God Doesn't Say 'You're Fired!'; in a Time of Turmoil, a Comforting Easter Message: Christianity Is Still Deeply Woven into Our Society, and Is There for the Winners and Losers

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 12, 2009 | Go to article overview

God Doesn't Say 'You're Fired!'; in a Time of Turmoil, a Comforting Easter Message: Christianity Is Still Deeply Woven into Our Society, and Is There for the Winners and Losers


Byline: THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY DR ROWAN WILLIAMS

ONE news item you don't expect at Easter is a story about students demonstrating to be allowed into a cathedral.

But that was what I read in the local papers in Canterbury last week. A local university had announced that its graduation service would be held in a Maidstone TV studio instead of Rochester Cathedral. The students protested, marched and lobbied - and the university gave way.

Of course there were practical issues involved. The university wanted a place big enough for all the students in one go, but those who'd been studying in Rochester wanted to graduate in the city they knew best. I doubt whether that was all there was to it, though.

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Britain was still 'haunted by religion'. We certainly don't look like a society that couldn't care less about it.

We're still fascinated by the debates around Darwin and the Bible, as this year's anniversary events show. We visit churches in our millions through the year, even if we don't go to services.

And even if, according to the polls, a worryingly large number of folk don't seem to know the Easter story of Jesus's Crucifixion and Resurrection, the same polls indicate that the majority still think religion - specifically Christianity - ought to have an influence on our public life.

We still support church schools.

And at the local level, the overwhelming majority of people recognise that much of what we value about community life would not happen without the churches.

If we really were as secular as some claim, none of this would be true. We're more culturally diverse than we used to be, of course. But the truth is that in the greater part of the country, saying that people couldn't care less about the church or the Christian faith just would not fit the facts.

AND whatever nervous or silly bureaucrats may think, it's nonsense to say that some vast percentage of the population will be traumatically offended by someone using Christian language, asking them if they want to be prayed for and so on, or that people of other religions are offended by public recognition of Christian festivals.

The fact is that while many may be confused about what exactly Christians are supposed to believe, they want a society - even a Government - that takes Christian values seriously.

And they rely on the Church to give them space - literally, like the students in Rochester Cathedral, but in other ways, too.

Church is somewhere that connects them with things they don't experience in other settings. At an obvious level, churches connect us with our past. We can't understand who we are in this country without knowing a bit about how Christianity is woven into the story. It gave us a treasure house of language and images that are everywhere in our poetry and drama. It gave us ideas about justice and human dignity that shaped our laws.

Without a Christian view of human dignity, we should never have had the basic protections against tyranny like the prohibition of torture or the law of habeas corpus - let alone the great campaign against slavery 200 years ago.

It's given us a system of government in which absolute power is reined in and the Monarch is the servant of the people's welfare, responsible to God.

And churches connect us with each other. They are places that belong to everyone and can be used by a huge range of groups, from mothers and toddlers through to English classes for migrant workers. …

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