Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The dangers of political naivety among faith leaders

With local elections across the UK tomorrow, the liberal and left-learning blogosphere has been noisy with discussion about the best way to ensure that the British National Party (BNP) doesn't gain ground.

To give them their due, the Christian churches have always been vocal in their opposition to the poisonous racism of the BNP. However, Jonathan Bartley over at Ekklesia warns that recent statements by some church leaders about threats to Britain's identity as a 'Christian nation' and dire warnings about the rising tide of secularism may have accidentally provided ammunition for the far right (see this post and follow the links back). 'The uncomfortable fact', argues Bartley, is that this kind of rhetoric 'puts the Church into the position of arguing the same political point about national identity as the BNP', and it seems the latter have not been slow to exploit it, helping to establish a 'Christian Council of Britain': 'The goal is apparently to appeal to those in the population who identify with Christianity, but feel panicked both by "liberal secularism" and the growth of Islam.'

Like Bartley, I would argue that political naivety rather than anything more sinister is at work here. But right now there seems to be a lot of that naivety around among Christian leaders. I was out of the country when Iran released the British sailors, so I didn't get a chance to comment on the astonishing statement by Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali. According to The Times:

A leading Church of England bishop has claimed the Iranian president showed a better understanding of “moral and spiritual” values at the end of the naval hostage crisis than Britain’s political leaders.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, contrasted the words of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favourably with Britain’s “free-floating” attitudes.

The bishop said that, watching the release of the British sailors and marines last week, “I saw on the one hand what Iran was doing, and what the president [of Iran] said had much to do with the moral and spiritual tradition of their country.

“The president talked about the religious background to the release, with reference to the Prophet’s birthday and the passing over of Christ. What struck me was that if there were any values on the British side they were free-floating and not anchored in a spiritual and moral tradition.

The bishop's gullibility in mistaking the cynical, theatrical gesture of a discredited, authoritarian politician for anything moral or spiritual is breathtaking. It bears comparison with certain western politicians who went to visit Saddam and came away praising his 'statesmanship'. Is the bishop unaware that the 'moral and spiritual tradition' of Ahmadinejad's Iran includes executing homosexuals, stoning adulterers and repressing signs of dissent? Give me 'free-floating' (I suppose he means liberal) attitudes any day.

Nazir-Ali's statement also provides evidence of two other (linked) trends in contemporary Christian religiosity that I have noted before. One is a 'faith-ism' that appears to believe that any faith is better than no faith, and the other is an unconscious fascination with and envy of the 'Other' of renacent Islam.

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