Are we a Christian country?

Today is Easter Sunday.
What does Easter mean to modern Britain?

As I attended services on Good Friday, one of the biggest days of the Christian year, I noticed the attendances were not high given the size of the population. Regular practising Christians I have talked to recently feel they are now a minority group. We have passed through that time when the Church goers could assume that a majority of the rest of the population were Christian but just a bit busy at Church times on Sundays, to a feeling that religious belief and practise is for a series of minorities strongly supporting their own religion or their own Church.

We still have an established Church and an official religion. The shrewdness of the Elizabethan compromise settlement – bishops and liturgy, the bible and services in English, believe as you will on the wine and the bread – has proved long lasting. The Church of England and Christian observation is an important part of State as well as of Church, and still inspires our teaching and charitable traditions. Parliament starts every day with Prayers, and many of our schools have religious connections.

For most people in modern Britain Easter is a secular public holiday, an opportunity to have a long week-end off, a chance to go out with the family or to buy in enough food for a siege and have friends or family round to lunch. For others it is a very busy commercial opportunity, with the shops and service providers working hard ahead of the week-end. It’s a time for hair dos, for new clothes, for special meals, for spending time with family and friends. The local supermarket said it was a big selling point for turkeys and fresh vegetables, just like Christmas. When the weather permits it is the first big opportunity of the year to get out and about for pleasure.

The inconography of easter is more pagan fertility rite than Christian symbolism. Shops are full of bunnies and eggs, daffodils and greenery, signs of new life and fecundity. The easter egg is the main gift and currency of Easter. It is the chocolate industry’s opportunity to come to the retail party.

It is true the hot cross bun survives as a poignant reminder of the Cross and the sufferings of Christ, but in a six pack for 50p probably few pause to remember the events in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago as they place it in the basket. As I put the eleven apostles on my Simnel cake I wondered how many households still bake one or recreate the gospel references in marzipan?

The muddle is very British. Easter is as each person defines it. Perhaps we should remember our great tradition – do not make windows into men’s souls.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

31 Comments

  1. John Dale
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    …except that “Easter is [NOT] as each person defines it”, as you tellingly skirted around a few paragraphs ago when you said “with the shops and service providers working hard ahead of the week-end” – thats right not over the weekend, but ahead of it.

    If you want the majority of this country to respect your right to celebrate your fantasies, then the least you do could is respect our right not to have to join in.

    • Amanda
      Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      You can do what you like, but what most of us like is to live in a culture which celebrates some key events in the year together. Togetherness is good for society, good for the soul.

      I don't like the World Cup, but I recognize it is good for 'community spirit', and don't begrudge the wall to wall coverage there will be. Unless, I go to the remote Islands of Scotland with no radio I will not escape it.

      The celebration of the rebirth of Spring is fundermental to the human spirit and our connection to the Earth and each other. Easter can be celebrated as a Pagan, a Christian or a Jew (Passover). How, wonderful to stop the clock for a day or two, slow down, and reconnect with ourselves, our families and our societies.

      Do what you like John, but think of the common good as well.

      • Stuart Fairney
        Posted April 5, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        "I don’t like the World Cup, but I recognize it is good for ‘community spirit"

        I don't like it either but would disagree with your other point. I can't see what is good about having mad and pointless xenophobia stirred up by the tabloids (and then condemnations by the same media when it spills over into alcohol-fueled urban disorder!) and others along with utterly ludicrous over expectations of success, before the inevitable English elimination and random violence directed against symbols of what ever country did it, (German cars, Portugese reataurants etc).

        That and you get to hear footballers incoherently mouth a lot of repetitive platitudes which are endlessly repeated as if they are some kind of Homeric wisdom.

  2. Derek Duncan
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that a lot of people nowadays approve the Christian principles, but find it difficult to accept the theory of a divine being. So they would be unlikely to attend church services, but have no objection to others doing so if they wish.

    Long live British tolerance and its typical compromises!

  3. APL
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I would say we were, until the Christian establishment embraced liberation theology and abandoned 'reward in heaven' for social justice on earth.

    A right pigs ear they have made of it too. Aided and abetted by the lo-vie do-vie BBC coterie.

    They wouldn't DARE try the same with the Islamists.

    One must get a taste of the reformation at times like these.

  4. Martin
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    As well as getting rid of a wife Henry viii's treasury benefited greatly from confiscating the Roman Churches assets.

    Why not strip the churches of their tax privileges and close the deficit ?

    The religious settlement could be argued to be defined by the
    Bill of Rights 1689 (England/Wales)/Claim of Right Act 1689 (Scotland).

    Your point about "Windows into men's souls" is interesting in view of the database state we have moved to and also the item about some clergymen advising/telling/ordering people how to vote in today's Telegraph website. "Who will rid us of these meddlesome priests?" Henry ii ?

    • Posted April 5, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      If you believe that the tax priviledges of the churches would close the deficit you are mistaken by a greater amount than someone believing that a 50% top rate of income tax could close the deficit.
      Charging churches business rates would close more than half overnight. This would affect more than the religious observers. There would be less playgroups, parent/toddler groups, activities for the elderly, scouts & guides, yoga, slimming clubs, WI…….
      The impact would most probably to worsen and undermine the fabric of the British society.

  5. Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Blessings at Easter, Mr Redwood.

    Your blog is a true Tory beacon of evolutionary light in a dark world of revolutionary Red-Toryism, the pace of which would have Burke turning in his grave.

    Christus resurrexit!

  6. Tim
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Abraham Lincoln wrote:

    It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.

    I would opine that that includes assertions about "God."

    • Posted April 4, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Don't forget that this remark also applies to "justice", "truth", "falsehood" and my existence too.
      Does abstract justice exist? Can you prove you exist? What, exactly, is infinity? Or absolute zero?
      Can you prove to me, here in Wisbech, that you aren't just a figment of my imagination?
      We have to take serious risks in this mortal situation. And believing in God isn't that much of a risk.
      Not like, for instance, believing in Socialist Principles…..

  7. Peter Mc
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    As someone who spends every day working in the rather beautiful shadow of Whitby Abbey where the peripatetic date of easter was set at the Synod of Whitby, I am constantly reminded that Easter was a political as much as a religious event.

    The synod was a showdown between the plucky individualistic Celtic church off the west coast and the corporatist mainland Roman church that wanted to impose dogma and uniformity. (Sound familiar?)

    So Jesus could have been crucified, sent to the underworld and resurrected from the dead on one of five possible weekends. There was considerable controversy about it pre-Synod but Britain actually had a hand in sorting the muddle.

    Driving a taxi and talking to fares this weekend I've been mentioning the significant role of the Abbey (visible from almost everywhere in town, an imposing sight by day or night) and most people haven't a bug's clue. Fixed dates of Easter, first vernacular British poetry written and first book in English published there. Not a clue. However, they have been doing our depressed local economy a lot of good by drinking heroic quantities of lager.

    Are we a Christian country? Culturally maybe, and I like that. Church buildings are still the centrepiece of many towns and villages. But philosophically? I grew up in believing I'm a sinner and must constantly beg for forgiveness, told that my sexuality was to be repressed until I married, that a man in the sky watched all I do and loves me so much he sent his son to be tortured to death for my sins and even better loves me so much if I disobey his I will burn for eternity. Oh and his hold book say that because I'm a bastard I will never enter into the association of the Lord, nor will my son (What did he do?) and must spend eternight with eunuchs (what did they do?).

    Leave me the churches, art, the banging hymns, the cultural residue of decency, but out on ye with the rest of it. Happy last under Labour easter all, I will spend it driving drunks where the decision was made. The last under Labour government.

  8. Javelin
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I don't think of the population as secular. The Brits have generally held a 20% view on religion.

    20% believe in religion out the Bible
    20% believe in a modified Bireluble
    20% believe is some sort of God
    20% believe in spiritualism
    20% are athiests of some sort

    religious cynicism In the uk goes back over a thousand/s of years.

    The balance between belief and faith is fundementally a social (belief) and genetic (faith) one.

    The problem is not lack of religious faith but a lack of ethics and morals because of political correctness and cultural relativism.

  9. Monty
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Where do you get the marzipan apostles for your simnel cake?

    The only templates I could find for cutting marzipan shapes were the Mr Men…

    Reply: They are, as I am sure you know, represented by balls of marzipan!

    • Monty
      Posted April 5, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      My late Mother in Law had a mould for doing them. She had had it for nearly 40 years, and when it broke, we couldn't find another one. It was a right faff,and you would end up with lots of leftover marzipan offcuts, but the results were quite good if you did it right.

      I've spent years looking for one of those. And for one of those honey-spoons with a spiral end.

  10. Posted April 4, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Which country are we talking about? "Established Church and an official religion" sounds like England.

    Perhaps if the Church of England actually had the backbone to speak in favour of England like the Church of Scotland has done for Scotland then the English people would still have time for it.

    As things are, the Church of England has spoken more in favour of Sharia law than it has for England.

    Until the CofE speaks for the English people. English culture and the English nation it deserves all the contempt it gets.

  11. Stephen
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Easter is just another public holiday, and I think most people have now forgotten what its origins were. You turn on the TV news and there is a bit about religious leaders spouting rubbish or attacking each other or, this year, refusing to apologise for child abuse–otherwise it's just a spring break.

    Politicians and other leaders need to catch up on the fact that this country, together with much of Europe (including Ireland), has dumped religion in the last ten years. Everyone has suddenly realised that everyone else thinks it's just fairy stories, and nasty ones at that. Maybe 9/11 had something to do with it.

  12. Mark
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    We would perhaps be better off if we were a more Christian country. A less confused identity would be a major benefit. The "Protestant work ethic" was a major driver of economic well being, which actually infected the attitudes of Anglo Catholics as well. A change of culture and belief brings risk of revolution or civil war, which is why most societies fight against such changes.

  13. Posted April 5, 2010 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    One of the most significant parts of the Resurrection story is the notion that when get things wrong, we can admit to those mistakes, say we are sorry, learn from it and move on. Similarly, we forgive others, so we do not hold grudges, or have our lives destroyed by bitterness and hatred.
    Unfortunately, this understanding is totally lost on those in Government.

  14. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are revisionist history, written some 30 years after the events to which they refer, probably soon after Masada. There is a distinct possibility that they were written under the guidance of St Paul, who wished to found a world wide religion of a gentile (non Jewish) character.

    The Jews of the time resented being occupied by the Romans. In the first century BC, the movement to end Roman occupation was to some extent peaceful. However, when the Romans steadfastly refused to go, it became more and more militant, culminating in the mass suicide at Masada.

    It is at least possible that the peace loving Essene Jesus of the bible is a complete fiction and that He was a Jewish zealot. Anyone wanting to study this possibility should appraise themselves of the minority (i.e. non-RC) view of the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    On a different note, is it not ridiculous that an omnipotent and omniscient God should place any value whatsoever on human beings praying to Him and indulging in special pleading? Jesus Christ himself mocked praying in public.

    • Posted April 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      The notion that the Gospels were written under the guidance of Paul is false. If it were true, then Paul would have referred more to Jesus’ preaching and miracles in his letters. Try reading through any of Paul’s letters to check this out.

      I would suggest that your misunderstanding is from adopting the method of modern British political debate. You adopt a weak argument from secondary sources and embellish it, so that you can dismiss the subject without prejudicing your own views. This country is in an economic mess because of this mode of thought. For instance
      1. The Government took over the Banks without any due diligence. They did not understand what they were taking on.
      2. Adopting the Golden Rule (only borrowing to invest) meant we entered the downturn with a structural deficit. Proper understanding of the "Golden Rule" would mean that financially we gain two liabilities. First the repayment of the debt with interest and second the operating cost of the “asset”. That future tax revenues will match these twin liabilities is just wishful thinking.

      A principle part of the Reformation was that ordinary people should read the Bible for themselves and debate that with one another to achieve understanding of meaning. A watered-down message of Easter for public life is that when we make mistakes, we recognize them, say sorry and move on. Even if you think Jesus is a complete myth, please try to recognize the ideas if you wish to serve this country by entering the debate.

      • Lindsay McDougall
        Posted April 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        If you go back to the time of Christ and the few centuries that followed, there were many scriptures in Aramaic, in Hebrew and in Greek, some of which were translations (including, occasionally, mistranslations) of others. Round about 300 AD, the church decided to be selective. Having decided on the scriptures that they liked, they brought them together into a book that they called the Bible; so far so good. The mistake was then to call the Bible 'The Word of God'. It isn't. It remains what it was, namely an arbitrary selection of scriptures made by an arbitrary group of human beings at a particular point in time.

        Regarding St Paul's influence, I would like to know more about the biographies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John before taking this further. The Pauline perception of Jesus certainly won out in the end in the church.

        As for the ideas of Jesus, which ideas do you want me to espouse? The idea that a man doing an hour's work should be paid the same as a man doing the same type of work for a day? Or the idea that I should forgive 'my brother' (i.e. any Tom, Dick or Harry) until seventy times seven?

        However, none of this bothers me too much. What did bother me was the White House staff of ex-president George W Bush. This man had his finger on the button of the world's biggest nuclear weapons arsenal, and 40% of the staff that he appointed believed that the world began in 4004 BC.

  15. DBC Reed
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Philip Larkin got it about right in "Church visiting."

  16. Winston's Black
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I think many decent hardworking people are Christian with a small 'c' but a largely secular media and political class are eroding Christian values and belief in the sanctity of human life to fulfil a utilitarian and political agenda.

    Dirty(allegations left out) NHS Hospitals where patients (suffer-ed) in undignified third world conditions whilst the retiring Trust Executives collect generous pay-offs.

    The majority of the victims of course are past retirement age and thus a drain on the econonomy hence the lack of political will to pay anything other than lipservice to cleaning up hospitals.

    I don't envisage any difference under "cast-iron guarantee" Dave should he win.

  17. Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Hello,
    This is john jexon,
    I would like to say about this post is really very meaningful because a lot of new things appear in this post ,I like it too much

  18. Alan C.
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    #It is true the hot cross bun survives as a poignant reminder of the Cross and the sufferings of Christ,#

    The cross on hot cross buns is to divide the bun into four, representing the four seasons.

  19. Monty
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    During my Catholic youth I grew up very happy and contented in my church, but the changes after Vatican II, and the advent of Paul VI, just made me confused, and insecure. If they would only restore the latin Mass, and get the politics out of the pulpit, I waould be back there every Sunday.

  20. Posted April 5, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Just as the majority of "Christian" festivals were borrowed from Pagan ones, so too the Jesus story was borrowed from the much earlier ones of Mithras and Osiris. All of which are no more than bunkum and hocus-pocus.

  21. Rose
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    If employees in hospitals etc – which were built and endowed originally by Christians as part of their charitable work – can't wear the little crosses on chains they have had since their confirmations, then presumably we aren't a Christian country any more.

    Will the wedding ring be next? Besides its Christian associations, it is a rampantly heterosexualist symbol of a chauvinistic sexist past – and it qualifies as "jewellery".

  22. James
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    We are a Christian country. We have to remember not all Christians are fundemental like Christuan voice which is just a disgrace, most Christians in the UK are people that do church flowers, jam and jerusalem and are in the parish Boys brigade or something, and its your everyday Christians that feel like they are being persecuted. The majority of Christians are liberal and respect everyone no matter what colour, gender or sexual orientation you are, so please cant we all just get along…..

    with that in mind does anyone want a coffe morning ticket

    Am (19) and a member of the Church of Scotland

One Trackback

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page