A DEBATE on the place of Christianity in 21st century Britain has sparked conflicting opinions in Swindon following David Cameron’s description of the UK as a Christian nation.

In an article published in Church Times earlier this month, the Prime Minister said the UK should be more confident about its status as a Christian country.

Mr Cameron said: “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

His comments were heavily criticised by more than 50 authors and thinkers in an open letter to the Daily Telegraph, who branded them divisive and untrue in a largely ‘non-religious’ nation.

Their criticism has been echoed by the Swindon Humanists, who said introducing Christianity in the political debate was fraught and ignored other faiths and citizens with no religious beliefs.

“You can’t define the country in this narrow sense,” said Swindon Humanists co-chairman Neil Davies. “Half of the country has no religion at all which disproves the Christian country idea.

“Our concern is that David Cameron seems to be against a secular society.

“But a secular society is probably the best way to ensure that people of any religion or no religion are treated fairly.”

He added: “It is a little disappointing, more than surprising for us. People are free to believe in anything they want and not to believe in anything they like.”

Yet the Prime Minister’s view opened up a valuable debate according to the Reverend Tricia Roberts, associate minister at All Saints Church in Lydiard Millicent.

“In some ways Cameron was maybe encouraging the quieter Christians to allow their voice to be heard,” she said. “They are a majority but not as vocal as some minorities. His statement has created a reaction and he has made this statement in the midst of a society where speaking about religion is in some way a taboo. He has created a conversation. It’s probably a debate that we need to have.”

She added: “Our society is increasingly secular and there is an increase in diversity in religion and in the number of people who would not want to label themselves in any way shape or form. But if you look at the census many say they are Christian, more as a background or tradition than by practice.

“I think without an understanding of Christianity and Bible stories, you don’t understand our culture if you go to historic monuments or you won’t understand paintings and stories.”