The biblical power of the moonJune 7, 2019
How theology has failed over BrexitJuly 2, 2019
‘It’s time for Christians to speak out against Boris Johnson’ declares George Pitcher in an article in the Guardian.
This post summarises Pitcher’s argument and argues that it applies to the political establishment as a whole, not just one person.
Pitcher provides a long list of Johnson’s faults, and assures us that senior Conservatives – whose ear he has – are astonished that he is likely to become Prime Minister. Conservatives
by most accounts appear to have idolatrously wandered so far from gospel truth that they’re about to elect a golden calf as their next leader and, by default, their prime minister.
Complaining that the Church of England has nothing to say about
the impending triumph of the Trump-lite Johnson
he offers his own account, listing three characteristics of Christianity. The first is forgiveness. Citing Johnson’s failure in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, he comments:
I have not a shadow of a doubt that Johnson is a forgiven human being, as all of us are forgiven. But forgiveness does invite repentance… in saying we’re sorry, we make ourselves sufficiently vulnerable to recognise what forgiveness is.
The second is humility.
Clearly the white-hot heat of modern politics requires a certain arrogance.
Theresa May showed arrogance, but
even her critics wouldn’t deny that she had a sense of public duty. Is that in any sense apparent in Johnson’s agenda?
The third characteristic of Christianity is servant ministry. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet,
This could be described as public ministry at its most extreme and divine. It’s difficult to imagine Johnson washing anyone’s feet, literally or metaphorically. But it’s a model that has inspired public service for 2,000 years. By contrast, Johnson’s career and personal life have shown that he serves nothing and no one other than himself and his own interests – and it’s a Christian duty to point that out.
The Church of England, half a millennium old, used to supply the moral authority of the Conservative party. Evidently it doesn’t, or can’t, any more.
My first reaction is that it’s good to hear Christian voices taking part in public debate by offering Christian values – especially in the Guardian, which has a history of being sniffy about anything related to religion.
It’s also good to hear forgiveness, humility and servant ministry proclaimed as Christian values. Of course other faith traditions share these values – they are not uniquely Christian – but our secular society got them from Christianity, and it is within Christianity that they can be defended and justified.
As secular society lets go of the Christian philosophy that makes sense of them, alternative and contrasting values are becoming more dominant.
Almost 200 years ago the German philosopher Nietzsche foresaw this. Those Christian values Pitcher defends are the ones Nietzsche despised. It was why he hated Christianity, and preferred the cult of the ‘overman’ with a ‘will to power’.
Historians debate whether Nietzsche’s influence led to Hitler, but the philosopher had a point. Well before the 19th century the values of forgiveness, humility and servant ministry had been applied as tools of oppression. The powerful have for centuries said to the powerless: ‘As a Christian, you should be a forgiving and humble servant, just as my humble service to you is to rule you and command you’.
In this way, rulers have subverted Christian values. They have used them not to establish an egalitarianism where nobody can oppress others, but to maintain an unequal status quo where everybody’s duty is to accept their place.
To the extent that Conservative prime ministers have embraced these values, they have done so in this hierarchical manner. John Major and Theresa May illustrate this approach.
Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron were a different matter. They were less interested in conserving anything. We associate them with the desire for change.
Here we see Nietzsche’s influence coming to the fore. It is one thing to subvert the values of forgiveness, humility and servant ministry while claiming to uphold them; it is another to reject them altogether in the name of contrasting values.
Increasingly, society is run according to the values of self-interest, competitiveness and the pursuit of wealth and power. These are the opposites of forgiveness, humility and servant ministry.
Philosophically self-interest, competitiveness and the pursuit of wealth and power are the logical outcomes of an atheistic society. If there is no God, there is no moral authority higher than ‘us’. ‘We’ create ‘our’ own values. In practice this means we end up being governed according to the values of the ruling classes – who wouldn’t be the ruling classes if they had been committed to forgiveness, humility and servant ministry!
Pitcher’s defence of Christian values draws our attention to their importance, and it is good to see them promoted in the public realm. But it seems odd that he has used them to criticise just one man. Today the values of self-interest, competitiveness and the pursuit of wealth and power are well and truly embedded not just in the Conservative Party but in the political establishment as a whole.
The more those unchristian values mould society, the more we hate politicians.