These days relatively few people in the UK, whatever their religious affiliations, feel much attachment to this style of Protestant identity, or if they do it is one of nostalgia rather than of belief. It’s no accident that some of the strongest supporters of the King James Bible are atheists like Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens. As for anti-Catholicism, that is going out of fashion even in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the fierce attachment of Ulster unionists to traditional expressions of Protestant British identity have long been a source of bemusement and embarrassment on the mainland. That version of Britishness now seems frankly un-British to most Brits, whose remaining anti-Catholic instincts are sated by laughing at some papal pronouncement on birth control or observing the (let’s face, it, deserved) predicament of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Modern Britain is, of course, secular (indeed irreligious) in tone and institutionally committed to embracing many different faiths. Indeed, Catholic Emancipation in 1829, when most of the laws discriminating against Catholics were done away with, can be seen as the first of many steps away from a Protestant society and towards a multi-faith one. Only a bare majority of the population now describe themselves as Christian; increasingly “None” has begun to replace “C of E” as the default option of the unsure when asked about their religious affiliation. Millions of us no longer know the words to once-familiar hymns or have more than the basic knowledge of Christian doctrines. It’s unlikely that Michael Gove’s generous gift of a King James Bible to every school in the land will do much to stem the tide of apathy.