What it means to be British is being called into question with the Scottish Independence referendum coming up in six months. The momentum is with the Yes campaign with one poll indicating47 percent would vote yes to quitting the union. With no Conservative and Unionist Party (the full name of the Tories) MPs in Scotland, the idea that the Conservative Party understands Britain, in all its complexity, is beyond belief.
When it comes to belief this is one clear blue water that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is keen to talk up, having claimed in the past Labour had diminished Christianity. At the Conservative Spring Forum he has said:
that atheists should not be able to push an agenda of "politically correct intolerance", adding: "I've stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish."
Pickles added: "Heaven forbid. We're a Christian nation. We have an Established Church. Get over it. And don't impose your politically correct intolerance on others." [Huffington Post]
Lack of interest
We are such a Christian nation that barely 800,000 people on average attended Church of England Sunday services; half those that attended in 1968 [Church of England]. With an English population of over 50 million, that is hardly popular acclaim for the established church. Rather a Guardian/ICM poll:
reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree. The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities.
Most people have no personal faith, the poll shows, with only 33% of those questioned describing themselves as "a religious person". A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious - including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian.
That was in 2006. Looking at a more recent survey in 2013:
Results of the 30th British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) have been released today, with 48% of respondents claiming that they do not belong to a religion. The report shows that in 1983, around two in three people (68%) considered themselves to belong to one religion or another; in 2012, only around half (52%) do so. The increase in the non religious is almost entirely mirrored by a decline in the proportion of people who describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England, down from 40% in 1983 to just 20% now. Results show that religious identity in Britain has been in stark decline over the past three decades. [BHA]
It is not just inaccurate to describe Britain as a Christian Nation but increasingly becoming inaccurate to describe Britain as a religious nation, whether we go by attending Sunday worship or attitude to faith. It is a cherished delusion. Pickles' view of the established church and bishops in the upper parliament will continue to be questioned. Whether they want the church free from Acts of Parliament dictating the faith, elected representatives making the laws of the land, or that prayer is a matter for a person and not one a government body enacts. There are Christians, secularists, other faiths and yes atheists calling for change.
We are a nation of citizens with a vast array of beliefs.
Back to Scotland
Speaking of Scotland, an interfaith meeting convened by the Church of Scotland has released a joint statement with attendees:
"At a meeting, chaired by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, representatives of Scotland's diverse faith traditions were united in the view that the contribution of faith to Scottish society should be properly recognised whatever the future holds.
"All the churches and faith communities present agreed Scotland's diversity of religious belief is an important reflection of Scotland's wider society."
You see Mr Pickles, the Scots understand a pluralistic, religiously diverse country better than you do. The Irony is we might just be about to lose them because you do not understand what did make Britain a nation.