Unlike the intricate details of probably illegal government surveillance programmes, the continued wholesale flogging of the National Health Service to private interests, the sending by the British government of LGBT asylum seekers to countries where they will very probably die, and the many other injustices that currently take place around the world, some of which our political leaders sanction and support without the knowledge of the British public, the topic the political and media classes seem to be obsessed with is far more important. Namely: is Britain a Christian country?
I was going to write a long and detailed piece about it, but then decided that it was spectacularly unimportant so I’d write a much shorter response.
Is Britain a Christian country? It depends on what you mean by a “Christian country”.
Is Britain a historically Christian majority country? Sure.
Is Britain presently a Christian majority country? That’s a bit of a stretch. There are lots of people who like the smells and bells at their weddings and want their little tykes to go to Church of England schools because there’s less poor kids and foreigners there so go along it.
Is Britain Christian in the same way somewhere like America is Christian? No. The number of people in the Noah’s-Ark-had-dinosaurs-on-the-ark-and-kill-all-the-queers fold is thankfully pretty tiny. You do get a few weirdos outside train stations handing out Bibles and completely ignored by everyone.
Is British history and culture influenced by the wide spread of Christianity in its recent and distant past? Sure.
Are British institutions all based on a single Christian heritage? No. History is a complex and rich interplay of forces. To say that some particular piece of British politics or culture is solely due to Christianity is idiotic. Ideas of moral universality, human liberty and so on are not the conclusion of any one religious tradition but a complex, intertwined history. The separation of the sacred and the secular is a relatively recent matter in the grand sweep of Western history. Therefore, look back far enough and everything is Christian in some sense because religion permeated culture far more than it does now.
Is Britain constitutionally Christian? Yes. Well, sort of. The Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This is a fairly nominal position though.
Is Britain constitutionally secular? No. The presence of bishops in the House of Lords is still a weird historical anomaly that makes the House of Lords even less democratic, which is fairly astounding given that the House of Lords does undemocratic better than Madonna does reinvention. There are other screwed up things too—like the law which makes it so Roman Catholics can’t be Prime Minister because the Prime Minister gets to appoint senior Church of England leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury and Parliament reckon that adherents to Roman Catholicism might not exactly be best suited to make such decisions… but nobody seems to be totally sure of what would happen if a non-Anglican or indeed a non-Christian were to become Prime Minister. And that’s before we start talking about bloody faith schools and the ways politicians try to evade taking any responsibility for letting nutjobs teach stupid evil bullshit on the coin of the British taxpayer.
Surely having Bishops in the House of Lords is purely ceremonial? Nope. They exercise their power to try and block legislation according to their values on topics like abortion, assisted dying, gay marriage and plenty else besides.
Is that fair? Not really. But this is the House of Lords. People can’t really complain too much about it because the whole institution is pretty rotten, undemocratic and unfair.
Do Tory politicians cynically conflate the question of the archaic constitutional status of the Church of England in contemporary Britain, the question of Christianity’s historical influence over culture, and the declining interest in Christianity in British society and culture as a little crowd-pleasing Easter sermon for disaffected religious types grumpy about same-sex marriage and looking longingly across the aisle at Nigel Farage? Duh.