David Cameron does God
But in a very welcome, not to say wholly refreshing interview for the London Evening Standard, David Cameron has talked about his Christian faith in a fashion which would have had Alastair Campbell gnashing his teeth and jumping over a cliff with the Gadarene swine.
In talking about God, Church, prayers (and what he really thinks of Boris), the next prime minister of the United Kingdom (d.v.) is perfectly candid, indeed quite ‘chilled’, in revealing that he prays regularly and understands Christianity to be a 'good guide' by which one might live.
Is faith in God important to him? He says: "If you are asking, do I drop to my knees and pray for guidance, no. But do I have faith and is it important, yes. My own faith is there, it's not always the rock that perhaps it should be.
"I've a sort of fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments but...I suppose I sort of started life believing that one's individual faith was important, but actually the institutions of the church were less important.
"I do think that organised religion can get things wrong but the Church of England and the other churches do play a very important role in society."
It is revealed that Mr Cameron waited until he was 18 years old before being confirmed in order that he was sure it was what he really believed. He explains: "I was a good, sceptical, questioning Christian when I was younger. I liked to think it through, thinking am I really sure about this? But I don't feel I have a direct line (to God).
"I think that it's perfectly possible to live a good life without having faith, by which I mean a positive and altruistic life, but I think the teachings of Jesus just as the teachings of other religions are a good guide to help us through.
"Do unto others as you would have them do to you; don't walk on by. These are good and thoughtful ideas to bring to life."
And it was suggested that his Christian insight was foundational to his speech at this year’s party conference.
It is no surprise, being Anglican, that his religious fervour runs 'hotter and colder by moments'. Cranmer has suffered (and suffers) the same: it is evidence that one is human. There is a via media between the ‘hotter’ moments when one may be deluded that one has a 'direct line to God’, and the ‘colder’ moments when one may be equally deluded into believing that God has cancelled the contract.
And perhaps Christians in politics may experience more ‘colder moments’ than those in many other professions.
There will be those who assert that this interview says nothing: that is just 'motherhood and apple pie'. But they would be wrong, for in the declaration that Mr Cameron is a practising Anglican (as opposed to a cultural one), there is insight into his preferred methods of motherhood and his favourite recipe for apple pie.
Of course, all of the world’s religions are enriched to some extent with great spiritual expression and are replete with millennia and centuries of insight into the human condition. In a plural society, Mr Cameron is rightly concerned to create space for them all in the public sphere, yet that admission is not based on equality or equivalence, but respect. He is not ashamed to say that it is the Christian faith about which he is ‘sure’, and it is Jesus in whom he ‘really believed’. Significantly, he highlights the ‘Golden Rule’ as being that which distinguishes between theology that is ‘good and thoughtful’ and that which is not.
Poignantly, and admirably for such a senior politician, he is unembarrassed to talk about grief as he discloses his greatest fear: that he might lose another child. He says: “That's fear Number One. Particularly as it has happened already, it is a sort of permanent fear.” He added: “The most natural thing in your life is to look after your little ones.”
And one begins to grasp something of his belief in the stable building block of society: "My family is the most important thing in my life. I had a strong and supportive family upbringing. And it was not the wealth, it was the warmth that counted. It was the love of good parents and brothers and sisters. I am very simple in that way."
And curiously, he revealed that his greatest driving force is a fear of failure and making a mess: “Fear of getting things wrong inspires me more than the wonder of getting things right.”
Cranmer would like to remind Mr Cameron that we are now in age in which politicians are so afraid of doing the wrong thing that they no longer have the courage or conviction to do what is right. Fear has to be dealt with.
Being Anglican can be one of the most difficult Christian paths to follow: one often feels that one is neither one thing nor another; as was once observed, that one is somehow 'crucified between the two thieves’ of the Puritans and the Papists; suspended between doctrinal fanaticism and superstitious ritualism. And this must be how David Cameron sometimes feels, suspended not only in his party between the modern Whigs and Tories, but in the country between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised ‘spirituality’; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities.
But it is refreshing to note that David Cameron is genuine and sincere in his expression of Anglicanism, and not pretending to be what he is not in order that people might not judge him to be a ‘nutter’. Cranmer would rather have a prime minister of any faith (or none) who is proud to declare his faith (or lack of it) than a pseudo-Anglican with undisclosed sympathies and undeclared beliefs whose awkwardness stems from the fear of what people might think.