Religion is still viewed in government circles as little more than a parade of “fairies, goblins and imaginary friends” despite claims that it would now “do God”, according to Britain’s former minister for faith.
Baroness Warsi said there is still misunderstanding and hostility towards religion in “ever secular” Whitehall circles, despite efforts to change the culture.
The former Tory Chairman urged Theresa May – whom she described as “somebody of faith … somebody who understands faith” - to reinstate the post of faith minister which was quietly dropped after the last election.
Lady Warsi was speaking alongside the Labour former Communities Secretary John Denham and Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, at a garden party in Surrey, organised by the think-tank British Future, to discuss how to develop a more “English” brand of Islam.
The event, next to the graves of British Muslim soldiers from the two world wars, included a rendition of a collection of Muslim hymns set in the style of English choral music by the choir of Woking High School.
Lady Warsi spoke of how the decline in active Christianity in Britain was having a knock-on effect on Muslims and other minority faiths, contributing to divisions.
“You are left with a mainstream community which is becoming less religious, less Christian, less Anglican and a minority community – not just Muslims, this is the same with Sikhs and Hindus and Orthodox Jewish communities – who are still religious, still follow the tenets of the faith,” she said.
“You have minority faith communities who are probably more ‘old English’ than the English are right now which is why I said back in 2012 Europe needs to be sure about its own Christian heritage for me to be able to understand my minority faith and for that heritage to be accurately reflected.”
She added: “It was an argument I consistently made in government.
“It wasn’t particularly popular in an ever secular society – an ever secular government.
“When I was the minister for faith there was a great catchphrase, they used to call me the minister for fairies, goblins and imaginary friends.
“And that was really an indication – along with the way in which we handled the Papal visit – of how unfortunately policy makers see faith.”
Planning for Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in 2010 was marred by a leaked Foreign Office memo mocking Roman Catholic teaching.
Her comments echo remarks by William Nye, a former top Whitehall Mandarin who now runs the Church of England’s day-to-day operations, earlier this year that a “secularising spirit” now permeates the machinery of government, leading to an unspoken “squeezing out of Christianity” from national life.