What men value in this world is not rights but privileges*

Oh dear, it looks very much as if the Church of England has got itself into a bit of snit over the government’s efforts to promote greater integration in Britain’s Muslim communties according to the Sunday Telegraph

The Church of England has launched an astonishing attack on the Government’s drive to turn Britain into a multi-faith society.

In a wide-ranging condemnation of policy, it says that the attempt to make minority "faith" communities more integrated has backfired, leaving society "more separated than ever before". The criticisms are made in a confidential Church document, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, that challenges the "widespread description" of Britain as a multi-faith society and even calls for the term "multi-faith" to be reconsidered.

It claims that divisions between communities have been deepened by the Government’s "schizophrenic" approach to tackling multiculturalism. While trying to encourage interfaith relations, it has actually given "privileged attention" to the Islamic faith and Muslim communities.

As opposed, naturally, to giving ‘privileged attention’ to the Church of England, as the Telegraph’s article goes on to explain…

Written by Guy Wilkinson, the interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the paper says that the Church of England has been sidelined. Instead, "preferential" treatment has been afforded to the Muslim community despite the fact that it makes up only three per cent of the population. Britain remains overwhelmingly a Christian country at heart and moves to label it as a multi-faith society suggest a hidden agenda, it says.

Quite what this ‘hidden agenda’ might be, the article fails to explain, nor does it suggest that the report makes any effort to identify exactly what it might be either, other than a deliberately tendentious remark on the author’s part – unless, of course, he knows something we don’t and the entire cabinet has secretly converted en bloc to Islam without anybody noticing.

The Anglican Church’s main beef, so far as one can tell, appears to be simply that government have chosen not to appoint an Anglican Bishop to a seat on its new Commission on Cohesion and Integration, thereby failing to give due deference to the already privileged position of the Church of England…

It can also be revealed that the archbishop met Miss Kelly, the Communities Secretary, last month to discuss how the Church of England could contribute. Bishops are dismayed that no Christian denomination is represented on the commission.

And..?

One has to sympathise to a very limited extent with the Anglican Church’s unease at efforts to label Britain a ‘multi-faith society’, although not for any of the reasons that they might suggest.The government’s fundamental error here is not that it is giving too little regard for the Church of England (and too much regard to other faiths) thereby undermining the position of Christianity as one of the underpinnings of British society but rather that that it is giving altogether too much regard to religion and religious belief as a whole.

Britain does not need to be or become a ‘multi-faith’ society, simply a pluralist secular society that guarantees religious freedom and promotes the religious tolerance so long as the beliefs and practices of partilcular religious groups/communities stay within the overarching parameters of secular law.

In a letter to Richard Price, dated 9 October 1780, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

Franklin poses a brilliant question; if religion is such a ‘good thing’ then why does it seek to impose its views and values on wider society by means of everything from indoctrination (i.e. ‘faith’ schools), to legal coercion (i.e. blasphemy, efforts to restrict/outlaw abortion), to censorship and efforts to restrict freedom of expression and dissent in the name of ‘respect’, right through to downright lies (i.e. so-called ‘intelligent design’)? Surely it must be the case that if religious belief has anything going for it then it should be capable of standing on its own two feet and defending its ideals and values against all-comers by means of reasoned argument and rational debate.

Has ‘god’ really become so senile and decrepit in his cosmic dotage that he/she/it is no longer capable of sticking up for himself/herself/itself against nothing more powerful than the mere idea that human beings, being possessed of reason, logic and intellect, can somehow get along in this world quite nicely without a mythical overlord to watch over them?

One would have to  think so given the extent to which religion has come to rely on a mix of ill-concealed (and conceived) takeover bids for poltical/secular authority and the deliberate and methodical inculcation of wilfull ignorance in its followers merely to ensure its own survival, even as it pretends to its followers to be assuming the ascendancy.

The ‘enemy’ of social integration and cohesion is not ‘multi-culturalism’ or the move towards a ‘multi-faith’ society but simply plain old fashioned ignorance and an unshakeable belief in the innate superiority of whichever ‘power unit’ you happen to belong to compounded by the equally fallacious belief that taken together this confers on the ‘believer’ the right to enforce their views on others, whether they like it or not. Such a distorted worldview is by no means the sole prerogative of the inveterate ‘god botherer’, one finds much the same warped values amongst political ideologues; hence the Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot canard that some believers seem to mistake for a defence against the charge that religious bigotry has wrought chaos and destruction across of sizeable chunk of recorded human history as if to suggest that one can excuse one’s own atrocities merely by noting that others have behaved with similar barbarity.

To accept such an argument is to accept, also, that one might satisfactorily defend the reputation of Fred West by noting that he didn’t kill quite as many people as Harold Shipman.

What exactly does the Anglican church have to offer to a Commission on Cohesion and Integration?

Plenty of fine words and platitudes, of course, and naturally they’ll be only to keen to enter into all manner dialogues and ‘reach out’ to other communities… and then..?

Well according to the right-wing think-tank, Civitas, is role should go something along these lines

Rather than forever seeking to concede ground to secularists and fundamentalist followers of faiths other than Christianity whose adherents would seek its replacement by theirs, the Church of England should reassert its historic function of being the most important civilising and acculturating force in the nation.

Secularists and fundamentalists of other creeds like to claim the empty pews in so many churches throughout the land today shows it has become a post-Christian nation. The self-identification of English in the census suggests otherwise.

One of the most distinctive features of this Anglican nation was its tolerance of those of other creeds and denominations, particularly, those seeking to immigrate to Britain to escape persecution or seek economic advancement, provided they were prepared to be loyal and law-abiding.

And…

Rather than excluding religion from the public square, or else going even further down the multicultural route that requires England’s Christian majority to relinquish ever-more of its Christian roots and heritage, perhaps the best way for the country to increase cohesion and become a more united as a nation than it has of late become would be, as Dr Sentamu suggests, for its Christian majority to regain touch with their historic faith and traditions from which so many of them have of late become estranged, often by a deliberate strategy on the part of those with an animus against it, be they humanists or zealots of some other faith.

Recognition by all those whose own creed does not preclude them from so doing of their shared belief in the same God might be a better way to foster social cohesion and unity in England than ever further multiculturally- motivated attrition of its Christian heritage and culture.

Those young British Muslims who in recent times have seemingly become ever more reluctant to integrate and correspondingly ever more drawn towards extremist forms of their creed might be less inclined towards self-segregation and less drawn as a result towards incendiary versions of their faith were England’s majority to become more appreciative and proud of its Christian heritage and character.

And, finally…

In the wake of the July London suicide bombings, British Muslim community leaders have increasingly voiced concern at the spectacle of growing alienation of their young British-born coreligionists. They might do well to think about introducing into their own liturgy at their places of worship a suitably adapted version of another prayer Jews recite here weekly on the Sabbath. That prayer is one on behalf of the Royal Family. It calls on God to bless the ruling sovereign and their family, and to to deliver them from all intent on harming them, before calling on God ‘to put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into the hearts and minds of all [his or] her counsellors so that they might uphold the peace of the realm and advance the welfare of the nation’.

So the answer, according to Civitas, is more Christianity and weekly prayers for the Royal Family. A prescription for the continuation of the privileged status of the Anglican Church that its actual impact and influence on society no longer merits coupled with a renewed deference to the very exemplar of unearned and unmerited privilege; the Royal Family. Nothing that could be fixed if we all just knew our proper place and got back in to the habit of tugging our forelocks a bit more often.

The Civitas article refers to the Inauguration Sermon given by John Sentamu on the occasion of his taking up office as the 97th Archbishop of York, which includes this delightful piece of clerical conceit…

The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History tells not only of how the English were converted, but how that corporate-discipleship, the Church, played a major socialising and civilising role by uniting the English and conferring nationhood on them.

The history of the See of York tells a wonderful story of York’s part in the conversion and civilisation of the English. In 627 Paulinus converts the King of Northumbria, Edwin, and baptises him on Easter Day. Paulinus is allowed to build a little wooden church, the first church on the site of this Minster. And it wasn’t easy country. The Venerable Bede tells us that there were villages in these mountains and forests rarely visited by a Christian minister. The first three archbishops were driven out because of war and revolution. But the small band of Christians, like a tiny acorn, courageously stood their ground. Aidan, a monk from the monastery in Iona, came to the rescue, and extended the Christian presence in the north of England, which radically transformed the existing social order as well as in the South.

So England and English nationhood is what? A mere a byproduct of the ‘good works’ of the Church? Is that an unbiased view of English history?

Of course not – the clue is in the title of Bede’s work,  Ecclesiastical History, a history of or pertaining to the church and/or clergy.

Bede died in 735AD having completed the work on his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum some four years earlier. England, as a political entity, and therefore a nation by any meaningful definition of the term, did not come into existence for another 150 years until Alfred the Great proclaimed himself King of England in 886 after expelling the Danes from London.

Bede’s claim to the church having conferred nationhood on the English belongs to much the same strand of historical discourse that Churchill adopted in noting that,

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

And as views of English/British history go, this is one that’s becoming increasing outdated as archaeologists uncover more and more evidence to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ follwing the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from Britain, were not so ‘dark’ as perviously supposed, nor were the ‘barbarians’ of the time, which would have included the various Germanic tribes that conquered/settled in what is now England during that period, anything like so barbaric or culturally disparate as later Christian chroniclers suggest.

Also of note in the Civitas article, and echoed in the Telegraph’s article here…

The 2001 census showed that 72 per cent of Britons describe themselves as Christian. "It could certainly be argued that there is an agenda behind a claim that a five per cent adherence to ‘other faiths’ makes for a multi-faith society," says the document.

…is what is fast becoming the Anglican Church’s favorite canard – that 72% of the British people consider themselves to be ‘Christians’ according to the most recent census, the first (incidentally) to include a question on religious belief.

Well there are Christians and there are Christians, for all the lengths that both the Church (and Civitas) go to try and downplay the significance of the current year on year decline in church attendances and active membership.

Its only natural, I suppose, that when thing are going badly you take whatever crumbs of comfort you can find, which rather nicely explains this press release from Christian Research in relation to the results of its 2005 Church Census…

PULLING OUT OF THE NOSEDIVE

Many churches in England are in a healthier state now than seven years ago.  Some local churches as well as a few denominations are doing very well, more churches are growing, and overall they are not losing nearly as many people as they were.

These are the major findings from the 2005 English Church Census, undertaken by Christian Research and published today. 

The Census showed that in the 1990s 1 million people left church in nine years, but in the seven years from 1998-2005 only ½ million left, a much slower rate of decline, showing that churchgoing in England is beginning to pull out of the ‘nosedive’ decline seen previously.  There are two major reasons for this slowing decline: the number of churches which are growing, and a considerable increase of ethnic minority churchgoers, especially black people.

Over a third of churches, 34%, are growing (compared with 21% in 1998), 16% are now stable (up from 14%), while the proportion which are declining has fallen from two thirds  to only half (65% down to 50%).  A quarter, 25%, of the churches which were declining in the 1990s have not only stemmed their losses, but have turned their church around and are now growing.  This includes churches of all denominations and sizes.  

However, the declining churches are still losing more people than the growing churches are gaining.  The net effect is that overall 6.3% of the population are now in church on an average Sunday (7.5% in 1998), with others attending midweek.  A major factor in this decline is that churchgoers are significantly older on average than the population – 29% of churchgoers are 65 or over compared with 16% of the population.

Black people now account for 10% of all churchgoers in England (increased from 7%), with a further 7% (previously 5%) from other non-white ethnic groups.  This is most obvious in Inner London, where 44% of churchgoers are now black, 14% other non-white, and only 42% white.

“Christian Research has never shirked from telling us unpalatable truths about church decline. At last they have some good news for us!” comments Ven Bob Jackson, the Church of England Archdeacon of Walsall and author of The Road to Growth.  “Decline has slowed and far more individual churches are growing. In fact the data I see for the Church of England confirms this.  Pulling out of the Nosedive is an apt and justified title for a report with some statistical good news for all the churches.”

“Statistics like these give both the church and wider society the helpful opportunity to look at how church attendance has changed over time” says Rev Katei Kirby, CEO of ACEA (African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance).  “For example, while it is significant to see the increase in the numbers of Black people attending church in England, it is equally important to see where they are attending – in the independent and Pentecostal sectors as well as in the nominal or mainstream denominations.  I think that this will continue to have a major impact on the picture of church attendance trends in the future.”

“This is a helpful, though challenging, analysis of the state of the Church in England” responded Rev John Glass, General Superintendent Elim Pentecostal Churches, one of the denominations which has done better than others.

Dr Peter Brierley, who undertook the Census, says, “It is a great joy to have some good news at last.  Although the overall numbers are still going down there are many signs of hope in the statistics.  It is important that church leaders, both nationally and locally, pick up on these positive things, learn from those who are doing well, and build for the future.  If that happens we could see the church in this country once again having a major impact on our nation.”  

The results of the 2005 English Church Census are published today in Pulling out of the Nosedive and a volume of statistics which is No 6 in the Religious Trends series.

Yes, the good news for Christian Churches is that they’re only losing people at half the rate now than they were eight years ago, although mostly, it seems, because they’ve succeeded in importing rather more Christians from overseas over the last seven years – there’s an interesting little statistic for all you migration watchers out there.

What the published data actually shows is that only the Pentecostal and Independent Church sectors, which draw the majority of their congregations from minority communities, are actually growing at present; mainstream churches, including the evangelical sector, are still consistantly losing members. The data also throws up one rather interesting fact; in terms of regular attendance at church, the Anglican Church is only the second largest in the UK, slightly behind…

…the Roman Catholic church – although the Catholics have lost members at a much faster rate over the last seven years to the point where the gap is now fairly marginal: In 1997 Britain’s Catholic active congregation was around a third larger than that of the Anglican Church.

What would William of Orange have made of that?

The obvious purpose of citing the census data is to create the false impression that Church leaders speak for the majority of the British population. In reality less that 10% of Britains self-professed ‘Christians’ actually attend church and of those, a mere 13% (around 825,000 people) attend an Anglican Church. On those figures, the FA Premiership, whose 20 clubs have a total avergage attendance of 673,000, has as good a claim to a seat on the Commission for Integration and Cohesion as the Church of England.

Why has this all suddenly become an ‘issue’ for the Church of England? Why now?

From the report in the Telegraph, the Anglican Church appears to have several specific complaints in relation to the government’s approach to relations with the Islamic community in Britain in the wake of last year’s terrorist attack in London…

The report lists a number of moves made by the Government since the London bombings in July last year to win favour with Muslim communities. These include "using public funds" to fly Muslim scholars to Britain, shelving legislation on forced marriage and encouraging financial arrangements to comply with Islamic requirements. These efforts have undermined its interfaith agenda and produced no "noticeable positive impact on community cohesion", the Church document says.

"Indeed, one might argue that disaffection and separation is now greater than ever, with Muslim communities withdrawing further into a sense of victimhood, and other faith communities seriously concerned that the Government has given signals that appear to encourage the notion of a privileged relationship with sections of the Muslim community."

Some of this is obviously fair comment; particularly in reference to the government ‘shelving’ legislation on forced marriage, a practice that run contrary to every principle of UK secular law.

Some of it, however, appears to be moaning for the sake of it, as in the case of the complaint that the government has been encouraging financial arrangements to comply with Islamic requirements, which is a perfectly reasonable thing for a government to be doing. Governments encourage British businesses to tap into potential new markets and provide information, advice and assistance to businesses to support such venture all the time – it’s one of the primary functions of the Department of Trade and Industry – and the Muslim community is a potential market for financial services. Moreover, by encouraging mainstream financial institutions to provide products and services tailored to Islamic requirements, the government is also seeking to bring financial transaction which would otherwise take place through the Muslim community’s own informal and unregulated ‘banking system’ into the heavily regulated mainstream system, where these transactions will generate the usual paper trail and, thereby, making it much easier to ‘follow the money’ and trace any suspicious movements of cash.

As policy measures go, the latter is a perfectly sensible measure to adopt with a number of clear, obvious and rational benefits to all concerned.

I suspect the real problem here is not simply a matter of it appearing that Muslims are suddenly developing a privileged relationship with the government so much as a fear that the growing perception that a particular religion (Islam) may be developing such a privileged relationship with the state may just cause the wider public to start looking at whether other religions are accorded similar ‘privileges’ and therefore draw attention to those currently enjoyed by the Christian and, particularly the Anglican Church.

That, above all else, is what I suspect the Church of England most wishes to avoid, awkward little questions such as…

1. Why should the Church of England be accorded 26 seats in the UK legislature (in the House of Lords) as a matter of right?

2. Why should the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain on the UK statute books, particularly when they have been used a mere four times in the last 100 years in England and Wales and not by the state since 1925. Scotland’s blasphemy laws have lain unused for even longer; the law prosecution for blasphemy under Scottish law took place in 1843.

It’s also worth noting that as long ago as 1949, Lord Denning effectively consigned the offence of blasphemy to the past…

"…it was thought that a denial of Christianity was liable to shake the fabric of society, which was itself founded upon Christian religion. There is no such danger to society now and the offence of blasphemy is a dead letter".

And yet when the opportunity to repeal these laws most recently presented themselves, in legislating to outlaw religious hatred, the government did nothing. Well, no, the government did nothing in the end having trailed the idea that it would remove the offence of blasphemy from the statute books, thereby avoiding an awkward public debate until it was too late to do anything about it.

3. Why should the state dictate that all state schools must provide religious education and ‘broadly-christian’ assemblies whether they wish to do so or not?

4. Why should Members of Parliament who put their names down to attend a morning prayer meeting in the Commons get first pick of the seating arrangements?

Although I’ve not seen any published statistics on the subject and doubt very much they even exist, one suspects that the House of Commons tends to become rather more ‘Christian’ on Wednesdays in anticiption of PMQs and, particularly, on the day the Chancellor’s budget speech.

And, of course, there’s the big one…

5. Why should the state fund, from general taxation, close to 7,000 ‘faith’ schools across the UK, 99% of which are Christian schools including nearly 2000 voluntary-aided Church of England Schools that are allowed to select pupils on the basis of church attendance.

This excellent article from the British Humanist Association provides the statistics on faith schools in the UK (and, it also does a nice job of exploding the myth that faith schools and better educational standards go together)

6292, or 35.6%, primary schools have a religious character, and of these 4468 are C of E and a total of 6258 or 99% are Christian; 593, or 17.5%, secondary schools have a religious character, and of these 201 are C of E, and a total of 582 or 98%, are Christian (DfES figures, 2005). As Church school numbers increase, other religious groups demand their own publicly funded schools on grounds of equity.

As far as non-Christian state-funded ‘faith’ schools go there are currently 36 state Jewish schools, seven Muslim schools and two Sikh schools, and one or may be two Hindu schools have opened in the last year or two as well.

If one can take anything from the juxtaposition of these statistics with current trends in church attendance it that Churches in Britain are doing a fair old job of disproving the old Jesuit maxim;

Give Me the Child Until He Is Seven and I Will Show You the Man

Any debate on integration and social cohesion at the present time will inevitably come to look at the growing demand for single-faith schools amongst religious minority communities and the massive disparity in provision for Christian schools as against those for other religions.

Christian ‘faith’ schools account for nearly 33% of all state-funded schools, with 66% of them being Church of England Schools. This to ‘serve’ a church-going population of a little over 3 million people, less than 7% of the UK population of whom less than 900,000 are Anglicans. By contrast there are a mere seven Muslim schools serving 3% of the UK population of whom more than 900,000 regularly attend a mosque at least once a week – little wonder, then, that the Islamic community is increasingly demanding more state funding for Muslim schools on the grounds of equity.

Against this ‘demand’ on has to raise the question as to whether religious segregation in education is not exactly what we should be avoiding at all costs if we are to seriously address the questions of integration and social cohesion – Lord Ouseley, reporting on social conditions in Bradford following the riot in 2001 certainly appears to think so in observing…

"signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend…­There is "virtual apartheid" in many secondary schools in the District."

Ousley also notes, in his report, another key facet in this debate…

"What was most inspiring was the great desire among young people for better education, more social and cultural interaction. Some young people have pleaded desperately for this to overcome the negativity that they feel is blighting their lives and leaves them ignorant of other cultures and lifestyles…" 

Much of the demand from single-faith schools comes not from pupils or parents but from ‘community leaders’ many of whom are little more than self-appointed spokespersons for their own personal status and agenda for whom what matters most is not the needs of the community they purport to represent but the ongoing maintenance of an existing social and cultural hierarchy in which they’ve already floated to the top.

Education will inevitably be a key ‘battlefield’ in this debate with demands from the Muslim community for an expansion is state funding for Muslim schools set against public perceptions (liberally fostered by politicians and the press) of Muslim insularity and parochialism to the point of active separatism and the ghettoisation of Muslim communities, perceptions that increasely demand active social-engineering measure to combat such isolationism; one of which, inevitably, will be at least a moratorium on further state funding for Muslim schools, if not the active pursuit of statutory school admission policies that work to prevent segregated single ‘faith’ schools coming into being by default, as has happened in some areas.

The alternative, if one is to use schools to foster integration and social cohesion and do so in a manner equitable to all religious communities is simply to take religion out of the sphere of publicly funded education in it entirety in which case state schools would continue to educate children about religion in the wider context of citizenship and social education but would be taken out of the business of providing religious instruction and actively promoting a particular religious faith in lessons and assemblies – which, of course, would also bring an end to the privileged position occupied by Christianity and, particularly the Church of England.

Leaks to newspapers do not happen by accident. In politics documents are leaked either for the purpose of causing embarrassment and generating negative press or for the purpose of revealing the current thinking of a government or political party on a particular matter and, thereby, gauging public reaction to that thinking without putting any one individual into the public firing line should the reaction not be quite what was hoped for.

And what is true in politics is true for this report.

If the leaking of this report to the Sunday Telegraph serves any real purpose for the Church of England it is not to register a complaint at its omission from membership of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion nor even to complain about Britain’s Muslim community receiving preferential treatment and entering into a privileged relationship with the government.

It’s real purpose is to float the argument for the continuation of its own privileged position and status in the hope of obtaining sufficient public support to stymie any prospect of this Commission too closely its own privileges under the guise of considering questions of equity in relation to the position and status of different religious communities in the UK.

There are only three reasons why the Anglican Church would actively pursue formal membership of the Commission.

First, as a minor ego-boost and confirmation of its own special status and position of ‘influence’ in British society, irrespective of whether it has anything worthwhile to contribute.

Second, to be seen publicly to be ‘doing the right thing’ and playing along with the game as its set out politicians in the hope of gaining a little influence along the way.

And third, to ensure that whatever else the Commission does, it does not do anything that calls into question and of its existing privileges.

Failing that, it has now leaked a report criticising both the composition of the Commision and the relationship between the government and the Islamic community in the UK in terms that both actively seek public support for it own privileged position and status and at the same time lay the groundwork for discrediting the work of the Commission should it make recommendations that appear to favour ther interests of minority communities overs its own interests…

…and it has done so by leaking information to a newspaper that of all the media outlets in the UK is the one most closely associated with promoting traditionalist Anglican views; the Sunday Telegraph, where it would expect the most sympathetic of hearings.

What the Church of England is doing here is merely what all good politicians do in such a situation; playing all the angles of the public debate and covering its own back from every direction.

If the 72% figure for people self-identifying as ‘Christian’ proves anything it seems likely to prove only that;

a) the British people have a marked propensity for not questioning the contents of official documentation (perhaps the next census should include a follow-up study to find how many people ticked Christian for not other reason that thats what it says on their birth certificate),

b) that we’re also well practiced as a nation in hedging our bets on the big cosmic questions – and there has to be a cartoon in that showing St Peter surrounded by ‘sinners’ all waving their census forms and demanding entry in to heaven, and

c) that as a basically pragmatic people, Briton’s see some value is maintaining an ‘in’ with the church just in case they even need it for something useful, i.e. weddings and funerals.

What is doesn’t prove is that Britain is a Christian nation – the Church of England is something we tolerate for its familiarity and its genarally unthreatening character; we don’t so much have a state religion as a tame one that knows its place and doesn’t create a ruckus the way that religion does in other countries.

One can tell a lot about a religion (and a particular church, even) by its ‘iconography’; it’s most popular and visible public manifestations of its character and culture.

Roman Catholicism has the Pope, the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, etc…

Islam has its incredible architecture and calligraphy…

Hinduism tends to go in for carvings and elaborate, colourful statuary – and firework (at least round here).

American evangelical churches have their satellite TV station and ‘arena churches’ the size of concert halls,

Black churches have their gospel music and the general liveliness and jour de vivre with which they approach the act of worship…

… and the Church of England has Derek Nimmo in a dog collar and the Vicar of Dibley…

Does Britain actually need an establish state religion/church?

All the evidence says no, whatever the likes of Melanie Phillps might think…

This is a seismic reversal, in a Church that for decades has been on its inter-faith knees before multiculturalism and abandoned the defence of Britain’s Christian identity. Can it be that Christianity is at last starting to defend western civilisation? Britain will only be saved from disaster if Christianity reasserts itself and defends what it was so instrumental in creating. Much more has to happen before we know whether this is just a flash in the communion cup; the story may be a way of testing reaction, or may represent a struggle within the Church, to be followed by a tactical retreat into the comforting and familiar oblivion of religious surrender. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable development.

(One suspects that here, Melanie is auditioning for the part of fifth horsewoman of the apocalypse… or she could just be as mad as march hare – doesn’t really make that much difference either way?)

Around 22% of British children are educated or at least part of their lives in a Church of England school and yet church attendances continue to fall year on year and are currently only being propped up (a bit) by importing Christians from overseas.

So if faith schools are somehow an investment in inculcating Christian values in the young and bringing them through into the body of the Church then its doesn’t look like much of investment to me – the returns seem pretty lousy.

In any given year, there are around 3-3.5 million children receiving their education in a state-funded Christian school with the greatest concentration of such schools to be found at primary level and yet, according the data from Christian Research, 11-14 year olds account for a mere 6% of Church congregations and 15-19 year old only 5% with the number of children and young people attending church having fallen, since 1979, by around 625,000 in those age groups – in just over 25 years Christian churches have lost more than twice their current congregation in those age groups despite having the advantage of educating a third of the population of the UK.

Where is the evidence to show that any of the privileges (and the state-funding for schools) accorded to the Church of England provides any real benefits to wider society?

Does the presence of the Church’s cohort of Bishop’s in the House of Lord or preferential seating arrangements for Christian MPs in the Commons result in better lawmaking?

Are we any more civilised a nation for having outdated blasphemy laws on the statute books or for having mandatory acts of worship and religious education in state schools?

And in what sense are faith schools any better than plain old community schools, given that the claim that they provide a better standard of education simply doesn’t stack up once you adjust the figures to remove the bias arising from the use of selection?

If we were to choose to follow the same path as the United States; disestablish the Church of England and enforce a strict separation of Church and State including an end to state funding of ‘faith’ schools would we even notice the difference? By any reasonable measure, America is a far more religious nation in its general character than the UK for all that its First Amendment expressly prohibits the establishment of an official state religion…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And perhaps, in all this, that’s the question that the Anglican Church is most keen to avoid at all costs – what exactly do we get in return for having an established state church and everything that goes with that?

The last word on this I’ll leave to the philosopher, Betrand Russell.

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin — more even than death…. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit.

Anyone ever notice how much time and energy religions put into telling people not think for themselves..?

*Title quote – HL Mencken

  • Excellent piece! You ever considered giving lectures?