verheard in the playground at the school where I work: “why do they call it Good Friday?
” “Because on that Friday people give you chocolate Easter eggs, which is a good thing
Children’s imagination, uh? It makes it hard to believe that we live in a Christian country after all.
Until now I have actively avoided the subject of Christianity as raised by the British Prime Minister David Cameron recently, because religion is one of those topics about which some people can get quite worked up. But as a committed atheist who has begun to call himself “humanist” more than “atheist” in the last few years, I found it hard to resist the temptation.
I agree in principle with Mr Cameron that Britain is a Christian country, but mainly from a historical and cultural perspective. Christianity shaped most of this nation’s institutions, from the monarchy to the laws that still govern society today. Like in other European countries where Christianity was the dominant religion (I’m thinking of Germany, for instance), it also had an impact on the arts, both visual and performing. However, away from this scenario, I am more in agreement with the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, who said the UK had “entered a post-Christian era
”. All you have to do is look at how active participation in the church has declined. Belief, as a concept, has widened up its meaning and it is no longer the province of the deeply pious but also of those who wear our humanism on our sleeves.
|Has Christianity in the UK been read its last rites?|
More clarification is needed on the term “humanism”. It might be self-explanatory – after all we are all humans – but in today’s world this philosophy has acquired a new dimension. Humanism’s main aim is to promote the well-being of all human beings. We believe (and in this we have claimed back the word “believe” from the realm of religion) that the pursuit of individual rights and freedoms for the benefit of the collective is one of the most important moral goals in society. Our main identity marker is human above all. This allows us to treat everyone else equally regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, (dis)ability or... religious affiliation.
In my case, humanism also allows me to doubt. Atheism is too rigid. When I have called myself atheist in the past I realise that I have done it in relation to a God I don’t believe in and to whom I don’t have to refer. When it comes to humanism I can leave the God question aside and approach the subject more openly. Part of this is based on my upbringing in Cuba.
It has often been said that socialist states (usually called “communist” in the west, but let us not go there today) were secular in nature and against religion at its core. That statement is half-right. Cuba, the former Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist bloc did their utmost to stop the Church’s influence on the population, whether it was the Russian Orthodox Church in the old USSR or the Catholic Church in Cuba. But in doing so, socialist states created their own religion with its own doctrines and liturgy. That is why many people born and raised in socialist and ex-socialist nations cannot claim total and absolute atheism. There was always belief, but instead of God and his Son, we worshipped our maximum leaders. Ensconced away in the background there was also the lurking presence of religion, as in old-fashioned religion. Only late in life did I come to understand how much my late grandma’s strong Catholic faith and Afro-Cuban beliefs had affected me. Do I believe in a supreme being? No, but I also remember Santa Bárbara when it rains
, guv (don’t worry, that’s a Cuban reference).
This brings me back to the UK. Some of the people to whom I have spoken about religion call themselves atheists or agnostic. But this is, to me, more like a western variation of atheism, one in which they (atheists and agnostics) position themselves against the notion of religion without leaving any space for doubt and questioning. The irony is that that is how science works, with doubt questioning at the forefront. To me this doubt and questioning means that I can look at the human brain in a different way, as an organ capable of triggering off mental processes which might at times defy logic.
There are some side effects – unintended or not – of bringing attention to the UK as a Christian country. One of them is to establish an “other”. The more you say that Great Britain is a Christian nation and use this as an identity marker the more you start to look at other religions and their practitioners as aliens, or “others”. And we know what happens to aliens. They get blasted by Ripley
One last reflection. It is ironic that it was the Prime Minister who said that the UK should be “more confident about our status as a Christian country
” when it has been his government the one that has behaved the most un-Christian-like. Through a series of punitive measures the coalition has created a time-bomb that could detonate any minute. We saw a snippet in the riots that swept through England in the summer of 2011 and then again in October 2012 when thousands of people marched in protest of the savage budget cuts which Cameron and co. had introduced. Early Christians sold their possessions and distributed them to all men and women according to their need. Cameron's government has made poor people poorer whilst bowing to the super-rich. Not very Christian-like, methinks.
To sum up, between the Prime Minister’s faux
Christianity and the child in the playground commenting on the meaning behind Good Friday, I know which version I would adopt as my definition of Great Britain as a Christian country, even if the child were to be accused of blasphemy. After all, we all love chocolate, don’t we?
Photo by the blog author
Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 14th May at 11:59pm (GMT)