British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, an agnostic, is ‘nonplussed’ by the angry response from prominent atheists to the claim by Prime Minister, David Cameron, that Britain is a Christian country, according to the Times.
Mr Clegg said: “I'm not a practising man of faith, but I don't find it an issue to say we have an important Christian identity in terms of our history and heritage”, the Times reports.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also weighed in the controversy and expressed surprise at the angry reaction.
He stated: “We should remember that one of the greatest Christian values of tolerance is that we are open to people of other denominations, other faiths, of all faiths and none.”
Archbishop Welby said he found the reaction to Cameron's comments, which included a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by 55 secularist writers, academics and scientists, “quite baffling”. On his personal blog, he wrote “Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that the people concerned had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes”
It's all quite baffling and at the same time quite encouraging. Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition.”
The Archbishop went on “It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society... All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity.” He said that while Britain was certainly not a Christian nation in terms of regular church attendance, “in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country.”
In an article for the Church Times last week, 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."
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg also called for the disestablishment of the Church of England, saying it would be “better for the church, better for people of faith, better for Anglicans if the church and the state were over time to stand on their own two separate feet.” His suggestion was quickly rejected by senior government figures, including the Prime Minister.