Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shared (Christian) Values
by Arthur King

Music Festival, Ipswich, England. July 1, 2007

Memphis, Tennessee, USA. July 3, 2007

There are few more fundamental differences between Britain and the US than their attitudes towards religion.

Christianity is at the centre of American life. The
majority of Americans believe that they were made out of mud by a Supreme Being of some sort. It’s not unusual in the US to receive an email from a colleague with a footer that offers you a “Blessed Day in Our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.” If you sneeze, entire restaurants will bless you, and once you become accustomed to all this, it does not seem unusual for a Korean Evangelical to walk up to your heavily pregnant wife in a car park in Los Angeles and attempt to lay hands on the bump in order to bless the unborn child.

In Britain on the other hand, Christianity has been largely excised from public life. If someone offers you a blessed day you tend to look for the irony. If you find none, you tend to move swiftly away. If someone tries to lay hands on a pregnant woman outside a supermarket, there’s no surprise if they wake up in the back of a speeding ambulance.

Britain for the most part regards Christians as harmless crackpots, a species of shiney-faced loons who are rather too keen and a bit too sweaty. The
majority of Brits are in fact non-believers, and the word Christian is interchangeable with the phrase God Botherer, a gentle term of abuse that implies someone of inferior mental stock.

This is because the predominant belief in Britain is in the secular. A belief that requires no proof is considered irrational, a symptom of mild mental weakness.

So, Christians are mildly mad, but harmless, and everyone has the right to their own form of madness in Britain. If you want to dress up as a druid at weekends, that is your affair. If you wish to believe we were made out of soil by a chap with a beard and fisherman’s rope sandals, so be it. All part of the rich tapestry of life. Perfectly harmless.

This is why, with few exceptions, the British media has largely ignored the religious beliefs of prime ministers Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown.

So, tell us about your STD

A large part of this is because religion in Britain falls into the same conversational category as piles, STDs and divorce: it’s private.

Americans on the other hand will happily discuss their haemorroids, their herpes and their second divorce with absolute strangers, especially at dinner. It’s an act of sharing that brings people together: I tell you about my bum, you tell me about your life with an STD. We share our private lives.

Americans will also readily tell you how they found God. However, if you are at a dinner party in Britain and someone starts rattling on about how they caught religion, correct form is to make a joke and swiftly move the subject on to the weather. But Americans never laugh if you ask whether they found God under the sofa cushions.

Who would Jesus bomb?

The British refusal to discuss religion has an essential social function: it prevents conflict, and allows for beliefs of all forms to coexist peacefully. However, this polite social silence is a cultural blind spot when it comes to dealing with the more violent strains of evangelical Christianity.

Imagine, as an example, that several million people believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Nothing so unusual there, but imagine that as True Believers they feel they must do everything in their power to hasten the End Times. Imagine that they also believe the war in Iraq will hasten the arrival of Satan on earth, fulfilling part of the Armageddon prophecies, and signalling The Beginning of The End.

Now, imagine that these same people have positioned themselves at high levels in the US administration, and that a fictionalised book series about The End Times is among the most popular reading material among US forces in Iraq.

This just happens to be

But the British have ignored all this, just as they refused to discuss the fact that Blair
is religious, he is a Christian, and he went to war against Muslims on the side of a man who says he talks directly to God, and that his discussions with Jehovah justify the invasion of Iraq. It stands to reason that if Bush is in league with people who believe that Jesus would want us to bomb Iraqis, then Blair was by default in league with the same. And so is Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown.

Brown is also a Christian, who recently professed that he and Bush have
“shared values.” With 655,000 Iraqis dead by the best estimate available, London targeted by suicide bombers, and the Middle East in flames, sharing values with the man who believes God gave him the thumbs up to wage war on Muslims does not seem like a harmless private eccentricity. Worse still, Brown’s comments on shared values may serve a dual purpose.

Coded messages
While serving as an overt discussion of policy on Iraq, and stating a mutual position on terrorism, Brown’s words also present a covert message to the US Christian Right. Bush has long made a habit of sending out such
coded messages, and it is abundantly clear how Brown’s comments will be viewed in a society that sees “values” as code for Christianity. Brown of course cannot come out and state his religion openly because of the electorate back home – he is already expected to struggle at the next elections, and could harm himself irreparably if he aligns himself on religious affairs with a man who would lose a battle of wits with a ham sandwich.

Is it possible though that he has stated his position on Iraq covertly, with a deft wink to the Christian Right?

If it sounds paranoid, it just might be. It could well be that Gordon was just cosying up to the US public while telling Georgie in private that the British part in the disaster that is Iraq will soon be over. But remember too that at the heart of Christianity is a persecutory complex, and that Evangelical Christians often place “God’s Laws” above the laws of man. If that means that they have to lie to the masses, who are non-believers, then so be it. The ultimate aim is to do the work of the Lord, and if that requires hypocrisy, then the ends justify the means.

So for Gordon Brown, does the work of the higher father – whose existence cannot be proved – ever take precedence over the laws of earthbound men and women? And if so, under what circumstances? These are questions that need to be asked.

Trouble is, everyone in Britain is too busy talking about the weather.