Christian Britain™ and the New Right

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This morning’s Daily Telegraph carries a letter signed by some 50-odd signatories, calling David Cameron out on his recent proclamations about the importance of Christianity to ‘British life’ and, most notably, that Britain is a Christian Country ™.

The letter isn’t interesting for its signatories as for its content-or lack thereof. It goes down the well-trodden path. “We’re totally ok with you having religious faith, but you have to keep it to yourself, Dave-other people from other faiths have done things here, too, and you diminish them when you place Christians or Christianity-inspired acts above others.” We’ve heard this before.

What we haven’t heard, and what is apparently very difficult to imagine saying, is a more pragmatic take on the last few weeks: Mr. Cameron has started making pronouncements about Christian faith and its place in ‘British life’ in the past few weeks, in ways I can’t remember him doing in any kind of sustained way. Nobody is asking “why now?” They ought to be-with even a little bit of reflection this starts looking like another symptom of the toxicity of Britain’s political discourse.

I won’t neuter this piece by speaking to Mr. Cameron’s personal faith, of which I know nothing. I don’t need to – what’s interesting here is why he’s saying this. Maybe it’s that he’s been moved by the spirit of Lent, but given his lack of a track record in speaking out like this, and his party’s current predicament, it seems more likely he’s thinking of the most important liturgical feast in this year’s political calendar: the European Elections in May.

The rise of UKIP has meant a lot is in play for the Tories that didn’t used to be.

One of them, apparently, is the Christian right: mostly Anglican communities across middle-England whose moral character includes voting according to immigration policies, but not food banks. Once they were Tory voters-their economic security neatly assured by the same models of capitalism so excoriated by Christ. They wouldn’t have voted Lib Dem, that’d be for hippies and people who believe, to varying degrees, in a sort of European identity or social progress. How utterly foolish. Labour’s for the north, and the poor: people who don’t understand the pragmatism necessary for maintaining a certain comfort-one which, though earned, is occasionally tested by market shifts and housing bubbles engendered by the LORD to make sure they’re still going to the Church fete.

Now, though, a crisis. The Tories are for all sorts of things: liberal things. Gay Marriage, even! And we’re not even getting an in-out referendum in this parliament?! It’s too much to bear sometimes-frankly, even at this time of year, it’s worth remembering that Christ only had a literal cross to carry, and not the social expectations of establishment Britain. Who will defend us from this moral vacuum? Well we’ve been hearing interesting things about those UKIP fellows-you know, when you really listen to what they have to say, it’s hardly unrealistic. Frankly, we do have too many immigrants here. And not much to say about social values, I might add! We used to build things here, in our Christian Country ™. Now it’s gone to pot, and why? Because we got slack, that’s why. It starts with fanciful things like gay marriage and ends with looser immigration controls-or none at all, even! UKIP might not have policies on everything, but that suits us just fine-central government doesn’t really need to exist anyway, just close the borders, maintain social decency to the fullest extent of the law, and leave me to dispute bin collections with my council (they’re just awful, really, it’s as if not one of those clowns has any small business experience at all.)

These are, basically, the votes Cameron’s now touting for. The problem here isn’t that he’s making a public display of faith, it’s who it’s aimed at and why now that should have us reaching for rosaries ourselves. This isn’t a political class which exists in Scotland (though there are undoubtedly segments of our electorate which are strongly linked to religion) and yet we’re hearing more and more about it. This probably won’t be the first time Bella readers have realised that Britain and the UK are different countries, but it’s clear here in a way which reminds us, concisely, that voting no might give us the opportunity to find out what a Tory/UKIP coalition does for the people of Scotland.

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I don’t know if the signatories of the Telegraph letter appealed to religious figures to join their ranks, but it would be nice to hear more (or just ‘something’, I guess) from the churches calling Cameron out on this cynical vote-winning exercise. He stokes up the sense of entitlement and fear in the heartland and uses it to bring back votes, talking about how much Christians struggle in their faith daily here, and does so, at least currently, without a full-throated rebuttal from religious figures. Why isn’t anyone pointing out that Christians in the UK can function just fine without the pandering input of politicians bent on winning the votes of people any person with a conscience would be ashamed to count as supporters?

David Cameron’s appeal to Christians in England should be a motivator to everyone North of the border who has ever set foot in a church, said a prayer or read Kierkegaard. The votes he appeals to are not yours-they are in the New-Right Anglican mould. People who believe, with equal insincerity, that food banks are just awful and that their religious expression is threatened daily. People who think that the faux-sacrifice of austerity, at disproportionately low cost to themselves, is a fitting penance for the country’s moral and economic recklessness. Professing Christians everywhere should be outspoken in their condemnation of this demagogic shift-it does nobody any favours.

 

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  1. Maggie Craig says:

    Well, I’ve always felt that Christ was the first socialist.

    1. west_lothian_questioner says:

      Sadly, Maggie, the Jesus we were all told about in school doesn’t seem to have much to do with Christianity as it has evolved, but yes, I agree he was definitely a lefty and a bit of a firebrand if the gossip is at all true.

  2. I don’t want to live in a Theocracy, whether it was Iran or Ireland in years gone by. Unlike the author, however, I would call David Cameron out on his faith.

    Point to anything his government has done which shows “Christianity”.

    Feed the hungry? They introduced hunger to a country that hadn’t really experienced it for generations.

    “The worker is worthy of his wage”? Workfare, criminally low minimum wage, anyone?

    “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” – in other words, pay your taxes. The ConDems think that’s for mugs.

    “The meek shall inherit the earth” – unless it benefits one of our donors.

    I feel sure that, when this doesn’t pan out, we’ll hear about him dropping that “God crap”, as he did the “Green crap”.

  3. tammcgarvey says:

    The hypocrisy is so obvious its sad..
    If David Cameron is going to play the Christian card then lets see him practice what he preaches.
    I dont remember much of the New Testament gospels but a few wee gems that have stayed with me.

    Its well known the J.C. spent a lot of time with the poor and visiting the sick.
    D.C. Spends a lot of time making the problems of the poor and sick more acute eg. ATOS, bedroom tax, higher cost of living etc.
    And did Jesus not crowdfund a huge tuna sandwich to feed the poor? Was this a proto food bank? Dave would have disapproved no doubt.
    Then what about Jesus breenging into the Temple area and setting about the money changers with a whip, kicking over their tables, condemning them for turning his father’s house into a den of robbers?
    Sounds pretty much like our temple of democracy in London with its dodgy M.Ps and corporate lobbyists. Going by his previous form and that of his New Labour predecessors, Dave would have provided them with security against the hippy protestor, lowered their space rental and given them most favourable terms and a huge bonus.
    Then Jesus advises a man who seeks eternal life to sell his bling and designer gear then give the money to the poor. Dave would have advised him not to encourage scroungers have faith in high-end retail.

    I think Matthew 23:27 describes Dave well – ” a white washed sepulchre full of dead mens bones”.

    1. I’ll vote to have you as my minister in following the “one true faith” – great stuff!

      1. tammcgarvey says:

        Then, before the multitude, you shall have an extra slice of my giant crowd funded tuna sandwich.
        We must turn wine into water sometime soon.

  4. andyshall says:

    412,855 people voted Tory in Scotland at the last General Election (and got one MP for their trouble). Cameron may be trying to re-capture Tory defectors to UKIP in England but the constant refrain of how progressive Scotland is compared to England is getting a bit tired and fails to reflect the fact that the difference in the votes for the Tories, Tories in Sandals (AKA Lib Dems) and Brian Souter’s SNP friends was less than the electorate for one English seat.

    1. braco says:

      Ok Andyshall,
      how did those numbers pan out during the last properly proportional electoral system when tactical voting can be assumed to have been generally minimised ? (That’s Holyrood by the way)

      A genuine question.

      1. andyshall says:

        The Holyrood vote in 2011 was SNP 902,915 votes (31%), Labour 630,461 (29.2%), Tories 276,652 (16.6%) and Lib Dems 157,714 votes (11.3%). The turnout was 50% so the actual level of support for the main parties was around 15.5%, 14.6%, 8.4% and 5.6%. Hardly evidence of a democratic mandate for any of them.

    2. braco says:

      Thanks Andyshall,
      not sure what your point is now though? Surely without your slight of hand 100% electoral turnout trick (which would be lovely but unlikely) the figures quite clearly show the Scottish voting public’s preferences for left of center ‘progressive’ politics as opposed to rUK’s voting public’s apparent choices favouring the right of the political spectrum? (The reason behind NewLabours not unreasonable well documented electoral and policy shifts in an attempt to satisfy a majority of their potential voting customers and gain power, located as they are in England) Not a moral judgement, just electoral facts surely. UK’s unbelievable lack of 100% turnout for general elections too, not withstanding.

      1. andyshalla says:

        The point is about lazy stereotypes – Ian Blackford, Brian Souter and MIchael Fry are not more progressive than the average English trade unionist and there remains a significant right-wing rump in Scotland. If Scotland does become independent then I hope it at least aims for a Nordic model rather than a phoney “Celtic Tiger” one but let’s not get too far ahead of events.

      2. braco says:

        Andyshall,
        at the moment all I am after is that the democratic voice of the country of Scotland as a political entity is heard and acted upon by those politicians elected to represent that voice. Seems this simple concept of democratic accountability is too difficult to grasp for some folk. The idea that Scotland will have some right wing individuals who decide to be politically active (as is their human right for goodness sake) has absolutely NO bearing on whither Democracy is applicable in the Country of Scotland or not.

      3. braco says:

        Also Andyshall,
        on your percentage of the vote for the 2011 Holyrood election, surely if Labour gained 29.2% of the vote with 630,461 then SNP must have got either 669,325 votes for their 31%, or 41.8% for their 902,915 votes?

        Also do these votes include both the first past the post constituencies as well as the proportional aspect of the system in the form of the regional list? It just seems to my memory that the overall SNP vote was marginally over the 45% level. I could be wrong though.

  5. tartanfever says:

    Cameron is just copying events of the early 80’s in the USA. At that time, many church leaders in the south told their congregations not to vote. With the rise of the ‘neo-cons’ at the time, rallying against all things liberal, they persuaded congregations that they should vote republican.

    Many church leaders took up the call.

    The neo-cons presented the argument very simply. Liberalism had failed because it was ‘communist’ and sinful. It disrespected Christian values and was destroying the nuclear family. The church leaders spun these messages into their weekly sermons and they became highly persuasive arguments to many church goers. These values and messages would eventually see Reagan being elected.

    Cameron has the same idea. The plan is too remove voters intentions away from political issues into the realm of religious values. People will vote on the morality of the Christian message as opposed to specific party policy.

    Now it will never be on the same scale as events in the USA, but it’s an opportunist way to engage with voters outside the political sphere in middle england where many of the crunch constituencies lie. Being able to attract a few thousand extra voters in what is expected to be a closely fought election in 2015 could make all the difference.

    On a general note, it follows the Conservative vision of following in the footsteps of all things Republican in the USA.

  6. I’m a Christian. I simply can’t understand how a Christian can embrace Capitalism. I believe Socialist values for social and economic justice do reflect the values of Jesus. But I dont think Jesus was a proto Socialist. I can’t be a Socialist becausec Socialism is also Statism. It seems to me that the vision of Common Weal has a good balance – public ownership of public services, but not state ownership. I would balance this with aspects pf the vision of Distributism – a mixture of public (community) and private ownership of small businesses with workers being paid just wages that permit them to own their homes, and social housing for those who are not able to work, or work enough, to earn enough to own their homes. Upper limits should be placed by the Government on income, as well as just lower limits.

    I’m not an economist or politician, but these are my reflections, drawn from both Socialist and Distributist visions. They avoid both unbridiled greed – Capitalism – and Statism.

    1. braco says:

      I am very sympathetic to your ideas, although I am no Christian. The problem as I see it however is that Scotland is and always has been, a very outward looking country. We use all world knowledge to feed our own specific knowledge creating institutes to formulate our own specifically Scottish solutions to the problems we face.

      This requires some form of ‘Democracy’ as the foundation and so I must give democracy primacy over any personal sympathies I might have for the vision you outline.

      The problem with religion or religiuos feelings with regard to politics is that in the final analysis, belief in an omnipotent god is totally inconsistent with any true democracy.

      1. The Scottish tradition, from the Declaration of Arbroath, is that an omnipotent God is the basis of democracy. Power comes from God to the people, who then delegate power to the “Monarch” or governments. This is in contrast to the English notion that power comes from God to the Monarch (now the Monarch in Parliament). Democracy has no place in this system, and parliamentary elections are inconsistent with this notion of power.

        This difference is one reason why the Union cannot work. Scotland is foundationally democratic. England is foundationally autocratic.

      2. braco says:

        ‘Scotland is foundationally democratic. England is foundationally autocratic.’
        Dangerous rubbish!

        You are very selective in your reading of Scottish and English history. I enjoy the Declaration of Arbroath as much as the next person but even if you ignore the fact it refers to the power of an elite to replace their leader the king (not some romantic notion of a medieval democracy) , it is in no way at the foundation of Scotland’s history as an Independent Country. What about the hundreds of years previously, when Scotland was a fully independent country/kingdom?

        Sounds like pre Arbroath = Old Testament, post Arbroath = New Testament.

        D of Arbroath was simply telling the Pope and the world who was now in power in Scotland. The Pope (and so God) being good at keeping and wielding power, agreed.

        England has a long and honourable history of ‘democratic’ movements and breakthroughs throughout it’s history just as Scotland does. This kind of romantic simplification of complex political histories, does the great heroes of these early nascent democratic movements a real insult.

        The real question for you as a Christian is, if God’s word (as you understand it) should come into direct conflict with the democratic will of the sovereign ‘people’, which has supremacy?

        Is God not your King, as Democracy is mine?

      3. andyshall says:

        Braco – in reponse to your earlier point, I wrote the percentages down incorrectly.They should be 45.39%, 31.66%, 13.91%, 7.93%. My apologies. The point about levels of actual popular support none the less remains.

      4. braco says:

        Thanks Andy, no problem but I think we can now let the figures speak for themselves.

    2. Illy says:

      “public ownership of public services, but not state ownership”

      I think you are confused.

      The public owns the state. Or that’s the concept anyway.

      It’s better to reassert public control over the state, than to try to sidestep it.

      1. I agree that the public owns the state, but the examples I have seen of Socialism is that the state comes to control the public. A balance of authorities between the state and other publicly owned authorities seems to me to prevent this absolutist statism.

    3. Robert R. Calder says:

      The sort of thing I read William Steele as referring to — I think he and I were classmates at Edinburgh long ago — goes back to the discussions in Glasgow over a century ago, and associated with the journal THE NEW AGE, and Edwin Muir, John Anderson and other philosophers, see Michael Easson’s online thesis on Matthew Robieson — The problem was that the advantages of Free Market and reforming programmes tended to be smothered by centralising powers, Statism as an evil is not so very different from partyism, Excluded alternatives generally are buried as if by some process regarded as like the will of some god. For a God of Christians the lost ideas are not dead, but it is a hard business to demonstrate that they are still alive. I noticed a William Steele lauding a former teacher of ours (if he is the William I remember) about whom I put together a sort of short biography for a book published by the Saltire Society. I am writing about him at much greater length now.

  7. Clootie says:

    We are at the fork in the road.

    One path leads to a place described by terms like “common weal”,”fairness”,”a just society”.
    The other path has a big billboard at the start with the UKIP poster.

    Which path do you want to take?

    As regards Cameron’s Christianity, it is manipulation of emotion on a par with the UKIP poster.

    Too many conflicts begin when “my religion” replaces “my faith”
    …look after, respect and help your fellow man.

  8. daibhidhdeux says:

    I wonder how Cameron feels about Camilo Torres and Liberation Theology, and the radical Christian roots of the radical socialist/ Home Rule movement across these isles?

    Suspect he would have a touch of Victorian vapours given his cherry-picking approach to Christology.

    Thatcher had no such qualms in her hijacking and distortion of one of the Church’s saints well kent for his humility and poverty in her accession speech/interview to the press pre-launch of her Neo-Con morphed to Neo-Liberal Reich project: Saint Francis of Assisi well fcuked over after the fashion of the Square Mile’s fraternal Mafia on the Italian Boot of Europe with their equally mawkish and sentimental and Pharisaical dedication to Assisi’s radical theology (in theory, only).

    Strikes me that Cameron has more in common with the fanatics of the Inquisition and their counterparts and mirror images on the Protestant side with an Anglican twist.

    Perhaps, Cardinal Wolsey is his Man? Or, back-stabbing Cromwell?

    The disembowel, rack, and burn them at the stake “Christians” and fix the heretics’s heads on pikes type of the lovers of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who tore Europe apart for generations each in their own factional cause?

    My money is on him backing this bloody-thirsty variant on the defiled message of Christ despite his Judas words couched as Agape.

  9. Vote No. Get Dave, George, Boris and Nigel in2015.

  10. Ther Anent says:

    Good to question Cameron’s motives.
    Is Britain (UK) Christian? In the unwritten constitution, the monarch is head of the Church of England. That makes the head of state head of the established church. So from top down the UK can be seen as Christian.
    Not sure where the Church of Scotland fits in – would be good to know.
    A very pertinent essay by Vicky Allan in the Sunday Herald – ‘Better Apart…’ raises the question of how our future constitution should be written, And I agree with her that our constitution should be secular.

    1. It seems to me that we need an acknowledgement of God in our constitution, without an establishment of any particular religion, and the notion of power coming from God directly to the people, as a protection against statist absolutism, and to protect minorities.

      1. Ther Anent says:

        Not everybody acknowledges the same. Rights to freedom of expression and conscience can be contained in the constitution without reference to such an entity as God.
        In a democracy power ought to reside with the people.

  11. bringiton says:

    Give me 10% of your wages and I will preach the virtues of flogging and hanging.
    Praise the lord for our daily bread.

    1. Cameron embraces the concept of Christendom, with the state controlling the Church. The Scots fought against that in the 17th century, and protested against from 1711 until 1928. So we do not have a state church in Scotland. There are still vestiges of Christendom in the Church of Scotland being the Church by Law Established, and the coronation oath. The SNP as said that the religious situation will not change in independent Scotland. That may be so if we get an SNP Government. I think that while the SNP may form the form the first government of Independent Scotland, future governments will be coalitions of more leftist governments, perhaps with the SNP, perhaps with other leftist parties. In that case I think that the establishment of the C of S will be abolished. The Coronation oath will be defunct anyway after independence. Hopefully the coronation will soon be defunct in the Republic of the Scots.

  12. MBC says:

    Speaking personally, as a Christian, I can only say that any Christians I know are to the left of centre on most issues, and reflect the consensus of the general population in terms of these issues. As to why Dave is speaking out now, I can only surmise it is UKIP and the European elections. He must be trying to appeal to what he imagines is a kind of UK patriotism. But most Christians I know wouldn’t vote Tory. Or UKIP!

  13. Ther Anent says:

    On Palm Sunday I happened to be in York Minster, while the latest deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan were attending a dedication service. Outside the minster is a statue of Roman Emperor Constantine with the inscription ‘By this sign you shall conquer’. The sign being the cross, this refers to Constantine’s conversion following his vision of the holy rood.
    And on St George’s day, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw, is quoted as saying, “the people of Scotland look forward to slaying the independence dragon on September 18.”
    Looks like fighting talk from those who follow that ‘soldier saint’.

    Lest we had any doubt what version of Christianity the Tories prefer.

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