Thursday, 24 December 2015

Far from divisive: A comment on David Cameron's Christmas message

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.
While David Cameron's Christmas Message in his office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been attacked by secularist commentators, I think there are two, perhaps contrasting, observations to be made about his words quoted above.

Firstly, as Mr Cameron chooses to describe Britain as a "Christian country" he might mean at least three different things, and possibly a mixture of them. He might be referring to the Church of England, established in the legal and cultural framework of Britain as thereby indicating a "Christian country". And that is fair enough, distinguishing as it does the British constitutional arrangement from that of countries such as France or the United States where a principle of laicite or neutrality before any specific religious confession applies. He might be referring to the history of our lands, in which Christian faith has played a prominent part - the "important religious roots" to which he refers. Or he might be referring to the continued existence of Christian life and practice in our country today, the extent of which some at least would challenge as not justifying the descriptor "Christian" applied to the country as a whole.

My own view is that the claim to a Christian stake in the public life of our country today does not arise from past history, and cannot be based on history. The claim arises from the presence of Christian life among the peoples of our country today - and I would want to suggest that it is a more significant presence than the secularists would like to claim.

The second observation is implied in Mr Cameron's words about how the Christian roots and values of Britain have made it a successful home to people of all faiths and of none. The recognition of an established religion (and in the case of the United Kingdom that means the Church of England) recognises for all citizens, be they adherents of that recognised religion or not, a religious dimension to their existence. It is interesting that, even in those countries where state and religion are constitutionally separate, there are some where a significant religious culture continues to exist (in the case of France, for example, it is still generally recognised as being a Catholic country). There is perhaps a particular genius in British history that the recognition of an established religion has come to be accompanied by a freedom for any other religious practice, too, though, of course, it has not always been so.

Far from being divisive, Mr Cameron's recognition of how the specific values and life experience of Christian faith creates a home for those of other faiths and of none is very welcome. For all citizens it represents a useful statement of a place in both public and private life for the religious dimension of the human person, at the level of individuals, at the level of the relations of individuals to others in local communities, and at the level of the nation as a whole.

It is the radical denial of this religious dimension of the person that leaves people spiritually homeless, that is, lacking in hope. It is its recognition that can engender a shared hope across all communities.

Further comment on Mr Cameron's Christmas message: The Cameron and Corbyn Christmas messages – full text and some brief reflections.


Rita said...

Thank you for putting a charitable light on what he said. I was all for throwing a brick at my laptop and shouting something that could very well be heard in Witney. I couldn't see it as sincere, but actually it doesn't have to be.

Christmas blessings to you and thank you for all your reasonable, level headed blogging.

Joe said...

Rita: Thank you, too, for your very reflective posts, which I always read with care and attention.

The politics of describing Britain as a Christian country are - as I think comment elsewhere is making apparent - fraught with potential difficulties for the one who would so describe Britain.

Political naivety on Mr Cameron's part? Unlikely, I think.

Which suggests that he has done it knowingly and deliberately ... perhaps particularly so, in the context of his references to the persecution of Christians in the first paragraph of his message.

I am inclined to credit Mr Cameron's sincerity in this message, though I do ask about the consistency of that sincerity with some of his political actions....