The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, recently printed a speech by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
I was a little disappointed that, in its brief introduction to the speech, it didn’t mention the Catholic alternative to the King James—the Douay-Rheims Version, which actually was finished in 1609, two years before the King James was finished in 1611—but I was fascinated to read the speech.
I’m not a fan of David Cameron, and I most vehemently disagree with some of his views, but the speech he delivered on the King James was the most remarkable political speech I’ve read since I don’t know when. There were aspects to it that were astonishing.
Given the deathgrip that secularism has on British culture—where even shows aimed significantly at children, like Doctor Who, are littered with references to homosexual marriage—I would never have expected Cameron to say some of the things he did in the speech. Many are hard to imagine an American president saying as well. Consider:
The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history. And none of us should be frightened of recognising this. . . .
[W]e are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so. Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith – or no faith – is somehow wrong. I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger. But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. . . .
The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love… …pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities… …these are the values we treasure. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that. But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none. And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.
Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality. They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths. And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people… …what we stand for… …and the kind of society we want to build.
First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths… …simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity. Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.
Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others… …fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality… …or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code. Let’s be clear. Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. There are Christians who don’t live by a moral code. And there are atheists and agnostics who do. But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.
And whether inspired by faith or not – that direction, that moral code, matters. Whether you look at the riots last summer… …the financial crash and the expenses scandal… …or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world… …one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality… …has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.
The absence of any real accountability, or moral code… …allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society. And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values… … has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper… …in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes. Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. . . .
I believe the church – and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain – have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this. I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics. To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this.
Now, not everything Cameron says in this speech is great. At one point he takes an implicit swipe at the Catholic Church for not ordaining women to the priesthood, and his many-faiths-makes-us-stronger idea is just muddleheaded. If religion is about the truth then a diversity of religious beliefs is not a strength.
But can you imagine any recent American president saying, “We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so”? Can you imagine Barack Obama saying this? Or George W. Bush? Or Bill Clinton? Or George Bush Sr.? How far back would you have to go to find a president that would say that? Yet America is at least as Christian as England.
What are your thoughts?