Is David Cameron ‘surrounded by secularists’?
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 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.