Editorial by Jim Herrick
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primate of All England have jointly condemned the call to war on Iraq. So what? The Synod of November 2002 called on Christians considering the Iraqi situation "to pray for the world and its leaders, and to work together with people of all faiths, in search for a just and peaceful resolution of this crisis." To outsiders this would seem a mixture of the fatuous and the banal. Clerics may kneel (and run the well-known risk of clergymen's arthritic knee) and we may all hope to work together but it's difficult to see how this will resolve any crisis.
Politicians rarely pray publicly for good results though many of us privately wonder whether there's any truth in the rumour that Blair and Bush have prayed together. If they have it might provide the bonding that others find who drink together, but prayer certainly won't have any tangible effect. Bush has apparently said that people can pray their way out of addiction although not, presumably, of addiction to religion.
This unsavoury mixture of politics and religion is reinforced in the UK, where Church and State are still scandalously entangled. There was a glimmer of a chance that the privilege of Bishops in the Lords might have been changed by House of Lords reform. But by a mixture of muddle and gutlessness the House of Commons failed to vote for meaningful reform and the whole issue goes on the back burner. Reform or abolition of the monarchy would end the link between Head of Church and Head of State but the public is so attached to the sentimental twaddle that surrounds the royal family that this is unlikely. Even Prince Charles' feeble bid to transform himself into a "Defender of Faiths" has been ruled out by Rowan Williams. And that's even before he gets anywhere near to ascending to the throne.
Meanwhile, Blair has declared himself in favour of government funding for faith-based charity work, and religious groups are currently campaigning for exemption from employment rights to avoid employing unsavoury groups like homosexuals or atheists.
And now God is marching into Europe with a new clutch of attempts to impose a collective Christianity on the Union.
A move has come from Christian groups in Europe to put 'God' or 'religion' into the preamble to the future European Constitutional Treaty. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the appropriately named Guile Foundation recently organised a conference on "The European Convention and the Christian Roots of Europe from East to West". The European Humanist Federation (EHF) has been very energetic in resisting such developments, suggesting instead a reference in the treaty to the "cultural heritage of Europe's history". The EHF has pointed out that article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" but request that the right to profess no religion be explicitly stated. Amen to that.
Results from the religious question in the 2001 British census have been announced. 71.7 per cent of the population of England and Wales describe themselves as Christian. The next largest religious group is the Muslims with a population of 1.5 million (2.7 per cent), altough Muslim leaders claim the census figure is lower than their own estimate. Those with no religion are counted as 15 per cent.
These results are somewhat surprising for a country which appears to regard Sunday as sacred for pub lunches, visits to B & Q and watching the big match. The numbers claiming to be Christians are certainly not in church. Perhaps they are simply a reflection of the old army definition that 'Nothing' means 'C of E'. Previous polls have suggested that unbelievers are nearer 30 per cent. Some of these infidels may be among the 8 per cent who did not bother to answer the voluntary question.
At least there's some sanity. Thank the lord for the 390,000 who put their religion down as the Star Wars Jedi.