It would be easy to assume the recent political debate over whether the UK is still a Christian country was a discussion between Christians and secular Atheists. But this is not the case.
Founding member of the Hindu Council Anil Bhanot said last week that Hindus would feel “stranded alone” if the church was disestablished.
“What establishment does is that it ensures there is a mutual respect for each other’s different modes of work, different stances on policy, and that ultimately by giving a small, a tiny proportion of the parliamentary space, an inclusivity of faith which otherwise would be assigned to the wilderness, takes its rightful place in forming policy,” he said.
The current debate encapsulates matters of faith, culture, establishment, politics and history. There is much that has already been written on these subjects, but its worth reminding ourselves of the following 3 facts.
Firstly, religion and culture are very closely linked and are sometimes almost impossible to separate. This has always been clear with other faiths represented in the UK. Hinduism, for example, is ‘a way of life’ more than a ‘faith’.
Secondly, Christianity has been embedded in the UK’s customs, institutions and laws for centuries. This close connection is often linked to our sense of identity, which is why we like to hold on to traditions, even when they do not exactly match our current beliefs about God or morality. The connection can give us strength and continuity but it can also lead to conflict, especially when we use it to control what is important to us – our land, our way of life, our tribe and people. This close connection between religion and law/society is sometimes confusing but it leads to my final point.
Thirdly, religion and culture are not the same. There is a difference between those who identify themselves as Christian (or Hindu or Muslim or anything else), primarily because that is the tradition and culture in which they were brought up and feel at home, and those who have made a conscious commitment to certain beliefs and behaviour based on those beliefs. The difference may not always be for the better: it all depends on the beliefs and behaviour. Sincerely religious people could be harsh, unforgiving, fanatical – or they could be loving, generous and self-sacrificing.
In summary, it does make a difference what you believe and follow. Or you could say the real difference is who you believe and follow. Being a part of a Christian nation (if that is what we are) does not automatically lead us to God. Only God can lead us to himself.
By Sam Hailes