Splashed across the front page of the UK Daily Mail newspaper is the headline:
Christianity under attack
I thought: Here we go again...
The issue this time was that a High Court judge in London has banned the custom of saying prayers at local council meetings, which has taken place since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. From this incident, Lord George Carey protested that this is another case of the marginalisation of Christianity in the UK. Lord Carey is Archbishop of Canterbury, second only to Her Majesty the Queen, who holds the title, Defender of the Faith, which harked back to the days of King Henry VIII, who defended the Catholic faith from the Reformation started by Martin Luther and his followers.
The court case involved the issue with the Council of the Devon town of Bidesford when the sixteen members of the committee opened their meeting with prayer, something which occurs in many local authorities up and down the country. Among them was Clive Bone, one of the councillors who was an atheist and together with the National Secular Society, took the matter to Court, where his lobbying for a ban on prayer was won.
The consequence of this victory could be dire, according to the Archbishop. It could mean an end of prayer at the start of Parliament, together with a reading from The Book of Common Prayer, the scrapping of Army Chaplains and the abolishing of the Coronation Oath, a pledge taken by every monarch during this ritual, to serve and to maintain the laws of God and the principles found in the Gospels.
The Archbishop also recalls several incidents of Political Correctness, when for example, a British Airways worker was sent home from her post for refusing to conceal a small crucifix she wore around her neck. Also of a Christian registrar who asked not to officiate same-sex civil marriages as this was against her convictions. Islington Council then proceeded disciplinary action in which this employee lost her claim for religious discrimination, with the edict given that heterosexual marriage was not a core value of Christianity. I then also recall the case of a hospital nurse who was suspended from her duties for offering to pray with one of her patients, and the case last year of a hotelier in Cornwall who was taken to Court for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a double-bed room, due to his Christian convictions. There is certainly an erosion of Christian faith which was the bedrock of our nation for nearly two thousand years.
And the case with Bidesford Council began with one atheist, Councillor Clive Bone, who was disgusted with prayer and refused to partake in it. Fair enough, but in such a case, Bone was not compelled to participate. He could have chosen to remain absent from the committee until it was ready to commence business set by their agenda.
But I can understand where Bone is coming from. He couldn't stomach participating in prayer, but at least he was not compelled to attend the meeting during that particular part of the session. With this in mind, I wonder why the need to have taken such drastic action in calling for a legal ban. At school it was compulsory for every pupil, including myself, to attend morning assembly every weekday during term, as was the case between 1964 to 1968. I didn't like it much, but at least I tried not to allow it to bother me. But there were other pupils, especially among the boys, who did resent the morning worship and even at a young age, they grew up to became staunch atheists. Mr Clive Bone is nine years my senior, and as such, the idea that he too had to undergo compulsory worship under the threat of corporal punishment at school each weekday looks very plausible.
The idea of school assembly was to remind us youngsters that there is a Christian God, who was instilled into our lives by praying: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name... without actually understanding what the prayer was all about, along with some of the great hymns of praise sung by all. Surely, the original intention was that this must have been good for us all. It was meant to set us up for life grounded on Christian principles. In short, this was a splendid idea. But why the turn off? Why did such morning worship turned the majority of students into agnostics, some even into atheists and as far as I know, not a single case of conversion?
Although some may disagree, I personally believe it was due to the punitive attitude of the staff. Our quick-tempered deputy headmaster, now deceased, asked with a stern, threatening tone, "Who cannot see a hymnbook?" Nobody dared to raise their hand if that was the case, such would raise fears. It was much easier to ask the person next to you if he can share. Very liberal with the cane, he applied it with seeming willingness to any pupil who talked either during the assembly itself or while filing through the corridors to their classrooms. The general image of God was perceived by us, the pupils, as of the same character - a vindictive, punitive individual who scrutinised every sin or wrongdoing in readiness to clout us over the ear. That's how I perceived God as a teenager. Little wonder that I too, passed through a period of atheism during my late teenage years, even more than four years after leaving school. Even after my conversion in 1973, aged twenty, it took me many years to fully understand God's grace.
Whether my perception of the rise of atheism in this country is correct, or even appropriate, this is a matter of opinion. Every atheist have his own reason why he is the way he is. But the most famous atheist who comes to mind can only be Richard Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins is about ten or eleven years older than me, therefore, like Mr Bone, he too would very likely to have had the same kind of school upbringing as I had. But Richard Dawkins resorted to Science, not only on how to make our lives much better, but to find an answer of our origins. The Theory of Evolution became a much more friendlier, placid god who did not scrutinise us or demand holiness in a way as the Christian God did. Sure, this new deity was careful to allow weak and unfit species to become extinct - but nevertheless, he was much more approachable. Like the God of the Bible, the god of Evolution also has his own saviour-messiah, Charles Darwin, whom Dawkins all but worships. Dawkins then brings out this contrast between the two deities rather dramatically when he wrote in his book, The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindicative, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy can become desensitized to their horror.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, page 31.
If the staff at Dawkins' old school were similar to Clive Bone's as well as my school experience, then I can see where this ferocious anti-God spirit comes from!
So we need to ask at this point: Is State Christianity beneficial? In one sense it has been very beneficial in forming the state constitution based on the Bible with its judicial system and a way of life pinned by the Gospels. It gives freedom to the land where the Monarch swears on the Bible and the Gospels when taking the Coronation Oath. It also set the basis for Government affairs in running the country, hence Parliament opens with prayer, as do many of local authority council agendas. It also enables our Forces to have a military chaplain, as also in hospitals and prisons. But with constitutional benefits, that is how far it goes. My experience, especially from school, indicate that State Christianity fails to regenerate the heart.
Many newspaper journalists and columnists mourn for the loss of Empire, where British forces went out to conquer other lands "in the name of God, King and Country, and to spread Christian ethics." I even had a good Christian friend, now moved to a city some 100 miles away from where I live, who always announced during group discussions that the British Empire was established by Almighty God. A theory shared with some of the newspaper reporters (but other journalists, by their own admission, are sworn atheists).
For an example, let's take a look at India, a predominantly Hindu nation. In 1600, the East India Company, a group of British traders, settled in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. By 1858, by means of warfare, India was under British control. But in the same year, many of the indigenous rebelled, particularly at the Indian Mutiny in Bengal. For the next 92 years there was strife, until the country regained its independence in 1950, although remained in the Commonwealth. But has British State Christianity made any impact on the Indians? Let the statistics speak for itself. At present India remains 83% Hindu, Sunni Muslim 11%, Sikh 2%, and Christian 2.5%. In other words after 360 years of British influence, 97.5% of the population remain non-Christian, and subject to God's Judgement. That is how much the Empire was sanctioned by God!
Source: The Hutchinson Encyclopedia 2000.
But now, with the decline of State Christianity, is there still hope?
I think there is hope, plenty of it. Many of our churches are coming alive with the renewal of the Holy Spirit infilling believers. Christians in these churches are truly converted and have regenerated hearts. And furthermore, and very important too, these churches are taking the truth of the Bible more seriously. With this in mind, let us consider what the Lord Jesus Christ himself said in John 13:34-35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
This is something State Religion cannot achieve. Regeneration of the heart. The only way one's attention can be attracted is genuine love - and that can only come by means of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believers life.