanity to achieve a common good and leave our man made tribalism out of it. Nothing to be angry about there, just compassion, cooperation, and critical thinking.
In the end, all great human – and indeed animal – achievements are generated through cooperation as a species. Increasing the privilege of one group, is to add to an already unfair advantage which detracts from equality. David Cameron’s assumption that Christians and faith communities benefit us as insular groups and should be credited as such, over those humans who regardless of religious proclivity choose to cooperate, should be rooted out of our society so true equality, charity and social justice can be served – perhaps it’s time for the Liberal Secularist party to put in an appearance? A non-angry party of course.