A Christian Country?

I’ve been watching the various debates about whether “we” live in a Christian country with interest over the last 10 days or so. I’m inclined to agree with the notion that the UK clearly has such a great heritage from the Christian tradition that it makes sense to speak of it as having been a Christian country. I also think that we have moved beyond Christendom and that it is obvious that the UK is not a Christian country in the sense of being a country of people who are either united by Christian belief or practise.

What surprises me a little is how little comment there has been about this in Scotland. After all, in Scotland we are currently thinking very precisely about what kind of country we want to either be or belong to.

I remain unpersuaded by the case for independence for Scotland. I don’t think myself that separating from the rest of the UK would be good either for Scotland or for everyone else involved. However, I rather like the fact that in Scotland we are talking about what kind of country we hope for. There are clearer lots of people who want a fairer society. However, I’ve no real interest in building a Scotland that is fairer than England. I want a fairer society for everyone. Compassion has no borders. I care for the poor family in Carlisle as much as the poor family in Aberdeen. (Carlisle is nearer in any case).

What interests me most this week though is that there has been so little discussion of whether Scotland should be a “Christian” nation if independence were to come upon us. I’m quite clear myself that if there is any talk of a draft constitution for Scotland it must be a secular one. I have no problem being part of a historically Christian country and working to make it more secular. I do however have a big problem with starting up a new country and writing Christianity into the constitutional definition of what that country is.

Should independence become a reality, then we have to have a real debate about what kind of country we are talking about. I certainly don’t want to be part of a new country which has a National Church written into its constitution. Members of the Church of Scotland can’t presume that the rest of the Christian communities are going to back any attempt to keep their particular position in society. Similarly, it cannot be presumed that issues like eduction funding will be unchanged in a new country. The settlement by which the Roman Catholic Church is funded by the state to run often excellent schools can’t simply be presumed to be what the people of a new country will want.

I’m very aware that some want to make a case for an established or national church on the grounds  that a broad, moderate church is a force for good in society. However, I think that the mainstream Christian churches are currently presumed to be promoting a morality that people who think they are good, decent, upstanding members of society simply abhor. I don’t think there is a long term future for churches to be established or privileged in any way by the law if they are associated in the public mind with discrimination against woman and people who happen to be gay.

In England, I suspect that disestablishment will come about by erosion. In Scotland where a new constitution is on the table,  things may be rather different.

I think that a secular Scotland is probably one in which churches like my own will thrive. We all have things to fear from anything else.


  1. Reality is pluralist; a secular basis is good to level the playing-field.

    I think Cameron is not so much failing to live in `now’ but hell-bent on dragging the country back to the 50s (mostly the 1850s).

    One of Blair’s very few positives was “we don’t do God”, or at least postponing doing God until mostly after he was out of Number 10.

  2. Very good analysis. In Australia I still find I get prickly when people tell me I belong to the C of E! (It has not been formally such since the the 70s)
    It is good not to see ourselves in the light of another nation…England…but it is good to recognise to recognise our heritage …Anglican.
    I spent part of last year in Hawaii as a locum…..when asked last week by the Mothers’ Union..”What was the difference?” I was a bit glib…but could confidential say “Nothing at all!” Given the fact that 1/3 of the congregation were Filipinos it is an interesting reflection.
    Don’t think we should overstate it, but being Anglican is a great thing. But there is much about it that needs a good kick up the backside too!

  3. Though we ought to, maybe proudly, remember that the SEC is not a daughter Church of the Church of England. I’m afraid Cameron isn’t doing himself any favours with the way he’s made these statements, and as far as Scotland goes there’s a large part that has been disenfranchised by any statements that Cameron or any English person says, because they view them as ‘english propaganda’. Sadly, I don’t view the Scottish Government with much love either, having used their position to unfairly tout their party’s stance. Between two opposite poles, both backed by Government, how is one to hear a balanced view, instead of that great love of Blair’s Government, spin.

  4. ‘I do however have a big problem with starting up a new country and writing Christianity into the constitutional definition of what that country is.’ I agree totally. I lived for 26 years in a country where the constitution, in respect of family matters, reflected the views both of the majority RC church and the Church of Ireland. For example, in order to make divorce possible, an amendment to the constitution had to be passed by a majority voting in a nation-wide referendum. This was only achieved in 1995, and only by a margin of 50.28% to 49.72%. Constitutional definition of religious matters always leads to discrimination.

  5. Robin says

    > ‘I do however have a big problem with starting up a new country’

    I have a big problem with seeing Scottish independence (if it were to be re-established following a YES vote in the referendum) as ‘starting up a new country’ . . .

  6. I loathe the smug fortress mentality of many of my co-religionists in RC schools while noting that these schools perform at least as well as non-denominational. I loathe the cowardice of the Reformed churches in failing to speak out against the violence and prejudice associated with a certain group of charitable organisations every July and the complicity of local authorities who DO NOT assure the safety of citizens and of international visitors unused to the historical hatreds of the Scottish central belt. While the latter is true, I continue to support the former and look to Canada as a model of multicultural accommodation than to the aggressive laïcité of France.

  7. Allan Ronald says

    Given the choice between the venomous and literally murderous hatreds of Central Belt sectarianism and ‘aggressive laicité’ I’ll take the latter any day.

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