Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Keeping Faith Simon Barrow Guardian Comment-is-Free Sep 25 07, 08:00pm: Labour 07: One of the more intriguing aspects of Gordon Brown's first Labour party conference speech as serving prime minister was his decision to use consciously biblical language as part of his argument against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy. [Cont'd]

This has led to an interesting point of discussion on the Ekklesia Facebook page [register to access] about whether Gordon Brown sees the enabling state as some kind of surrogate church. Which in turn raises a host of issues about the theology of statehood and the polity of ecclesial practice. But these were not at the forefront of my mind here. The point I was making in The Guardian was simply that, while it is desirable to have a clear distinction between religion and state, it is good to have the exclusionary rhetoric of the religious right challenged on its own terms - as part of the necessary willingness of those operating in the public square to countenance and deal with a plurality of moral languages emanating from different traditions. Rather than privileging one.

I don't think a PM can ever do proper justice to biblical language, however, because its alternative power - which looks very like powerlessness in a worldly context - resides in sources other than the kind of authority he (in this case) is properly mandated, able and willing to deploy in a democratic arena. By contrast, the vision of the kin-dom of God as an invitation to the politics of radical forgiveness, peacemaking and common life is what church needs to be about, in action not just rhetoric. I guess I should have made that point. But I stuck to the civic dimension, as I don't imagine CIF readers would care about the theological side of the equation (though many of them don't seem to care about diversity in civics either, preferring merely to wish for the elimination of what they don't want to hear, namely anything formed in proximity to 'religion').

As a footnote, I should add that back in May 2007, Johan Hari - who often displays a rather monochrome antipathy toward religion - wrote an interesting and balanced piece on Brown's God for The Independent. Likewise, Matthew Parris (the Times columnist, ex-Tory MP and secularist) appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, pointing out that the tenor and substance of GB's use of biblical phrases was quite different to that of Tony Blair - who often spoke them as if they were his own words, eliding the realm they came from with his own far too readily.

None of this, by the way, should be read as some uncritical endorsement of Brown - or an indication that I am uncynical about politicians quoting scripture for their own ends. I think GB is a definite improvement on TB. But that is not saying I favour New Labour, whose rise has been facilitated by an enseemly accommodation of the neoliberal agenda that has homogenized nearly all mainstream party politics in recent years.

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