Tuesday, 22 April 2014

do we do God?

David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, had a reception for Christian leaders in the UK just before Easter. His speech there was reported in the Church Times, as you might expect, but quite widely elsewhere too. He said he appreciated Christian values, which he characterised as hard work, humility, giving and social action. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Perhaps slightly more crowd-pleasingly, he said "Jesus invented the Big Society". Alarm bells sound. Jesus did no such thing. The notion of the Big Society (not a new one of course) may to some extent have been informed by what are described as Christian values. I would suggest that subscribing to such notions is in culturally various ways part of all faiths, and that those of no faith also very often live by a similar moral code - which David Cameron did say. He also, and this is a little more worrying politically, described himself as a "member of the Church of England". Well, fine. So am I. Although it's not a body you really "join", other than to be baptised and confirmed. I am never sure how much you are a "member" if you have been baptised and confirmed but never go into a church.

Where I would question Cameron's wisdom in this speech is in his including mention of his own faith. That is a matter between him and God, as it is for us all. It is not, and never should be, part of any political strategy, still less a plank of an election platform. Cameron came dangerously close to making it so in that speech. Alastair Campbell famously said "We don't do God". Tony Blair of course does very much do God, though even he does it quite politically - he waited until he was out of office to go over to Rome. But maybe that is because there is an established church in England, something I personally would like to see abolished - any political leader has to work with that, and so there is an MP who is the member for God in the Commons, and there are bishops in the House of Lords. Anyway, David Cameron talked about Christian values and praised his local vicar, as well as indicating that the Church had helped him when his son died some years ago. Nothing wrong with that. David Cameron has a reception for Eid and for Diwali, and nobody thinks there is anything wrong with his doing so. At those receptions he does not describe the UK as a Muslim country or a Hindu country, even though there are millions of adherents to both those faiths in the UK.

Now a "group of 50" cultural luminaries have written a letter to the Daily Telegraph in which they bemoan, as they put it, Cameron's designation of the UK as a "Christian country", which they call divisive and wrong. They say he should not appropriate Christianity as representative or descriptive of the UK. You may agree with them. (I always wonder how these open letters get produced so quickly. Do the luminaries all text each other and get together in an Islington wine bar the same night to thrash out a text? I fancy not. Perhaps one of them would like to get in touch and tell me how they do it). But David Cameron did not call the UK a Christian country. What he did was allude to the extent to which Christianity has been woven into the fabric of British life, and to refer to the unique liturgy of the Church of England, the beauty of its churches, and so on. So, luminary brothers and sisters, what you did was set up a straw man "We are a Christian country!" and knock it down "Oh no we're not!" A venerable political tactic, but not a very respectable one, and thus not much respected by the voting public.

It has been reported that Cameron's "Christian" focus is intended to win back the mostly older demographic which has moved from the Tories to UKIP. I do not imagine that that demographic is especially devout. Listen to Nigel Farage's utterances,and look at his personal style, and you would take his constituency to be an utterly materialist ("He's after your job!") and a frivolous ("Mine's a pint!") one.

In short, I think all this "controversy" is just rubbish. Manufactured. Dreamed up. And the public Do Not Care. So, "group of 50", you have wasted your time. No one cares what you think about what Cameron thinks about the Church of England.

Oh, by the way. I am an Anglican. I attend the Anglican church in Strasbourg, France. At one time I didn't like some of the things that were being said and done there. This happens in all organisations. Not all members are pleased with everything they do all the time. So I thought, could I go somewhere else. Not being a Roman Catholic, I could have gone to one of the French Protestant churches, which in this part of France are quite numerous. But I am not a Protestant. "The Church of England by law established" is a reformed Catholic church. So there. Not a lot of people know that.

1 comment:

PILGRIM said...

It was a whipped up attempt to 'have a go' at David Cameron and I think it spectacularly bombed. Alastair Campbell I usually rate - but perhaps it is time to take off the spin gloves and write, or watch Burnley - or whatever.Anyway, the wading in was embarrasing and inept. Poor judgement.

Hey it has just been Easter. DC didn't say anything offensive did he? Her Maj is Head of the Church of England. Blame Henry 8 for that. Prince Charles has (maybe) said that he'd like to be Defender of Faith. But he has not been crowned because as yet, there is not a vacancy. And we don't know what he'll do when the time comes anyway. Does he? Should he? What people around Ed Miliband should do, rather than jumping on the PM's mention of Christianity,is serve up some sodding policies. Hand gestures (Ed B) , austerity and cost of living isn't cutting it any more. Unless they do that, they can object till Judgement Day about the PM and religion because nobody will give a hoot. They might as well whistle down the wind.