Church’s former leader enters UK faith debate

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.
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BRITAIN IS no longer a nation of believers, the former head of the Church of England has admitted.

The debate over the religious status of the nation has intensified after ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gave an interview in which he stated that England has entered a new “post-Christian” era.

Comments from Lord Williams of Oystermouth, who stood down at the end of 2012, came in response to the row sparked by the David Cameron’s call for Britain to “be more confident” about its Christianity.

The Prime Minister’s remarks, which called for believers to take a more “evangelical” approach, have divided opinion.

Lord Williams, who is now Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, has offered a fresh take on the controversy, stating that the days of in which habitual worship are over.

He said: “(Britain) a Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.

“A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that. Equally, we are not a nation of dedicated secularists.

“I think we’re a lot less secular than the most optimistic members of the British Humanist Association would think.”

Atheist public figures including the novelist Philip Pullman led a wave of criticism of Mr Cameron last week. In a letter to a daily newspaper, written on behalf of the British Humanist Association, the 55 signatories criticised him for “fostering division” in society.

The serving Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, then leapt to the defence of the Mr Cameron, but conceded that if the debate were limited to churchgoing alone Britain could not be classed as Christian.

Lord Williams went on to predict that the UK was likely to see a further decline of widespread faith in the near future – despite the fact a new survey has shown more than half the public regard Britain as a Christian country.

He added: “Given that we have a younger generation now who know less about this legacy than people under 45, there may be a further shrinkage of awareness and commitment. The other side is that people then rediscover Christianity with a certain freshness, because it’s not ‘the boring old stuff that we learnt at school and have come to despise’.

“I see signs of that, talking to youngsters here at Magdalene and in school visits. There is a curiosity about Christianity.”

The response was prompted by a new poll underlining Britain’s changing relationship with religion published by the Sunday Telegraph.

An online survey of 2,000 people, found that 56 per cent of people regard Britain as Christian, rising to 60 per cent among men and 73 per cent among over-65s.

When asked if they believed the rise of religious fundamentalism had made Christians afraid to express their faith, 62 per cent said yes.

Of those surveyed, 41 per cent said they were not religious.

The ongoing debate was triggered by Mr Cameron’s article in the Church Times.

The response has led Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam who has made no secret of his status as a “non-believer”, calling for the separation of Church and the State in England.