18 December 2011

Dog in a manger

Yesterday David Cameron marked a rite-of-passage among Conservative Prime Ministers as he told a meeting of Church of England clergy in Oxford that a return to Christian values could counter the country's "moral collapse" and blamed a "passive tolerance" of immoral behaviour for this summer's riots, Islamic extremism, City excess and Westminster scandals. In my lifetime this same speech has been made by all previous serving Tory PMs, usually in marked contrast to the moral actions of their own supporters or backbench MPs. And right on cue, up popped Aiden Burley MP in a Nazi uniform to embarrass the PM into action, the latest in a line of Coalition casualties to come up short by this measure by their leader.

It's the sort of non-argument that the late, great Christopher Hitchens would skewer so much more eloquently than me, but I would make the simple observation that surely a morality based on rewards gained in heaven is exactly what Islamic extremists could do with less of, rather than an extra helping. But then that sort of bloviating bilgewater is exactly the sort of dog-whistle speech I expect a Tory PM to make to his party's heartlands, as someone only kept in the job by the support of a man of clay and the opposition of a man of straw.

Since the speech was made to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, Cameron probably felt obliged to declare that "Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so", which, of course attracted all the headlines. However, it was probably the least interesting part of what he said. Far more revealing for me was when he described himself as a "committed but vaguely practising Church of England Christian". This says all you need to know about the man; that this religious code is something for the rest of us, not Dave. So much for us being 'all in this together'. To paraphrase a former Prime Minister's Spin Doctor, Cameron "doesn't do God" either, but seemingly because he lacks the conviction. Instead, Dave does Christianity Lite: "I can't believe it's not Jesus".

It's the worst kind of Christianity that expects others to carry to weight of morality and faith. This is a subject on which I speak with some authority, having spent much of my formative years sat in drafty churches witnessing good, committed, decent people trying to discover what exactly it means to do the right thing. I know that it is exactly this kind of 'vaguely practising' Christian who is the biggest pain in the arse, who expects the church to act as a handmaiden in times of trouble. The sort of person who turns up to midnight mass every Christmas and expects a full "smells and bells" burial for his loved ones, but who would no more think of lifting a finger to help the church at other times of the year than he would think of streaking down Oxford Street on roller skates. Such people are quite easy to spot at this time of year, because they turn up to Midnight Mass at midnight, instead of 11.30pm when the service actually begins.


PW said...

The UK must surely be one of THE most secular societies in the whole world. Only a tiny percentage of people go to church regularly and truly active religious communities tend to be either non-Christian or - in recent years - Catholic, thanks to a influx of migrants from Poland. I think the debate between the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury on Christianity is a little like the post-iceberg discussions between the Captain and First Officer of the Titanic.

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