The speech given by David Cameron last week to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the KJV is one of the most remarkable I have ever seen from a politician.
Richard Dawkins has responded by saying the Bible is a dangerous moral compass, and representatives of the Secular Society and Humanist society have waded in, accusing the PM of using religion as a form of social control (which is of course a perfectly valid criticism of too many political interventions in the spiritual and moral sphere). Nonetheless, there is much of great interest in the speech and taken on its own terms it is heartening.
He begins by saying he comes not as a 'great Christian' on a mission to convert the world but is proud to celebrate the achievements of the KJV. It is as relevant today as as at any time in its 400 year history. He is a 'committed but vaguely practising Church of England Christian'. The Bible with 3 sold or given away every second will continue to have a profound impact on our future.
There are three particular areas of importance: it has shaped our language and culture, our politics, and our values.
In the first area he gives the usual list of literary debts owed to the Bible from Shakespeare to Abe Lincoln, and the music of Bach and Handel and the art of Giotto (the KJV?). One of his favourite lines he says is 'looking through a glass darkly' and compares unfavourably the NIV and GNB translations.
As to politics, he says that 'the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality'. He then ties this in with the emancipation of women and laments that some churches still haven't got the point! Still, the point about the image of God is well taken - not one that evolutionists could easily swallow.
As to values, he is clear that British values are Christian values and we should not be ashamed to say so. These include tolerance of other faiths, but we should not be afraid to say things are right or wrong. 'If we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything'.
He has has a bit of a go at the C of E and tells it to do its job. Perhaps we need to be reminded that it was non-conformity that did probably more to instil Christian values into this country than the C of E.
Nonetheless, some encouraging points from the PM. How will he mesh that in with 'gay' marriages? But then, that will come down to a selective reading of the treasured text.