FIRST OF ALL my apologies to my readers for my absence over the last few weeks. I have, like so many others, been concerned with the UK’s referendum and have been trying to make my own small, evidently unsuccessful, conribution to the debate.
With that behind us — though there are still trials ahead — it is time to get back to this blog again.
It is encouraging from a Christian point of view to see that the contest for who would be the next Prime Minister was being fought out between two women both claiming, at least to an extent, to be motivated by their faith. Whether that faith is of a sort that we, as Catholics, would recognise is perhaps another debate. For the moment, let us not be greedy. After Cameron, who claimed that his Anglican faith waxed and waned like mobile reception in his constituency (at least he was honest enough to admit it), Brown, who brought all the dourness to his office that only a true son of the manse could manage, and rhe cynical Blair, who didn’t “do God” because it was politically inexpedient, Theresa May must be a breath of fresh air.
One piece of advice that was being offered to Leadsom, who appeared to be making much greater play of her religion, was that she should leave her faith outside the Cabinet Room and while some of us may be a touch disapproving of that attitude it has a lot to recommend it in governing a country as diverse as Great Britain.
The island that is Britain has played home to immigrants of all religions and none from the Vikings to the Normans (French Catholics) to persecuted Jews, Huguenots (French Protestants), assorted Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from the sub-continent or exiled from Uganda by the persecution of Idi Amin. It invented its own variation of Catholicism to suit the marital ambitons of a monarch and either tolerated, or didn’t, the heresies of Luther and the Puritanism of Calvin and Knox and the revivalism and fundamentalism of Wesley and the Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, and more.
And the second half of the 20th century saw in Britain as elsewhere in the western world a rise in agnosticism and atheism and the ‘New Age’ religions which, whatever they might have had going for them in human terms, certainly eschewed any idea of a deity as we would understand the word.
There are people who argue that Catholics ought not to involve themselves in the hurly-burly of politics since compromise is inevitable and we must not as Catholics compromise our beliefs. But Christ did not tell us to cut ourselves off from the world. Our kingdom, like His, “is not of this world” but it is in this world that we earn, or fail to earn, the right to live in that kingdom. Those who are called to a life of isolation and asceticism and prayer and fasting are also doing God’s bidding but they are few and far between. Most of us are called to live as social beings in our communities and to play a full part in the life of those communities, to render unto Caesar, as Christ told us, that which is Caesar’s.
Leaving our faith outside the Cabinet Room does not mean abandoning our faith if we are called on to exercise political power or authority. In countries where there is only one religion, as in many parts of the Muslim world or the 16th or 17th century German states where you believed whatever your Duke believed and liked it — or else, the problem does not arise, but in any pluralistic society the Christian needs to be aware that God’s gift of free will means that there are others who have chosen different paths to salvation from our own and some, of course, who don’t believe in the concept of ‘salvation’ at all.
While we hope and pray and strive that our own way of living and the example we set may bring others to our way of thinking and we should never be reluctant to discuss our beliefs where it is appropriate to do so we cannot coerce people into becoming Catholics and nor should we try to. So how we act as politicians or other leaders should be informed by our faith but not dictated by it.
If we argue against such things as abortion (always and everywhere an obvious example!) but fail to convince our colleagues inside the Cabinet Room that should not be a reason to leave, to resign. There are other battles that we will win and our colleagues will (most of them) think better of us for having principles and standing by them while we will make no headway in our efforts to persuade by appearing to dictate.
I don’t expect to see any major changes in British government policy under a May administration but I do expect to see a softer, more approachable and more Christian attitude towards people. There will be no fundamental changes in those headline laws that Catholics always make a fuss about (and always for some reason to do with sex!) and nor should there be. While we disapprove the majority of people do not and we need to accept that and to understand that involving ourseves in civil society is the only way we can ever hope to change that.