Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Prime Minister David Cameron tunes into religion as election looms

Prime Minister David Cameron.
Prime Minister David Cameron.

It is tempting for politicians to reach for religion at election time and David Cameron (above) may be counting on it to win his party a few more votes and avoid third place behind Labour and Ukip in the coming Euro poll.

Barring some deep and recent religious experience, you have to question the purity of his motives in calling for Britain to be "evangelical" about its Christian heritage and proclaim itself a Christian country.

It is true that, in the last census, 59% of people in England and Wales described themselves as Christian, but this is an issue on which Mr Cameron has blown hot and cold in the past.

He belongs to the Church of England and has stated that he considers the Bible "a sort of handy guide" on morality.

Mr Cameron once said that his religious faith fades and reappears "like Magic FM in the Chilterns". That is all fairly mild in the evangelism stakes, certainly by Northern Ireland standards.

It sounds more like the "Stands the church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea?" sort of religiosity evoked by Rupert Brooke in The Old Vicarage.

Recently, he has riled traditionalist Christians and fundamentalists in some other faiths by steering gay marriage through parliament. His own Church of England, in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is already coming round on the issue.

Even so, Mr Cameron may have decided that, in his own image, the moment was right to retune his car radio to the spiritual equivalent of Magic FM and turn up the volume so that passersby can't miss it.

He got a reaction from humanists and atheists, many of whom wrote in to the Daily Telegraph or penned articles elsewhere suggesting that his comments were divisive.

However, his comments went down well with other religious groups, who see secularism as a bigger threat than sectarianism, not to mention some Tory voters.

Both the Hindu and Muslim councils, representing a growing proportion of the population, were happy with his comments.

"A sense of the sacred is to be cherished," stated Farooq Murad for the Muslims, while Anil Bhanot said many Hindus celebrated Christmas and Easter so he was "very comfortable" with the UK being described as a Christian country.

That may well help Mr Cameron with some faith communities, but they shouldn't expect too much beyond tolerance from him.

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