Sometimes I pine for the days when British politicians did not “do God”. They realised that, in a nation where only half of us now believe in God, such talk is unnecessarily divisive. But David Cameron is reckoned to have undergone a religious renaissance after the death of his young son, Ivan, and nowadays regularly “does God” and pronounces the UK to be a “Christian nation”.
In one sense this doesn’t matter, since he’s entitled to his opinion and his words can be ignored by those who don’t share his beliefs. But, on the other hand, as Prime Minister he often speaks for the nation as a whole.
By calling Britain a “Christian nation” he presumably refers to the fact that around half the nation identifies as Christian, though often only as a vague cultural affinity. Only about one-in-five are Christian in the sense of regarding it as important in their lives, or in the sense of being church-goers. The rest share some of the cultural heritage, and might attend church weddings and funerals, and perhaps the occasional carol service, but otherwise don’t “do God” in their daily lives.
If Britain is a Christian nation then it is also a White nation. The majority of the population is white and our history and cultural heritage are predominantly White. Nearly all of our institutions and our cultural traditions derive from people who were white.
And yet you would never hear a mainstream politician refer to Britain as a “White nation”. Doing so would immediately cast that politician into the fringe, to be treated as a pariah by the respectable media.
Why? Because doing so would be divisive. The language would be deliberately excluding the significant numbers of citizens from other races. It would be taken to imply that whites are favoured, or are the first-class citizens. Similarly, no mainstream politician would talk about “White values” or use the word “we” to mean “whites”.
Here is a paragraph from David Cameron’s Christmas message. After talking about “our brave armed forces” he continues:
It is because they face danger that we have peace. And that is what we mark today as we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace. As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.
In saying that “we” celebrate the birth of “God’s only son” Cameron is not talking to the whole nation, but only to that part of it that is Christian. In lauding “Christian values” he maybe means that those are superior to the values of the non-religious. In talking about a “Christian country” he could be implying that the non-religious are less-preferred or even second-class citizens. After all, if the non-religious are not in the “we” who believe in God then maybe we’re not among those who Cameron is addressing when he mentions “our” armed forces.
All of this is divisive and antagonistic to the non-religious. While Cameron is entitled to his personal beliefs, and while such pronouncements could be expected from an archbishop or a church spokesman, it is unseemly and improper for a Prime Minister to talk like this when he is supposed to be leading on behalf of the nation overall.
He would not, for example, use such a message to laud “Tory values” over “Labour values”. Nor, when speaking to the nation, would he use the word “we” in a way that applied only to Conservative voters. He would realise that his office requires the statesman-like recognition that the “we” includes the many who did not vote for his party and who do not agree with his policies. Overtly partisan talk, when in no way necessary as part of a policy decision, would be deplored from all sides.
So why does he not recognise this when it comes to religion? “Do unto others as you would be done by” is a good moral principle (and one, I’m told, that Christians are also supposed to adopt). Christians should ask themselves how they would want an atheist Prime Minister to conduct him or herself. Would they appreciate “we” talk that excluded them?