Lord Oystermouth’s lament: Britain is a “post-Christian” nation

Not long ago Prime Minister David Cameron described Britain as a Christian nation, and went on to emphasize the moral necessity of keeping it that way.  The odious Baroness Warsi , Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and  Minister for Faith and Communities (as well as a Muslim), has repeatedly emphasized the persecution of Christians in Great Britain. This is all palaver, though, as a piece in yesterday’s Torygraph suggests.

It includes not only remarks from the former Archbishop of Canterbury (now bearing the humorous title of “Lord Williams of Oystermouth,” but a poll of 2000 Brits on their feelings about Christianity.

Lord Oystermouth first admits the decline of Christianity in Britian, which has been obvious to everyone for a while. A few of his remarks (quoted from the Torygraph):

  • Lord Williams of Oystermouth says Britain is no longer “a nation of believers” and that a further decline in the sway of the Church is likely in the years ahead. . . While the country is not populated exclusively by atheists, the former archbishop warns that the era of regular and widespread worship is over.
  • Lord Williams, now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, accepted that Britain’s “cultural memory” was “quite strongly Christian”.

    “But [Britain is] post-Christian in the sense that habitual practice for most of the population is not taken for granted,” he said. “A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that.”

    The former archbishop, who remains a member of the House of Lords, continued: “It’s a matter of defining terms. A Christian country as a nation of believers? No.

    “A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”

Well, in that sense one could claim that even Scandinavia is a set of Christian countries, for believers like to claim that although those nations, as well as other mainly secular countries in Europe, like France, remain moral simply because they’ve inherited the Christian ethos of their forebears.

More from Lord Oystermouth:

  • He rejected the suggestion that British Christians have been persecuted, although he acknowledged that some individuals have had “a rough time” as a result of the “real stupidity” of some organisations. His comments are likely to fuel the political controversy which erupted when the Prime Minister made his most outspoken comments about his Christian faith since becoming Conservative leader.

And I’ll quote this, simply so I can use a very big word that I learned as a child, but get to use for the first time:

Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, responded to the debate last week by suggesting that the Church of England should be formally disestablished from the state.

I agree with Clegg and disagree with his opponents who avow antidisestablishmentarianism.

At any rate, here are the data from the Torygraph poll:

CHRISTIANITY-Table_2893774c

Note that while 56% of residents say “Britain is a Christian country,” that doesn’t mean that they think it should be that way.  In fact, the most heartening figure is the 41% of people who describe themselves as “nonreligious”. Would that America could show such statistics!

Do note that about half of all Brits, Christians or not, feel that Christians are given less protection for their beliefs than are “believers in other religions”—presumably Muslims—so the persecution idea is pretty widespread. and 50-62% of all Brits (excepting nonreligious people) agree that Christians are “afraid to express their beliefs because of the rise of religious fundamentalism”. Presumably that fundamentalism, too, is fundamental Islam, though I can’t be sure.

As reader Marcel (who called this to my attention) noted, it would have been nice to ask Muslims, and especially atheists, the same question. I suspect that a very high proportion of atheists would say they were afraid to express their beliefs because of fundamentalism, and it would also be nice to see how Christians would answer that question about atheists. (I bet they’d give a lower percentage of fearful atheists, assuming that we’re all as vociferous as Dawkins!)

But these other figures, to me, are far less important than the 41% of Brits who call themselves “nonreligious,” compared to the 14% who call themselves “practicing Christians.” Lord Oystermoouth is correct: Britian is on its way to becoming a secular nation. It’s time for the country to disestablish its state religion.

h/t: Marcel

58 Comments

  1. Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    and 50-62% of all Brits (excepting nonreligious people) agree that Christians are “afraid to express their beliefs because of the rise of religious fundamentalism”. Presumably that fundamentalism, too, is fundamental Islam, though I can’t be sure.

    I’m guessing too, but I’d suspect they’re more worried about being lumped in with fundamentalist American loons of the Michele Bachmann ilk, and subjected to ridicule accordingly. I’ve come across this complaint a lot on both sides of the pond.

    Do note that about half of all Brits, Christians or not, feel that Christians are given less protection for their beliefs than are “believers in other religions”—presumably Muslims—so the persecution idea is pretty widespread

    I think it’s less a matter of perceived persecution, more just that the authorities are more likely to take action over insults to Muslims (or, for that matter, Jews) than they are if it’s someone being rude about Xtianity. No one bats an eyelid if a comedian mocks Xtianity on TV, but there’d be an outcry if the s/he did the same for Islam or Jewry.

    (Hm. My spellchecker has just proposed I replace “Xtianity” with “Inanity”. I suspect this site has been doctored . . .)

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      You’re right; also the media self-censor over criticism or satire of Islam because of fear of violence. Hence the mainstream media will not show depictions of Mohammed, however tame. There is no such reservation regarding Christianity.

      There is also a British sense that it is more uncouth to pick on the underdog, and thus minority religions, than to pick on a privileged established church.

      Thus it is indeed true (IMO) that Islamic beliefs get more “protection” than Christian ones.

      • Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Picking on the underdog in America is bad manners in some instances, but there are glaring (atheism) and incoherent (victims of rape/bullying/LGBT violence) exceptions.

        Concerted public campaigns to change attitudes toward tacit condoned violence toward some of these groups are underway, at least and at last. Perhaps this will even lead to a societal attitudinal shift in favor of critical thinking that includes opinion forming of all sorts.

        Sure. And the Robert’s SCOTUS will stop careening farther right with each collective breath.

  2. Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Question 2, forcing people to choose between “Britain is a Christian country” and “Britain is a non-religious country” is a very poor question. The only sensible answer is that Britain is a mixture of both elements. There should have been a third option: “Britain is a country equally for the Christians, those of other faiths, and the non-religious”.

    • jimroberts
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      > “Britain is a country equally for the Christians, those of other faiths, and the non-religious”

      Or, to put it another way, a secular country.

      • Posted April 29, 2014 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        Yes. Though many theists read ‘secularism’ as ‘atheism’.

  3. Steve Payne
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    In the narrowest constitutional sense then yes, *England* (and not, I hasten to add, Britain – quite a different animal altogether) is a religious nation insofar as we have an established state religion and a monarch who is supreme head of that church. (Both woeful anachronisms, both long overdue for the dustbin of history).

    That’s where it ends, though, believe me.

  4. Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Ah, the longest word in the English language! I bet you enjoyed that!

    • Dermot C
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      And Oystermouth is in The Mumbles (ho-ho), near Swansea.

      And if you view the relevance of that comment with floccinaucinihilipilification, you’d be right.

      And have a wider comprehension than me, ‘cos I had to look it up.

      Slaínte.

      • Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        That is indeed a comment ‘of little value’ (having looked up your big word). :)
        I see that this posting may illicit an interesting mix of commentary on state support of religion, and on etymology. A mix stirred as if by a ‘rotavator’, which I may add is the longest English palindrome.

        • Dermot C
          Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          Along with ‘redivider’.

          Fave palindromic sentence which tells a story.

          A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

          Slaínte.

          • Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            ‘Able was I, ere I saw Elba.’

          • Tulse
            Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

            If it’s palindromes you want:

            “Bob”, by Weird Al Yankovic

            • Dermot C
              Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

              Brilliant! That guy has too much time on his hands!

              Slaínte.

          • David Duncan
            Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            Madam, I’m Adam.

            • Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

              Shouldn’t that be, “David, a diva D”?

              b&

        • Posted April 27, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

          It may also elicit a correction or two…

      • Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Unless, of course, you’re afflicted with pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (cough, cough)

        • Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          I suspect we all found the same web page…

          • Dermot C
            Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

            No Mark. My comments encapsulate the accumulated crap of decades in the idle mastery of the inane and useless.

            Slaínte.

        • Dermot C
          Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          Well, if you’re gonna check me with medical terms, I resign here and now!

          Good rhyme for ‘Holy Moses’ in a song, though but. Might use it…mebbe not.

          Slaínte.

  5. Raphael
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    The Telegraph in recent weeks has had an article like this on the front page of the site at least every other day. There was also an article by Thatcher’s biographer about how angry atheists need to respect Christian Britain. I frankly was a bit surprised by the level of shouting on a British paper about how Christian the nation is, but perhaps some of it is just clinging to tradition. The Telegraph is also the paper of record to go to to find writers falling all over themselves about the latest goings-on of the royals, etc.

    I’ve found that religion has become such a non-player in most Europeans’ lives that it’s become treated as a sort of novelty. Because in many European countries (especially in the north) it’s not really influencing daily life anymore, I would even argue that a lot of Europeans treat it with a bit of kindness, as a harmless cultural relic and go so far as to say things like, and I quote a Dane I know who recently visited a church, “being non religious myself, I still have incredible respect and admiration for those who are religious”

    I really don’t have respect for those who are religious. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect them as people, but their religious devotion to me is always viewed as an intellectual weakness or something to overlook. A lot of Europeans, I think, having grown up with no religion at all, treat religious people as a sort of oddity or rarity. And they make comments like “oh good for you, I wish I could have that devotion,” like it’s some sort of skill or trait out of the grasp of many.

    I think the disinterest and overall view is why a lot of these secular Europeans also treat more muscular religious views (be it Islam, fundie Christianity, whatever) with lack of concern and too much respect. I think this is a mistake. But you could see that sort of “aww good for you” mentality when both Clegg and Miliband made their comments in the past stating their atheism.

    Maybe it’s because I live in the US, where religion may be slowly dwindling but the believers just get louder to compensate, but I can’t take such a cute view toward religion.

    Does Europe have a Christian heritage? Of course. It also has a Greco-Roman heritage, but nobody seems to be mourning the loss of the Greco-Roman gods… There’s a difference between acknowledging history and positive contributions forged along the way (often DESPITE this Christian tradition, which can be argued to have set Europe back centuries before the Renaissance and Enlightement) and the insistence of clinging onto a flawed mythology that offers little value for improving modern day life except for encouraging followers to embrace ignorance.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      And they make comments like “oh good for you, I wish I could have that devotion,” like it’s some sort of skill or trait out of the grasp of many.

      Yes, that hits it. This is the accomodationist position which even fundamentalists find acceptable from atheists. Believing is hard. It takes guts and gumption.

      I finally found the link to something I’d seen years ago — a “Gullibility Test” which a couple of British comedians made outside of a Scientology center. (Start watching from 1:22)

      The surprising thing to me here is that the people taking the test — which is clearly labelled “Gullibility Test” — almost seem to fall into the habit of approaching what they could or couldn’t believe as if they were being asked how long they could carry a rock. It’s as if struggle itself is valuable.

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Although Christmas still is a Big Thing in Nordic countries, as is Sankta Lucia (Saint Lucia day, aka Luciadagen) in Sweden.

  6. Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    “Britain is no longer ‘a nation of believers'”

    A very minor re-phrasing of that is all it takes to demonstrate why that’s a good thing: “Britain is no longer ‘a nation of the credulous.'”

    Only scam artists prosper when people’s beliefs aren’t in line with evidence and reason. But if the people are willing to believe the nonsense of Christianity for no good reason, what makes Oystermouth think they won’t get taken in by some other even more ludicrous faery tale?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Chris
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      The credulousness simply manifests itself in other ways, like alt med and all sorts of new age bollocks.

      Still, Christianity is in a near death-spiral here which isn’t a bad thing. We need to keep an eye on Islam in the major cities but once you get away from them it’s a non-issue.

      • jimroberts
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        > The credulousness simply manifests itself in other ways, like alt med and all sorts of new age bollocks.

        So it does, and not just in the UK, but in the rest of atheist paradise northern Europe – anti-vax, anti-GMO, anti-nuclear …
        Possibly worse for humanity than even religious intolerance.

  7. Greg Esres
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I bet there is a large part of the 41% that would not be in favor of disestablishing the Church of England.

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      According to this survey, Only 16% of all people are in favour of disestablishment.

      /@

      • Greg Esres
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Wow, that number is far below even my expectations, but it does support why I had opined that the European non-religious were characterized more by apathy than hostility towards religion.

        • Posted April 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

          Just out of interest, Greg, have you ever been to Europe? If so, with how many of its dozens of nations and cultures have you had time to familiarize yourself?

  8. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I’d loved to see a category in one of these polls in which one may choose “This is a free country in which individuals can choose to be members of any faith or members of none – and the government endorses none of these choices.”

  9. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ll you’ve been waiting a long time to use antidisestablishmentarianism in a sentence where it is actually appropriate!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Ironically, although it is alleged to be the longest word in the English language, it has no German equivalent.

      Of various online translators, only Babylon gets it and translates it as
      Opposition zur Anerkennung und Unterstützung der Kirche durch den Staat (besonders der anglikanischen Kirche in England).

      • jimroberts
        Posted April 28, 2014 at 3:50 am | Permalink

        Babylon has translated disestablishmentarianism but forgotten the anti.

  10. Posted April 27, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s a subject on which you might have expected him to clam up.

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      But, no: Shellfishly, he mussels in…

      /@

      • Merilee
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        +1 for roqoco, +2 for ant!

        • Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          😎

          He thinks he’s providing pearls of wisdom, no doubt…

          /@

          • Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

            No, I’d say his reasoning capacities need some remedial treatment because they are obviously baroque.

    • Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Why did the oyster leave the oyster bed?

      Why did the oyster dump his girlfriend?

      Why are some oysters rejected from oyster bars?
      .
      .
      .
      .
      His pals were too boysterous and he couldn’t stand the clamor.

      She had clamydia and anyway she wasn’t clamorous enough.

      Because they’ve been oysteracised.

  11. Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    The most recent British Social Attitudes survey had “no religion” at 48%.

    /@

  12. Achrachno
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Lord Williams of Oystermouth? Are we 100% sure that’s really his name now and that this isn’t some sort of British joke?

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      It is not a joke, and Oystermouth doesn’t mean what you think it does.
      :)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oystermouth

      • Merilee
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        Think what Rowan Atkinson or Stephen Frey could do with Oystermouth!

        • Posted April 30, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          I’m a great admirer of both Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry. Rowan Atkinson has not been very active lately, but Stephen Fry’s QI on the BBC is a joy and a barrel of laughs as well as quite informative with mostly trivia. :)

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        What I’m thinking is that Lord Oystermouth sounds like a character invented by the Pythons.

      • Posted April 27, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        Ystum Llwynarth? Harder to pun, that!

        /@

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Oystermouth is a perfectly cromulent name for a bit of estuarial geography.

      The real problem is the English tradition of associating every bit of their geography with one of their enttitled upperclass twits.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        Upperclass twits! I knew it! Oystermouth is from an episode I missed, isn’t it?

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes it is. And yes it is.

      /@

    • cnocspeireag
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 2:00 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is true, he was granted a peerage on retirement so he’s ‘Lord Williams’ or ‘Lord Williams of Oystermouth’ but never ‘Lord Oystermouth’.

  13. susan
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    I’m most intrigued by those who answered “Don’t know.”

  14. Posted April 28, 2014 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    It was in connection with the decline in Christianity in Britain after WWII that John Lennon issued his famous “We’re more popular than Jesus now” statement. This really was taken out of context by many Americans. He didn’t say “We’re more popular than Jesus but rather “We’re more popular than Jesus”, i.e. even the lowly Beatles are more popular than Jesus. As he said, he could have said “television is more popular than Jesus” with the same meaning.

  15. Graham
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    “38% non-practising Christian”.

    What’s a non-practising Christian? Is it a bit like a non-stamp-collecting stamp-collector?

    • Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Someone who was given a partially filled stamp album as a child, and keeps it with other mathoms at the back of a dusty, musty cupboard, taking it out from time to time, perhaps, to admire some of the designs, but who is unaware of the worth of the collection and has done nothing to add to it these long years …

      /@

    • aljones909
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      Someone who answers ‘christian’ on census form but never goes to church (apart from weddings) and never gives christianity a thought (except when asked to identify religion on census form).

  16. Posted April 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s very strange times in the UK – with the increased numbers of liberal humanist voices taking to social and self published voices seemingly matched by an increase in right wing organisations aping the language of religion, presumably to attract a disenfranchised electorate. The upcoming European elections will be very telling I think, and I’m personally anticipating the news to be quite negative, with the odious UKIP gaining traction. What will be interesting will be to see if the media strategy of the largely liberal / secular celebrity tweeters will change as a reaction. One thing is for sure, religion is currently a badge of respectability to some of these idiots, despite their being little or no evidence they actually believe in anything that Jesus would have endorsed in the first instance.


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