May 15th will be marked this year by a simple ceremony in Tavistock Square. People will gather to remember those who for reasons of Conscientious Objection refused conscription into the armed services in the First World War.
When Rowan Williams uses the word "special" you take note. But when he mentions it three times in one sentence and prefaces it each time with the word "very" we're clearly being called to attention.
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.
Some very persuasive religious group hustlers banged on my door, aggressively, and were even more fierce with their finger and tongue wagging telling me, 'Jesus is coming'. Now, I have no qualms about anyone's beliefs and I give anyone their right to their beliefs but I don't go knocking on their doors telling them, 'No he f***ing isn't."
Compare and contrast. In a few years' time several hundred professional footballers from all over the world will arrive in the Gulf state of Qatar to take part in the 2022 World Cup... Meanwhile, during the same period in mid-2022, it's very likely that several hundred other overseas workers will arrive at the always-overcrowded Doha International Airport.
The Prime Minister and other members of the government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society... All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity.
Religion is a topic which is a constant in the national discourse. Using vitriolic terminology to describe atheists is not conducive to respectable debate and will only serve to sow animosity between religious and non-religious people. Due to the passionate nature of the topic a rational, respectable debate is difficult to nurture, but if it is to be nurtured then such fatuous labeling needs to be rid of.
To think the question can be answered yes or no is surely to keep the analysis at Sunday school level. How to describe a country is always going to be complex. A 'Christian country' might be many things...
Cameron's sincerity isn't the issue here though - in this instance it isn't unfair to say he has none, it's political manoeuvring at its most palpable. The real question is whether it is in the church's best interests to succumb to his seductive eulogy.
Have you heard of Azerbaijan I asked the interfaith activist? No, was the response back and is that not a place in the East? Another activist blurted out reflexively saying, "isn't it some Russian state?"
By highlighting Christian 'virtues' of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility - is he suggesting that other groups don't have those virtues? If so most people will not believe him. If he is acknowledging (in among the rather confusing language) that most people share these virtues - again, why highlight the Christians? Many Christians are indeed hard-working, compassionate and modest but so are many non-Christians and even many people with no faith! Christians do not have the monopoly on being moral and doing good...
It is wrong for David Cameron to single out Christians for special praise, to offer them privileged access to Downing Street and to support an expanded role for Christian groups in providing essential public services.
Again and again in the past few years, more and more politicians have been joining church leaders in popping up to declare that Britain is a Christian country, that we ought to be proud of this fact, and that we ought to proclaim and promote it.
Religion tends to remain in the background of British politics, and until recently David Cameron was no exception. There was a time, back in 2008, when Cameron compared his religious faith to 'the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes.'
Interesting, around this time, David Cameron sought to come out as being an "evangelical Christian", and criticising those who did not share his beliefs. While the last census in 2011 showed that just over 59% of the population in the UK self-identify as being of a Christian faith, it did lead me, as a lapsed Catholic, to ask: What exactly does he mean?
There's no monopoly on victimhood and no fixed pattern to religious discrimination and violence. Despite what David Cameron says, Christians aren't unique in being persecuted, and nor are they always unblemished when it comes to dishing out the persecution.