Friday, 17 February 2012

afraid of secularisation?

Iconic spires litter the British countryside

Since the successful banning of prayers as part of the agenda of council meetings in Bideford, Devon, there has been a lot of talk about the ongoing march of secularisation in Britain. I occasionally wonder if the perception of secularisation is stronger amongst believers than amongst the general public. If you were asked 'Is Britain a secular democracy or a Christian country?' what would you answer? 

The Church of England is established in law but, as Richard Dawkins was at pains to point out recently, most people who self identify as 'Christian' in polls, rarely read the bible or go to church. Perhaps the National Secularist Society now want to move onto banning prayers at the beginning of Parliament, or promote the separation of Church and State so traditional Remembrance Day services in which we sing the National Anthem ('God Save the Queen' - a prayer) will become impossible.

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has recently co-authored a book called 'We don't do God', a reference to Alistair Campbell's now infamous response to a journalist trying to get Tony Blair to discuss faith. This 'official' political line has never stopped politicians pronouncing, at news of tragic or violent deaths, that 'our thoughts and prayers are with the family...' 

However, politics and faith seem to be slightly easier bedfellows these days, with Cameron at least admitting that his Christian faith is a bit like a poor radio signal - 'it comes and  goes.' Where legal rulings have come down against individual Christians for practices which appear to be at odds with Equality Law, and those individuals are described as being 'persecuted', I'm afraid I do part company - being persecuted is what Christians in Nigeria, China and Egypt face and it involves physical harassment and often torture and death.

So how secularised are we?

Something that stayed with me recently on travels around the countryside was the proliferation of church spires visible from train and car windows. Apparently on TV shows about desirable locations they always show a shot of a spire as a kind of background reassurance that this place is a good place to live. I wondered about a countryside devoid of spires...this would be secularism taken to its logical extreme. 

Alain de Boton might be upset there were no churches to give his devotees a warm spiritual glow (without of course any actual substance) but what the absence of churches would say would be that there is no upward, vertical direction to our human existence, just a horizontal one as we (rightly) reach for human relationship and love. But our love is fuelled by His - 'we love because He first loved us' (1 John 4:19.) God made the first move and always does. A spire points us to heaven and suggests we need something more than just each other and the things we perceive with our senses. I think a lot of people who are at best lukewarm about the church, would be quite upset at the thought of a full blown secularisation in the UK. It just might prove to be less tolerant than the dear old C of E.

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