Every profession seems to have been infected, and within each there is notable carrier who is especially unwell. Brexit Derangement Syndrome is spreading like the Plague of Justinian, and there are real concerns about its enduring effects on people’s mental health. The contagion isn’t dependent on airborne microbes, shared needles or casual secretions: the source is an intermediate political vector based around the idea of leaving the European Union. It is known to be transmissible from person to person, and while quarantine is a useful public health response, Twitter has rendered isolation virtually impossible. The pestilence has become a pandemic, borne by mainstream and social media. There is no known cure.
In academia, Professor AC Grayling has been particularly afflicted:
In politics, the curse has fallen upon Lord Adonis:
And among the bishops, please say a prayer for Graham Kings:
This particular episcopal affliction is markedly different from the interventions of the Bishop of Leeds, whose Brexit griefs and Boris grievances are invariably thoughtful, measured and intelligent. But Bishop Graham is possessed and obsessed with Boris and Brexit (84 tweets on 5th August alone [and not one mentioning Jesus]) and generally trashing the Tories (except Dominic Grieve). He seems to want the Church of England to come out and unequivocally oppose Brexit (as though its leaders haven’t done precisely that), despite the majority (66%) of Anglicans having voted to leave the EU. Now that we know “the truth about Brexit”, the Established Church has a moral duty (he believes) to preach that truth to the manifest ignorance sitting in the pews, and to educate the nation about the virtues of neighbourly love, peace and reconciliation which the EU embodies.
That is to say, the EU Referendum of 2016 must be set aside or nullified (somehow), and this (he believes) would be the Christian thing to do.
It would be nice if we could all agree, but democracy demands disagreement, and moral conflict is inescapable. Parliament has spent three years refusing to make a decision between leaving the EU with ‘a deal’ (the Withdrawal Agreement), leaving the EU without a deal, holding a further ‘confirmatory’ referendum, and revoking Article 50. These are the only options before it, and each possible path would violate the rights or offend the sensibilities of one party or another. The competing moral claims of each faction are broadcast in soundbites and tweeted in character assassinations, and the business of serious democratic deliberation and moral disagreement has been reduced to ejaculations of mutual contempt and loathing.
One perhaps expects politicians and journalists to resort to this, and even partisan academics blinded by their own bias. But bishops?
Bishops are supposed to be a focus of unity. They are the preeminent vehicles of mission, charged with pointing people toward salvation, preaching the Good News of the kingdom. They may disagree over aspects of morality and political theory, but when in a liberal democracy they lose a sense of the democratic generality, they adopt a purely formal standard which can only ever propagate division. And this isn’t a spiritual division of sheep from goats (with which seemingly few CofE bishops seem to busy themselves these days), but a worldly division of political values and social visions. A bishop who preaches partisan politics is not a focus of unity, but a harbinger of discord and discontent.
If majoritarian political decisions are not collectively binding, then there is no virtue in democracy. If the majoritarian judgment cannot be justified, then the minority cannot be bound by it. There is no reciprocity or mutuality in the face of disagreement because one side – in this case pro-EU bishops – do not believe the anti-EU laity to be competent subjects; they are simply not a bishop’s moral and political equal. There is no deliberation to be had because Brexit cannot be reasoned. The only resolution comes from restricting democratic liberty and people’s basic opportunity to effect change – for their own good.
Brexit Derangement Syndrome is therefore not to be seen as a mental mania or political plague, but a zealous and prophetic source of peace, goodness and reconciliation. It is the prophet’s task to inculcate complete values and foster higher understanding. This is what Bishop Graham Kings, a ‘World Mission Adviser’, believes he is doing. It is what all carriers and sufferers of Brexit Derangement Syndrome believe they are doing. Their vocation is to displease and disaffect in order to bring light and truth for the common good. The only just resolution is to stop Brexit, and then the moral conflict will come to an end.
It is a lie.