David Cameron’s official Easter speech seems to have gone down a storm among Christians online, after being tweeted at @Number10gov.
Easter, he said, is a time for his “whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain”, citing numerous instances where “people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds”, and recalling too those “Christians around the world who are ostracised, abused – even murdered – simply for the faith they follow”.
“Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right,” he said.
An earlier Easter Message for premierchristianity.com had proved far more contentious. While claiming that “the Christian message remains the bedrock of a good society”, Mr Cameron said the “heart of the Christian message” is “the principle around which the Easter celebration is built”, with Easter, “all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children”.
Isabel Hardman at blogs.spectator.co.uk was one of many who dismissed the piece as theologically vacuous, calling it typical of the “moral claptrap” so recently criticised by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Lamenting the Prime Minister’s emphasis on “the most sanitised version of Christianity possible”, Ms Hardman described as “patronising” and inaccurate the claim that “doing the right thing for the good of our children” is the heart of Christianity.
The heart of the Christian message, she said, is generally considered to be “a man called the son of God dying in agony on a cross and then rising from the dead, saying he was taking a punishment that men deserved.
“Lots of people don’t like that message, others think it’s just not true, but generally,” she observed, “that’s the crux, if you pardon the pun, of it.”
The message was similarly slammed in an editorial at theguardian.com, scorning how Mr Cameron’s Christianity “attempts to offend no one”, resulting in “an insult to Christianity and to all non-Christians as well”.
The point of the Easter story, according to the writer, is that none of the virtues the Prime Minister reels off is enough to save us. Pointing out that Jesus did not preach “hard work, responsibility, or family values,” the writer says: “What Christianity brought into the world wasn’t compassion, kindness, decency, hard work, or any of the other respectable virtues, real and necessary though they are. It was the extraordinary idea that people have worth in themselves, regardless of their usefulness to others, regardless even of their moral qualities.”
“The idea that humans are valuable just for being human is, many would say, absurd. We assert it in the face of all the facts of history, and arguably even of biology.
“This idea entered the world with Christianity, and scandalised both Romans and Greeks, but it is now the common currency of western humanism, and of human rights. It underpinned the building of the welfare state, and its maintenance over the years by millions of people of all faiths and none.”
The birth of the individual
At spectator.co.uk, former Tory education minister Michael Gove maintains that “it has been the Christian conception of God which has given rise to the respect for individual conscience, rights and autonomy which underpin our civilisation”.
It was, he said, “belief in the unique and valuable nature of every individual”, made as each one is in God’s image, that inspired such figures as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, and Pope St John Paul II. “There should be nothing to be ashamed of,” he said, “in finding their example inspirational, the words and beliefs that moved them beautiful and true.”