‘David Cameron has declared that “Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so”, in a speech to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Cameron told Church of England clergy gathered in Oxford that a return to Christian values could counter the country’s “moral collapse”.’ (Guardian)
Terry Sanderson, the President of the National Secular Society, responded, saying ‘the British Social Attitudes Survey published last week showed that 65% of young people in Britain don’t have a religion.’ The survey also indicated that, ‘as many as half the public say they do not belong to any particular religion, compared with a third only a generation or so ago in the 1980s. More specifically, the proportion who identify with the Church of England has halved from 40 to 20 per cent.’
Does it really matter, then, what the Prime Minister says about religion and the church given that so many people find it irrelevant? Perhaps, when David Cameron says that he is a ‘committed but vaguely practising Church of England Christian’ he is simply stating how many of us feel – that whatever commitment we have left to religious principles needn’t have much effect on our lives and politics. And shouldn’t religion be kept separate from politics anyway?
To address the last question first, obviously I wouldn’t be writing about Buddhism and current affairs if I thought that religion and politics were separate concerns. But it depends what one means by ‘religion’. Buddhism is often described as a ‘philosophy’, ‘world-view’ or ‘way of life’, rather than as a religion. What happens, then, if we apply the ways in which Buddhism is usually categorised to what the Prime Minister and the British Social Attitudes Survey said? Does it make any sense, for example, to say that ‘as many as half the public say they do not have any world-view or way of life’ or that ’65% of young people have no philosophy’? And how do we feel when our PM tells us which world-view and way of life our nation has as a whole?
The fact is that our religion, when defined is this way, is utterly central to who and what we are. We cannot live without it. We are our world-view, even if we are not fully aware of what it is. Yet we do not – and cannot – believe in the religious dogmas of old, and no appeal to the centrality Christianity had in our past will change that. These views have been replaced, for so many of us, by the ‘common sense’ of science and the market – the new dogmas of our days – which, in turn, leave us cold and grasping after things that, ultimately, cannot fulfil us.
Nietzsche foresaw all this, of course. His prognosis is, perhaps, only now starting to fully dawn on us: “The greatest recent event – that ‘God is dead’, that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable – is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe… some sun seems to have set and some ancient and profound trust has been turned into doubt…”
David Cameron is clearly right to say that Christianity is central to the UK’s cultural heritage. Personally, I’m looking forward to attending midnight mass with my mum in the beautiful 12th century church in the Norfolk village where she lives. It is part of my background and upbringing, and I am fond of the tradition. But it is the sweet nostalgia for something dead and gone – or dying and going – rather than the vibrant living tradition that can address our deepest needs – as individuals and as a society. Share
3 Responses to “God is dead, Mr. Cameron”
- A Buddhist view of religion in British public life - [...] it most illuminating to translate ‘religion’ as ‘world-view’, as I explored here. We all have a world-view that guides ...