LONDON, April 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – David Cameron’s comment to an Anglican magazine that Britain is a Christian country has infuriated a group of elite atheists who have accused him of being “divisive”.
A group of 56 atheists under the sponsorship of the British Humanist Association (BHA) published a letter in the Daily Telegraph calling for the Prime Minister to stop “exceptionalising” Christian contributions to British society.
The group said they “object” to Cameron’s statement that Britain is a Christian country, and warn of “negative consequences for politics and society.” The letter said, “Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society,” adding that it is “wrong to try to exceptionalise” the social contributions of Christianity to British society.
Without giving examples, the letter claimed, “At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces.”
Cameron’s offending comments were published in the form of an op-ed in the Church Times magazine of the Church of England, Cameron’s denomination. Expanding on an address at his annual Easter reception at Downing Street, Cameron wrote, “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”
At the reception, to which a number of prominent Christians are annually invited, Cameron said he is “proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school.” He spoke of his feelings at having made a “pilgrimage” to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, saying it was “a remarkable, extraordinary place.”
“I am proud of the fact we’re a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so,” Cameron added. Cameron, the principal promoter of the new “gay marriage” legislation, said that it has been a “consistent theme” of his government to “expand the role of faith and faith organisations in our country.” Cameron’s government has also pursued a legal action against two British women at the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that they have no right to wear a cross at work.
Cameron’s talk of Christianity has failed to impress some religious believers. Peter Saunders, the head of the Christian Medical Association, wrote that the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, had “missed the point” of Easter. Following Christ, said Saunders, an Evangelical Protestant, is more than just doing good works. “He demanded nothing short of utter obedience, complete devotion, with all its consequences. ‘If you love me you will obey my commands’.”
“St. Paul said that what ultimately mattered was ‘faith expressing itself through love’ and that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’. Both service and suffering are part of the package,” Saunders wrote.
Giles Fraser, a Church of England minister, on Palm Sunday wrote in the Daily Mail that the version of Christianity favoured by Cameron and other politicians was a case of “do-gooding religion lite.”
“No-one was ever crucified for kindness,” Fraser wrote. “Jesus was not strung up on a hideous Roman instrument of torture because of his good deeds. If Jesus is just a remarkably good person whose example we ought to follow, why the need for the dark and difficult story of betrayal, death and resurrection that Christians will commemorate this week?”
His Easter assertion of faith is not the first time Cameron has “done God” as Prime Minister. In 2011, he gave a speech commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible and called for a return to what he called “traditional Christian moral values.” He called himself a “committed, though vaguely practising, Christian” adding that he is “full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.”
In his Church Times article, Cameron repeated his doctrinal vagueness, saying, “I am not one for doctrinal purity, and I don’t believe it is essential for evangelism about the Church’s role in our society or its importance.”
This kind of reticence about actual Christian teaching has led a Guardian columnist to reassure the liberal atheist constituency that they have nothing to fear from the Prime Minister’s assertions of his faith. Juilan Baggini wrote on Tuesday, “Cameron is clearly positioning himself among these vague, ambiguous Anglicans. … There isn't much to complain about in such tepid claims for faith.”
Baggini called Cameron’s faith “vague” and a “Christianity that’s fluffy as a lamb.” “It is hard to see why he asserts ‘the importance of Christianity in our country’ when ‘the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none’. It seems that Christianity is special only in the sense that all its virtues are shared by others.”
Among the signatories of the atheist letter are the well known authors Philip Pullman, Ken Follett and Sir Terry Pratchett, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and homosexualist activist Peter Tatchell. Others include Professor Jonathan Glover, a bioethicist who argues for euthanasia and abortion, denying that there is any inherent value to life or “consciousness.” Signatory Virginia Ironside is a journalist who recently made waves by stating that infanticide could be a “loving act” if a child is born disabled. Zoe Margolis is a feminist blogger and author noted for writing enthusiastically about her sexual exploits in her book, “Diary of a Sex Fiend: Girl with a One Track Mind.”
Another is the author, physician and philosopher, Prof. Raymond Tallis, an advocate of euthanasia for the elderly and a Patron of Dignity in Dying, Britain’s leading euthanasia advocacy group. As with a number of the other signatories, Tallis also signed on to a letter in 2010 objecting to a state visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
In their letter, they said they “respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician” but said they “object to his characterisation of Britain as a ‘Christian country’” which they claimed would have “negative consequences for politics and society.”
“Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a ‘Christian country,’” the letter said.
Unlike the US, the UK has in its constitution no “separation of Church and state” but rather an established Church whose head, Queen Elizabeth II, is also the head of state. The Church of England’s status as the official religion also grants a number of its bishops a seat in the House of Lords, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages when bishops often held the position of feudal landlords and usually held noble rank.
The atheist letter was blasted by Telegraph columnist and author Toby Young, who said it is a product of a “liberal metropolitan elite.” “Of course, these aren’t just any common-or-garden celebrities, they’re also members of the liberal metropolitan elite, which makes them morally as well as socially superior – a kind of secular priesthood,” Young wrote.
“Little wonder, then,” Young added, “that they object to Christianity being praised by David Cameron. Any traditional form of morality – anything that suggests there might be a higher source of authority than them when it comes to matters of right and wrong – is a direct challenge to their status.”
The letter claimed, “Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities. …We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.”
Although the number of Christians has dropped steadily through the 20th century, and different surveys have found broadly differing results, Christians still make up by far the largest single religious affiliation in the UK. The 2011 census data found that 59.5 percent of the population claimed to be Christian. The next largest group was “no religion” which accounted for 25.7 percent. Following this was Islam and a number of other non-Christian religions that together made up a total of 7.7 percent. 7.2 percent did not respond to the question.
Of the majority Christian population, only a small percentage, between 9 and 15 percent, attend church services regularly.