David Cameron on Christianity - views

Image caption,
David Cameron called himself a "committed" but "vaguely practising" Christian

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK is a Christian country "and we should not be afraid to say so" in a speech in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

The PM said it was wrong to suggest that standing up for Christianity was "somehow doing down other faiths".

And he staunchly defended the role of religion in politics and said the Bible in particular was crucial to British values.

But how have the comments been received across the UK?

The Anglican Church

The Church of England said: "There is much to welcome in Mr Cameron's speech; the recognition of the role of the Church not only in the historic development of this country but also in contemporary debates; the recognition of the role Christianity has played in the ability of other faiths to flourish in this country; and the confirmation, for example, that one does not have to start from a position of neutrality in order to understand and support equality.

"Christians do not all agree with each other on every understanding of the Bible, but they will recognise much of what Mr Cameron said."

Reverend Sally Hitchiner, vicar at St John's Church in Ealing, expressed surprise at how strongly Mr Cameron made his case.

She said: "I was surprised that he put his views so forcefully, it was an interesting political angle.

"We do have a pluralist society and the Church is a very important part of that - what we have seen in the last year is the Church playing an active role in that society and speaking into government as much as anyone else.

"The UK does have a very important Christian history and it does inform the fundamentals of our government, the worth of the individual and the importance of every human being and their dignity under God. We wouldn't have the society we have without those values.

"I think it's very important that we are able to own our beliefs and don't worry about being honest about them.

"It doesn't worry me that Nick Clegg is reported to be an atheist. I think it's important that those in government are honest about what they believe."

Editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, Catherine Pepinster

"It's intriguing to see that just days after David Cameron made his comments about Britain being a Christian country and that we should not be afraid to say so, his deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was reported as about to make a speech mocking Mr Cameron's 1950s view of the family and Conservative support for traditional marriage.

"I suspect many people wary of Mr Cameron's advocacy of Christianity think this is what he wants for Britain. They don't want Christianity that is just nostalgia for a supposed golden era.

"But what Christianity is really about is putting the least first. It requires us to feed the hungry, visit prisoners, have time for the lonely, fight for the oppressed, and love our enemies.

"It's demanding, turns the world's values upside down. So we're a long way from being a truly Christian country - and what a remarkable place it would be if just one iota of its values influenced the way we all treat others.

"In a world riven with inequality, the belief that we are all equal before God requires that we speak up against those inequalities. So if this is any way near a Christian nation, Mr Cameron should expect more of us to voice our concerns if politicians pursue policies that do nothing to challenge inequalities or even exacerbate them. Christmas sermons this year may well make for uncomfortable listening for the PM."

President of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson

"Mr Cameron's promotion of faith for other people when his own is so wishy-washy is typical of a politician who thinks religion is a useful means of social control. But you cannot force people to believe what they have reasoned to be untrue. Nor will they be convinced that religion is the only route to morality. The daily headlines from around the world have shown that religion can be a thousand times more destructive than any rioter in Tottenham.

"The British Social Attitudes Survey published last week showed that 65% of young people in Britain don't have a religion - and they aren't going to be forced to have one. The report ended with a warning to politicians that trying to use religion as a political tool would likely damage them at the ballot box. It seems the Prime Minister is going to learn that lesson the hard way."

"If any prime minister up to and including, Edward Heath [and] Margaret Thatcher, had not said this is a Christian country, people would have been absolutely amazed. We all know the classic cases of political correctness that you are not allowed to mention Christmas, and cards that you send out at this time of the year must not mention Christmas and things like this.

"I mean, absolute nonsense. So, as though my Jewish friends would not send out new year's cards at the time of their new year. Quite extraordinary."

"As a simple factual statement what the prime minister said is incorrect - only a minority of people in Britain are practising Christians and over half of the population sees itself as non-religious according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey.

"The most hopeful political reading of his speech is that Mr Cameron doesn't really mean it and that his statements are intended as a way to pacify the increasingly strident lobbying of a minority of Christians for more influence in our public life and greater privilege for those with Christian beliefs.

"Most concerning would be if the prime minister were serious. A politician and a government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or a social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations. All the evidence is that religion makes no difference in terms of a person's social and moral behaviour."

"It's very seldom I get excited by what our prime minister has to say and this is one of those times. As Muslims we also believe in the Bible. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. Not only that, but in the teachings of all the biblical prophets, including Moses in the Torah. So this is something that we feel is absolutely in tune with the Muslim thinking. We have to base our behaviour according to scripture, God's revealed message.

"For a long time Muslims have been trying to express this idea, that for us as Muslims Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. To divorce politics from religion is not something we are able to do, we cannot leave our religion at home or in the mosques, it comes with us wherever we go. So it's refreshing to hear the prime minister say Christians should do the same. I agree Britain is the best country for Muslims to live in, at least in Europe."

Bob: "As an atheist I was initially enraged my Cameron's comments, but upon closer inspection I have to agree with him. The UK is indeed mostly Christian. However, so long as ALL faiths continue to be examined and discussed in CoE schools, I can't complain. My children can choose for themselves what they want to believe. The only thing we preach in our household is tolerance."

Esoxhunter: "Forty years ago I was taught RE in a secondary school. It was the Christian faith we discussed. Though I cannot claim to be a Christian, much of what I was taught has been useful in my adult life. The value system of honesty, belief in right and wrong, of standing up for what you believe in and much more works today, as it did then. The only trouble is that RE isn't taught like that now. It's not PC."

It's interesting he delivered this speech about being too tolerant, the passivity in the face of bad behaviour, to a crowd of church people. He said that by extension that Rowan Williams and the church were not doing enough to stick up for Christian values.

Mr Williams has exercised Christian leadership but he's tended to focus on social justice elements of Christian teaching like care for the poor and marginalised. Mr Cameron has chosen a strict moral code of behaving in a right or wrong way from the Bible. Both men could easily advocate Christian principles in public life but come to very different conclusions on how government policies were going to put that into operation.