Cornerstone2
Civil Liberties

Politics and Religion at the Conservative Party Conference

Melanie Phillips writes:

I chaired a most interesting fringe meeting discussion this lunchtime at the Tory party conference on the intersection between religion and politics.

Unfortunately Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had to leave early so we never got an opportunity to hear him develop his views on the subject. But I was very pleased to hear the other panellists, Adrian Hilton who writes the terrific Archbishop Cranmer blog: http://archbishopcranmer.com, Transport Minister John Hayes and Lisa Pearce of Open Doors which provides assistance for persecuted Christians around the world.

John Hayes spoke about the evils of a self-centred. consumerist society which had lost the sense of the divine. Adrian Hilton spoke passionately about the need to protect freedom of religion, which as he correctly observed was different from the far less contentious freedom to worship.

Much of the discussion was about the persecution of Christians across the world, and why western politicians and church leaders are so reluctant to acknowledge this persecution. For as Lisa Pearce said, what is happening is absolutely momentous: in the Middle East, Christianity is being systematically destroyed in the places where it all started. And no western leaders are even acknowledging this.

This stuff was so much more important than the manipulative flannel on display in the main conference hall. That’s why, of course, it was confined to a fringe meeting.

It is curious that the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Education Secretary bang on about the need to uphold “fundamental British values” without so much as a glance at morality or a nod to religious liberty, as though our notions of right and wrong or good and evil were created ex nihilo and may be inculcated through political black holes and perpetuated in a vacuum of relativism. Politicians can be air-headed sophists, and political conferences can be vacuous affairs. Yesterday, while the Tory faithful were worshipping the golden Boris, the Conference Fringe was wrestling with theological orthodoxy, societal renewal and notions of national righteousness. Or at least the Cornerstone think-tank was.

There are some Conservatives who rebuff this blog because of its undisguised God-bothering mission and its unashamed association with Christianity. More bizarrely, there are Christians who refuse even to read it because of the word ‘conservatism’ in the strapline, as though the conservative vision of the natural order is somehow antithetical to the gospel of Christ which is in turn sullied by association with the philosophy of man. Neither intractable stance is remotely comprehensible.

Surely in our mature deliberations we can agree that religious commitment is not monolithic, but complex, multi-layered and nuanced in its apprehension of sacred texts, traditions, authorities and experiences. Surely we can agree on the need for sensitive reflection, ethical scrutiny and self-renewal to discern the practical wisdom necessary to wade through our human foibles and overcome our fallibilities as we wrestle with our moral duties and sociopolitical obligations. Surely we can agree in the cultivation of civic virtue that there are unresolvable tensions between pronouncements of religious omniscience and assertions of secular adherence, and that we must listen to the opposition and engage with the argument.

The intersection between politics and religion in a free society seeks to arrive at a social equilibrium where injustices may be fought and corruption rooted out; where the sick may be comforted and the poor given relief; where the ignorant may be taught and the virtuous promoted. This is a mission – or the vision of a partial mission – for the religious to be politically active and for the political to be religiously intelligent. To work for such an equilibrium within a framework of liberal democracy is to contribute to the liberty, mutual respect and cooperative exchange of ideas that best nourish religious practice, moral conduct and political engagement.

The injunction is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. That is the beginning and the end of our spiritual fraternity, and ought to be the foundational essence of all political policy. If religion is to be kept out of politics, or politics ceases to uphold the liberties by which religion may be freely practised in the public square, our discourse is impeded and our civilisation diminished.

In our moral diversity and epistemic divergence we may not always agree. But, for Christ’s sake, let’s keep a sense of perspective.

  • Graham Wood

    Excellent post and also comment by Melanie. This sums up the deep fault line in modern British politics. It is wholly secular and devoid of a Christian world-view which alone provides a defined role for government – i.e. it is to be ‘under’ God.

    Thus: “the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Education Secretary bang on about the need to uphold “fundamental British values” without so much as a glance at morality or a nod to religious liberty….”
    Indeed so, for such “British values” however interpreted must ever be a movable feast and relativistic.
    If for example, Mr Cameron is ideologically driven by a secular agenda (and he is) then not having a Christian world-view, and specifically not one on the sanctity of Christian marriage, then he is left to flap in the wind of moral relativism and hence the bizarre notion of “gay” marriage. So, in moral terms, anything goes.
    Likewise with the Minister for Education. No world-view of God as Creator leaves Nicky Morgan to flap in the wind of an outdated Darwinian view of origins. Hence the new policy to impose evolutionism as a fact in school science lessons, instead of the wholly rational alternative of God’s creation.
    Similarly, our membership of the EU is a wholly irrational and incoherent policy which defies fundamental views on the nature of democracy and biblical principles about the freedom of the individual, of conscience, and other basic freedoms which find their roots in biblical truth.
    For all of these reasons, the party conferences are largely irrelevant and boring.

    • Phil Rowlands

      Politics is boring. The Conservatives and Labour Parties are boring and pretty much the same. The Liberals are irrelevant. UKIP and any other smaller parties, will not be elected or have any power under current rules.

      Why then bother to vote?

      Most people it seems make the correct decision and stay at home. Whoever is elected it seems to me will pretty much make the same decisions, (And will not carry out their manifesto commitments anyway) so it really does not matter it seems to me, who you vote for or indeed if you vote at all.

  • DrCrackles

    Surely judgment is coming:

    Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord
    are on the sinful kingdom.
    I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
    Yet I will not totally destroy
    the descendants of Jacob,
    declares the Lord.
    For I will give the command,
    and I will shake the people of Israel
    among all the nations
    as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    and not a pebble will reach the ground.

    From Amos 9

  • Politically__Incorrect

    I find the unwillingness of
    politicians to even utter the word “Christian” surprising and
    disturbing. It is as though they think it never existed. In the Middle East it
    is about to cease existing. The brainwashing influence of secularism on
    our politicians has been very strong. What bothers me too was Theresa May’s
    speech on extremist groups and individuals without stating who she means by “extremists”.
    Anybody with two joined-up brain cells knows she means certain strains of
    Islam. But we know how the Government operates. If they have to clamp down on
    Islamists, then the laws of “equality” mean they will probably clamp
    down on other religions too in order to avoid discrimination. It reminds me of
    school where the misdemeanour of one child meant the whole class being punished.
    We’ve already seen Christian preachers pulled off the streets for being
    “offensive” i.e. preaching the Truth. I just wonder how much more Christians are going to be punished because
    of the misdemeanours of Muslims?

  • JayBee

    The intersection between politics and religion is no longer a two dimensional jostle between the spiritual and the secular. It has become a multidimensional brawl of competing worldviews within which lies the fundamental clash of civilisations, a fault line that might develop into an earthquake followed by a tsunami of uncivilised
    behaviour.

  • James60498 .

    As I would expected, from a meeting involving Your Grace and John Hayes, good and right words.

    But you remain members of a Party whose leadership at least is intent on destroying everything you believe.
    You refer to the worship of the Clown yesterday, but by far the most dangerous speech is the one that is being lauded in all the Tory Press, that of “Nasty Woman”

    She is going to stop extremist organisations from speaking. And just how long do you think it will be before many Catholic and Evangelical organisations get included on the list of Extremists?

    Basically, as David Davis said last evening, “These are quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights” “based on the Home Secretary having a reasonable belief”

    • Politically__Incorrect

      To a secular society, anything that challenges that secularism could be construed as “extreme”. That could certainly include any religious group. With the home secretary appointing herself as final arbiter of what is acceptable, be prepared for some very contraversial decisions. It would have been better to have called a spade a spade and referred to Islamic extremists. The toxic mixture of fanatical Muslims and a society too PC to single them out is a recipe for disaster.

    • JayBee

      Ah yes, our esteemed Home Secretary. Apparently, according to the faithful, hers was a well crafted speech.

      Addressing the conference, May actually said: “The terrorists who murdered David Haines like to call themselves the Islamic State. But I will tell you the truth: They are not Islamic. And they are not a state. Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran. What they believe has no resemblance whatsoever to the beliefs of more than a billion Muslims all over the world.”

      Now is that a well crafted speech or razor sharp professional propaganda that repackages lies, half-truths and wishful thinking?

      • Politically__Incorrect

        “..Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran..”
        What we have to remember is that when a politician goes out of his / her way to deny something it is because the opposite is true. It’s like when a disgraced cabinet minister denies he is going to resign. A week later…..

      • retiredbloke

        I seem to recollect that the sort of antics being practiced by IS are precisely the way that Mohammed and his friends ” evangelised” the Middle East, large parts of Africa and bits of Europe. This is the Islamic way of doing things.

        • JayBee

          Perhaps the most recent example of fervent Islamic evangelism was the late 19th century appearance of the Dervish empire led by the Mahdi. When the Egyptians sent a 10,000 strong force led by British Officers the force was engulfed and killed almost to a man. Thereafter the Mahdi imposed an Islamist regime not much different from that of IS today. But he of course lacked the power to extend his terror overseas.

        • Linus

          And how did Christians evangelise Spain? And the Holy Land?

          Pot calling kettle black, Christians criticizing Muslims for their violence.

          • The Inspector General

            The Spanish threw a foreign invader out, you ignorant arse…

            And one wonders if muslims had not preyed on Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, whether there would have been any crusades at all….

          • Phil Rowlands

            Crusaders were not Saints, but you can chose to worship or not due at least in part, to their sacrifice and ideals.

            In our worship Dawkins world.

            The best way is to act only with minimum personal cost

          • The Inspector General

            Linus is a homosexual. Another keyboard hero taking the anti Christian side. They will have no happiness until Christianity is defeated and they can then gay the world, and schoolboys…

          • Phil Rowlands

            Oh in that case Linus defeat Christianity and get IS?

            Good deal?

          • The Inspector General

            He hasn’t thought much beyond defeating Christianity. What he doesn’t realise is that with Christianity out of the way, the public will still view homosexuals in much the same light as they do drug addicts…

          • The Inspector General

            Comer on Linus, show up, will you. We’re discussing you…

      • The Inspector General

        Jaybee. It’s true what they say. Politicians can fool some of the people some of the time. Can’t think of any other reason May would continue to spout the same old discredited rot about a non-existent good natured Islam to grown-ups.

        So señor, she lie. She lie like cheap whore lie…

        • dannybhoy

          “So señor, she lie. She lie like cheap whore lie…”
          Lay off the tequila Pedro… 🙂

    • IanCad

      James,
      You reference “The” issue of the festival.
      The sickening sound of applause given to that dreadful speech makes me wonder if there is any hope for traditional Conservatives.
      Good Lord!! Every time that woman talks I can hear keys rattling.
      David Davis, in my uninformed opinion, is our best hope.

    • Nicodemus

      The only heartening thing is that the Conservatives (who are manifestly no longer conservative) cannot win the next election. They didn’t win the last one and they can’t win the next.

      Which leaves us with Mr Milliband, but since there’s hardly a slither of light between these two social ‘democratic’ parties, it doesn’t really matter.

      But I sense a cracking beneath the surface of the foundations of the present secular monolith, (it has to happen sooner or later,) which perhaps will give the opportunity for the emergence of a new, “theological orthodoxy, societal renewal and … national righteousness.” Either that or we may as well emigrate.

      • Marie1797

        I agree, and with a major Tory party donor Arron Banks now giving his money to UKIP (sensible man) the cracking beneath the surface of the foundations of the Conservative party has already begun.

      • James60498 .

        My own Conservative MP isn’t a bad guy. He has a good rebellion record including voting against “Gay Marriage” and I have told him that there is an even chance that I may vote for him.
        But yesterday, Cameron turned it into a Presidential Election. “you vote for me, or you vote for the other guy”. There is no way on earth that I am voting for Cameron so he may have lost my vote there.
        You are absolutely right. There is nothing between Cameron and Miliband.
        I hope you are also right about the cracks in the secular monolith. Can’t see them myself but I can only hope and pray that you are right.

        • dannybhoy

          My MP has a career to consider, so she is not a rebel…
          And this is where our parliamentary system of democracy is now going wrong.
          The needs and diktats of party headquarters take precedence over the opinions and concerns of the voters and taxpayers.

          As citizens our democratic rights only extend as far as voting in local and national elections every and contacting our MPs,. Everything revolves around which party is in power and all county and borough councillors and MPs do the bidding of Party Headquarters.
          Party loyalty becomes paramount, and to question is to risk your future and mark you as a maverick, not a team player.
          It may ensure order and focus, but it has serious limitations in terms of reflecting majority opinion on serious issues.

      • dannybhoy

        “But I sense a cracking beneath the surface of the foundations of the present secular monolith…”
        You mean of course Nigel Farage and UKIP..

        • Nicodemus

          Yes and no. Farage is clearly significant. Though it pains me very much to say it, I am now unsure an exit from Europe is now in Britain’s best interest … though I like Farage. My point is that many ordinary people have now genuinely lost trust in the ConDemLab ‘social experiment’ which has brought us to the edge of disaster. Certainly democracy based on the Judeo-Christian ethic is cracking apart, and i long for the emergence of something new, with foundations.

          • dannybhoy

            Well then Nicodemus, we agree.
            We have to remember that God’s intervention in human history usually involves His use of the human material available.
            We worship the Creator not the creature.
            My interest in politics extends only to my responsibilities as a citizen in a democracy. Sometimes it gets out of hand and I forget my main concern should be the sharing of the Gospel and seeing men and women being born again/becoming a new creation/beginning the process of sanctification etc.

            I believe as did Lot, that we should never give up on society, especially as we know that our great Redeemer King wishes that all men would choose life rather than death.
            Our country is in desperate need of Revival and Renewal.
            The secular component desperately needs an overhaul. If that is to come about through the rise of UKIP as a catalyst so be it.

          • Nicodemus

            Revival? Renewal? Is there anything left worth reviving or renewing? Overhaul? As in giving the clapped out banger a good old service, to keep it going another year? It seems to me we are past the stage of revival (in a national sense), and collapse is on the cards: what we need is resurrection from the dead! Which is where the gospel comes in, and reminds me of a book on my shelf about the OT prophets sub-titled, “The death and resurrection of Israel” …

          • dannybhoy

            Nicodemus
            Whether the Church Universal is raptured out of this world or the Lord comes again, our role is to be salt and light and reach out with the Gospel.
            There are churches up and down the land experiencing growth and reaching out into the community with all kinds of new ministries. There are other churches that appear dormant or dying. God can do great things, God wants to do great things and He is looking for His people to get involved.

          • Nicodemus

            I think we agree on many things. Yes, the work is much more than waiting for the Church Universal to be raptured (uncertain) or the Lord to come again (certain.) Although I myself am a convinced non-conformist, I find the conservative-Christian-Anglican perspective of this blog a greatly encouraging work, especially as it is read so widely by people who can make a difference. We should remember to pray for ‘His Grace’. He is ‘good material’, but everyone to his own calling.

          • dannybhoy

            My Goodness! my wife and I are non conformists too.
            Spooky..

    • steveherts

      The point is who defines what extremism is? What is the moral point of reference.To the liberal extremists who run the Tory party anyone who refuses to accept that all moral values and cultures are relative and who believes that there is a pre-existent authoritative Truth that must order individual and collective behaviour, is an extremist. This party stands firmly and squarely against the historic Christian faith of this nation-Cameron made that quite clear with his obsessive pursuit of so-called Gay marriage-which is directly counter to the foundational teachings of the Church.Reject them and all their works.

      • Marie1797

        We all know she was talking about muslim extremists, she should have been so bold as to say so.

        • James60498 .

          That’s the plan. We “all know” what she meant. How else is she supposed to get this through? And possibly currently the intention. Everyone is supposed to think that’s what she means. But just wait until the law is in place!!!! You don’t seriously believe that anyone objecting strongly enough to the Secular State/ Gay Marriage etc won’t be caught up in it too do you?

          • CliveM

            James

            What do you mean by “strongly enough”? Just for clarity. As far as I can see the chances of dawn raids (BBC in tow) by PC Plods, on elderly ladies writing to their MP complaining about the wrongs of SSM, is a bit far fetched!

          • Marie1797

            They shouldn’t be. Objectionists to the secular state and gay ‘marriage’ don’t advocate violence nor are they threatening, it’s all done through rational debate. The violent skirmishes at anti fracking demo’s, or at EDL demo’s too are far removed from that violent and backward ideology that muslims follow and insist on everyone else doing the same. Define extremism.
            As I’ve said on another thread what’s in the Quran is extreme for our society and should be criminalised. Most of it is violent
            tosh and illegal anyway

        • Royinsouthwest

          Fans of Richard Dawkins would probably classify anyone who does not believe that Dawkins’ version of the theory of evolution explains everything as an extremist.

          Greens would want anyone who does not believe that climate change is going to be catastrophic and that it is caused mainly by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide to be classified as an extremist.

          Militant feminists would probably want anyone who does not agree with abortion on demand to be classified as an extremist.

          Animal rights advocates would want … need I go on?

          • Marie1797

            That’s the trouble with insisting on every group in society being equal. I’m sure the feminazis, the Green warriors, he militant atheists, and the gaystapo are all highly insulted at being lumped together in the same group as the mulsim extremists!

          • Royinsouthwest

            You have missed the point that I was making. Those groups will seek to persuade opinion formers that it is the people who disagree with then who are the extremists. The Greens are well on the way to achieving that goal and have persuaded the BBC not to give much publicity to critics of the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

            A future government, even a Conservative one if led by Cameron or May (or possibly Boris) will want to use the “extremist” laws against fairly harmless people in order to show that they are not targeting muslims and also to win the support of Greens, feminists and other groups supported by the BBC and the Guardian.

          • Marie1797

            I agree with you. It would be totally unjust and outrageous to use the new extremist laws against Christians or any harmless group or individual that didn’t follow the BBC lefty Green agenda simply to prove that they are not targeting muslims when we all know that these groups/persons including evangelising Christians are NOT extremists. The extremists in Britain nowadays are of the Muslims persuasion.

    • Not so sure, James60498.

      As quoted above, it has been observed of Islam that: “One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society.”

      How else can it be tacked at its core if not by curtailing the free expression of its fundamentalism and the manifestation of its intent on “regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society”?

  • The Inspector General

    Cranmer dear chap, if you can manage to smuggle Christianity into what the Conservative party has become, bloody good luck to you !

    Christianity has been off the menu for some time now. The Metropolitan Conservative, and there is no better representative of that infiltrating creature than the ghastly Boris, will have no truck with it. The problem is thanks to the Central Office list that imposes prospective parliamentary candidates on constituencies in a way that would make a blasted cuckoo look on in envy, the party is now riddled with these types in the places of power within.

    One of those very blighters is Cameron himself. This man went out of his way to install SSM, in direct defiance of the party’s traditional Christian heritage, and for what. So two men can have a civil partnership with a cherry on top, and call each other husband. What Cameron was saying to Conservative supporters is damn glaring and bold. He was saying in so many words, the Christian age of Conservatism is over. And half the damned Conservative MPs agreed with him ! The aforementioned list half by any chance, one wonders.

    The Metropolitans aren’t going to go away. So that leaves supporters, they’ll have to go away instead, or be themselves complicit with the further erosion of Christianity in this country. UKIP, take note of all this. Don’t do what your big sister done, as the song goes.

  • Shadrach Fire

    I really like Melanie Phillips. She really stands up for Christian values even though she is Jewish.
    Did anyone see Boris Johnson on Newsnight last night, talking about plain speaking in politics as opposed to phrases with Latin words which turn off the average person.
    The writer or speaker thinks they are clever and whilst it appeals to the intellectual, it leaves the ordinary person out in the cold.

    • The Inspector General

      That hairy pig continues to impress. One is left bereft as to why…
      (Boris, not Melanie)

    • He’s not a Catholic, then?
      *chuckle*

    • dannybhoy

      Yes indeed. Melanie Phillips is one of the few prophetic voices in our land today . Surrounded as we are by human rights legislation and political correctness and the fear of giving offence, anyone who speaks up with a different opinion will be targeted for vilification and ostracisation from the chattering classes.
      Would that some of our Christian leaders showed the same courage as she has shown over the years. Spiritual and ideological battles were never won by timidity and gentleness. Think back to how Jesus laid into the elite of His day and contrast that with our almost obsessive desire not to give offence to anyone at all.

  • “The intersection between politics and religion in a free society seeks to arrive at a social equilibrium where injustices may be fought and corruption rooted out; where the sick may be comforted and the poor given relief; where the ignorant may be taught and the virtuous promoted. This is a mission – or the vision of a partial mission – for the religious to be politically active and for the political to be religiously intelligent.”
    A most excellent ambition and one all people of goodwill should be able to sign up to.
    And yet is this objective achievable?
    “To work for such an equilibrium within a framework of liberal democracy is to contribute to the liberty, mutual respect and cooperative exchange of ideas that best nourish religious practice, moral conduct and political engagement.”
    Again, Jack completely agrees. However, can a post-Christian liberal democracy actually achieve and sustain a balance between radically different and, in some cases, fundamentally opposed faiths and worldviews? And would any settlement conform to a Christian understanding of God’s revealed will for us and how we should live?

    • steveherts

      The enemies of Christ, those who in essence do not accept him as the exclusive and only reconciliation between man and God, the redeemer and saviour who enables us to stand before God righteous and justified are firmly entrenched within the Church especially amongst the bishops of the Church of England which has not appointed and will not appoint a biblically orthodox Bishop. Those who seek to be the servants of the the Truth which is the person of Christ must remain within the Church and contend for that Truth-we must not allow a false Gospel whether it is based on social justice, equality rights or whatever the latest trend is to go unchallenged.

  • Would any politician hoping for electoral victory be permitted by their party to say any of the following:
    (All quotes of Pope Benedict XVI):

    “When human affairs are so ordered that there is no recognition of God, there is a belittling of man. That is why, in the final analysis, worship and law cannot be completely separated from each other. God has a right to a response from man, to man himself, and where that right of God totally disappears, the order of law among men is dissolved, because there is no cornerstone to keep the whole structure together.”

    “Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything. There is a very marked subordination of woman to man; there is a very tightly knit criminal law, indeed, a law regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society. One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society.”

    Well, obviously (2) because it has gained a degree of respect and is becoming more and more a vote winner.

    “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”