Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.
The French say bad things about our economy. We respond that we’re not the sort to sneer at people for their religion or tell them what they shouldn’t wear. Ours is a big tent full of believers and unbelievers, with an altar at the far end, the bailiffs at the entrance and Group 4 Security on the perimeter. Theirs is a profane republic, with an army of sapeurs-pompiers hosing down the bright flame of multiculturalism wherever it appears.
So what to make of Cameron’s case for a tolerant offshore Britain? And where is the Christian underpinning? Here are some tentative findings.
1. Income inequality is greater in Britain than three-quarters of OECD member countries. France, in recent OECD findings, is one of five member countries ‘where income inequality and poverty have declined’. Britain spends the equivalent of roughly 12 per cent of GDP on social transfers, France roughly 22 per cent. (On redistribution, follow Luke the Evangelist, at 138 characters including spaces, Chapter 14, tweets 13-14: ‘But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the lame, the maimed, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee.’)
2. British household debt, before the hit in 2008, was 176 per cent of disposable income; in France, 93 per cent. (For the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, see Matthew 25.1-13. On debt in general, see Romans 13.8. ‘Owe no man anything, but to love one another.’)
3. Prisoners per 100,000 in the UK in 2008: 158. Secular France: 93. (See Jesus to the crucified thief, Luke 23.43: ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.’)
4. Detentions of unauthorised underage migrants in the UK in 2009: c.1000. France: c.320. (See Luke 10.30 passim for the parable of the good Samaritan.)
5. And a merry Christmas to Jews, Muslims and especially unbelievers around these islands who think that multifaith is just two faiths too many, or even three.
PS Total number of mosques and synagogues in Britain: c.1900. In godless France: c.2500.