David Cameron’s assertion that the UK is a Christian country has come under fire from prominent figures in society.

The Prime Minister insisted when writing for the Christian Times that Britain needs to ‘be more confident about our status as a Christian country’. But is it really the case that Britain is a Christian country? And more importantly, in my view, is it even a relevant debate?

The cases for and against have been made widely across numerous platforms. In the ‘for’ corner, we find the statistician’s paradise, the census, which indicates that 59 percent of people identify themselves as Christian. This is a 12 percent drop from 2001, but a significant majority nonetheless.

Other arguments, as shown in a recent BBC analysis, include the fact that the Church of England has been an established part of British society for centuries with senior clergymen occupying positions in the House of Lords. It can also be argued that Christianity is significant culturally, with the buildings, institutions and identities it has produced serving as a constant reminder of its historic importance.

However the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by NatCen Social Research, showed that 48 percent of people declared no religious affiliation at all. According to the 2011 census, the percentage of Muslims present in the UK had increased to 4.8 percent.

These figures, without taking into account other minority religions, suggest that non-Christian groups are now in the majority.

The reality is that many of the arguments for the UK being a Christian country are flawed. The proposition that society’s values are Christian values cannot be maintained when such a fuss was made over the issues of marriage equality and female bishops. There is no doubt that public opinion is diverging from that of the church and this is not a bad thing: values of equality, tolerance and fairness are human values, not distinctly Christian ones.

Harry Cole writes in The Spectator that ‘Attempting to rewrite history and ignore our heritage… is at best delusional’. But at what point is this trawling through history supposed to stop? The Church of England became independent from the Catholic Church in 1534 – merely 40 years after the end of Moorish rule in what is now Spain.

Was it delusional for the Spanish to ignore 800 years of Islamic heritage and move on to consolidate Catholicism? Is it any more so for the UK to consign a mere 450 years of CofE heritage to the history books and move on in a secular society which, while protecting the right to practice religion, does not seek to further one at the expense of any other?

It is clear therefore that judgements of the status of the state are largely dependent on the pool of data you draw from and which you consider to be more valuable. However, I think this is an unimportant point of debate and one which has been sparked in an attempt to regain traditional Conservative support ahead of the next election.

David Cameron is attempting to cultivate support among Christians (of varying denominations and levels of dedication) who may otherwise be tempted to vote for UKIP.

The number of people claiming to be without religion is rising and statistics suggest that it will continue to do so. As the percentage of Christians in the population diminishes, privileged status will only exacerbate existing inter-religious tensions, as well as tensions between Christians and non-religious people.

As such, it is vital that issues of religion are kept out of British politics. Far too many debates and elections in the USA are marred by religion. Important issues in healthcare such as access to abortions cannot be settled because of persistent religious objections. We cannot afford to let religious influence slow down the progress of equality and freedom.

But David Cameron’s Tories need votes. UK Polling Report shows an average Labour lead of four points, with UKIP now occupying the position of the third party. To make the claim that the UK is a Christian country is a blazon attempt to wrestle back a population turning against them.

Decisions in general election are ultimately made on a wide variety of criteria. For some, the leader of the party is key, their charisma and presence. Some take the time to pore over manifestos and will choose the party most in line with their personal views. Many will take a localised outlook and vote for the candidate who promises to improve their constituency to the greatest extent. People who vote for a party because ‘they always have done’ are often dismissed as ignorant. But to vote for a party because of the religious affiliation of its leader is equally ignorant. There are simply more important factors.

If Britain is a Christian country, the quandary it faces at the next election is significant. When the polls close, one man will be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and he may be a Christian. But there is a chance that he could be an Atheist. Or even a Jew.

 

References:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27140505

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/adrianmichaels/100035538/nick-cleggs-atheism-would-rule-him-out-of-office-in-america-iran/

http://www.andalucia.com/history/spainsmoorishhistory.htm

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/04/the-uk-is-a-christian-country-whether-the-left-like-it-or-not/

http://www.bsa-30.natcen.ac.uk/

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-for-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/rpt-religion.html

http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/