“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 21 June 2013

Cultural Christianity

On the latest census form, there was a series of tick boxes for religious persuasion. Nearly 60% of the U.K. population ticked the "Christian" box, yet hardly anybody goes to church regularly, and most of the Christian denominations are bemoaning falling congregation numbers.

So who are all these people who call themselves Christians, but who don't attend Church (except at Christmas)? An answer was suggested on the Sunday programme on Radio 4 a while ago by a spokesman for the Secular Society. He called these people "Cultural Christians". They are a silent majority of this country, who aren't active churchgoers, and are not members of any other faith. Yet they call themselves Christians because they would sign up to what being a Christian in Britain means. To my mind this includes:

·         Going to Church at Christmas
·         Having a crib and/or other religious symbolism in the house at Christmas.
·         Expecting your child's school to have broadly Christian assemblies.
·         Subscribing to the broad ethics of Christianity as taught in schools - the Ten Commandments; the life and example of Jesus etc etc
·         Choosing to have broadly Christian life ceremonies i.e. having your children christened; getting married in church; having a minister at a family funeral.
·         Quite enjoying singing hymns and carols if you are ever in church.
·         Being familiar with Bible stories from both Old and New Testaments, in the same way that you know all the traditional fairy tales.
·         Listening to or watching "religious" programmes on radio or television (whether documentaries, religious services, films/stories or even just Thought for the Day)

This cultural heritage is very strong, and hasn't perhaps been realised as a force by the powers that be. Cultural Christians don't perceive the Christian institutions to be part of their everyday lives; almost certainly wouldn't sign up to the 39 Articles; and would probably have problems with the concepts of the Resurrection, the Trinity and the Virgin Birth.

BUT they want the Church to be there when they need it e.g. in a time of crisis or to commemorate significant events in their lives.

Is this an opportunity for Unitarians? Many of us could describe ourselves as cultural Christians (I certainly am one) but want so much more from our religion. We are a creedless faith, based on freedom of conscience, the use of reason, and tolerance of other people's views (so long as they do not harm others by them). We encourage people to think for themselves and to work out where they stand on religious and ethical issues. I wonder how many cultural Christians could come along to a Unitarian service, or to a Build Your Own Theology session, and find that they had come home?


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