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Christians Know That We Don't Live in a Christian Society

30/04/2014 11:44 BST | Updated 29/06/2014 10:59 BST

As a Christian I am always pleased when someone comes out of the closet and admits that they are a Christian, but it was with very mixed feelings that I read David Cameron's admission of faith. He seems rather muddled about what Christianity means and there are reasons to think that his declaration has a rather different motive.

In particular I think that any honest Christian must admit that Britain is not a Christian country, or at least it is only a very pale version of a Christian country. One of the reasons he should know this is that when Christians admit to being Christians they know that they will be gently mocked and regarded as slightly weird. A Christian country wouldn't mock people for outing themselves as Christians.

Of course many people do think of themselves as quietly Christian: believing in God or some higher power, occasionally going to church, perhaps holding onto some vague knowledge of the Christian story. Perhaps this is the kind of Christian that David Cameron is. Perhaps this is what he means when he says he's "a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith."

Christianity is difficult. Christian's don't just believe in God, they believe that God became human, died and was resurrected. Christians can give some good reasons for these beliefs; but they are not easy beliefs, and they never have been. Christianity has always been difficult - and so it should be. As Justin Welby argues "Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition."

However Christians should be very wary of any talk about Christian ethics or Christian morality. There is not really a Christian morality. Christians recognise the same basic moral truths as atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and many others. It is the truth and reality of morality that leads some of us to look for an explanation of the truth of morality in the existence of God; but it should be that way round. Morality helps us discover God; God does not lead us to morality.

What can be distinctive about people with religious beliefs is that they sometimes (but only sometimes) take morality very seriously. Partly this is because they see it as an aspect of God's will; it is not just a code or habit that can be dropped when it becomes inconvenient. It is for this reason that, while the Church has much to be ashamed of, it has sometimes been a lone voice when standing up to injustice. For instance it was only the Church that challenged Hitler about the eugenic murder of disabled people in the early stages of the Holocaust.

This is also why the Church is often one of the few institutions that will represent the interests of the weak and those that politicians can ignore. For instance, Archbishop Temple was critical in challenging pre-War complacency about poverty and unemployment and he played a critical role in the creation of the welfare state. And today the Church is one of the few establishment organisations willing to stand up to the Government as it undermines the welfare state and loads debt and poverty on to disabled people and those in poverty.

It is hard not to conclude that the real purpose of David Cameron's talk was to blunt the Church's attack on his Government. He is reminding the Church that it may have much to lose if power shifts to Labour or the Liberal Democrats, given the explicit atheism of their leaders. His speech reads as a gentle shot across the bows, a reminder that, in modern Britain, the Church has few friends and should avoid losing those it does have. It is to be hoped that the Church does not lose its nerve. Instead, perhaps it can play a central role in reminding Christians and non-Christians alike that social justice always matters.