What are Christians to make of Boris Johnson and his spanking new majority? It depends, of course, on your politics. I know plenty of Christians who can’t bear him. Some blame him for the referendum result; they think he lied our way out of Europe. Others dislike his character and private life. This election has brought out an old-fashioned streak of moral disapproval I thought the British had lost.
It’s welcome, if unevenly applied.
To other Christians, however, Brexit offers a glimmer of a return to cultural conservatism and the Tory majority gives a voice to northern, working-class voters who have been locked out of the national conversation for some time. If you’re hoping this means a bigger role for faith in public life, I doubt it. There are plenty of Christians in Parliament, but at this point the most we can reasonably hope for from the state is to be left alone: no war on faith schools, for example, or restrictions on what clerics can say in the pulpit. If your big issue is abortion – as it is for me – then the best that can be said about the Conservative manifesto is that it didn’t mention it at all. Labour, by contrast, wanted to decriminalise it, which might have meant legalisation up to the point of birth. I genuinely believe they didn’t realise this. That’s my charitable interpretation.
As for the PM himself, is he the least religious man ever to hold the office?
Mr Johnson’s ancestry is a fascinating patchwork of identities: his family is a little bit Jewish and wee bit Muslim and he was baptised as a Catholic. He admitted on Desert Island Discs that he occasionally likes to march up and down and sing hymns, but aside from Bach’s St Matthew Passion his tune choices weren’t theological. David Cameron once famously said that his faith was like a radio station that came and went in the Chilterns but, in fact, that was far too funny for Mr Cameron: he borrowed the joke from Mr Johnson. You might find this lack of spirituality yet more evidence that the PM is inauthentic but, let’s be honest, it’s probably proof of his thoroughgoing Englishness. Most of my people stopped doing God in about 1960. The Economist speculated that the Prime Minister’s ethical outlook is more Graeco-Roman than Judaeo-Christian, that he “has some sympathy with the view that Christianity, with its emphasis on guilt, meekness and self-denial, sapped the strength of the Roman Empire” – a common notion among the British establishment, particularly in public schools with strong Latin departments.
I can tell you, however, that several of the new prime minister’s closest advisers are most definitely Christian: two to watch are Tim Montgomerie, who is the PM’s social justice adviser, and Danny Kruger, Mr Johnson’s political secretary and now an MP. There are good people in this new administration. They deserve a chance to change things.
The watchword of the government is said to be “fairness”, and it has bid for the support of working-class voters with a promise of bigger spending. We wait to see action on refugees and persecuted Christians; the future of the aid budget, much mismanaged and maligned, is in doubt. I for one am a little bit concerned by the talk of a two-track immigration system that only lets in the poor on a temporary basis but actively encourages the rich and talented. I’d probably do it the other way around, but I guess that’s the sort of thinking that brought down Rome.
Yes, I voted for Boris. Sorry, but I think he’s great: funny and big-hearted. Don’t second-guess my politics though, which are a mystery even to me. In another recent round of elections I voted Green. I liked that the candidate said he wanted to flood my home town with refugees. That’s the kind of “screw you” to voters like me that I can get behind.
The key thing is not to believe politics can save you, because it can’t. I’m not saying politics and faith are separate; on the contrary, politics should be a dimension of faith. One of the problems with the West is precisely that the two have become separated in people’s minds, and politics has been allowed to break away from God, floating around, gaining a self-satisfied sense of independence and importance it does not deserve. Everything worth anything actually leads back to God: politics, art, family, food, sport. These are all aspects of ourselves; and we are all made in the image of Him.
Totalitarian regimes make politics god; modern liberalism tries to make politics godless. Both are artificial, both separate man from his true self, ending up in alienation and failure. We are made to love but also to be loved. A politics that doesn’t recognise the complete love of the father cannot help us to love each other in turn. It’s doomed to failure.
Tim Stanley is a journalist, historian and Catholic Herald contributing editor