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No shift to the Right, despite Mail’s joy

12 May 2017


Dismissed: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Jerusalem during his tour of the Holy Land, from where he rejected suggestions his pastoral election letter revealed a move towards right-wing politics

Dismissed: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Jerusalem during his tour of the Holy Land, from where he rejected suggestions his pastoral election letter...

YOU never know what will count as a platitude these days. After the remarkable furore over Theresa May’s Easter message (News, Press, 21 April), which was in large parts almost identical with the previous one from David Cameron, we now have three pages from the Archbishops in favour of “love, trust, and hope”. Also, “cohesion, courage, and stability”. For some reason, the document makes no mention of raspberry jam. Apart from that, it covers everything that everyone is in favour of, except for those nasty secularists.

So, naturally, the Daily Mail fell on it with whoops of joy: “They’ve seen the light! Bishops abandon trendy Leftie causes,” its headline ran. “The leaders of the Church of England yesterday climbed down from years of political radicalism and support for Left-wing causes. Its two senior Archbishops sent an election letter to the faithful in which they abandoned their previous criticism of the Trident nuclear deterrent, their opposition to military intervention in the Middle East, and their support for European unity.”

Compare this with the last Mail editorial on the subject of the Church, in February: “How deeply depressing that the Archbishop of Canterbury has added his voice to the chorus of luvvies wailing against Brexit and Donald Trump.

“We have grown used to such posturing from millionaires at the Baftas and Oscars, parading Left-wing consciences before sweeping off in limousines, clutching £160,000 goodie bags.

“But why does the chief clergyman of the Church of England feel impelled to join them in the political arena, bandying about words such as ‘populist’ and even ‘fascist’ to insult anyone who challenges the liberal orthodoxy?”

So you can see the incentive for shifting your rhetoric, especially when you take into account the fact that self-identifying Anglicans were about 20 per cent more likely to vote Leave than their peers in the same age groups.

But it did mean that Archbishop Welby had to explain to The Guardian that the letter did not mean any shift at all to the Right.

The report said: “Stability had been a watchword of the Christian faith for centuries, he said, and it should not be ceded to a political campaign. . .

“The letter also spoke of concern for ‘the weak, poor and marginalised’ and the need for a ‘radical approach for education’, a ‘flourishing health service’ and a ‘just economy’.”

The Telegraph went for the sex angle: “The Church of England has called on parliamentary candidates not to ‘exploit the faith’ of their opponents during the General Election.

“The letter said: ‘We look forward to a media and political climate where all candidates can feel confident that they can be open about the impact of their faith on their vocation to public service.’”

“Last month Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who is an evangelical Christian, was questioned on his views about homosexuality on Channel 4 News, and refused to clarify his position on whether gay sex was a sin.”

This seems to me thoroughly disingenuous: the reason that Mr Farron feels, or appeared to feel, that he could not be honest about his beliefs about sex is that many people nowadays do not share them, and indeed regard them as actively immoral (News, 28 April).

Since people ought, in a democracy, to vote with their consciences, they have every right to know if the conscience of a party leader leads them to opposite conclusions; and, if that leader is religious, we can assume — at least for the sake of the argument — that their conscience is informed by their professed beliefs.


WATCHING the hideous shambles of the contemporary Labour Party from inside The Guardian offices, I have been wondering what it was that cut the party from its living roots, and why it is that voters are turning to beliefs and symbols that the elites had long thought entirely outmoded.

The best answer I can come up with is that people long more than anything to be reassured that they — we — have a value quite independent of our usefulness, and even in some sense independently of our merits. In the teeth of much evidence, we want to believe that we are lovable, and loved, far beyond what we deserve.

This longing is answered by some forms of Christianity. It used also to be answered by some forms of socialism, which simply assumed or asserted the value of human life. In Christianity, the proof was to be had in an experience of God’s love, and from the gospel narrative; in classical socialism, the proof would be demonstrated in the future we were building together. But that future has gone now.

So, for most people, the experience of being loved without merit comes from being part of a family or a tribe. Hence, I think, the renewed and visceral appeal of nationalism. It is popular precisely because there is no damn merit involved in being born an Englishman (or anything else).

Especially at times of rapid economic change, most of us know that we are, in fact, entirely superfluous to the efficient workings of the world. We are as little able to justify ourselves before the market as the Augustinian is to justify himself to God. In a pre-Christian world, this might have been more bearable. But even the memory of Christianity implants in people a nagging belief that they ought to matter. Brexit might make them feel that they do — for a while.

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