Christian Country or British Values?

As a humanist, I’m a member & supporter of the British Humanist Association. They do good work promoting humanist issues and political campaigning, particularly in two main directions – one where UK secular arrangements are flouted by religious organisations and two in highlighting where the UN declaration on Freedom of Expression (religious and non-religious) is abused anywhere in the world, and in supporting the IHEU in that enormous task.

One topic that the BHA keeps reacting to is the idea that we in the UK are a “Christian country” – and high-profile assertions of same by the likes of Blair and Cameron. Either way we don’t “do” god.

Compared to the tangible secular freedom issues above – not to mention the raging Islamic extremism / terrorism problems of the day – I have to say the Christian country debate pales into insignificance for me. It’s clearly non-PC to say we’re a Christian country, but … I mean, y’know?

In the UK we are almost entirely secular – the remaining “establishment” of the Anglican church being an embarrassment to the church as much as anyone else. Other abuses of secularism are already entirely outside the law. No one is suggesting otherwise when claiming we live in a Christian country. Nor is anyone suggesting a popular majority self-identifies as practicing Christians. What is being claimed is that we are “culturally” a Christian country.

That is our values and traditions are essentially Christian. Not exclusively, obviously, many values and traditions have co-evolved and cross-pollinated back-and-forth between secular and religious traditions over millennia, but in the history of the UK as a nation state, Christianity has played a big part in maintaining continuity of values (*). Many Christian values are of course shared with many traditions whatever their histories. There’s no religious dogma or supernatural theism in a statement like “We are a Christian country” – it’s just simple shorthand for complex historical facts.

Of course a lot of such debate would go away if we came to terms with the elephant in the room – it’s hard even to say “British values” without being accused of racism, nationalism or even fascism by those of a PC bent. Our values matter enough to need a name.

That’s a serious debate in itself, not unrelated to many other problems of the day, but – it’s complicated. It’s not really a “campaigning” issue to react against casual use of the expression “Christian country”.


[Post Note

(*) Values – there’s the rub. Without any high-level constitution or documentation of values, we do of course rely on the body of legislation and case-law. But taking a legalistic view – a PC view, an objectively “scientistic” view – is not really a substitute for having actual values. “Rules (laws) are for the guidance of wise-men and the enslavement of fools.” Wise men, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, already understood back in 1978 that a culturally-Western legalistic view would lead to inter-cultural fractures. A man from the Gulags warning of the perverse consequence of uncensored free expression – because cultural popularity beats quality every time. As I put it, memes spread popular knowledge – not good knowledge. (That’s a new source for me, hat tip to @_coltseavers for retweeting link from @PoliticalShort. Will be reading & writing more on Solzhenitsyn no doubt. See also.)]

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