Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Not a Christian country: rather a Christian heritage.
The strident insistence, by David Cameron and others, that we are a Christian country, is both inaccurate and divisive. What can't be denied, however, is that we are a nation with an overwhelmingly Christian heritage, and I'm pretty sure that the various groups who are not Christians but share the heritage are quite happy to accommodate to this.
From pre-Christian times there have been pagans, druids, animists, agnostics, atheists and maybe others outside my knowledge. I believe there have been Jews settled here, with varying degrees of comfort, from about the 11th Century, followed by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims and, again, maybe others, and not necessarily in that order.
One of the virtues which we claim as British is tolerance and we should be able not just to accommodate people of other faiths but welcome them. But that does not mean we should turn our backs on our predominantly Christian heritage, nor, I suspect, do most of the groups want us or expect us to. Our pattern of holidays should continue to follow the Christian calendar: Christmas, Easter, and what about bringing back Whitsuntide and perhaps reviving Lady Day and Michaelmas? Our splendid cathedrals, ancient parish churches and such graveyards as are still well kept are parts of our heritage which should be preserved with government support, not just as tourist attractions but as sources of inspiration to ourselves and our children.
Having worked abroad for a good part of my life I have been surprised and gratified by the number of Christian denominations which have originated in England and spread to so may other parts of the world. Along with the Anglicans, the Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the Society of Friends (Quakers), Methodists, the Salvation Army all have their origins in Britain and now serve and inspire in may parts of the world. At some time in our past we seem to have had a spiritual gift.
Yes, I know we are not the only ones. The French protestant church I attended was Calvinist (origins in Geneva), though its building was a former Anglican church, and the dominant church in one part of Papua New Guinea where I worked was Lutheran (German, of course). But when I attended their services I found some of the liturgy strangely familiar: We thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving kindness. . . Oh yes, said the American Pastor, we make considerable use of the Book of Common Prayer.
So well done Cranmer et al, and I'm sure the adherents of other faiths will not begrudge our efforts to keep our flame alive, as we in our turn encourage theirs.