By calling the cross ‘religious decoration’, the Archbishop of Canterbury is helping secularists. Whose side is he on?

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as saying: “The cross has become a religious decoration.” It is something which religious people hang on to as a substitute for faith. He goes on: “I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory.” He sees the cross as part of that “religion factory”. It is an infelicitous phrase, for a factory is where objects are merely churned out, as from a production line. Is that what the cross, the supreme Christian symbol, has become?

Dr William’s words are particularly unhelpful just now when our Government has refused to support Nadia Eweida’s submission to the European Court that she be allowed to wear a cross in her workplace. The British Government has said to the EC that Mrs Eweida has no right to wear her cross, but that her employer has the right to ban her from wearing it.

It is important to understand what is implied by this: it removes rights from a practitioner of the Christian faith which has shaped European civilisation for 2000 years and redistributes these rights to its aggressive secul

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To defend the Church’s role is to defend faith as a whole

William Blake famously asked “And did those feet, in ancient time, / Walk upon England’s mountains green?” The short, factual answer is, almost certainly, “No.” There is no evidence that Jesus ever made it to these shores.

If you have the cast of mind of Richard Dawkins, that’s it, end of subject. Jesus didn’t come here, and it is pernicious to have silly fantasies about it. Anyway, you say, Jesus is not the Son – or, as Blake’s next lines state, the Lamb – of God. It’s all a delusion, and the Professor Richard Dawkins Foundation for Enlightening People Stupider Than Professor Richard Dawkins has just proved by statistics that people calling themselves Christians know little about their faith and don’t believe most of what it teaches.

But of course this sort of approach does not satisfy most people. England, Britain, Jesus, God, poetry, identity, truth, faith – they are all mixed up somehow, and we care about them, even if it is hard to express why.

There is a great deal of talk around about faith, and why it matters for our society. In the past week, it has come not only from the Queen, in an interestingly strong intervention, but also from the Tory chairman, Baroness Warsi, who is a Muslim. Taking coals to Newcastle, Lady Warsi went to Rome to tell the Pope that Europe should become “more confident” in its Christianity. The former home secretary, Charles Clarke, is an agnostic, but he is chairing a series of debates with the excellent think tank Theos to promote the importance of faith in our public affairs. Before Christmas, David Cameron, asserting that Britain remained a Christian country, defended faith on the grounds that “we can’t fight something with nothing”.

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Saudi Arabia isn’t sending women to the London Olympics – but a boycott wouldn’t help women’s rights

go to a gym – or at least I did before the extortionate fees led me to cancel my membership – in an area with a large Muslim population. I know this not because of demographics, but because the gym had a “women only” section. And on any given day it would be full of women wearing headscarves, fully covered-up, working out with the best of them.

Islam isn’t the only religion to proscribe certain clothing as immodest; Judaism has strict laws on modesty too, and certainly Christianity calls for women to behave appropriately in other respects.

But, regardless of which religion it is, there are ways to uphold the requirements of the faith without compromising on lifestyle; this can be anything from working in “male professions” as a woman, to Orthodox Jewish women wearing the latest trends with added sleeves, or Muslim women exercising to their hearts’ content in private spaces.

Modesty laws don’t have to be an impediment to lifestyle, yet they are in several countries, including Saudi Arabia.

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Britain has gone from God-fearing to God-jeering

Last September, in the final weeks of his life, the New Labour strategist Philip Gould gave a moving interview to The Guardian. Dying of throat cancer at the age of 61, Lord Gould had done a lot of thinking about the meaning of life in a short time. The interviewer mentioned, in passing, that his subject had found religion, lost it briefly when he had witnessed terrible pain in intensive care, and then rediscovered his faith.

That was all. They moved on swiftly to politics. I found that article so frustrating. Here was a highly intelligent, worldly man, a superb operator in a party which famously “didn’t do God”, who had chosen to become a believer. It was a position I knew Philip Gould would not have arrived at fearfully or lazily, but, rather, spiritedly, and maybe even full of hope. For Christ’s sake, if one of our leading pollsters had cast his vote for the life to come, then why didn’t he get the chance to tell us about his Christianity?

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George Carey: time to say that Christians have rights too

George Carey was not regarded as an outspoken Archbishop of Canterbury by the standards of both his predecessor and his successor.

While Robert Runcie and Rowan Williams generated and still generate headlines and ruffle politicians’ feathers, George Carey was largely overshadowed during his 11 years as head of the Anglican communion by internal church battles, notably over the ordination of women. Some even came to regard him as a wee bit dull and mealy-mouthed. If so, then he has more than made up for it since he stepped down in 2002.

In the past few months alone, he has publicly criticised both the cathedral authorities at St Paul’s over the Occupy protest camp, and the Lords Spiritual for leading the opposition to the Government’s benefit cuts in the Upper Chamber of Parliament, where Lord Carey of Clifton now sits as a life peer. “I have been mildly upset to be told to shut up by my fellow Anglican bishops.” But his usually sober face spreads into a grin as he says it. “I have felt freer to speak my mind as my own man, but I am always conscious of not wanting to get in Rowan’s way”.

This new George Carey has rather abandoned the careful diplomatic language he used as an archbishop to keep different church factions in the same pews, in favour of something more earthy and apocalyptic, reflecting his own evangelical background. “There are deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins”.

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The Queen’s Christian faith puts our bishops to shame

This might seem a strange thing for a Catholic to say, but I often think that the Queen is the most impressive religious leader in Britain. She says little in public about her Christianity, but what she does say – usually at the end of her Christmas Day broadcast – is powerful in its directness.

Having discussed the celebrations, tragedies and anxieties of the past year, the Queen affirms, naturally but unflinchingly and with no attempt at religious relativism, her faith in Jesus Christ. This is from her message last Christmas Day:

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E-Mail From God

One day, God was looking down at earth, and saw all the misbehaving (too much sex, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and risque emails) that was going on, so he called one of his angels to go to Earth.

When he returned, the angel told God, ‘Yes, it is bad on Earth; 95% are misbehaving, and only 5% are not’.
                                                                                                                                      God thought for a moment and said, ‘Maybe I should send down another angel, to get a second opinion’!
                                                                                                                                        So, God called another angel, & sent him to Earth too.
                                                                                                                                    When the angel returned, he went to God & said, ‘Yes, it’s true. The Earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.’
                                                                                                                                         God was not pleased. So he decided to e-mail the 5% who were good, because, he wanted to encourage them, give them a little something, to help them keep Going !
                                                                                                                                        Do you know what the e-mail said ?
                                                                                                                                                    No ?
                                                                                                                                    Okay, just checking – I didn’t get one either …