Britain is a Christian country: a fallacy of circular logic.

There has been a lot of fuss recently about the Prime Minister referring to the UK as “a christian country”.

The main evidence used by those who agree seemed, on the face of it, quite sound; in the 2011 national census, 59% of responders defined themselves as “christian”.

However, the question they were answering was unfairly loaded: “What is your religion?”. This phrasing applies a pressure to the responder, because it contains the subtext that you are supposed to have a religion of some sort to be able to give the “right” answer, and then, presented with a list of unfamiliar religions, it is almost a reflex to pick the option that causes you the least angst.

Changing the question gave a more realistic result.

When a very large sample if people were simply asked “are you religious”, the overwhelming majority answered “no”. Add to that the church’s own data showing church attendance steadily dropping (now around 7%), and it is easy to see that, not only are we not a christian nation, we are not even religious.

Despite these facts, there is still a perception presented that we are a christian nation. Let’s quickly dismiss, then, the other main arguments that might support the claim:

* The Queen has a joint role; our head of state is also the leader of “our” church.

So what? The Queen has no real power. We are a democracy, and the Queen’s role is purely ceremonial. We are not ruled by her, we do not have to do what she says.

* We are historically a christian nation, and have been so for over a thousand years.

So what? For ten thousand years before that, these islands were a mix of pagan faiths. In fact, christianity was imposed on most of the residents through a mixture of violence, bribery and outright deception. To legitimately claim an historical precedent, you should be worshipping nature spirits in woodland groves.

* Our laws are christian.

Wrong. There is only one “law” presented in the New Testament; love your neighbour. This is good advice, but by no means exclusive to christianity. The “Golden Rule” is far older than any of the Abrahamic religions.

________

This nation is not religious, and there is no valid argument to say otherwise.

But still we have the label. Why?

It’s time to come back to the 59%.

If they are not christian, why did they call themselves christian?

Actor Tom Hollander plays a CofE vicar in the comedy series Rev. On the BBC this morning, Andrew Marr asked him if he was a christian in reality.

His answer was “in as much as I grew up in a christian country, then I have to call myself christian. If I believe in a deity who designed all this… well, I believe in love.”

There is the issue in one mumbled avoidance; Britain is called a christian nation because its citizens call themselves christian, the citizens call themselves christian because they live in a christian nation.

The logic is circular, and thus utterly invalid.

So, can we please accept the reality that the United Kingdom is a secular nation. It happens to contain elements of an incredibly wide range of religions, but is not, overall, religious.

Move on, folks, and start on the important issues.