Is Britain a Christian Country as David Cameron believes?
You may be surprised by my answer – Yes it is.
However, David Cameron went on to say that we should cherish this and preserve it. Here we differ totally.
The evidence that Britain is a non-secular nation is clear. A monarchy which claims its status was awarded by the Grace of a Christian God. An upper house which is not elected and which contains 24 Christian bishops; there to make certain, so far as they are able, that our laws are approve by the Church of England. The Church of England, the established church is an integral part of the British establishment. David Cameron is happy with this arrangement and wishes to see it last forever. My view is that the privileged position of the Christian Church or indeed any religion should be eliminated. Christian leaders scream that we secularists wish to “exclude them from the public square”. Nonsense – a parish church is a public place and they are free to say what they wish from the pulpit. A bishop or a cardinal or even a humble vicar should have exactly the same freedom of speech as you or me, but not privileged access to politicians or the media simply because they believe that there are supernatural entities and forces at work in the universe.
David Cameron’s view of history it that the Christian church created our present, largely tolerant and peaceful society. The evidence shows otherwise.
Perhaps a little time travel will help us to decide.
We will start in the Sixteenth Century
England (before the creation of Great Britain) was definitely a Christian country although alternately Protestant Christian and Catholic Christian. Now David Cameron used the term “British” but we are starting in England before Britain existed. David probably was thinking “England” when he said “Britain” (a common error amongst Englishmen) since he also seems to view the whole of Christianity as the Church of England.
England in the year 1555, following the death of Henry VIII and his short-lived son Edward VI, was a Catholic Christian country under Queen Mary Tudor.
On February 4th 1555 John Rogers a cleric and academic was, at the command of the Lord Chancellor, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, burned alive in front of his wife and ten children. John Rogers had compiled a bible in the English language authorised during the Protestant reign of Henry VIII (the Matthew Bible). This was in disobedience to the command of the Pope since the Catholic Church wished to retain the exclusive power of priests to interpret its content by having the bible printed only in Latin. We should remember that John Rogers had, himself, participated in the condemnation of Joan of Kent a mentally disturbed woman who, it was claimed, had uttered blasphemous words. She also was burned alive. Welcome to Christian England.
England was a thoroughly Christian country and, at this moment in time, a thoroughly Catholic Christian country. The church held the power of life and death over the citizens of England and Wales.
The Seventeenth Century
By now the accession of James VI of Scotland as heir to the English throne upon the death of Elisabeth I in 1603 had resulted in the Union of Scotland and England so we may now speak, as David Cameron does, of Britain but since Scotland has always had its own system of laws, in this matter, we really are concerned with only England and Wales (because Wales shares the English legal system). The British Establishment in England and Wales was thoroughly Anglican. In 1661 the Corporation Act was passed into law. It belongs to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices in England and Wales to members of the Church of England. The Corporation Act was designed mainly to exclude Catholics from all positions of power in England. England was still a Christian country, although it had to be the right kind of Christianity.
The Eighteenth Century
The Eighteenth Century saw the rise of opposition to monarchy.
Thomas Paine b 1737 wrote The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason. In the first book he challenged the divine right of kings to rule and the idiocy of hereditary kingship. In the second he attacks revealed religion. Paine was a Deist not a Christian and he is equally scathing of Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Judaism and Islam. After two and a half centuries you can still buy (or read free of charge on the WWW) his books.
Paine and his fellow republicans achieved a secular republic in America and later in France but in England a constitutional monarchy survived and with it the influence of the Church of England.
So we come to the Nineteenth Century.
England was still definitely a Christian country.
To obtain a lectureship at Oxford and Cambridge it was necessary to be in Holy Orders… regardless of the subject studied and taught.
The inequity of the 1661 Corporation Act was somewhat reduced by the passing of Lord Holland’s Sacramental Test Bill of 1827
The Bishop of Llandaff however managed to get included in the declaration of the oath, the words “upon the true faith of a Christian” despite Lord Holland’s opposition.
It is the greatest victory over the principle of persecution & exclusion yet obtained. Practically there have been greater such as the Toleration Act in William 3d’s time & the Catholick bill of 1792. Practically too the Catholick Emancipation when it comes will be a far more important measure, more immediate & more extensive in its effects – but in principle this is the greatest of them all as it explodes the real Tory doctrine that Church & State are indivisible. Mr. Cameron, are you listening?
The “upon the true faith of a Christian” phrase in the new oath maintained the discrimination against Jewish candidates for political office, delaying the emancipation of the Jews in the United Kingdom until 1858. The discrimination against Atheists remained until 1886.
So we have the Victorian “pecking order” for public office:- First Anglicans, then Catholics, then Jews then finally, Atheists.
So it seems that in some ways England and Wales (they share the same legal system still) became largely non-Christian in 1886.
Then, in Wales in 1920, the Anglican Church of England was disestablished and the Church in Wales was formed.
But the Church of England retained its position as an Established Church in England and the bishops have kept their 26 seats in the House of Lords.
So although, over four centuries, the power and authority of the Christian religion has been greatly eroded by secularists, there is the residual establishment of the Monarch, The Established Church of England (but not the Church in Wales) with which David Cameron and those like him may console themselves.
It would be nice in our generation to finish the job properly. We need reform of the House of Lords to include the removal of the “Lords Spiritual” and the removal or secularisation of the monarch to produce a modern head of state. We need constant vigilance to challenge religious individuals and organisations who seek power and public money on the basis that they are in some kind of communication with a supernatural entity and believe the myths and Fourth Century fabrications surrounding a Jewish mystic of two thousand years ago. Most importantly we need a removal of privileged access to children for the purpose of indoctrination which sectarian schools (predominately Christian) facilitate. The recent resurgence of sectarian schools in England (thankfully, so far, not in Wales) is a considerable setback to four hundred year of progress.
Alan Rogers May 2014