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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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Brian
May 30th, 2008
5:05 PM
This is just plain absurd. It isn't the loss of Christianity that is to blame but the overindulgence of religious superstition in the name of multiculturalism and cultural relativism. I hardly think the answer to one brand of evidenceless obscurantism is another, but rather a heary deense of secular values and Enlightenment thinking ala Ayaan Hirsi Ali. We should tolerate both Islam and Christianity until the point that they claim special rights for beliefs for which they can produce no evidence and make moral claims based on the flimsy formulation "God said so."

In Salad
May 30th, 2008
1:05 PM
Islam was once reputed for its learned scholars. What a pity that no such intellectuals exist within the ranks of political Islamists. The best response they can muster is on the Guardian's Comment Is Free- and who does Bunglawala really represent anyway?

Viktor Kaspruk
May 30th, 2008
11:05 AM
I think that this problem existed long ago. But why so late in the UK have begun to analyze it? ..

Murr
May 30th, 2008
11:05 AM
Christianity's collapse? What planet are you living on? Britain is now more Christian than at any time in the previous 50 years! We just had a Vatican stooge in power for ten years! Wake up and smell the coffee! If only it really would collapse, and all the other ridiculous sky god religions along with it.

Michael Flowers MBE FRCS
May 30th, 2008
10:05 AM
May I add my voice to those many who will be congratulating the Bishop, and thanking God, for his excellent article. There is however an essential ingredient which may have been taken for granted, but which surely needs special mention. That is the fact that a society can only be transformed by citizens who have themselves been transformed. Jesus spells out that without Him and His promised Holy Spirit we simply do not have the power to make it work. With Him, however, all things become possible. Dear Bishop, thank you, and keep speaking out!

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