I grew up in a Church of England family. This meant four things. Firstly, we took charity and social justice very seriously (particularly the kinds of social justice which could be arranged without upsetting too many people; my father was solid Labour, but on Gaitskell’s side rather than Bevan’s). Secondly, we didn’t look down on people who were Not Like Us. Or rather, we did – we were dreadful snobs – but racism was right out; so was prejudice against gays; so was sexual moralising in general. We were never challenged on the relationship to Christianity of any of this, but if we had been we could have gone straight to the New Testament – see Colossians 3, “neither gentile nor Jew”; see Luke 10, the parable of the Good Samaritan; see John 8, the woman taken in adultery… (My parents both had a better than average acquaintance with the Old Testament, but they wouldn’t have dreamt of referring back to it in this way – “new covenant” and all that.) Thirdly, we went to church every Sunday, where we generally heard sermons about tolerance and social justice. Fourthly, we occasionally talked about the spiritual side of Christianity – what actually happened after the Crucifixion; what they actually saw on the road to Emmaus; what actually happens when people die… But we never really got anywhere with those questions, or wanted to. Being Christians gave us an interest in that stuff, but it didn’t seem to mandate that we had any particular convictions about it – or even that we all thought the same way.
When I went to university, I met people called Christians who didn’t seem to care very much about social justice or tolerance, but cared very much indeed about the Crucifixion and the road to Emmaus and, above all, What Happens When You Die. They also seemed to refer back to the Old Testament a lot more than I was used to. I thought this was all a bit wrong-headed, but I didn’t get very far arguing with them – not least because they weren’t very interested in arguing, which was another difference from my family. In fact, the more I argued the deeper I seemed to get onto their territory (well, no, obviously I didn’t read the story of the Creation literally – nobody did, did they? er… did they?). After a while I gave up and stopped calling myself a Christian. (By then I’d discovered Marx, which helped.)
You take your eye off the ball for a few years, and look what happens. Look at the Christian Institute (“Christian influence in a secular world”) and look at its judgment of MPs’ voting records. For example, “according to our Christian beliefs” Ann Widdecombe has cast an absolute hatful of “morally right votes”. To summarise, she’s voted
- against legal abortion
- against gay rights
- against divorce
- against euthanasia
- against gambling and
- against reclassifying cannabis; she’s also voted
- for “mainly Christian” Religious Education and
- for the parental right to smack
Apparently, these eight policy areas are vitally important to Christians. Or rather, apparently these are the only policy areas important to Christians: whether Widdy has voted to feed the hungry and clothe the naked the Christian Institute neither knows nor cares.
What I’d like to know is: where do they get this stuff? Serious question. Leaving the Apostle Paul out of it for the moment, I’ve cited Matthew 25, Luke 10 and John 8. Where does Jesus express punitive views on the topics of marriage, gambling and drugs? Where does he pronounce in favour of compulsory religious indoctrination and smacking? For bonus points, where in the whole of the New Testament is it written that these are the most important issues for Christians? (Think carefully.)
I don’t know how it came about that the mobilising power of Christian faith could be harnessed to an agenda like this. What I do know is that it’s very bad news. These people aren’t just a joke any more. They’re a menace.