Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr Chris Allen Headshot

The Conservatives, Christianity and 'Doing God' at Easter

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

The Conservatives have been 'doing god' of late.

Whilst Eric Pickles told 'militant atheists' that Britain is a Christian nation so "get over it", David Cameron has been speaking about his Christian faith on three separate occasions.

Not only did Cameron claim at his 'Easter reception' that "Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago...I just want to see more of it" (everyone knows Jesus was a socialist - acknowledge it Dave) but in his YouTube 'Easter message' (surely the sole preserve of Popes and Archbishops?) he claimed:

"Easter is not just a time for Christians across our country to reflect, but a time for our whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain"

When exactly did those feet walk upon England's pastures green?

My first problem is that unlike Pickles, I don't believe today's Britain is a 'Christian country'.

Without doubt, Britain is a country with a strong Christian heritage apparent today in the established church and monarchy as also a wide range of civic and state functions and events. Whilst it is right to value this heritage - to acknowledge its lasting influence on 'our' values, way of life and more - it's also necessary to acknowledge that heritages and traditions are far from static and unchanging. In the process of time, not only do some change but so too do they become obsolete and eventually disappear.

Christianity is far from disappearing in today's Britain however. But as Census data shows, the number of British people who identify as 'Christian' decreased from 72% in 2001 to 59.5% in 2011.

Decrease however rather than disappearance.

This is further reinforced by research from IPSOS-MORI. Of the 2011 Census' Christians, only 45% regarded themselves as being 'religious': 50% did not. More so, just 31% said they genuinely attempted to follow the Christian religion. Those who seek to 'live' their Christianity are therefore a small minority.

Similar can be argued in relation to church attendance figures.

Over Easter - the most important festival in the Christian calendar - an estimated 1,415,800 attend church services. Noting that attendance is typically higher over Easter than on a 'normal' Sunday, this number equates to less than 4% of those identifying as Christian in the 2011 Census and little more than 2% of the British population overall. Does this really substantiate the argument that Britain is a Christian country?

This was made real for me a few weeks ago when I visited an old church in Clovelly (a small village in Devon). Dating back to the 12th century, I visited midweek and so unsurprisingly the church was empty. Despite its beauty, the church did feel like a relic of a bygone age, of a time that once was as opposed to something that was 'living' or even relevant. As if to reinforce the point, the welcome cards left in the church read:

"Welcome to All Saints Church Clovelly...there is a regular congregation here of 10 people..."

As I thought to myself at the time, what happens when that 10 become 5? Will we then accept we're not a Christian country?

My second problem is that I'm not sure what Cameron wants us to take from reflecting on Christianity at Easter.

As he told BBC Radio Norfolk, he and his children had taken the opportunity to mull over "what Easter is all about". I did this a few years ago and came up with the following:

"Easter as a religious or spiritual event or celebration seems to have completely disappeared...Easter seems to exist only as another consumer festival: Cadburys Creme Eggs on sale from Boxing Day, various 2 for £5 Easter egg offers, plus some 'buy one get one free' packs of hot cross buns"

To use Cameron's terminology, I guess Christianity is something some/all/none might still 'mull over' at certain times of the year: at Christmas and Easter, at births, deaths and marriages maybe. But that, in my opinion, is about as good as it's likely to get. This is not to dismiss Christianity's importance in terms of our heritage or indeed in the lives and experiences of those who 'live' their Christianity on a day-to-day basis. Nor is it to suggest that Christianity is dead or that I want it to be: far from it.

What then might Cameron want us to take from him 'doing god', a distinctly 'Christian god' I hasten to add?

Sadly, I think the message might be a little more insidious than it at first appears. For me, Cameron is trying to reassert a historical notion of who 'we' are to demarcate and differentiate 'us' from 'them', the much-maligned 'others' politicians love to blame and vilify for many of the ills they themselves make worse if not necessarily create. Such a suggestion is not without precedent. The former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont inferred something very similar in his 2002 article for the Daily Telegraph where he implied Britain had become much less 'Great' since becoming multicultural.

If that is what Cameron and his Conservatives are saying, then shame upon them as it sits in stark opposition to the very essence of the Easter story itself.

Then again, maybe I'm being cynical. Maybe the Conservatives have realised that the riches offered through Jesus' love and compassion are the only viable option left open to them in seeking to fill the gap left as a result of their benefit cuts.

Maybe Britain under the Conservatives will become a Christian country again...maybe I was wrong !