Cameron’s religion and the Archbishop’s politics

by Guy Brandon

319px-Rowan_Williams_-_by_BrianDavid Cameron has argued that the UK is a Christian country and that a revival of traditional Christian values is required to halt Britain’s ‘slow-motion moral collapse’. The context of this remark was partly the summer riots, but also the expenses scandal; the banking collapse, inequality and the bonus culture; and even the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Speaking at an event commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the Prime Minister stated that political correctness and a ‘live and let live’ attitude had led to the erosion of moral values in recent years, with Christians becoming increasingly wary of speaking out in public. Yet, he added, it is incorrect to say that standing up for Christianity was ‘somehow doing down other faiths’. Our society’s ‘moral neutrality’ and the problems it brings have to be countered with something tangible and active: ‘You can’t fight something with nothing.’

The unexpected political foray into religious territory has come in the same week that the Anglican Church was criticised for not offering enough answers for the country’s economic situation – a challenge echoed by Cameron in a reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of his speech.

Both stories presuppose that politics and faith should go together, and – particularly in the case of Cameron’s speech – have drawn the criticism that Britain is actually no longer a Christian country and that Christianity has no role in public policy. This position was memorable stated by Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell’s ‘we don’t do God’ comment. (In fairness, Campbell has clarified that this was not ‘a major strategic statement’ but an injudicious attempt to end an interview. However, he also noted that the wider context ‘was simply part of a view that in UK politics, it is always quite dangerous to mix religion and politics, not least because the electorate are not keen on it, and the media and politicians tend to misrepresent it whenever it happens.’)

The inescapable fact is that faith and politics do go together, whether or not we recognise it or want them to. Personal beliefs and worldview – Nick Clegg’s atheism, David Cameron’s ‘committed but… vaguely practising’ Anglicanism, Iain Duncan-Smith’s Roman Catholicism or any other example – all shape their own values and consequently how they approach their jobs. These three have, at least, all been open about their religious faith, or lack of it. But when we expect our politicians to divorce their personal beliefs from their work, we are actually demanding a lack of integrity from them…

Asking that faith has no part in public life is analogous to suggesting that politics has no part in private life. Whatever the complexities of managing the two, perhaps a relevant principle is ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

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Category: Blogs

December, 2011

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