There has been some gnashing of teeth among the usual suspects in reaction to a report suggesting that since the UK is no longer a Christian country, it should dial back in terms of things such as bishops in the House of Lords and compulsory acts of Christian worship in schools. On the one hand the aggressive secularists thing it does not go far enough, as it allows a place for religion in public life, and on the other, the more conservative elements think it will all be obliterate Christianity from our public life. I am trying quite hard to get myself worked up about this – but can’t. So I thought I’d explain why.
In the first place, it is not as though all the things that would go have done anything by way of making this really a Christian country. Bishops in the Lords has not prevented the decline in attendance at Anglican and other churches, and as for compulsory acts of Christian worship in schools, well, from very long experience, that is acknowledged more in the breach than the observance, and as Heads and teachers know less and less about Christianity, the contribution they can make on such occasions is limited. When we used to have a Head who was a lay preacher, he made an impressive contribution. When he went and was replaced by a great Head who played a mean game of rugby and was an all round good egg, but knew as much about religion as an egg might, it was not so good for Assembly,and it wan’t long before I was drafted in on (and this was the exact phraseology) ‘Geoffrey knows a lot about Christianity – which puts him one up from most of us’. It isn’t for me to pronounce on whether I was any good, but when I went I was replaced by the Games Master who had done some philosophy as part of a sports science degree (I know, me neither). I don’t, somehow, think that being replaced by a ‘time for reflection’ will bring down Christianity in the UK – the Churches have done a good job of that with no help at all.
I am not at all convinced that replacing bishops with other ‘faith leaders’ would work either – what would be the point? If they were as effective as Anglican bishops then they’d be as useless.
As a Nonconformist, I’d be happy if Christanity were just allowed a level playing field, and it does no seem to me as though the current arrangement has given us that. When you have the Scottish Government taking on itself powers to interfere with what parents teach their children, and when you have the government of the UK giving clear signs that too much Christian education might be considered ‘extremist’, I’d rather we dealt with than than that we get our knickers in a twist about forms; substance is what matters. Current arrangements have put Christians on the defensive in matters such as same-sex marriage, sex education, anti-abortion activism and a host of other things. So, when the State sorts this out and gives us parity of treatment, I’ll get myself worked up about how many bishops dance of the head of pin on the House of Lords – until then, I decline to have my gaze taken off what matters by the media.