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Artillery Row

Britain will not be a “Christian country” without Christians

Traditions die if there is no one to cherish them

Every now and then, a pub or restaurant closes in my town and our community Facebook page is filled with mourning. “No!” “Don’t go!” “This town won’t be the same without you!” It always irritates a friend of mine. If they loved the place so much, he says to me, why is it closing?

I thought of that as I read the discourse yesterday. “Ramadan lights on display in central London over Easter,” blared a headline in the Telegraph. There was outrage on Twitter. “The country we grew up in is fast disappearing,” wrote Paul Embrey. “This is cultural displacement,” protested Henry Bolton. “I just don’t see how this is proportionate or justifiable,” mused a more reflective Gavin Rice.

Now, I don’t disagree with these gentlemen in broad terms. I didn’t support multiculturalism to begin with.

Yet there is an irony hanging over their armies of aggrieved retweeters. They are very exercised about Easter not being marked appropriately. Yet how many of them even go to church? How many of them will even go to church this Easter?

Say what you like about Muslims in Britain but they turn out for their faith. More people in Britain — one can guess from the available statistics — are regular attendees of mosques than Anglican churches.

True, Christianity remains, and should remain, the traditional faith of Britain. Again, I agree with Embrey and Rice on patriotic grounds alone. But traditions will not endure if they are only recognised as traditions — ornaments we keep around for old times’ sake until we die and our successors casually bin them.

In a recent article, Capel Lofft observed:

Let’s face it: most of England is a vast dessert of almost unrelieved spiritual indifference and ignorance … We’re not a “secular liberal democracy”, but in most important respects we might as well be.

Passive “cultural” Christianity — for all that I can empathise with it — will not change this any more than a glass of water will reverse the effects of desertification. Churches are not going to stay open if they are empty. Carollers are not going to sing at Christmas if no one cares about the words. Easter will become nothing but chocolate and bank holidays if no one actually believes that Christ rose from the dead.

I’ll hold my hands up — I’m a hypocrite on this point as well. I was grousing about silent discos in cathedrals when someone asked me how much I had put towards maintaining such places. Fair point. We remember Larkin’s “Church Going” for its stirring words about “a serious house on serious earth” but it is worth mentioning how pessimistic the great poet was about the future of places of worship:

… I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

God only knows what Larkin would have said if he had seen the mosques.

One could argue that it is the elite which abandoned Christianity, with the rest of society following in its path. There’s something to it. As I write, it is Good Friday, and the front page of the BBC website appears to have precisely no references to the occasion. The “culture” section contains articles about Beyoncé, the Oscars (that holy ceremony!), Godzilla x Kong and “What we know about the accusations against Diddy”. Stirring stuff. 

Buried deep on the site’s “Topics” section is a “Religion” page. Recent articles include “Rastafarian faith mentor dies, aged 73” (RIP to him) and “UK’s first Turkish mosque faces threat to its future”. Nothing about Easter — though there is a guide to celebrating Holi, which is nice.

So, there is an argument that to some extent the collapse of British Christianity has been an inside job. But that does not mean it would be difficult for someone to be a churchgoer — Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, whatever — if they wanted to be one. It is far much easier for us — and I include myself in that “us” — to sit at home and tweet. Outrageous energy prices and licensing laws make it difficult for pubs to exist but that does not lend us an excuse not to give our local a bit of custom if we don’t want it to close.

Of course, someone could object to Ramadan lights on purely secular grounds if they didn’t want to see them. But if they are going to object in the name of the Christian tradition then it seems fair to ask what they are doing for that tradition. It will not maintain itself — any more than a restaurant will keep its lights on if no one wants to eat there.

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