Can we for the moment put aside criticism of the present government’s social policies and ask, instead, why David Cameron used the occasion of an event to mark the end of a year’s celebration of the King James version of the bible to celebrate the role of the KJV in our national life? Context is all.
He has been mocked for describing himself as:
…a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith…but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.
Does this not remind you of:
Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:23-25)
Of course, I have no inside information about David Cameron’s faith, but his statement reads to me like someone who wants to believe, who does at heart believe, but perhaps struggles with the problem of pain and evil, having suffered the death of his young son. Canon Brian Mountford offers this reflection in a recently broadcast service:
In English literature, too, we find evidence of religious doubt which is protesting but loyal. Philip Davis, Professor of English at Liverpool University, observes that in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’…when Evangelist points the Man, the potential Christian, to the way of salvation, he asks, ‘Do you see yonder Wicket-gate?’ Bunyan simply writes, ‘The Man said, No’. But it is not an angry, anti-religion ‘no’. He knows the right answer would be yes, but reluctantly he has to be truthful and say no. Then he is given a second chance by Evangelist who asks, ‘Do you see yonder shining light?’ Of course, a St Paul or a Billy Graham might say, ‘Hallelujah, yes, I see the light,’ but the Man manages a less than certain, ‘I think I do’. However underwhelming that may feel, it’s nevertheless a form of belief and perhaps the very essence of belief. It’s positive and has the same ring as ‘help thou mine unbelief’. Davis cites other examples, including the mighty Luther who declares, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.’
The Church of England and English Political Life
Professor Owen Chadwick described in 1960 the historic relationship that grew up between landowner and parson – the world of Anthony Trollope:
‘Until yesterday, as it seems, the squire and the country parson were with us, the rulers of the parish in their different spheres. The manor-house would stand near the church, and sometimes the villagers, living outside the park, needed to pass through the park to their Sunday services. In its dim origins the country church had often been a chapel which the lord had founded and of which he was proprietor. In the earliest days the distinction between the landlord’s private chaplain and the vicar of the landlord’s parish had been blurred. But then the lawyers recognised the parson to have such a free-hold of his benefice that he could not be ejected without a court of law; and once the parson could not be dismissed, even by his landlord, there were two independent powers in the parish, and we have the relationship between squire and parson familiar to English history and the English novel.’
This is partly what we mean when we say the Church of England is the established, national Church. Individual parsons and squires would manage rural affairs between them. Of course, life is no longer like that but it is part of our history.
The Church of England would perhaps no longer welcome this arrangement as altogether too cosy, but to me the idea that the government of the day should sit down with the Church to discuss how to handle some of the problems that face us has definite appeal.
The Digital Nun recently signalled the increasing use of the phrase ‘the right thing to do’ by our politicians. She points out that moral decisions are rarely as simple as the phrase suggests. However, at least they are trying – rather like Queen Victoria promising to be good.
Muslim Appreciation of this view
The BBC quotes reactions to David Cameron’s speech, including this one by Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain and an imam in Leicester (the bolding is mine).
“It’s very seldom I get excited by what our prime minister has to say and this is one of those times. As Muslims we also believe in the Bible. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. Not only that, but in the teachings of all the biblical prophets, including Moses in the Torah. So this is something that we feel is absolutely in tune with the Muslim thinking. We have to base our behaviour according to scripture, God’s revealed message. “For a long time Muslims have been trying to express this idea, that for us as Muslims Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. To divorce politics from religion is not something we are able to do, we cannot leave our religion at home or in the mosques, it comes with us wherever we go. So it’s refreshing to hear the prime minister say Christians should do the same. I agree Britain is the best country for Muslims to live in, at least in Europe.“
Please also ‘contrast and compare’ Will Cookson’s excellent blog on this subject at: http://willcookson.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/david-cameron-and-the-failure-of-christian-vision/
Also Bishop Nick Baines of Bradford, who writes at:http://nickbaines.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/words-about-word/#comment-13565
And Edward Green at http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=93#
Elizaphanian writes: David Cameron’s Christianity, or: why conservatives can support the Occupy movement
Phil Ritchie tells us of Screwtape’s reaction: http://philipstreehouse.blogspot.com/2011/12/screwtape-email.html
The view of St Martin’s in the Fields from Trafalgar Square is by Anibal Trejo via Shutterstock. The intention is not to suggest that our Prime Minister is to be compared to the king of the jungle, but rather that he represents the religious stance of many Englishmen.