Not doing God

Jul 27, 2022 by

by Capel Lofft, Artillery Row:

What did William Gladstone, Lord Salisbury and Keir Hardie — the three leading figures of respectively the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the Labour movement of the 1890s — have in common? They were all extremely serious men of God.

Gladstone and Salisbury were both children of the Oxford Movement, devout High Churchmen, and Keir Hardie was an evangelical lay preacher. One can hardly think of three mainstream political figures in modern British history with more divergent political views — one a free-trading small-state liberal; one a rigid and unbending illiberal Tory; the other a passionate supporter of socialism, women’s rights and pacifism.

Their forms of Christianity were very different too: although Gladstone and Salisbury were both Tractarians, one became a great ally of Dissent and gradually eased his traditionalist Anglican view of Church and State; the other was an unbending defender of Anglican supremacy. Hardie was a dyed-in-the wool Dissenter totally opposed to Anglican establishment. Despite their yawning differences of opinion, they all breathed the same ethical, spiritual and cultural air.

Fast forward to contemporary British politics. Boris Johnson was happy enough, courtesy of the abstruse eccentricities of canon law, to be married in a Roman Catholic Church, but it seems fair to say that one would struggle to discern any significant Christian influence on his life. Rishi Sunak is a Hindu of unknown devotional commitment. Liz Truss keeps any religious faith she may or may not possess very close to her chest. Keir Starmer is an atheist. There is the occasional devout MP — Stephen Timms, say, or Danny Kruger — but British politicians in the modern era are famously reluctant to “do God”.

Overall, the vast majority of British politicians tend to fall into a few categories. More than a few are outright atheists or agnostics. Many might, when pushed, profess some very vague and probably nominal allegiance to a faith, usually Christianity. A few are genuinely, albeit quietly, devout. The number who are both serious, practising adherents of a religion and who would put their faith unapologetically at the centre of their public career and politics, is infinitesimal.

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See also:

Sunak vs. Truss: Where do they stand? by Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern:
“…we look at the voting records and public statements of the final candidates to see what we can learn about their moral and faith convictions.”

Should the Church of England disestablish? Am interview with Jonathan Chaplin, author of Beyond Establishment: Resetting Church State Relations in England (SCM 2022)by Ian Paul, Psephizo. Caplin says that a disestablished church is best placed to resist state- sponsored “programmatic secularism”.

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