Census and lifeboats

I have just received my census form and was having a quick look at the questions. As usual there is a question on religion, and although it is slightly different in the England and Wales census from the NI census the outcome will be the same. We will have a measure of those who say they are Christian.

Now go forward a couple of years when the census results start to be published. We will have our normal breast beating that Britain is no longer a Christian country. This annoys me. Is what makes a country Christian measurable by asking people to tick a box on a form? Surely not. Christianity is about behaviour, not form filling, sitting in a pew or turning up for the Christmas carol service.

My anger this year was compounded by the recent decision by the Government to cut aid to Yemen. The Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, said “recent global challenges meant a difficult financial context for us all”, announcing a reduction from £163m last year to £87m. Is this the action of a Christian country?

This well known thought experiment should be an ethical wake up call.

Roger, the self-appointed captain of the lifeboat said, “there are 12 of us on board which is great as the lifeboat can hold 20, so I think we can allow everyone to have some extra rations.”

“Much as I’d like an extra biscuit” said Paul, “shouldn’t we go and pick up that drowning woman who has been shouting at us for 30 minutes?”

“I thought we’d agreed” said Roger. “It’s not our fault she’s drowning, and if we pick her up, we won’t be able to enjoy our extra rations. Why should we upset our cosy set-up?”

“Because we could save her, isn’t that reason enough.”

“Life’s unfair,” replied Roger. “If she dies It’s not because we killed her. Anyone for a digestive?”

(From Lifeboat Earth by Onora O’Neill in World Hunger and Moral Obligation, 1977)

The Yemen conflict has produced an unrelenting humanitarian crisis. According to the UN at least 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation and 22.2 million people – 75% of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

How can any Christian country let this happen never mind reduce support? So, for me there is a senseless discussion on whether we are a Christian country based on the census. We’ll be Christian when we support those in crisis, don’t turn our backs on 400,000 children and seriously debate the ethics of our stance on refugees.

Just in case I’m being unfair on the UK, consider this. The UN had a recent event to raise $3.85bn for Yemen in 2021. They got less than half and America increased its contribution by $191m. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a net worth of $182bn, of which $9.55bn is in cash. So, the whole of America is going to increase its aid to Yemen by less than Bezos earns in interest on his cash in a year.
That’s why I’m angry and that’s why I fail to recognise the UK, as a Christian country.

(The views expressed in this article are personal and are not necessarily those of the Circuit or Connexion.)