Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is David Cameron ‘surrounded by secularists’?

There was an article in last week’s Scottish Sunday Times (£) by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, who alleges that the Prime Minister ‘has surrounded himself with religiously illiterate, secularist advisers’.

As a consequence, ‘the coalition is carrying on from the previous Labour Government, forcing people to act against their conscience or face punishment from the state’, and so ‘religious liberty is suffering’.

Continuing the ‘aggressive secularism’ theme pursued by Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishop likened the UK to a country that has ‘passed into the grip of secularist militants’.

His Grace has spoken to senior No10 officials and Cabinet ministers about these perceptions a number of times, and on each occasion the (surprisingly frank) response is the same, along the lines of: “He doesn’t really grasp…”, or “He doesn’t appreciate…” or “He doesn’t understand…”.

His Grace has observed this.

It is not, unlike Tony Blair, that David Cameron doesn’t ‘do God’; he manifestly does and will doubtless continue to do so. It is quite simply, for him, that strategic matters of politics and urgent questions of economics considerably outweigh nebulous issues of philosophy.

And theology.

And so there is perhaps something in the Bishop’s perception that Mr Cameron is surrounded by the ‘religiously illiterate’: his principal advisers are drawn from the worlds of journalism and PR, and the secondary tier are lawyers and economists.

The Conservative Party has long-suffered the perception that the Parliamentary Party is disproportionately composed of lawyers and accountants: the number of QCs and FCAs on the green benches has helped to sustain the perception that it is the ‘party of the rich’.

But professional diversity was enhanced slightly with the 2010 intake – a few teachers and nurses – even if social diversity diminished.

But the increasing professional diversity did not stretch to include philosophers and theologians.

Even in the House of Lords (why on earth was Bishop Michael Nazir Ali not elevated?).

At least the Labour Party has (the Rev’d) Chris Bryant countering (or complementing?) its godlessness.

But there are those who might riposte that the most pressing problems are economic and the priority concerns are acutely political.

To which His Grace would respond that economic concerns are political priorities are devoid of neither philosophy nor theology.

Baroness Warsi appears to appreciate this.

But she is manifestly not a Cameron adviser.

And whilst the odd token minority might be appointed to a peripheral advisory body, it is observed that there is no Anglican to advise on constitutional issues relating to the Established Church.

And no Christian at all to advise on behalf of those who are profoundly concerned by the apparently inexorable deification of ‘equality’ and the increasing intolerance of religious dissent.

If the ‘Big Society’ means anything, it must have depth and breadth. If it has no breadth, it is not big. And you can’t get much more breadth than the broadness of the Established Church.

When David Cameron talks of ‘Broken Britain’, he is in a sense attempting to restore communion and relationship – a balanced and harmonious network of relationships where society and the individual survive in mutual and necessary interconnection. While it is not the theologian’s task to devise particular political models, it is the very raison d’être of politicians since political activity aims for a social ideal of order which allows individuals to flourish in communion and relationship with their neighbours. Politicians will indicate the form of that society, why they are aiming at it and how they will attain it. If theologians can find a transformative social programme of applied theology in the Trinity, it is reasonable to believe that conservative Christians might begin to find in the compromises and conflicts of the outworking of their philosophy a transformative practical wisdom to challenge both the individualist liberal and collectivist totalitarian tendencies of man. And in the human political endeavour these conflicts manifest themselves in ways in which the Trinity is never conflicted: while God is harmoniously unified in interdependent diversity, man is perpetually debating the tensions in independent disunity.

If the Conservative Party is a ‘broad church’, the Church of England is a ‘broad party’.

And that breadth must be tolerated, lest it fracture and fragment into a plethora of denominational pressure groups, each intent on securing maximum advantage for the pursuit of its own religio-political objective.

The Bishop wrote about Mr Cameron: “It would appear his priority up until now has been to have an exchange of ideas with more liberal and radical minorities, including sexual minorities. It would appear that those immediately surrounding and advising the prime minister, and perhaps Mr Cameron himself, are not religiously literate and simply have no reference to religious sensibilities.”

He is clearly of the view, despite appearances to the contrary, that the Coalition is simply continuing and perpetuating the same secularising agenda as that pursued during 13 years of the profoundly anti-Christian Labour government: both are effectively saying: ‘Go against your consciences or the state will punish you with all the sanctions of the law’.

Bishop Joseph also observes: “The parliamentary process no longer appears to represent the mind of the electorate, nor reflects the moral concerns of a substantial majority of the population.” He continued: “Clearly there is a major problem of political leadership in Britain. The political class seems incapable of navigating a moral course because it is no longer sure in what – if anything – it still believes.”

Ah, whenever the ‘political class’ attempts to navigate ‘a moral course’, it usually founders upon the rock of hypocrisy. Ever since ‘Back to Basics’ was swiftly followed by revelations of salacious sex and sordid affairs, politicians have withdrawn from matters of morality like the church has largely withdrawn from political engagement.

Neither wishes to be sullied by association with the other.

When David Davis recently observed that David Cameron and his Notting Hill coterie have little appreciation of ‘the common man’, he restricted his ‘bombshell’ critique to council housing, crime, immigration, child benefit and the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor his Chancellor ‘come from backgrounds where people have to scrape together money at the end of the week’.

Man does not live by child benefit alone.

The Conservative Party needs to rediscover its soul.

Margaret Thatcher observed: ‘Morality lies in choosing between feasible alternatives. A moral being is one who exercises his own judgment in choice, on matters great and small, bearing in mind their moral dimension, i.e., right and wrong.’ According to David Cameron, society is ‘broken’ essentially because it is subject to the same oppression identified by Margaret Thatcher: ‘a socialist-statist philosophy which sets up a centralised economic system to which the individual must conform, which subjugates him, directs him and denies him the right to free choice'.

The only way to challenge that is head-on, as the Pope explained, which David Cameron appeared to grasp.

And that would need all the PR the Party can muster.

For if the media caricature Mr Cameron’s political advisers to this absurd extent, how much more will their pathologically-aggressive secularism persuade them to pour scorn and heap ridicule upon the poor person engaged to improve the Prime Minister’s religious literacy?

We would move rapidly from Cameron’s Philosopher-King to Cameron’s Rasputin.

The invective would be hateful and the onslaught merciless.

And so the moral anarchy persists, and so the consciences of Christians and rights of the religious are restricted. We are indeed in thrall to ‘a small clique of metropolitan liberals’, intent on legislating in a fashion which transgresses the human rights of believers to manifest their religion, and which ‘forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs’.

When the liberal democratic state ceases to tolerate benign religious dissent, it ceases to be either liberal or democratic.

And when the Conservative Party ceases to preserve all that is good in our constitution, it ceases to be conservative.


Anonymous martin sewell said...

There must be a pastoral cleric somewhere, without political aspiration, that the Prime Minister could trust and who could give him the support and grounding that he needs, when all about him is noise invective and

We are losing the House of Lords to greater party politics. Where will the Prime Minister find the voice of sympathetic challenge to counterbalance the zeitgeist?

More particularly, is he interested in looking?

26 January 2011 at 11:49  
Anonymous Caedmon's Cat said...

Dr Cranmer --

The substance of your post isn't of the least surprise to me. But then, the Parliamentary Conservative Party isn't representative of the values of most grass roots conservatives. For example, it has steadfastly refused to bow to popular demand for a referendum on our continued membership of the European Soviet. If it (and by 'it' I mean Cameron et alia) won't take the populace seriously on the big political issues, it's hardly likely to pay much heed to the Established Church..

26 January 2011 at 11:54  
Anonymous Preacher said...

Perhaps we could exchange Dave for Julia - Gillard that is. The Aussie P.M She seems a BIG improvement on the Dave & Nick show.

26 January 2011 at 12:02  
Blogger DP111 said...

The Epistle to the Hebrews could well have directed to England 2011.

26 January 2011 at 12:52  
Anonymous stedmancinques said...

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

26 January 2011 at 14:06  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Dissolution of the Long Parliament by Oliver Cromwell given to the House of Commons, 20 April 1653

26 January 2011 at 14:12  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

political activity aims for a social ideal of order which allows individuals to flourish in communion and relationship with their neighbours.

Your Grace is harking back to the days when Britain was governed with a light touch, when everything was allowed unless expressly forbidden. But, then, a sovereign country of one race, one culture and one religion can be governed with a light touch and can give its people a remarkable degree of freedom. As we have moved from one culture to many cultures and from self-government to rule by Brussels, the aim of political activity has necessarily become one of control and repression.

26 January 2011 at 14:19  
Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

This is a core issue but I don't think you will like my comment.

The Church has no place in politics. The Americans dealt with this a long time ago. Article 6 The Constitution protects US citizens from the kind of pressure that might be applied to politicians.

"no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Of course the Republicans flagrantly ignore this but that is neither here nor there. Your Grace, you may be in favour of putting more out Christians in government, but that is because Christianity is still just about the majority religion. Will your views be the same in fifty years time when the majority religion in Britain is Islam?

The only counter to my piece is that neither should governments concern themselves with morality or political correctness or dodgy social engineering schemes. The government is there to protect our national security and to provide basic services. It has long overstepped the mark and now interferes with individual choice to a chilling extent.

26 January 2011 at 14:27  
Blogger Edward Spalton said...

There has been ample time for Cameron to repeal the odious Labour "equality" laws under which Christians are persecuted. That he did not do so shows his priorities as "the heir to Blair" - another person who claimed Christian belief but acted contrary to it when in government and it mattered.

26 January 2011 at 14:44  
Anonymous Oswin said...

They ''don't do religion'' because it exempts them from facing the problem of Islam.

Yes, it is a bizarre reaction, but it is the underlying cause. In failing to defy an enemy, they have shorn themselves of their Christian heritage ... all in the vague hope of placating the unplacatable.

A suitable corollary being the establishment attitude towards Churchill, before his 'truth' became THE truth. These are the 'wilderness years' for Christianity.

There you have the real reason why Bishop Michael Nazir Ali was not elevated to the Lords.

The R.C Bishop, Joseph Devine, may be right in asserting that the Prime Minister ''has surrounded himself with religiously illiterate, secularist advisers'' ... but that is not the 'cause' but the 'reaction'.

26 January 2011 at 14:48  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

You wrote:

‘… both [Socialist and Conservative] are effectively saying: “Go against your consciences or the state will punish you with all the sanctions of the law”’.

If such a statement was made about a foreign state, the majority of readers would normally infer that the state in question was either Nazi or Communist.

Our government and we the people now stand on dangerous ground. But we are still talking and commenting. It is when men run out of words that they reach for their swords.

26 January 2011 at 14:56  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Cranmer said

Continuing the ‘aggressive secularism’ theme pursued by Pope Benedict XVI

To garner the support of such a discredited individual as the Pope reveals the weakness of the argument.

Mr Cameron is surrounded by the ‘religiously illiterate’

This is the familiar bleating of the religious lobby. You don’t need to know anything about religion to know that is just myth and superstition. Do I really have to wade through seven volumes of Harry Potter to decide if represents reality or not?

And so the moral anarchy persists

No it doesn’t; what breathtaking arrogance! The majority of people are good with or without god. Your Daily Mail view of society does you no service. Get out in the real world and you will find that it isn’t so bad. Most here seem paralysed by fear an unfounded fear that the world is falling apart, it isn’t.

26 January 2011 at 15:08  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Ah! Mr Davis! Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic - whilst the band plays the same old tune.

What is there to fear from such a regular world?

26 January 2011 at 15:12  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

What is there to fear from such a regular world?

Only fear itself

26 January 2011 at 15:20  
Anonymous graham Wood said...

"And when the Conservative Party ceases to preserve all that is good in our constitution, it ceases to be conservative."

But successive "Conservative" governments, like also their Socialist predecessors, have continually and actively "ceased to preserve our Constitution".
As already pointed out, the mere fact that we remain in the EU is proof positive.
Cameron is at least honest enough to admit that he is the "heir to Blair", and he appears to be living up to exactly that. In fact I can see little difference between the two.
The current government is as secularist and Statist as Cameron is himself.
As a previous poster commented, he has had ample time to repeal the nonsensical 'equality laws' of Labour. And no, Cranmer, I do not agree that Cameron "does God"

26 January 2011 at 15:36  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Graham Davis

I understand, and respect, your regular point of view, even though I believe otherwise; but I doubt that the circumstance under discussion is fashioned, motivated by those of similar opinion to yours. Rather, it is an absence of opinion, one that accidentally accords with your own. Does that sit easily with you; or are you wary of strange bed-fellows? I ask merely out of interest.

26 January 2011 at 15:40  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Oswin I’m not sure if I understand exactly what you mean. However I broadly support the secular agenda as expressed by the likes of the NSS and Dawkins though I disagree on some specifics, like abortion. The appearance of aggressive atheism/secularism mentioned in the OP was to a great extent motivated by 9/11 and the advance of Islam and this coincided with the rise of Creationism in the US

Although I don’t much like his style, Dawkins films and books exposed many of the absurd Creationist claims and the degree to which they had taken hold in the Bush administration to the detriment of science and his (now defunct) website forum revealed the extent to which many atheists in the US were frightened to reveal themselves for fear being discriminated against, many with a genuine fear of losing their jobs. At the same time he revealed the corruption and hypocrisy of many of the most prominent mega preachers whose human “failings” were kept hidden from their congregations while the cash flowed in.

Even though I can reasonably be regarded as one of them I don’t regard the aggressive secularists as my bed-fellows as I prefer to plough my own furrow although we share many of the same aspirations.

The reason that I “haunt these forums” as one poster once put it is because I like a challenge and vigorous debate. I know I come across as bolshy, lets face it I am, but I am genuinely curious as to what makes you guys tick as well as feeling the need to oppose what I consider to be misrepresentation of the secular/atheist agenda and in particular the accusation that we are somehow missing any moral compass.

26 January 2011 at 16:28  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Thanks Graham, I appreciate your reply.

As for 'bed-fellows, I didn't mean the ''aggresive secularists'' but the 'accidental' ones, as it were.


26 January 2011 at 16:49  
Anonymous Michael said...

Your paranoia about "secularism" and the drive to maintain inextricable link between church and state is amazing. Imagine if all that energy were spent on poor relief or similar worthwhile endeavours. But God forbid the right of clergy to dictate our lives were to be infringed upon, that would be a REAL disaster. Christ.

26 January 2011 at 16:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Militant Islam, Militant Gays, Militant Secularism...and where is the church? Asleep as usual.

26 January 2011 at 17:34  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Anonymous @ 17: 34

I was quite fond of Militant Martin, she of ''That was the week that was''...

26 January 2011 at 17:55  
Anonymous len said...

The reason that the 'Religion' started by Jesus Christ has become ineffectual and lacking the power and the punch it originally had in the beginning is compromise.
We have seen Politicians (not many) who 'do God'but this seems to be only nominally.
It seems that State and Religion do not mix especially when the State is in the dominant position.
Religion where the State is dominant and Religion subservient leads to a diluted form of Christianity that is prevalent today.
The State infused with 'Worldly 'values( totally opposed to Kingdom values ) will eventually corrupt Christianity given the chance.Religion in this respect becomes merely a tool,an extension of the State.
The form of Christianity practised today in many Churches, and by those who 'do God'would be unrecognisable by the early Church.
As I said earlier Christianity has been plagued by compromise and the 'additions of men'until it has been distorted and message watered down in attempts to make it acceptable to a fallen world.
Christianity SHOULD be changing the World not compromising with it!

26 January 2011 at 19:47  
Anonymous Philip said...

Leaving aside that I would have thought the CofE is responsible for upholding the Biblical protestant Reformed faith (the 39 Articles presumably) rather than being “broad” (but maybe HG means “broad” in a different sense than doctrinal “broadness”), I agree on the main point of this post: the crucial issue the RC Bishop raises about the advisers Mr Cameron seems to have surrounded himself with.

We are indeed “in thrall to ‘a small clique of metropolitan liberals’, intent on legislating in a fashion which transgresses the human rights of believers to manifest their religion, and which ‘forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs’.”

It does seem that Mr Cameron is committed to Labour’s socialist “inexorable deification of ‘equality’ “, and (even if by default) to “the increasing intolerance of religious dissent.” And he seems to go along with the ‘uber-moderniser’/metropolitan liberal apparent belief that the main way a political party can be judged to be modernised and not ‘nasty’ is the extent it conforms to the agenda of those who claim to represent the sexual minority which is apparently 1% of the population.

So “the Coalition is simply continuing and perpetuating the same secularising agenda as that pursued during 13 years of the profoundly anti-Christian Labour government: both are effectively saying: ‘Go against your consciences or the state will punish you with all the sanctions of the law’.”

But yes, who the PM has surrounding him as advisers must contribute to this state of affairs. A crucial issue.

26 January 2011 at 21:44  
Blogger Owl said...

"his principal advisers are drawn from the worlds of journalism and PR, and the secondary tier are lawyers and economists"

Layer 1 - spin doctors, propaganda has priority.

Layer 2 - legal beavers, Dave is covering his arse.

The people wanted a PM with the courage of his convictions and an honest vision that they could believe in.

We got Blair mark II.

There is only UKIP left.

26 January 2011 at 22:37  
Anonymous Dave B said...

Isn't Phillip Blond a theologian? He's supposed to be part of the Conservatives' top table.

27 January 2011 at 11:08  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Wrong question. Why has Cameron, a weapons grade ass, surrounded himself with other weapons grade asses?

28 January 2011 at 11:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace, will you please write a blog post on the English Defence League which was featured on Newsnight tonight, on behalf of those of us who can't do it ourselves for many reasons?

1 February 2011 at 23:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that the Roman Catholic Church now supports secularism, so I look forward to seeing a blog post 'clarifying' the above.

2 February 2011 at 20:20  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...

It seems to me that Chief Druid Rowan is surrounded by and at the centre of a reality illiterate clique.

9 June 2011 at 14:45  

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