Dave does God
From Mr Alexander Boot:
The other day Dave had a Damascene experience. As his limousine rolled on the road to a press conference, he heard Focus Group speaking to him from high above.
“Why are ignoring me so, Dave?” asked Focus Group. “Why are you neglecting religion? Don’t you want to win the next election?”
“Oh come off it,” objected Dave. “I’m the heir to Blair. And Tony didn’t do God. Not until he was out of office.”
“And then?” asked with Focus Group, sounding positively condescending.
“He converted to Catholicism,” admitted Dave.
“Why d’you suppose he did that? Do you think he had a revelation?”
“Cherie and her family…”
“Never you mind Cherie and her family,” said Focus Group impatiently. “What was the real reason?”
“Well, Tony wanted to become President of Europe. And he thought being a Catholic might help. You know, Schuman, Monet, De Gaspieri, Delors, Santer – Catholics one and all. So Tony figured it was a job requirement. But don’t tell him I said this.”
“I won’t,” reassured Focus Group. “So why didn’t Tony convert while still at Number 10?”
“Oh, be serious.” It was Dave’s turn to be impatient. “He couldn’t. His core support wouldn’t wear it.”
“Exactly! Tony listened to vox populi, to me in other words. Do you, Dave?”
“What do you mean? I hardly do anything else!”
“Well, then you must know that your core support at the Tory grassroots is weak,” said Focus Group. “That’s putting it kindly. Putting it honestly, there’s nothing they say about you that hasn’t already been said about haemorrhoids.”
“What?!?” cried Dave, “What can I do about it?”
“Reassure them, that’s what. After that fiasco with homomarriage, you must shout off the rooftops that DAVE! NOW! DOES! GOD!!!”
Thus inspired, Dave chillaxed. He arrived at the press conference and announced with the sincerity we expect from our leaders, “‘I’m a Christian and an active member of the Church of England.”
As he delivered those rousing words, Dave glanced at the sky, but neither saw nor heard anything. Focus Group clearly felt Dave was on the right track.
And specifically, came the question. What parts of Christianity appeal to you most?
Tricky question. How does one answer it to the satisfaction of those bloody grassroots, but without upsetting one’s friends in W11 and N5? Dave desperately scanned the room looking for Focus Group, but it wasn’t in attendance.
He had to take a bold leap into uncertainty. The Scripture, he explained, is “not a bad handbook” for life.
Encouraged by The Guardian chap’s approving nod, Dave expanded with his usual eloquence. “What I think is so good about Jesus’s teachings is there are lots of things that he said that you can still apply very directly to daily life and to bringing up your children.”
“Simple things like do to others as you would be done by; love your neighbour as yourself, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount.”
Happiness all around. Except among those whose own faith doesn’t depend on Focus Group.
Four of the ‘simple’ things Dave mentioned are moral dicta appearing in the Old Testament, and the fourth is Jesus’s sermon on morality. These are all crucial to Christianity, no question about that.
But suppose a rank atheist were asked the same question. Wouldn’t he happily give the same answer?
In fact I’ve never met an atheist who’d admit to being comfortable with the idea of hating one’s neighbour, robbing and killing him, having a go at his wife and then lying about the whole thing under oath.
Look at it from a different angle. A tricycle and an aeroplane both have three wheels, are made of metal and are used to transport people. Yet someone giving this explanation to a visiting Martian wouldn’t be partly right or almost right. He’d be mad.
An explanation of anything has to focus on its unique characteristics, in this instance on the fact that aeroplanes fly. A definition must be based not on similarities but on differences.
Thus a real Christian would have answered the same question differently. He’d know that the Scripture ought not to be confused with Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls. And Christianity isn’t just a moral teaching by Christ – mostly it’s the teaching about Christ.
Central to it is His Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. Christ is the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, and a Christian is someone who believes in His divinity. Christian morality must define life in this earth, but it’s strictly derivative from the essence of the faith.
These are the ‘simple’ things that Dave chose to omit. Those he did mention add up not to Christian faith but to Voltaire’s cynical croyance utile.
My guess is that, in the unlikely event that he believes the omitted ‘simple’ things, answering the question in that way would have interfered with Dave’s image of a ‘cool’, ‘chillaxing’, ‘with-it’, ‘down-the-pub’ bloke.
Focus Group would have gasped in horror, the doors of Notting Hill salons would have slammed shut, there would have been weeping and wailing in Islington.
Harrowing thought, that. So Dave, “an active member of the Church of England”, gave an answer that wouldn’t displease an active member of the Communist party. Or, for that matter, an active member of anything.
That’s what being a statesman is all about. Focus Group has been served.
Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes