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The rapid fragmentation of society, the emergence of isolated communities with only tenuous links to their wider context, and the impact of home-grown terrorism have all led even hard-bitten, pragmatist politicians to ask questions about “Britishness”: what is at the core of British identity; how can it be reclaimed, passed on and owned by more and more people?

The answers to these questions cannot be only in terms of the “thin” values, such as respect, tolerance and good behaviour, which are usually served up by those scratching around for something to say. In fact, the answer can only be given after rigorous investigation into the history of nationhood and of the institutions, laws, customs and values which have arisen to sustain and to enhance it. In this connection, as with the rest of Europe, it cannot be gainsaid that the very idea of a unified people under God living in a “golden chain” of social harmony has everything to do with the arrival and flourishing of Christianity in these parts. It is impossible to imagine how else a rabble of mutually hostile tribes, fiefdoms and kingdoms could have become a nation conscious of its identity and able to make an impact on the world. In England, particularly, this consciousness goes back a long way and is reflected, for example, in a national network of care for the poor that was locally based in the parishes and was already in place in the 16th century.

In some ways, I am the least qualified to write about such matters. There have been, and are today, many eminent people in public and academic life who have a far greater claim to reflect on these issues than I have. Perhaps my only justification for even venturing into this field is to be found in Kipling when he wrote, “What should they know of England who only England know?” It may be, then, that to understand the precise relationship of the Christian faith to the public life of this nation, a perspective is helpful which is both rooted in the life of this country and able to look at it from the outside.

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Norman Hanscombe
June 2nd, 2008
2:06 AM
What a shame fundamentalists of all stipes, be they theists or non-theists, Marxists or Enlightenment Faithful, or anything else, all want to place the blame for the planet's problems at the door of the blind unquestioning beliefs of the adherents of other "answers". None is really interested in examining the role of human nature too carefully, because one thing all faiths have in common is that what they find doesn't always support the kind of "solution" that's too dear to their hearts to risk tight analysis which will endanger their (often noble) plans. Even universities began shying away from analysing popular accepted secular articles of faith in the sixties, so why should religions be held to a higher standard? If we're not careful, next thing you know we'll be questioning astrology, ouija boards, and other growth industries of the sixties. p.s. Your spam test is so difficult to interpret that I began to wonder if I really am human.

Peter Brawley
June 1st, 2008
4:06 PM
To Bill Hensley: A reasonable, testable explanation for the empirical finding is that religion trains people into irrationality & intolerance, & away from critical, mature thought. Of course a good empirical test would have to distinguish other effects & variables, eg effects of some religious activities on social cohesion.

Bill Hensley
June 1st, 2008
11:06 AM
Now we have gotten quite specific, Peter. I wonder if you could sketch for me the causal link between Christianity and criminality in the Western democracies.

Peter Brawley
June 1st, 2008
1:06 AM
To Bill Hensley: Religious and irreligious peoples alike have committed great atrocities. That argument doesn’t favour religion. Nor does the argument that christianity had some civilising influence in some earlier, more barbarous times. Amongst western democracies, the more religious a society is, the more criminal and disordered it is. Within such democracies, the more religious the area, the more criminal it is. Not accidental. Religion intentionally and explicitly teaches irrationality, stupidity and intolerance. True, it gives lip service to kinder doctrines. So do Islam and the rest. But the kernel of its instruction is to believe the dogma or be damned.

Bill Hensley
May 31st, 2008
4:05 PM
To Peter Brawley: You can as well argue the opposite. The greatest atrocities of the past century have been committed by nations which overtly discarded religion and sought to eliminate its influence. I would also argue that it is a mistake to lump all religions together when you make such sweeping broadsides as "Overall, the more religious a society is, the more crime, poverty, tyranny etc it suffers." With Bishop Nazir-Ali, I argue for the distinctiveness of Christianity as a civilizing influence in human culture. I would agree with you that the Islamic doctrine of jihad, the Hindu caste system, and the fatalism of Buddhist thought are negative influences to be resisted. I would put these in stark contrast to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Oliver Cromwell
May 31st, 2008
11:05 AM
Right on , Rochester! A man after my own heart.

FR Colin Griffiths.S.S.M.
May 31st, 2008
9:05 AM
As an Australian Citizen I am pleased to see Standpoint give such prominace to an article by a Bishop.I feel it is a very good piece , but I am uncomforable with it's general message. Would we be truly in a better place with leaders who were truly confessinfg christians. George Bush certainly gave the impression that he was a christian leader, it has been reported thathis administration made over 900 lies in the lead up to the Iraq war. His former press sectary alleges that his main purpose in going to war was a determination for re election. Jesus called us to laven in the lump , not to be agents of contol and donination.

Peter Brawley
May 31st, 2008
3:05 AM
In the UK and Northern Europe, dignity, equality, liberty, democracy, human rights, freedom of conscience, respect for the common good and hospitality became social & political realities not least via rebellion against established religion. These values "stand more strongly" in mainly irreligious societies than in more religious ones---because over the last hundred years or so, worthies in those countries had the wit to toss out idiotic religious superstitions in favour of secularism & humanism. Overall, the more religious a society is, the more crime, poverty, tyranny etc it suffers. That's no accident. Religion debilitates. To argue that we should bring back religion---christian or muslim---is incredibly stupid.

the deity formerly known as nigel6888
May 30th, 2008
9:05 PM
Congratulations on this piece. I and many like me are devastated and disappointed that the Christian faith, and its apparent leaders lack the moral fortitude to defend their corner. My Christianity is unashamedly of the muscular variety, I am intensely proud of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and am very much conscious that western civilisation would not exist without it. That is, without this tradition, there would be no "human rights" "womens rights", electricity, industrial revolution, etc etc.

Bill Hensley
May 30th, 2008
7:05 PM
To Brian: And on what alternate base would you establish the values of dignity, equality, liberty, safety and hospitality, which are essential to the formation of a civil society? These hard-won principles arose from the Christian tradition which you now seek to discard. They will not stand on their own.

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