David Cameron and his government often invoke the traditions and teachings of Christianity to justify their actions – Antony Tucker thinks this is both misleading and bad news for politics.
This Christmas season saw figures from all parties attempt to link their priorities to the spirit and message of the time of year – although goodwill to all mankind is surely why Parliament is in recess over the holiday. David Cameron’s insistence in Britain’s Christian nature, however, is not only at odds with his government’s policies, but a dangerous line to take in a political debate.
Second only to Easter in its importance in the story of Jesus Christ’s life, Christmas is undoubtedly tied to ideas of love, family and charity as we eat, spend and drink our way to an early grave. This makes any association with the festival superb PR for everyone at the forefront of our democracy. Yet this enthusiasm has to be tempered by some recognition of who Christ was and what he purportedly stood for and taught. Faith has to be heartfelt; only a charlatan commits sacrilege and exploits the reputation of a tradition which they do not honour.
David Cameron’s supposed belief in the good works of Christ’s life must fall into this bracket. Admittedly, all politicians will of course bend the truth to be associated with the positive aspects of Christianity, but this represents rank hypocrisy for a Prime Minister whose actions utterly contradict the traditions and beliefs surrounding Jesus. Whether or not Jesus existed is not the issue; nor is your faith (or in my case lack thereof) in God – this is about the fundamental hypocrisy at the basis of Cameron’s appeals to Christianity.
If we look closer, this becomes immediately apparent. Jesus’ good works included feeding the poor and healing the sick – for free. In comparison, whilst he invokes this legacy of compassion and charity, Cameron presides over an administration that willfully and knowingly starves the poor, drives the desperate to suicide through a twisted perversion of our welfare state and sells off the NHS into private hands for profit. Christ supposedly walked on water; meanwhile, all Cameron can do is simper and point at the flooded homes of tens of thousands left homeless at Christmas due to the government’s slashing of the flood defence budget.
Attempting to hijack Christ’s legacy is therefore two-faced even by Cameron’s standards. There is plenty of Christian teaching that squares perfectly with Conservative thought – the party that voted against gay marriage is clearly inspired by Romans 1:26. Or 1 Corinthians 6:9. Or 1 Timothy 1:10. Or Jude 1:7. Equally, the vindictive, racist and sexist elements of Christian doctrine could (and in many countries do) provide a justification for repression and regression on the part of many of the world’s right-wing parties. Against this backdrop, Christ’s example of progressive, peaceful and charitable actions shine as the greatest redeeming feature of Christianity. Yet it is the left, not the right, who have been inspired by the tales of his life; many figures, such as Clement Attlee, became socialists through Christian organisations that sought to follow Christ’s lead and deliver a fairer society free from fear. Let’s not forget too, that it is often said that the Labour movement in Britain owes more to Methodism than it does to Marx.
David Cameron utterly contradicts the good example provided by the life of Christ. Moreover, his insistence that Britain is a “Christian country” is increasing inaccurate and harmful to our fragile society’s pluralism. Organised religion in Britain is disappearing quickly; the 2011 census revealed that the proportion of people following Christianity fell by 12 percentage points from 2001-11, which was not offset by a small increase in Muslim citizens. In contrast, a ten point rise was recorded for those professing “no faith”; with only around 1.5% of the population attending Sunday Church services, Britain is clearly losing its religion. Pretending that the nation is overwhelmingly Christian may win Cameron some popularity with his grassroots, but it is a poor basis for policy.
Wrongly emphasising Christianity risks undermining our social plurality; already, the government uses the much hated “Prevent” strategy to watch our Muslim neighbours, turning social workers and teachers into spies and separating children by their parents’ beliefs. Cameron’s faith-heavy language morphs what should be a united message; rather than all Britons rejecting the violence of religious extremists (from any grouping), we risk developing an “us and them” mentality unless we combat Cameron’s false words. Britain is fortunate that religion and politics stay relatively separate, avoiding the sectarianism of Northern Ireland’s parties or the excesses of the new Christian right that so scar the USA.
Whilst it is unsurprising that Cameron and his government try to attach themselves to Christianity, no administration that assaults the most vulnerable in our society believes that “the last will be first and the first will be last”. The moral bankruptcy of Cameron’s policies is plain to see when compared to the messages he professes to follow. We need a government prepared to fight injustice and rid society of its ills, one ready to govern for our entire nation and not simply the chosen few. Religious or not, we must reveal Cameron’s adoption of Christian language for what it is – a deep deceit fostered by an arch-hypocrite. Jesus would not have voted Tory in a thousand (or indeed two thousand and sixteen) years. Neither should we.