Is Britain still a Christian country? There is no straightforward answer to that question, as David Cameron discovered to his cost this weekend. The ongoing row began with an article the Prime Minister wrote for the Church Times last week, arguing that Britain should not be ashamed of its Christian ethos:
‘I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives’
In response to this, fifty notable public figures — from Tim Minchin to Terry Pratchett — wrote to the Telegraph warning that the Prime Minister’s remarks will cause ‘alienation’. Alastair Campbell has even blogged he doesn’t think the PM is being sincere about ‘doing God’. Cameron is still trying to defend his remarks, while onlookers are scratching their heads about whether he is right.
In Westminster, the leading politicians are agreeing with Cameron. Ed Miliband was reported recently as also saying Britain is a ‘Christian country’. On Daybreak this morning, Nigel Farage agreed with the Prime Minister, saying: ‘I’ve been saying for years that Britain should be more muscular in its Christianity’. Nick Clegg has stayed quiet so far, although he stated before the last election that Christian values were ‘central’ to Liberal Democrat policies.
The British Social Attitudes survey has provided an insight into Britain’s social trends since 1983, including religion. According to last year’s survey, the number of people who state they belong to the Church of England has almost halved in recent decades; from 37 per cent in the late 1980s to 20 per cent last year. Most people now state they have ‘no religion’:
Young people in particular are assumed to be more sceptical of religion, and polling from YouGov backs this up this notion. A majority do not affiliate themselves with any religion:
But nearly half either believe in God or some kind of ‘higher spiritual power’:
Tying in with the overall decline of religion, church attendance has also fallen. Since the first BSA, the number of people stating they attend a religious service at least once a month has dropped from 21 per cent to 15 per cent:
As Harry Cole argues, many parts of Britain’s constitution and political structures still have a Christian basis, hence why our leaders still consider us to be a Christian country. As the surveys above suggest, it’s not so clear outside of Westminster. Douglas Murray argued in last week’s Spectator that even atheists believe that our nation needs to have some kind of moral foundations. In this respect, the Prime Minister is right. Christianity continues to provide that for Britain.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.