Prime Minister David Cameron’s King James Bible speech
Edited for length. Full length speech on www.irishcatholic.ie
‘It’s great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.
The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.
In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.
But what I do believe is this. The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history. And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.
We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so.
Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith — or no faith — is somehow wrong. I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion.
And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.
But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.
The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.
Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised. The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for royal power and the need to maintain political order.
And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy.
Just as in the past, it was the influence of the Church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter, so today faith-based groups are at the heart of modern social action.
And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises — like the famine in Horn of Africa — again you can count on faith-based organisations.
So it’s right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.
People often say that politicians shouldn’t ”do God”.
If by that they mean we shouldn’t try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party they could not be more right.
But we shouldn’t let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.
The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue. But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three-quarters and is forecast to continue rising.
Here in Britain, we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope’s visit last year, this year’s royal wedding, or of course the festival of Christmas, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.
The key point is this. Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.
And that brings me to my third point. The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.
Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities — these are the values we treasure.
Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.
But they are also values that speak to us all — to people of every faith and none. And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.
Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality. They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths.
And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.
And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people, what we stand for, and the kind of society we want to build.
First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.
Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.
Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.
And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.
Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.
Let’s be clear. Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. There are Christians who don’t live by a moral code. And there are atheists and agnostics who do.
But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction. And whether inspired by faith or not — that direction, that moral code, matters.
Whether you look at the riots last summer, the financial crash and the expenses scandal, or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world, one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.
The absence of any real accountability, or moral code, allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.
And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper, in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.
Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. ‘Live and let live’ has too often become ‘do what you please’.
Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong, is not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength.
But we can’t fight something with nothing. As I’ve said if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything. One of the biggest lessons of the riots last summer is that we’ve got to stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations. The same is true of religious extremism.
Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.
A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.
But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. We need to stand up for these values. To have the confidence to say to people — this is what defines us as a society and that to belong here is to believe in these things.
I believe the Church — and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain — have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.