I think we have to look at history and the social make-up of British society if we were to assess PM Cameron’s remarks.
This is my analysis of PM Cameron’s remarks and in modern British society’s relationship to religion - being an Anglophile and all. I’m going to use the word “predominantly” to refer to religion exclusively and not to include irreligion. I’m going to get my statistics here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_Kingdom . All of the statistics are rounded up.
Sorry if I use Wikipedia. It’s just so convenient…
Traditionally the United Kingdom has been a Christian country since the 1st century AD. It has been Catholic for a thousand years and has been Protestant 500 years - a fact most British Christians forget. Throughout their history until the start of World War I the four countries of the United Kingdom had followed Christian traditions and honored Christian values. Unfortunately the value placed upon Christian values and traditions is waning because of (of course) secularism. This is due to Enlightenment ideas, the cynicism created after the two World Wars and the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Adding to that is of course the celebrity status of vocal secularists and atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Robin Ince and Richard Dawkins.
Adding to the reduction of the value of Christianity in the United Kingdom is the surge of immigration after World War II when the British Empire started to wane. This lead to Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists enter into the fabric of British society. At the same time pagan religions (Neopaganism) are having a “revival” and “New Age” beliefs are introduced. The societal attitude had to be in favor of a multi-faith society. There are some prominent detractors towards this, of course, but I think most British people welcome people of other faiths.
Today Christianity is still the predominant religion in all four countries of the United Kingdom (England; 59%, Scotland; 54%, Wales; 58%; Northern Ireland; 82%). In total Christians make up about 60% of the population. The total percentage of the British population that is secular or irreligious is 25.7% with Wales being the country that is most secular (32%). Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other faiths compose 8% of the population.
This is what I see happening in British society. Christian traditions are still being practiced, most popularly Christmas (except in Scotland), but the importance placed on Christian values and faith has declined because of the primacy of secular values brought about by Enlightenment ideas. British society is also a multicultural and multi-faith one. So what’s happening in British society now in a religious perspective is the combination of Christian traditions (and partially its ethics) and secular values in a multi-faith society. I would say that the United Kingdom is predominantly Christian country that has a secular society, but that would be simplistic considering the complexity which I have stated. I would also say that using the terms “post-Christian”, “secular” and “multi-faith” society to describe the religious landscape of Britain would also be simplistic.
I’ve read an article about Dame Helen Mirren’s religious views and she said she doesn’t believe in God but would like to consider herself a Christian (which is contradictory of course but some people would say that about their beliefs). She also says that “the morality of Christianity is part of the fabric of this country”. I think it’s true.(express.co.uk/news/showbiz/368645/I-don-t-believe-in-God-says-Dame-Helen-Mirren)
And because of this I think there is some proof for PM David Cameron when he said that Britain is a Christian country.
Final word for this post: I think Britons should consider their Christian roots besides their traditions. It is important to know how their society came about and what it means for them in the present. That’s the goal of history, but I’m tangenting here. It might be a small step but if people would know more about their roots they might start an appreciation of the Christian faith, and I hope some who would appreciate might lead them into the Catholic faith. Obviously this would be hard, seeing how deeply secular the United Kingdom has been. But it’s a start.
I remember Diarmaid MacCulloch stating his thoughts about secularism by comparing the state of Christianity in the United Kingdom (and in Western Europe in general) by using the River Thames as an analogy. It was dirty, muddy, smelly and lifeless during the 19th century. Now it has been revived, full of life, clean and pure like it was once was before the Industrial Revolution. Even though he calls himself “a candid friend to Christianity” and not a Christian, I share his sentiment. I hope that through the power of the Holy Spirit people would see an appreciation for the Christian faith and eventually move into deeper territory.