When Politicians are buffeted by political pressures arising from effectual policies, they stirr local controversies or invent foreign enemies to take the sail out of the criticism of their policy failures. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has just plunged into such muddy waters, ostensibly to deflect attention from a myriad of social issues that confront his Conservative/Liberal coalition government.
Mr. Cameron, a member of the established Church of England, has been quite vocal about his beliefs in recent times and that, in our view, should not be a problem. But politicization of faith is what stinks. His Labour predecessor, Mr. Tony Blair, a devout Anglican Christian who converted to Catholicism in 2007, said last week that he refrained from talking about his faith and belief because “you always get into trouble talking about it”.
Mr. Cameron went beyond the affirmation of his belief, when in an article he wrote in the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, he urged Christians to only be more “evangelical” about their faith and their “Christian country”. “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organization ….”
Apart from the controversy his comments have stirred in the U.K, prompting 55 public figures to denounce him for sowing the seeds of sectarianism and division, the premier let out of the bag what people of other faiths have long suspected – that western secularism is actually Christianity is a disguise. Many multi-religious societies in the developing world have been encouraged by the west to uphold secularism as a way of keeping out religion from public life. But for good reasons, many other faiths viewed secularism with suspicion. Now that Mr. Cameron has let out what secularism means in actual sense, we hope that it does not disturb the fragile base of the dubious secularism of non-western societies.
Mr. Cameron, for approving gay marriages, is at loggerheads with many Christian leaders and his government’s austerity measures are seen as a return to Thatcherism. And given the intense pressure under which he finds himself, he must have thought playing to the gallery would moderate rising discontent in the UK. However, in seeking to douse a consequence of policy bankruptcy, Mr. Cameron may have actually stumbled into a larger and consuming controversy.
In the 2011 census, 59.3% of people in England and Wales said that they were Christian, down from 71.7% ten years earlier. The number of those reporting no religion rose to 25.1% from 14.8% in 2011. While these figures may not detract from the country’s Christian heritage, secularism in the western context has emphasized the neutrality of the state in religious matters. For the head of government to openly affirm the sectarian character of his state and society raises fundamental questions and brings back to the issues that secularism had intended to solve. Its consequences could be fatal.