Godtalk: Christians in Britain Today


St George

Defining oneself as a Christian has become problematical in our society. As Tony Blair remarked, he did not mention his personal faith when in office because people would have thought him “a nutter”.

Three reasons for this new situation seem likely. First, as a result of globalisation and its associated factor immigration, religion has become an important marker of identity. One effect of this is that whereas people in this country once defined themselves as Church of England or Roman Catholics, simply being a Christian can now seem the defining category.

Second, with the decline in overt Christian commitment, those for whom the faith is central to their life feel more inclined to indicate publicly where they stand. When some people claim to “be a Christian” it can be off-putting to some of their contemporaries, or even arouse suspicion and hostility among those who are, at best, ambivalent about religion.

Third, there is a kind of secularism, with little understanding of our history and Christian culture, that wishes to marginalise Christianity and leave all public matters empty of any spiritual meaning. A more healthy state of affairs would be one in which people could speak naturally about their faith if they have one, without implying that those without it are morally lacking or defective in some way, and without this arousing suspicion and hostility.

A lot depends on the tone of voice. The word “Christian” can be said in such a way as to imply superiority. The unfortunate implication of this can be its divisiveness. For if I am “a Christian”, there are others who are not: they are not “one of us”.

Some people claim to be humanists, as opposed to being Christians.  But “humanist” was a term first used during the Renaissance as an affirmation from within the Christian faith about the value and dignity of man, made in the divine image: a confidence in the human, but still the human as understood by Christianity.

Our faith is based not only on the insight that creation is good, but that the Eternal Word took human flesh and identified himself with humanity in their lostness and alienation from God. He went into the darkness of death to unite the whole of humanity with himself and raise it to his Father.

We Christians need to speak and witness to the faith in such a way that others see that to be a Christian is a way of including all humanity, not excluding most of it.  And we should remember that not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will be recognised by the Lord: it is by the way we think, the way we speak, the way we live that we will be known. (see Matthew 7:16 -21).        

Peter Knott SJ