Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 10 – Less Lamentation, More Outreach Required From The Church

The fall of Babylon

If the Church wants to survive as a truly national institution rather than amplifying the already-inescapable voices of anguished middle-class Remainers, it had better come to terms with Brexit 

Displaying a complete lack of self-awareness and a fierce, proud disinterest in the lives and opinions of her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who happened to vote in good conscience for Brexit, Alison Elliot – Associate Director of the Centre for Theology at the University of Edinburgh – wails into the Church of England’s Reimagining Europe blog:

The Church has many resources that are not available to politicians. Politicians are practitioners of the art of the possible: they keep the show on the road, nudging it in varying directions; they fix things; they make promises within a limited horizon.

But the Church has permission to sing songs – songs of lament, songs of confession, songs of hope. I submit that all are necessary today. Lament that is unrecognised expresses itself in anger and accusation; lack of confession leads to mistakes being perpetuated; and hope gives direction to our decisions and our action.

Songs of lament? Oh boy.

Lament names the ache and the void we carry around with us. For me, that involves the pain of a fractured European identity, where my claim to the rich heritage of our continent is being attenuated; where our neighbours continue to shape their future, painful as that may be, and we watch from the side-lines. It involves lamenting the drabness of a world diminished by limited freedom of movement, as multi-lingual chatter disappears from our high streets, we lose the efficiency and enthusiasm of European tradesmen, and our universities struggle to keep a vibrant exchange of ideas alive. And I mourn the rejection of the great insight of the European Project whereby economic activity and social values go hand in hand.

There’s no point in refuting any of this – the fact that Elliot remains every bit as “European” as ever she was, that identity never having been contingent on Britain’s membership of a supranational political union; the risible idea that the remaining EU27, paralysed by indecision and self-interest while currency and humanitarian crises rend them asunder, are in any way proactively “shap[ing] their future”; the hysterical belief that the “world” has been “diminished by limited freedom of movement” when most of the world was excluded from the arrangement and before we know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations; the unsubstantiated notion that Britain’s world-class universities are struggling to keep the torch of knowledge alight in this new Brexit dark age; the tremulous fear that foreign voices will now disappear from our high streets in a puff of smoke as Britain drifts gently away into the mid-Atlantic.

There is no point arguing any of these points with Alison Elliot, for if she is still repeating these tropes now then she is clearly impervious to reason, her mind closed to any argument that could be made by a sane Brexiteer while the gates of her credulity remain opened wide to the most fatuous and cataclysmic of Remainer myths and assertions.

To ache and carry around a “void” because of Britain’s secession from the European Union is quite simply to misunderstand what the EU really is – unless you are a closet euro federalist, which despite her misty eyed despair at the thought of Brexit, Elliot has given no indication that she identifies as such.

More:

Confession follows on easily from lament. I confess that I missed opportunities to share with people at home the excitement and the depth of reflection from meetings with church partners in Europe, acquiescing too easily with the view that Britain isn’t interested in Europe. I confess to leaving it to others to support refugees and to publicise the contribution our migrant communities have made to the country. And I confess to having done too little to engage local communities in the decisions that affect them.

Yes, if only there had been more head-in-the-clouds theologians waffling on about the benefits of European ecumenism (as though the doggedly secular humanist EU played any real role in forging and facilitating such exchanges) then Stoke-on-Trent might not have voted so overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. That was the Remain campaign’s real problem.

Elliott confesses to “leaving it to others to support refugees”, which is a self-criticism applying to most of us, who do little beyond support the government’s efforts with our taxes. But she displays no such introspection about failing to support her own countrymen, particularly those who found themselves at the sharp end of globalisation (as in being made unemployed and unemployable rather than enjoying the kind of back-slapping church conferences in Barcelona and Bruges that perhaps characterised the church’s more positive experience of European integration) and whose votes ultimately helped to push the uninspiring Leave campaign over the finish line in the EU referendum.

And this is a criticism I direct not only at Alison Elliot – who seems to belong to that well-intentioned-but-dim group of academics and theologians who automatically believe everything good they hear about the EU and everything bad that the Guardian tells them about Brexiteers – but at the church in general. The church (or vast swathes of it) are in grave danger of being seen as brimming over with love, time and compassion for everybody – minorities, economic migrants, refugees – but the vast majority of ordinary Britons, particularly the working and lower middle “striving” classes.

That’s not to say that the church is wrong to devote a large proportion of its efforts to help the most vulnerable; of course they should do so. But clearly they are not spending enough time ministering to people like the Leave voters of Sunderland and Stoke, or to people like me and other principled EU opponents. Because if they were, then bishops and theologians would know more about the arguments for Brexit and the motivations of Brexiteers, rather than continuing to portray us as two-dimensional Guardian caricatures. They would recognise the cultural dislocation and economic disruption rending their own parishes, diocese and communities rather than fixing the full extent of their gaze on problems beyond our shores.

Elliot concludes:

Hope names a future that is at odds with the one we seem to be embracing. Let us hope for a future of international cooperation, where nations put their resources and fortunes at the disposal of others rather than hugging them to themselves. A future where citizens engage with politics at a deeper level than being observers to a soap opera and where they reconnect with each other to construct a rich tapestry of social relationships. A future where economic opportunism is kept in its place and the quality of life of our suppliers and their families is part of the equation. A future where we value the intrinsic worth of strangers as well as friends and recognise the part they can play in realising our dreams.

Tomorrow we will put our technocratic hats on again and plan and envision and mobilise for outcomes and scenarios, but first we need to connect with our grief and our fears. From that we will be liberated to face the challenges ahead.

When half of one’s community is celebrating and the other half mourning, a church leader or theologian worth their salt would quickly turn to asking whether there isn’t some deeper misunderstanding at play – confusion with regard to motives, for example. Most Remainers are not the self-hating, anti-patriotic drones that they are sometimes portrayed as by Brexiteers. And most Brexiteers are not the snarling, selfish, little-Englander xenophobes that they are painted by Remainers.

The trouble is, by talking about “connect[ing] with our grief”, singing songs of lament and donning the sackcloth and ashes in response to Brexit, the church (well represented on this subject by Elliot) firmly takes the side of one half of the country over the other half. Rather than seeking to find those unifying strands – acknowledging the EU’s real flaws and legitimate reasons for departure while seeking out ways to preserve and strengthen that which was good outside of the supranational union – the church becomes an introverted talking shop for Remainers who have made their contempt and dislike for Brexit Britain quite clear, and who have nothing to say to the 52 percent who voted Leave.

Put it this way: if the tide turned and you finally got to have your say in the running of the country after someone else (the pro-Europeans) had had things their way for forty years straight, and then the church planted itself firmly (by roll call of senior figures if not official policy) on the side of your opponents, weeping at the supposed injustice and ruin of your moment of triumph, would you be inclined to listen to them about anything else? Would you feel valued and respected in their eyes?

Perhaps that might not matter if the church were a business, free to choose its target demographic and focus its efforts on appealing to a lucrative niche market. But such behaviour – as we are essentially now seeing from too many church leaders – is entirely antithetical to the universal mission of the church.

There are many reasons why the church (particularly the Church of England) faces an existential threat in this country – secularisation, changing social norms and the increasing criminalisation of traditional beliefs and speech all play a part. The blame cannot be laid at the foot of any one single cause.

But deliberately scorning and misunderstanding half the country while effectively turning the church into a therapy group for devastated middle-class Remainers certainly will not help matters.

Now is not the time for garment-rending and tedious songs of lament. Now is the time for the church to put down the smelling salts, roll up its sleeves and redouble its outreach and ministry to Brexit Britain.

 

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The EU Referendum, From The Perspective Of A Eurosceptic Christian

Christians for Britain

This EU referendum campaign has been both depressing and insulting for many eurosceptic Christians

Adrian Hilton of the Archbishop Cranmer blog aptly sums up weariness of participating in this EU referendum debate as a eurosceptic Christian:

“I believe in Europe..” is the beginning of every question and the end of every answer when issues relating the European Union are discussed – as if an artificial political construct of 28 states were derivative of or synonymous with ancient notions of Christendom or the contemporary family of European nations of around 50 states. Are the 22 independent European states which are not in the EU any less European for not being so? Are they really all xenophobic, insular and self-regarding?

I have participated in a total of 21 EU Referendum church debates. Some have been a delight, and some quite dire. I’ve spent six hours travelling to speak to an audience of 14 (no expenses offered), and 15 minutes travelling to speak to an audience of several hundred (generous expenses freely given). I drove 200 miles to find myself lauded as a prophet (always dangerous), and 50 miles to be told by the minister that they weren’t expecting me and didn’t need me (I shook the dust off my feet). I saw all the email correspondence relating to that booking, but really couldn’t be bothered to address the incompetence and discourtesy. I wouldn’t expect to be offered expenses in such circumstances, but a glass of water would have been nice. I have formed opinions on the most and least hospitable denominations. The Baptists win hands down. It wouldn’t be very Christian to shame the worst.

Over the past few months, Remain Christians have told me that I’m “peddling myths”; indulging in “crass populism”; “lying” which (I was graciously reminded) “isn’t Christian”; and that my desire for controlled immigration is “really about blacks and Muslims”. In each case, these slurs have come from Christian academics – professors and doctors – one of whom (with his knighthood) was very fond of reminding the audience: “I’m an academic, so I look at the facts” (the inference being… oh, never mind). Most Remain Christians have been kind and attentive to a robust exchange of views, but rather too many talk about Leavers as though we are one step removed from pederasty.

I was fortunate – the priest at my local church exhorted us only to think prayerfully about the question and vote according to our consciences. Eurosceptic Anglicans have had to suffer their first and second in command (Justin Welby and John Sentamu) declaring eagerly for Remain as a “personal decision” while somehow making it crystal clear that you are a Bad, Insular Person of you disagree.

Hilton continues:

The world is changing, and quoting Dicey doesn’t quite cut it. Each incremental piece of legislation or regulation from Brussels does not remotely challenge the sovereignty of the UK parliament because i) that parliament is not sovereign; and ii) those who constitute that parliament have consented to every piece of EU legislation and regulation. What is challenged in some shape or form is the sovereignty of the people. When we cannot vote to change agriculture policy, fishing policy, financial regulation, remove VAT, change welfare (etc., etc.), it doesn’t quite cut it to shout ‘Club rules’. When a British citizen can be arrested here and extradited to languish in a Greek prison for months – no corpus juris; no trial by jury; not even a hearing conducted in his own language – it is the ancient rights and liberties of the freeborn Englishman that are denied. What does that have to do with an economic community?

I have listened to and considered carefully what every Remain Christian has told me over the past few months: principally that we must remain to reform the EU; we must somehow make it better, more responsive and more democratic. But I have not heard any Remain Christian set out how we may achieve that.

You will not hear concrete proposals for reforming the European Union from anybody, Christian or otherwise. “Of course the EU needs reform!” is perhaps the most overused phrase of this entire referendum campaign, impatiently spat out by many a Remainer finding themselves on the ropes while defending the indefensible EU. But there is never a follow-up sentence explaining how the fundamental, deliberate anti-democratic nature and structure of the EU might be feasibly changed, against the wishes of those who like it just as it is.

And as for post-referendum reconciliation:

I have been exasperated by bishops and other clergy who have suggested that my personal motives and political objectives are xenophobic, racist, self-regarding and, in the final analysis, un-Christian. Such judgments wound, but they are not so deep – as they may be in the Conservative Party – that it becomes impossible to conceive of unity being restored. ‘So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another…’ But there are undoubtedly some churches I wouldn’t want to visit again, and doubtless others which would never want to see me again. My, how these Christians love one another…

But love we must, and be reconciled before the sovereignty of the Cross, where partisan posturing pales into utter inconsequence.

Hilton is a better man than I. Personally, I really don’t take kindly to being called uneducated and borderline xenophobic, or labelled as some kind of economically left-behind loser who is afraid of the modern world – all of which the bishops have done. I particularly don’t like it because of all the bishops who have declared for Remain, I can comfortably say that I know more about the European Union than any of them.

And that’s not a boast – if anything, I am aware of how much I have yet to learn, particularly about the global regulatory environment and the emerging global single market which is making the EU obsolete. But at least I have the curiosity and humility to learn more. The pro-Remain bishops, marinating in their smugness and certainty, think that their tired old tropes about “cooperation” and “working together” are the Alpha and the Omega of the debate.

So when we talk about post-referendum reconciliation, I think we need to make clear a distinction between social reconciliation and political reconciliation. Unlike a number of my pro-EU acquaintances, I have never been moved to end a friendship or block/mute people on social media because they hold differing political opinions to me. I have had this done to me, and it is quite wounding when it happens. But at all times I have been happy to courteously debate (or not) with the people I know. It is the duty of those who think otherwise to extend the olive branch, in the unlikely event that they wish to do so.

And as for political reconciliation – no. We have passed a point of no return. The prime minister of this country – a man who calls himself a conservative – as lied, threatened, deceived and bullied the British people in order to coerce a Remain vote. There is no forgiving that, politically. David Cameron must go, and his name should be mud, politically speaking. This blog will not rest until that happens. Likewise with many other conservative politicians who built their careers and reputations on what turned out to be the most superficial and cosmetic forms of euroscepticism. Even now, Michael Fallon is going around telling people that he is a eurosceptic, even as he campaigns for a Remain vote. There can be no tolerating such people in our politics either.

Some new friends and allies have been made along the journey too, particularly those few principled left-wingers who advocate Brexit on democratic grounds rather than fearing “Tory Brexit” because it might lead to a democratically elected British government implementing policies with which they disagree. Others on the Left – particularly Jeremy Corbyn and commentators like Owen Jones – have clearly betrayed their most deeply held principles in order to support Remain, and are deserving only of contempt.

On June 24th, regardless of the referendum outcome, most of us will continue to display common human decency toward one another. It would be a terrible shame if that changed. But there should and will be political consequences for what has transpired over the course of this EU referendum. If, as seems likely, Remain’s project fear wins the day, then they will have committed us to remain in the European Union based on a castle of lies, ignorance and naivety. And there will be a price to pay for that behaviour.

 

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A Strong, Christian Case For The Nation State (And Against The European Union)

Justin Welby - John Sentamu - Archbishops - Church of England - EU Referendum - European Union - Brexit - Remain

Here is an intellectually robust, theologically rooted argument in support of the nation state and against the European Union. Why are Christian EU apologists unable to produce a similarly heavyweight case of their own, instead of relying on woolly platitudes about ‘togetherness’ and ‘co-operation’?

The Reimagining Europe blog has just published a serious intellectual (and even theological) but highly readable case for the continuance of the nation state, and criticism of those who suggest that the age of supranational government is either logical, inevitable or a goal to which Christians should aspire.

While I do not agree with every single nuance of the argument put forward by Nigel Biggar (Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christ Church college, Oxford) the overall thrust of his argument is quite unimpeachable. It certainly is rooted in a far deeper reading of scripture and theological analysis than the glib statements of support for the European Union and Remain campaign from Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby.

Biggar begins:

Thirty years ago I was told by a senior Anglican clergyman that the nation-state was passé. I can’t remember why he thought as he did, but I do remember that his conviction was a fashionable one. Quite why it was fashionable isn’t clear to me now. The mid-1980s were too early for globalisation’s transfer of power from national governments to free global markets and transnational corporations to have become evident. Perhaps it was the recent entry of an economically ailing and politically strife-torn Britain into the arms of the European Economic Community that made the nation-state’s days look so numbered. And, of course, the Cold War, which would not thaw until 1989, made international blocs look like a monolithic fact of global political life.

Finally, someone raises the historical context of Britain’s entry into the EEC in their Christian argument about the EU referendum. Good. Nothing can be understood without understanding the history and purpose of the European Union, but also the circumstances which led Britain to join in the first place. For if those circumstances (global obsolescence and lack of a “role”, economic decline, industrial strife, the very real risk of being ejected from what Michael Moore might call the “Premier League” of nations) are no longer present, why on earth would we now wish to stay, given all of the EU’s manifold flaws and failings?

Biggar goes on to discuss differing national attitudes toward being a quasi-autonomous member of a larger supranational grouping:

But there’s another, historically deeper reason. This was graphically impressed upon me during a visit to last year’s exhibition at the British Museum, “Germany: Memories of a Nation”. (I’d strongly recommend the book, by the way.) One of the exhibits was a map of north-western Europe in the mid-18th century, on which were superimposed the coinages current in Germany and Britain at the time. In Britain, there was one coin; in Germany, about sixty. Britain was a unitary state; Germany a territory with a common language, but comprising dozens of different kingdoms and principalities.

And here’s where being both German and Roman Catholic comes into play. For the dozens of mini-states in mid-18th century Germany were the vestiges of the multinational, Catholic, Holy Roman Empire, which the Protestant Reformation had helped to destroy. For Roman Catholics, especially on the European continent, and especially in Germany, the notion of a federation of states, sharing a broadly common culture and subject to a transcendent, quasi-imperial authority seems a perfectly natural condition.

Not so for the English, who have inhabited a nation-state whose basic structures span a thousand years, and whose history has taught them to fear the concentration of continental power. It’s no accident, therefore, that one can find in Anglican thought a marked tendency, from F. D Maurice in the mid-19th century to Oliver O’Donovan now, to affirm the existence of a plurality of independent nations, whose external relations are governed by international law rather than a supranational state.

Quite so. The lived experience of Britons, and our national history, is simply too different to reconcile with that of continental Europe under the umbrella of an overarching set of political institutions. In some areas of Europe, particularly the disputed regions which have changed back forth between countries over centuries (think Alsace-Lorraine), people have a history of maintaining a cohesive identity almost separate to whichever nation happened to claim their territory at the time. There is no similar history in Britain (though one could argue that the experience of the non-England home nations within the UK comes closest).

The upshot is that there is precious little in our folklore, literature, art or indeed politics which well equips us to carry on functioning happily no matter which foreign king makes the key decisions, or from which city they may do so. We are not built for supranational rule – despite ourselves having presided over an empire which did exactly that, we have not been on the receiving end in a thousand years.

Biggar then gets biblical, something which too few of the most prominent Christian apologists for the European Union have been willing to do:

Christians tend to view the nation-state and so the prospect of a European federation differently, according to whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant, and according to their historical experience. All Christians, however, are accountable to the Bible. What does it have to say about these matters?

On the one hand, the New Testament makes quite clear that a Christian’s affection and loyalty have to go beyond the nation. They have to transcend it. Primarily, they have to attach themselves to God and to His coming Kingdom or rule. This we read in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, where St Paul, having identified himself strongly with the Jewish nation—“a Hebrew of the Hebrews”—then firmly subordinates his Jewish identity to his loyalty to God in Christ:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…. [O]ur citizenship”, he tells the Christians at Philippi, “is in heaven” (vv. 7-9, 20).

Taken at face value, it would seem that Paul is saying that Christian identity must obliterate and completely replace national identity. But Paul, I think, is speaking hyperbolically here; he’s exaggerating. In fact, he never entirely repudiated his Jewish identity, but rather sought to understand how his new-found loyalty to God in Christ could actually fulfil his original national loyalty.

Biggar is right to suggest that St Paul’s injunction to completely erase national identity is a rhetorical exaggeration. And it is certainly the case that if British Christians were indeed called to renounce their Britishness, there is absolutely no reason why they should then take up a European identity – if any passing allegiance to country is wrong, then allegiance to a supranational body which is actively trying to become a country in its own right is just as wrong.

As Jesus Himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). While we are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ, it is made very clear to us that our common citizenship is at an embryonic stage in this temporal world, represented by the global Church, and that the nation to which we shall all one day belong is not one of Earth.

Biggar goes on to concede the transitory nature of nation states:

Against such idolatrous nationalism, Christians must refuse the claim that nations have an eternal destiny, and that their survival is an absolute imperative. Nations are in fact contingent, evolving, and transitory phenomena. They come and they go. The United Kingdom did not exist before 1707 (and could have ceased to exist this year, had the Yes campaign won the Scottish independence referendum.) The United States could have ceased to exist in the early 1860s. Czechoslovakia did cease to exist in 1993.

So a Christian cannot be a Romantic nationalist, idolatrously attributing an absolute value to any nation. That’s one part of the truth.

With this important counterpoint:

But there is another part. This is alluded to by St Paul’s continuing identification with the Jewish people. And it’s made explicit in the Old Testament, where the prophet Jeremiah addresses the Jews, who had been carried off into exile in Babylonia, after the sacking of Jerusalem in the year 586BC. This is what he says:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (vv. 4-7).”

Though they are citizens of another country, though they are currently exiles in Babylon, the people of God should nevertheless “seek the welfare of the city”.

Why is this? The answer lies in our created nature as human beings. We are finite, not infinite; creatures, not gods. We come into being and grow up in a particular time, and if not in one particular place and community, then in a finite number of them. We are normally inducted into particular forms of social life by our family and by other institutions—schools, churches, clubs, workplaces, political parties, public assemblies, laws. These institutions and their customs mediate and embody a certain grasp of the several universal forms of human prosperity or flourishing—that is to say, the several basic human goods—that are given in and with the created nature of human being. It is natural, therefore, that we should feel special affection for, loyalty toward, and gratitude to those communities, customs, and institutions that have benefited us by inducting us into human goods; and, since beneficiaries ought to be grateful to benefactors, it is right that we should.

This is true – we do indeed feel special affection and loyalty toward communities, customs and institutions which give us utility. But we should be wary of where this particular strand of thought may lead us. For as we know, the European Union is particularly adept at “purchasing loyalty” by using funds raised from nation state taxpayers and sent to Brussels as EU membership fees to then bribe national citizens with their own money in the form of development spending or sponsorship of various arts and community projects.

Pete North warns about this very phenomenon with this brilliant observation:

The founding fathers were savvy in their design of le grande project. They always knew it could never be done all at once because the central vision would never secure a mandate. Integration by deception has always been the modus operandi. It salami slices powers little by little, so gradually that few ever notice. And you’d never see it unless you know what the game plan is. They were long term thinkers. They knew it would take a generation or so to advance their agenda and they had a roadmap to do it.

It has always used funding of local projects to manufacture consent. It’s why you’ll find EU logos emblazoned on any nature reserve or community hall or obscure museum out in the shires, to convince the plebs that their benevolent EU guardians cared more for them than the London government. It is why it funds universities too. Every strata of civil society has an injection of EU cash. Education, NGOs, you name it. And it works.

[..] The founding fathers always knew a day would come where the legitimacy of the EU would be questioned. And now you see how well their pernicious scheme worked, with the entirely of the civic establishment coming out in favour of remain. They have made idle supplicants of our institutions, robbing them of their vitality, curiosity and dynamism.

While Biggar is absolutely correct to make his point, defenders of the nation state must be careful that this is not then used as justification by EU apologists for the behaviour and existence of the EU – a kind of retroactive justification for unwanted supranational political union based on the wheedling claim that people like it when Brussels gives them back their own money.

Biggar’s conclusion is a resounding rejection of pessimism about the nation state and the ignorant embrace of the EU by many in leadership positions in the church, based only on the woolliest of Christian thinking (my emphasis in bold):

Of course, institutions at a national level are not the only ones that enable us to flourish as human beings, but they do remain among them; and they are still the most important. This is true, notwithstanding the easy illusion of global identity that today’s social media create. While international institutions such as the United Nations have developed since the Second World War, they haven’t replaced nation-states and don’t seem likely to do so any time soon. Indeed, the UN only has as much power as nation-states choose to give it. So the nation-state is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and it continues to have great power to shape the lives of individual human beings. Insofar as it has shaped our lives for the better, helping us to prosper, we owe it our gratitude and loyalty; insofar as it has mis-shaped our lives (or other people’s) for the worse, we owe it our commitment to reform. Either way, we owe it our attention and our care.

So, in sum, as I see it, the Bible teaches on the one hand that no nation-state deserves absolute loyalty. Every state is subject to the universal laws of God, of which it may fall foul and deserve criticism. On the other hand, Scripture implies that nation-states can, and should, and often do furnish the structures necessary for human flourishing. They cause us to prosper. Therefore, they deserve our loyal, if sometimes critical, care.

[..] In the age of global capitalism, they are less powerful than they used to be. And they have always been bound, more or less, to each other by need, by treaty, and by law. Nevertheless, nation-states remain the fundamental units in the international order, and the day when they will be superseded by a global state is nowhere in sight.

Nation-states are not in fact passé, and the Bible doesn’t tell us that they should be. What’s more, my German Catholic friend really shouldn’t argue for Britain’s remaining in the European Union on the ground that the age of the nation-state is over. Because, of course, a federal EU would be nothing other than a larger state, serving the newly self-conscious nation of Europeans, and able to hold its own against the United States on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.

There may well be good reasons for Britain to remain in the E.U. But if that is so, the unchristian nature, or the obsolescence, of the nation-state is not one of them.

An intellectually rousing piece with a resoundingly clear conclusion – that the nation state, for all its flaws, has been the underwriter of our most fundamental freedoms and liberties for too long to carelessly cast it aside in the blinkered rush toward supranationalism.

Those with senior leadership positions within the church – I’m thinking here particularly of Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby of the Church of England – are too intelligent not to know the history, purpose and inevitable future trajectory of the EU. Unlike the average man on the street, we need not extend to them the charitable assumption that they are simply ignorant on the matter – after all, our state church is about as deeply embedded in the British establishment as it is possible to be.

Therefore, when the likes of Justin Welby or John Sentamu argue that Britain should vote to remain in the EU in the coming referendum, they do so from a clear base of knowledge that this would mean our continued participation in a project whose ultimate direction has never wavered – the creation of a common European state. This means that they either want Britain to be part of this reckless European endeavour (though they are too dishonest to admit as much, perhaps believing it is their duty to mislead their congregations, who they consider too stupid to appreciate the necessity of political union), or they think that Britain can somehow flourish as a kind of “associate member” on the margins of an ever-tightening political union of the eurozone countries, in which our existing influence would be greatly diminished.

If it is the former, and the Archbishops are closet euro federalists who dare not declare their ultimate goal in public, then this is a truly reprehensible way for them to behave, advocating as they do a wishy-washy, hand-wringing argument for Remain based on economic fears rather than making their true political intentions clear. And if it is the latter, and they have convinced themselves that remaining on the margins of a steadily integrating European Union can do anything but marginalise us and diminish our presence on the world stage then their political judgement is bordering on the catastrophic – and only reinforces the case that the Church of England should be fully disestablished and severed from its anachronistic, unjustifiable constitutional role in the United Kingdom.

But here we have it – a muscular Christian case in support of the nation state, and implicitly against the European Union. Will we ever hear the equivalent pro-EU Christian case articulated so eloquently, or at such length? We have certainly seen nothing to date. In fact, the further up the church hierarchy the Christian EU apologists are found, the weaker and more insubstantial their arguments generally become.

I recently had an exchange on Twitter with Nick Baines, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, in which I questioned his description of the Leave campaign as “insular” and asked when we might expect a substantive Christian case in favour of the EU:

Bishop Nick Baines - Sam Hooper - EU Referendum - Brexit - Christian case for EU

Bishop Baines promised just such an article, but none has yet been forthcoming. Indeed, a clear, unambiguous and unapologetic Christian case in favour of the European Union and a Remain vote in the EU referendum can scarcely be heard, despite the weight of establishment Christianity coming down on the side of remaining in the EU.

This is untenable. If the bishops are to retain any kind of temporal authority – at least in my eyes – it is not enough to make wishy-washy statements vaguely supportive of the Remain campaign without any intellectual or theological legwork to back them up. This reeks of confirmation bias – of bishops, comfortably ensconced in the establishment, making up their minds that the EU is a good thing in advance, and then cherry picking facts to support their existing viewpoint.

A common Christian complaint is that our religion is being increasingly forced from the public square in this new secular age. And it is partly true – freedom of speech and religious expression are sometimes outrageously curtailed in this country. But participation in the public square comes with a price: if one wants to be heard and taken seriously, one must say sensible things and be prepared to back them up with a solid argument.

At present, too many bishops of the church are willing to sell out the public square and everything else in this country to Brussels, and do so without offering a sound argument for remaining in the European Union based on our knowledge of the nature, purpose and direction of the EU. The bishops believe that a sprinkling of glib words about “togetherness” and “co-operation”, mixed with some hand-wringing concerns about the short term economic impact of Brexit taken straight from the Remain camp’s playbook, amount to a sufficient case. But they do not.

Ideally, the bishops should come down unanimously on the right side of this issue. But since that is not going to happen, they should at least participate in the debate with a shred of honour. And if they arrogantly proceed with their current approach, preaching the Remain argument on the flimsiest of pretexts, then they should not be surprised if they cause the gates to the public square to be permanently locked to Christians.

And what a dismal legacy that will be.

 

Postscript: More on the Christian case for Brexit hereherehere and here.

 

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Rowan Williams: Thinking Naively, Rigidly And Uncreatively About Europe

Rowan Williams - Archbishop of Canterbury - EU Referendum - European Union - Brexit

Et tu, Archiepiscopus?

Another day brings more disingenuous, pseudo-Christian piffle over at Reimagining Europe, this time from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (and his ghost/speechwriter Philip Waters).

Waters/Williams write, in a transcribed lecture humorously entitled “Thinking Creatively About Europe”:

Europe also has its Muslim and Jewish legacies. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are a family quarrel rather than a clash of civilisations. We need to remember that Medieval Catholic theology was crucially informed by influx from the Muslim and Jewish peripheries.

The mix of legacies means that Europe has had a history of at best conversation and at worst confrontation about authority: who should we listen to, who should we obey? In debate over the rights of state and church the insight persists that there are two schemes of reference, the political and the spiritual: they overlap but they are not the same. It is not necessary to go into detail about the differences between Eastern and Western Europe, or between Catholic and Protestant: the  above generalisations hold equally for all of them. To take one example, John Calvin’s ideas on the  relationship between realms of power are more like those of Thomas Aquinas than they are like those of Martin Luther.

One of the problems we face today is the idea of the clash of civilisations, and the suggestion that one of those civilisations is Western democracy. This idea forgets the ineractions throughout history which have created that very Western democracy. Without an understanding of history, the idea of the superiority of Western democracy seems to be self-evident.

‘Over There’ dwell peoples who do not know the self-evident benefits of democracy; and the reason usually given is that they are religious. One of the effects of modernity is strangely enough to drive people to radicalism. ISIS is an example of how the introduction of Western values in the form of confrontation leads to simplification of a heritage, in this case Islamic. There is no place for approaching any modern problems from a standpoint of triumphalism. What we can say is that a series of providential insights have been given within Europe which are to be shared with other parts of the world.

Wait for it…

All this is relevant for a consideration of Britain and Europe. There is no way we can talk about British values which are opposed to European or indeed wider values. My fear is that if Britain steps back from Europe it will be stepping back from its own heritage. In Britain we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others. In talking in isolationist terms we run the risk of nailing our colours to a myth.

In other words: religion, religion, religion, religion…political union!, with absolutely no attempt to draw any link of necessity between the two.

Whoever said anything about “step[ping] back from Europe”, as Williams disingenuously attempts to characterise the anti-EU stance? On the contrary, Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to re-engage with a world which has moved on since the post-war days of giant regional blocs facing off against one another, as any thinking Brexiteer will tell you. And yet the former Archbishop of Canterbury seems intent on defeating a straw man argument, that of the stereotypical isolationist little Englander who wants to pull up the drawbridge, cease all cooperation with our neighbours and turn the clock back to 1955.

This says a lot about Rowan Williams, but nothing good. It shows that on this most existential of questions he is fundamentally intellectually uncurious. Rather than seeking to understand why so many of his countrymen want to leave a dysfunctional and failing political union, he retreats into the comfort zone occupied by so many of his brethren in the centre-left, middle class clerisy, in which pro-EU types are enlightened and progressive while eurosceptics are somehow backward and reactionary.

We see it again when Williams claims that “we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others”. Well, who in blazes ever suggested otherwise? Our quarrel with the European Union is not that it encourages sharing and learning. Our quarrel is that the EU is a One Size Doesn’t Fit All embryonic supra-national government of Europe, unreplicated in any other corner of the globe, which seeks to gradually usurp the traditional powers and competencies of its member states in order to form an ever-closer union whose ultimate destination can only be a United States of Europe.

I don’t like to speak of a former Archbishop of Canterbury in uncharitable terms, but at this point it is genuinely difficult to tell whether he is being ignorant or deliberately deceptive – whether he genuinely doesn’t understand that the EU is not just about friendship and biscuits and apple pie, or whether he knows full well but is pretending that the EU is just “sharing and learning” in order to hoodwink others.

It is particularly concerning that Rowan Williams – an accomplished man with a fine mind – succumbs to the same woolly misconception as many of his peers. The misconception is not only that the explicitly political, integrationist construct known as the EU is a humble and unambitious organisation set up merely to foster “sharing and learning”, but that sharing, learning and close neighbourly cooperation are somehow impossible outside the auspices of an ever-tightening political union. Never mind that countries outside of Europe cooperate closely on all manner of issues every single day without feeling the need to dissolve themselves into a single political entity – Rowan Williams, like so many of his peers, is absolutely determined to project his false, naive vision of the humble old EU onto an organisation with altogether more far-reaching ambitions.

Yet when it comes to the history and future trajectory of the EU, there is no excuse for ignorance, especially not from one as well-connected to the establishment as a former Archbishop of Canterbury. Assuming he is operating through ignorance rather than malevolence, Rowan Williams has still had every opportunity to learn and comprehend the history of the movement for political union in Europe which has led to the contemporary EU. Magdalene College Oxford, where Williams now serves as Master, probably has quite a decent library. He might consider checking out a few books on the subject if the facts still elude him.

With less than a month to go, it is truly concerning that so many prominent Christian leaders are openly agitating for a Remain vote in the EU referendum when there is yet to be produced a clear, intellectually grounded Christian case for Remain – in other words, anything based on something more than warm leftist feelings and fuzzy ecumenism.

With recent high-profile interventions on austerity and social policy, the church has a record of unapologetic political activism – rather too naive and left-wing for this blog’s taste, but generally coming from a place of good intentions. Even when it has been wrong, the church has been able to plausibly claim to have the best interests of the poor and the voiceless in mind. Not so now, not with the EU question.

By failing to take a stand against remote and unwanted supranational government, the bishops – whether they declare it openly or not – are coming down firmly on the side of Europe’s elites, and not the people. They are complicit in supporting the continued imposition, largely by stealth, of a 1950s model of unaccountable, supranational government leading inexorably to ever-closer political union – a model which has already brought untold economic suffering to southern Europe and a migration crisis across the entire continent, and which promises only further unrest as the decisions taken by unelected European leaders diverge ever more widely from the interests of ordinary people.

The pro-EU bishops are certainly entitled to their position. But it is a very strange choice, coming down so fervently against the side of democracy. And a choice which many of them may struggle to explain in the near future.

 

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Nonexistent Shared Christian Values Are No Justification For The EU’s Existence

Francis Campbell - Reimagining Europe

The latest feeble Christian case for remaining in the EU: “Let’s forge a meaningful common European identity based on the fluffiest and least well defined parts of our faith!”

More hand-wringing waffle from the Reimagining Europe blog, this time from regular contributor and former British diplomat Francis Campbell:

Whatever the outcome of the UK referendum in June, there will be equally important questions for EU leaders in the years ahead. The process of Britain’s renegotiation has led many to consider their own national identity and how it fits within the identity of the European Union. With a rising tide of Euroscepticism in countries across the continent, the challenge for Europe’s leaders is to instil a sense of European values which enhance rather than threaten national and regional identities.

Right-o. The challenge apparently is not to question whether the decision to unite the countries of Europe under a single supra-national government was a smart idea in the first place. No, the challenge is simply to do a quick PR job, to “instil a sense of European values” and force the restive people of Europe to come to terms with this government that has been designed for them, without their input or their permission.

Campbell at no point questions the wisdom of the project to establish a supranational government of Europe in the first place, taking its existence and benefits as a given despite the current referendum offering a once-in-a-generation opportunity to question old assumptions and break out of stale ways of thinking.

But Campbell has no interest in doing any of this – he is concerned that the EU try to “build bridges” with its citizens, even though the EU project was largely created behind their backs and without their permission. Saying that the EU needs to build bridges with those it has the nerve to call its citizens is like saying that a robber should be polite and avoid leaving a mess while they ransack your house – when the real issue, of course, is that they have no business walking off with your DVD player in the first place.

We are then treated to more of the same woolly, vague and undefined hand-wringing ecumenism which sadly typifies too much of the church’s response to the EU referendum debate. Campbell writes:

In such a context the EU’s task of building bridges between citizens is a daunting one. But perhaps there is an opportunity in the current crisis for EU member states to identify common interests and shared values in among the obvious cultural differences across Europe.

One powerful shared value that is missing from the negotiation tables in Brussels is religion. Faith plays a huge part in the lives of many millions of EU citizens, yet it has been all but barred from the political arena. Whether they profess to have a faith or not, political leaders should look to religion for inspiration when forging the future identity of the EU.

Christianity is arguably something that is common to all European member states and a potential value or source of identity around which they could unite. But how do we reconcile that sense of shared identity and history with those of other faiths or none?

Catholicism, and indeed all major faiths, teaches us to believe in the intrinsic dignity of every human person. If we can look beyond our differences and guard our national interests less jealously, every EU citizen has shared values and a common identity and a commitment to live within and promote a shared pluralist space.

Okay, but how does that translate into the necessity for a powerful and activist supra-national government to sit above the nation states, claiming exclusive competency in a wide array of areas to speak and act on behalf of a group of people as diverse as Brits, Germans, Poles and Greeks?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. Campbell’s background is in the Foreign Office – including a number of postings to the European Union – so he of all people should understand at least the basic history of how and why the EU came to be and took its present form. Is such a complex and inherently antidemocratic structure in any way necessary to express whatever limited sense of European-ness which may exist in our hearts and minds? Of course not, and Campbell knows it. The only reason you create an organisation with institutions mirroring those of a nation state and staffed with people who constantly agitate for more power and competencies is because you ultimately want the new organisation to be an independent actor on the world stage, replacing the nation states from which it was built.

Of course we all share a common humanity, that much is self-evident. But the sheer disingenuousness required to make the huge leap between all of us believing in the dignity of human life and all of us wanting or needing to be governed by the same common set of institutions in Brussels is simply staggering. And hardly Christian.

Trying to shoehorn Christianity in to fill the spiritual and democratic void at the heart of the European Union also brazenly overlooks the rapid growth of secularism, particularly in Western Europe. If Campbell is seriously suggesting that the EU base its social law on the values of the Roman Catholic Church, as would no doubt be popular in much of Poland, how does he think it will go down in France, Germany and Britain?

And if we attempt to base European values partly on other assertively growing faiths (i.e. Islam), what will then be the consequences for fundamental rights such as freedom of speech? And if this isn’t what Campbell means, then what exactly is his suggestion, than more hand-wringing, morally relativist waffle from the Christian Left?

Pete North hammers this point home in a recent blog post on European disunion:

We are persistently told that Eastern European countries are just chomping at the bit for Western liberalism and that is the justification for root and branch social reforms at the behest of the EU. Anyone who objects is clearly regressive in their eyes. Except the problem with EU foreign policy is that EU elites speak only to other political elites who tell them what they want to hear.

But as with the UK the metropolitan view is somewhat different to the provincial view which is seldom ever heard. It’s all very well demanding sweeping reforms but this rather forgets the lessons we learned in the UK. All economic and social reform has casualties and too much too soon creates resentment that lasts generations. That is why the Tories still can’t win seats in parts of Yorkshire and the North East.

Now apply that same revolutionary industrial reform to Poland and Ukraine while demanding social reforms that do not sit well with the catholic population. Attitudes are nearly thirty years behind in some regions. Try being an unmarried mum in rural Poland. Even today there are still objections in Ireland to reforms to abortion laws. That goes double for Eastern Europe.

So Francis Campbell’s bright idea to base our perpetually missing common European identity on Christianity or religion is clearly a dud. As the Anglican church has discovered, there is such wide and irreconcilable difference between its own traditionalist and progressive wings that some people find themselves unable to remain part of the same congregation or communion. And that’s just one branch of Christianity! How, then, is forming the kind of robust, multi-layered identity required to legitimise a powerful supranational government going to be possible merely by reeling off a few bland pronouncements about Christian “values” and the dignity of human life?

In short, this is exactly the kind of desperately small, unimaginative thinking which is responsible for so much of Britain’s current democratic malaise. When presented with an historic opportunity to look again at European and global systems of governance and regulation, all that Francis Campbell can do is propose minor tweaks to the status quo – tweaks which in his heart of hearts he must realise are empty words which will make no discernible impact in bridging the gap between an increasingly powerful, unloved European Union and the citizens of its member states.

And this is why Brexit must be more than an event – it must be just part of a larger process of democratic renewal and reform of our governance. There is precisely zero point in reclaiming powers and competencies from Brussels through Brexit if we are only to give them back to a government and Foreign Office staffed by rent-a-bureaucrats, who have the “vision” only to ploddingly execute the instructions placed in front of them, and will probably end up giving power away again to someone else in exchange for a few magic beans.

Francis Campbell, like too many other prominent Christian EU apologists, begins from the lazy and unsupported starting point that the European Union is inherently good, virtuous and necessary, without so much as examining its history or asking why similar structures have not developed in other part of the world. The brain then only truly engages when considering how the people might be better made to realise all of the wonderful good being done on their behalf, at which point we get lots of flowery language about shared Christian values but no intellectual meat on the bones. And the analysis is worthless anyway, because the initial assumptions were flawed from the start – the EU is not inherently good, virtuous or necessary.

So still we wait for that most elusive of things – a structured, intellectual Christian case for the European Union, and for Britain remaining in the EU. Many have stepped forward to try, but none (to my knowledge) have yet succeeded. Some have made themselves look quite silly in the process.

And time is running out.

 

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