Sunday, 1 March 2015

Wall of separation – disestablishment believes…

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

Here’s a question for you to ponder (possibly whilst ignoring that personalised Thornton’s easter egg behind you – other brands are available, etc.), during Lenten meditation: Would it be wrong – morally, legally, socially, etc. – for a major (‘national’) church or religious organization to unashamedly share beliefs with – or even openly support – a political party?

I’m not talking about self-evident entities such as Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU): which is distinctly “Christian-based, applying the principles of Christian democracy and emphasising the ‘Christian understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God’”; but a non-religious (even atheist) party, whose tenets coincided with the manifestly humanist approach embodied in the Church of England House of Bishops’ Who is my neighbour? pastoral letter. In other words, if there were a political organization whose manifesto chimed with this (partly theological) perspective on the common good – both social and utilitarian – surely that would be a worthy thing?

This is not to conflate church and state – the title of this series of posts, I hope demonstrates that… – merely to ask why, firstly, it would be “wrong” for the Church of England to say (or confirm) openly that they believed that such-a-party best concurred with their beliefs – perhaps even going so far as to recommend this view to their members – and, secondly, to prompt consideration of the possible outcomes. Presuming that – despite the historical terrors religion has inflicted on the world – the Church now stands for peace and understanding: wouldn’t the alternative be that we only have a growing list of morally-deficient “Nasty Parties” listed on the ballot paper…? (I know many would say that we reached that point a while back: but, hey, I’m still in supposition mode, here.)

The Church of England being such a traditionalist organization, at least in appearance, it is not surprising that, at the last election, a large majority of its members voted Conservative. However, as it accelerates its relevance to this technological era, and modernizes its rôle in an increasingly secular world, maybe, as a body, it is moving away from historic allegiances (“The Conservative Party at Prayer”), and therefore diverging from the views of orthodox individual Anglicans?

It evidently appears to some members of the the current Government that this is the case; and would explain why the Tories – in being critical – are, in fact, merely jealous guys: wanting piety (or merely its demonstration) to themselves; and the solipsistic blessing that, somehow, God managed to dispense to both sides in battle. Henry the Fifth may well have shouted “Cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” – but was it not the same “God” that Charles the Sixth also pleaded to? You can’t, as they say, have it both ways.

It is apparent that – welcome or not – many religious groups feel driven (and are now ‘brave’ enough) to involve themselves in politics: even if their actions are not driven by any party affiliation, or are carried out in what they hope is a non-partisan fashion. But I find this incredibly naïve. Any statement made with reference to policy will always have prior claims from at least one political party; and if the majority of your ‘preachings’ seem to reinforce this allegiance, then you will be seen as supporting them (as the Tories have done in the name of “political tribalism”).

However, making such a judgment may not be that simple: with one party grasping subjectively at those declarations they agree with, and decrying the others; and other parties doing the same – just with a different, maybe overlapping, Venn diagram of proclamations. Meaning that we end up with a publication in tatters, bereft of substance; or, more likely, an elephant in the room that is simultaneously “wall, snake, spear, tree, fan [and] rope”. You can’t, as they say, have it all ways. Or maybe you can. If you’re a politician.

My obviously subjective reading of the letter gives rise to a quite modern socialist interpretation: both, I think, as a result of my own biases, as reader; and, arguably, those of the bishops, as authors. As I have said, it is undoubtedly humanist (and certainly humanitarian), albeit with non-secular adjuncts – what I previously described as “a strange mix of religiosity and plain-speaking commonsense” – probably just to remind you who composed it (and, of course, that they have absolutely nothing to do with the Cult of Dawkins).

To render the elephant visible, then, why not – going back to my original question, above – simply say so? There is only one ‘major’ (whatever definition you use) political organization, at present, that even fits such a descriptor, and that is – no: don’t be daft, not the Labour Party; not now… – the Green Party. So why no recommendation to vote for them?

Well, apart from upsetting its existing hidebound members, I’m not sure I see a good reason. It would certainly make the Church (especially a disestablished one) seem more relevant to today’s young voters (although I don’t think that this is quite the moment to stray into some of the established churches’ youth-repelling views on sex, and all that entails, outside straight marriage… – where, of course, you can have it as many ways as you want…). Of course – he said, getting back to the matter in hand – they could always start their own party. I wonder what would happen if they then got into government…?

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