Joe Boot writes on the spiritual significance and practicalities of having a Hindu Prime Minister of a constitutionally Christian nation. This article was originally published by the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
It has been a chaotic and unsettling year in the United Kingdom socially and politically. Several Chancellors and Prime Ministers have slunk in quick succession along the iconic Downing Street pavement in the wake of the COVID lockdown debacle and its ensuing self-inflicted economic crisis, the magic money tree losing its leaves and inflation running riot. The end result – following a circular firing squad in the Tory Party crushing a genuinely conservative policy platform against the will of the members for possibly a generation – was the emergence of the first Hindu Prime Minister in British history, the smart, welfare-state orthodox and well-spoken Mr. Sunak.
Within a month of this historic development, the Office of National Statistics published some of its latest census results, showing that for the first time in our history, less than half of the population of the UK identifies as Christian. Two standout changes in these figures were the rapid growth in those identifying as no-religion (which does not mean they have no worldview), and those identifying as pagan. Additionally, the ongoing growth of the Muslim population in Britain’s three largest cities is not unexpected, and has its own implications for societal and political life.
Despite the new Prime Minister publicly celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali at 10 Downing Street at the end of October, Christian leaders (including evangelicals) have been quick to point out that there is ‘nothing to see here.’ Those same leaders will no doubt say much the same about the latest ONS census results and some will applaud the dechristianisation of British culture as though it were somehow better for the nation that nominal or ‘cultural Christian identification’ were disappearing. Better a celebration of heathen demon-gods at Downing Street than enduring a professing Christian Prime Minister whose personality we don’t like or whose economic policy seems too radical for corporate orthodoxy in the city of London.
Mr. Sunak himself is no doubt a capable, likeable, and pleasant man with a reputation for greater moral integrity than his previous boss, Boris Johnson. His essentially ‘orthodox’ social democratic thinking positions him as a centrist in the mainstream of contemporary British politics, and his surprising support for Brexit at the voting booth demonstrates he has a genuine concern for British national sovereignty, for which I applaud him. Sunak is certainly no political danger to the current establishment and will doubtless serve with dignity and diligence for his tenure. I for one am delighted British Indians have been emerging as leaders on the conservative side of British politics. Their contribution at a senior level is both welcome and overdue, and more often than not comes with more conservative instincts than the average white Briton in our major cities today – the Barrister Suella Braverman’s rapid rise to Home Secretary being a good illustration.
However, Christian leaders in the church cannot just brush aside the significance of a British Prime Minister professing a Hindu faith and celebrating Hindu festivals with the public watching. The Prime Minister with his cabinet shapes the law, education and public policy of the nation, meets weekly with the Head of State (and titular head of the Church of England), during which influence moves in both directions, and plays a role in the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior Christian leader in the established church of the land.
Given that all the public state events and ceremonies in Britain (like the queen’s funeral, remembrance services and forthcoming king’s Coronation) are of a necessarily Christian character, and that Christian acts of worship are still legally required in British schools, it is hard to see how a genuine practising Hindu (despite Hinduism’s syncretistic accommodation of various gods) can wholeheartedly support the Christian constitutional character of the nation (which is perhaps why Sunak prefers to call Britain a ‘secular’ country) or participate meaningfully and without a seriously divided mind in its forms, liturgy, anthems, prayers, and fundamental commitments.
To enable him to authentically occupy his current role, either Mr Sunak’s Hinduism is largely hidden, and he is remarkably gifted at concealing his core convictions, or his allegiance to Hinduism is no more than nominal. Mr. Sunak was educated at prestigious Christian institutions including Winchester College (Church of England), the University of Oxford, and Stanford University in California with its famous Memorial Church at its centre. Oxford’s colleges and buildings bear Christian names; its motto is drawn from the scriptures: ‘The Lord is my Light;’ and all of its Charters bear the seal of the head of the Church of England. As a man in his early forties, I suspect that Mr. Sunak has been so ‘Christianised’ by his upbringing, education, and socio-political life in the West that the only reason his professed Hinduism is not a risk to the British state and its constitution is that what remains of it is sufficiently watered down to make Diwali much like Christmas for many Brits today – a fun time of lighting candles, giving gifts and being with family whilst largely denuded of its substance. His whole life he has been corralled, moulded and shaped by the very real vestiges and values of an ancient Christian order.
Holidays in Conflict
Although superficially the celebration of the victory of light over darkness, Diwali actually involves the worship of false gods and invites the presence and blessing of these demon gods, which is why lights are ceremonially lit – the diyas – small lamps – are lit on the night of the new moon to invoke the presence of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and wife of Vishnu. In the Bengal version, the goddess Kali is worshipped. In South India Diwali marks Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narakasura. As an object of ongoing worship in Hinduism, this demon goddess Lakshmi is born rising from a churning ocean of milk and is sculpted seated on a lotus and holding blossom in her hand. In Hindu mythology, controversy arose between the various gods and demons over who would possess her.
Most Christians formerly recognised that the worship of idols left unchecked produces not only personal but radical social decay. As the Psalmist writes:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them. (Ps. 135:15-18)
The social order of Hindu idolatry is embodied in a five-level caste system, from the untouchables at the bottom to the priestly Brahmin class at the top, and people are thought to be trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation. Religiously, these castes (Varnas) were thought to have emerged from the very body of Brahma – the empty ‘being’ in the Hindu concept of ultimate deity. Though Mr. Sunak married someone from the Brahmin caste, his name and social status are matters of much discussion and his real ‘caste’ in Hindu terms is hidden from the public.
However, Christendom and Great Britain were not built on the caste system, idol worship and demon mythology, but on the Word of God in Scripture, including the unique idea of the creation of human beings, male and female, after in the divine image, and a recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all human authority. This Jesus was crucified by the Romans in real history for our sin and rebellion against the righteous image we were created to reflect, and was witnessed raised to life in power and glory. His law was made the foundation of our jurisprudence, and the truth of the gospel the ground of our constitutional life.
Because of the cultural fruit of Christian faith, people have sought freedom, justice, liberty, and prosperity in the West, whereas in India outrageous anti-conversion laws remain in force in eight of its twenty-nine states. Indian Christians and other religious minorities are frequently persecuted by Hindus. Child labour, injustice toward women, the disabled, and the elderly remain major problems. Largely because of the influence of British missionaries, India is today the world’s largest democracy, and has made significant progress in abandoning some of its most abhorrent practices, like Sati (the throwing of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband to be burned) outlawed by Carey’s Law in all jurisdictions of British India from December 4, 1829, by Governor-General Lord William Bentinck. Despite such advances, poverty, corruption, religious persecution, and the injustice of the caste system remain endemic.
Christian leaders who see no problem with the celebration of Diwali at 10 Downing Street are therefore deceiving themselves. The queen’s Coronation and recent funeral were not meaningless rituals, and our national oath to serve the Lord is not forgotten by God. The worship of demons is not a matter of indifference to the Lord and can never be so to the church, whatever the nuanced content or nominality of the pagan faith professed. As the apostle Paul reminds us:
For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? (2 Cor. 6:14-15)
What am I saying then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I do say that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to participate with demons! You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Cor. 10:19-22)
The recent census has further exposed the troubling dechristianisation of culture along with the growth of unbelief and paganism; the decadence and decay attending this phenomenon are only now beginning to fully emerge. The secularising mindset central to this process has gripped much of the church, whose leaders are all too often indifferent to idolatry and unbelief manifest in law, education, politics and even the life of the church. The faithful must resist this trend and take their stand with Christ. This is a moment of great opportunity for the extension of the kingdom in the West if true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will grasp it in faith. For the first time in hundreds of years we are facing ignorant masses in our own nations who have no idea of Christ or the beauty of the gospel and they are wandering aimless, confused, and lost, unable to look to national leaders for any kind of example.
We can be thankful that our respectable Prime Minister in Britain, Mr. Sunak, was suckled culturally on the vestiges of a Christian worldview in the West, the remnants of an old order, not at the breast of Lakshmi. This evidently restrained the full flowering of a Hindu religious perspective in his life, thinking and socio-political practice, which is one reason Christian culture is so important, not merely Christian conversion.
We must never be so foolish as to underestimate the value and power of Christian culture in shaping people’s lives for the good. But we must also be in fervent prayer as Christians for Mr Sunak’s salvation and true translation from darkness to light, which cannot happen through Diwali but only through Christ Jesus. Our nation is presently being weighed in the balances and the writing is on the wall for our idolatry and apostasy. Only a reformation and revival, beginning in the life of the church and spreading to all parts of culture, can avert a lengthy exile with many more tears than we can now appreciate, harps hanging in the trees, sitting by the rivers of Babylon.
 Rachel Russell & Harry Farley, “Less than half of England and Wales population Christian, Census 2021 shows.” BBC, last modified November 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63792408.
 Gillian Duncan, “Rishi Sunak shares Diwali wishes from Downing Street,” The National News, last modified October 27, 2022, https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/uk-news/2022/10/27/rishi-sunak-shares-diwali-wishes-from-downing-street/.