Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Synagogue Reveals Stunning Insight into British Religion

September 16, 2010 · No Comments

While visiting the Central Synagogue a few days ago, something that our tour guide said stuck with me.  “Here in England, we don’t have the separation of church and state that you have in America.”  This idea had never struck me before, but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized he was right.  While America has no official church or religion, England assigns the Church of England as its national religion.  However, it seems strangely paradoxical to me that, in America, a nation of no official religion, atheism is detested and atheists are looked upon as social deviants; whereas in England, despite its national church, the English seem remarkably apathetic toward religion.

After vacating the Prime Minister’s office, Tony Blair converted to Catholicism.  His reasons for doing so were not to gain some perspective after losing the Prime Ministry, but simply because his wife is Catholic.  This begs the question, however, why didn’t he convert earlier, before his political career was over?  As our tour guide explained, Blair waited until after he was out of office, because the English would think he was “a bit weird” and would feel uncomfortable with a Prime Minister with significant religious faith.

This notion is fascinating to me.  Blair’s political career would have come to a dead halt for converting to Catholicism; but, more importantly, simply being an ardently religious person is enough for one’s constituents to feel uneasy.  This is the completely the opposite case for America.  Politicians have to repeatedly assert their strong religious faiths; for, in not doing so, they would jeopardize their electoral chances, almost entirely.  It will be interesting over the course of this year to do some additional cultural research regarding the ideas of a national church that breeds atheism and religious apathy, while the separation of church and state breeds strong faith and a society that views atheism as some sort of social “other.”   As ambiguous as this connection seems, I believe it is vital in explaining the ways in which religion has developed so differently in these two nations.

Categories: 2010 Luke

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below..

You must log in to post a comment.