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July 02, 2006

Multiculturalism won't work in this country until…

…Christianity gives up its privileged position.

Flicking between TV and radio stations today made me realise something: the Church still has a massive influence over British life despite being far less relevant than it used to be. On Radio 4, for instance, Sunday Worship blared out of my alarm clock, even though I had no inclination to listen to a religious service.

This alone wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that Christian services are given much higher priority than any other religion. Now I don't expect there to be 'atheist' programmes, because – let's face it – Big Brother alone makes that section of society very well catered for. But I don't understand why one religion seems to defy the pluralist tendencies that this country is built on now more than ever before.

The House of Lords has (I think twelve) Lords Spiritual, all of whom are Church of England and can – and do – influence policy by rejecting things which they find to be out of kilter with Christian beliefs. There doesn't seem to be a particularly good explanation for why this is the case in the 21st century, when there are no specifically chosen Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or even Catholic leaders in the House of Lords.

I'm not against religion in public life, but it seems to be that there is a specific elite which consists almost solely of one faith, who not only wield influence, but do so disproportionately.

And the larger problem is that if this country wants multiculturalism to succeed – which everyone in the mainstream does – then the priority given to one minority over all others is completely ridiculous and untenable.

For a society based on equal representation (in theory at least), non–Christians are grossly under–represented because of structures that have been in place for centuries when immigration from non–Christian countries was unheard of.

Yes, the UK is still (again in theory) based largely on Christian values, but I think we face a choice: we can either retain those values, keep the Church at the heart of the state, allow Christian voices to dominate discussions of public policy and shun the beliefs of those who aren't Christian. Or we can put the Church on a level footing with other religions while still bearing in mind that there are more Christians in the UK than there are people of any other religion. These two choices present different policy outcomes with different degrees of realism about the people who live in the UK.

At the moment, I think we still seem to be stuck in the former position when the latter choice would be a far more sensible approach to tackling the problems of integrating non–Christians into our supposedly pluralist country.

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