How Heathen is Britain?
“It is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none,” said Britain’s Prime Minister in a recent interview. Isabel Hardman, writing for the Spectator, says the Prime Minister is growing in his confidence to speak about the necessary relationship between Christianity and the structures of society.
Journalist Dan Hitchens also commented on the Prime Minister’s speech contrasting his position to the steady decline of church attendance in England. Yet Hitchens concedes that it is still the Christian churches that do the heavy lifting when it comes to serving the underprivileged. “Where there is poverty, physical illness, mental illness, unemployment,” he writes, “the people who see it and respond are disproportionately likely to be Christians; realistically, the social fabric of the country would collapse without them.”
But, as Hitchens points out, that there are social benefits to there being Christian churches does not prove Christianity true. “All of which is less important and interesting than whether the thing is true,” he writes, “whether Christmas commemorates the greatest eruption of truth, beauty and goodness into the world that has ever been seen, or whether it is a made-up story which no honest person over the age of seven could believe.” I couldn’t agree more. Christianity, if false, despite its societal benefits, should not be given any intellectual validity.
That’s precisely the point taken up years ago by author B.G. Sandhurst in his book How Heathen is Britain? for which C.S. Lewis penned the preface. The book is something of a trojan horse, speaking to social issues at first but in the end giving an apologetic for the truthfulness of the Christian message. I think this is the real responsibility of the Christian, to illustrate that it is precisely because the gospel is factually true that it bears so much fruit.
It is great that Christianity provides a framework for the kind of neighborliness that upholds communities. As Hitchens points out in his article, “Christianity, so deeply worked into our institutions and our language, preserves that sense better than the British Humanist Association or the Home Office can ever hope to.” This is wonderful that he recognizes that Christianity sustains human values more than humanism or the government.
We should celebrate that Christianity changes culture. But we cannot forget that the greatest thing about Christianity is the fact that it is true. That changes everything.