David Cameron recently caused a row by saying that Britain is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so”.
Admittedly he himself practises a watered down version of Christianity — one in which you don’t have to make much effort — but the furore his comments provoked was interesting.
Mr Cameron was speaking in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”.
It’s difficult see why anyone would object to this being called a Christian country — we are — or why people would object to us living by Christian values (which pre-date Christianity). But, as happens nowadays, his comments were a red flag to those who object to belief of any kind. Except their own belief in the stupidity of belief, of course.
One of life’s mysteries is how evangelical atheists can be, shouting down believers. Why would anyone want to do that? And can’t they see the irony? If someone’s faith makes them happy, leave them be.
One point for Mr C there, then: whatever your belief, you should be tolerant of others. A bit more Christian tolerance would benefit everyone.
And instead of the PM’s “moral collapse,” many people would argue that we live in a more enlightened age, in which people are no longer bound by state-imposed dogma, our rulers no longer restricting the citizenry by propagating fear of a great wizard in the sky.
One only has to look at Facebook or read the tabloid news to see how many people feel and think: you should indulge rather than abstain; believe in the reality of life rather than spiritual pipe dreams; go for rationality rather than superstition; be responsible only for people who are nice to you, and kind only to those who are kind to you.
If people cross you, get revenge: Christian forgiveness is thin on the ground both on social media and the tabloid press, and there’s a strong belief in vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
If you find yourself nodding in agreement with all this, congratulations: you’re eligible to join the Church of Satan, for the beliefs outlined above are actually those of that august body.
(Just to make it clear: the Church of Satan does not worship or believe in Satan or any other gods: “Satanism begins with atheism,” it says).
But Satanism is all about pleasing yourself and doing what suits you, so it’s got to be of some concern that many in Britain seem to be following this path, and proud of it.
As G K Chesterton famously said: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”
People might scoff at Christians but those same people are quite happy to believe in any number of miracle cures, quackery, the fact that aliens exist and “they” are covering up or that the Illuminati control the world. People on social media will pretty well believe anything that’s put in front of them, except that there’s a God.
Of course, rational atheists don’t automatically reject Christian values and should act according to Christian standards, which on the whole are essential rules for society. But many people in Britain today aren’t rational and instead believe that they are the centre of their world and sod the rest. Tolerance is not seen as a virtue.
Take the criminal justice system. Centuries of case law and experience mean we have a legal system that works pretty well but the social media is packed with people who not only believe they know more than the judge and jury who heard the case, but also that no crime should ever be forgotten. There is no redemption in cyberspace. The bible might well mention something about taking an eye for an eye, but it also preaches forgiveness.
There’s a lot of anti-Islam feeling in this country. Part of this is based on the belief that the radical minority speak for the majority but part of it is surely that Muslims believe in God and live their lives according to their religious beliefs. Living proudly in a secular society many people find this hard to stomach: how much closer to the stone age must those Muslims be if they still believe in something as primitive as a God! And they go to pray on a regular basis! How embarrassing!
Never mind that studies show that happiness is related to something similar to gathering together to worship: people who forge bonds and share a support network with others over mutually shared and meaningful interests are generally happier.
Mr Cameron is right: we are a Christian country and we should act as if we are.
And if you want a really good conspiracy theory: Facebook is the repository of comments with which Satanists would agree. What if it’s all true and Satan is winning the war…?