A Response to the Prime Minister

Dear Dave

I thought that some kind of response was needed to your recent speech about the King James Bible. As you’ve chosen to speak to the church with the media listening in, I hope you won’t mind me responding in this way on my blog.

Firstly, there’s some positive things that I want to say. That must begin by a big thank you for engaging in a debate about religious matters. Though (as I think we’ll discover a little lower down the page) I don’t agree with much of what you said, full marks for trying. It is good that the anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible has given people the excuse to reflect on the influence of the Bible on society. It was good that though you gave something of a nod to the particular translation in question, your remarks were generally about the Bible itself rather than the KJV in particular. After all, though we in the churches often claim to love it, we don’t actually read that translation any more than you do. Some would think that the country went to the dogs when the KJV stopped being the religious soundtrack of choice in our churches. Be boldened by the knowledge that the translators themselves, though they would have every right to be proud of their achievements, might well dismiss this cloying sentiment as very far from what they were trying to achieve.

Now, you say that the Bible gave Britain a set of values and morals which make the nation what it is and we need to actively stand up and defend them. You know Dave, life is just a bit more complicated than that. What values are we talking about? Those that people in our nation used to argue in favour of slavery? Those they used to argue against women’s suffrage? Those they use still to argue against accepting the full humanity and citizenship of God’s gay children? Is it those values that you’re keen on or others?

You referred to some of these things in your speech. Curiously, you seem to think that the Bible argues for human rights. Most peculiarly, you argue that the Bible has been at the forefront of the emancipation of women. Have you ever read it? (Oh, and by the way, did Samantha promise to obey you? Just wondering).

The point of recognising that people have inalienable human rights is that we do so because we are agreed that they have them not because we have a mandate from scripture.

Has it occurred to you that the ethics of the Bible are as much a pick and mix morality as anything you’ll find in our gloriously multi-ethnic Britain. How are we to interpret the Bible, Prime Minister? You seem to speak as though there is one view about morality that comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition. What is it, now? Maybe we should ask the Rabbis – after all they had the chance to sort out the bulk of the text before Christians got their hands on it, and we know they all agree, don’t we?

You refer to “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing.”

Well, what values? What morals? Can we come to a language of common morality in our nation today? You know, I bet we can but I bet the starting point is moral neutrality not Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or….. well maybe I’ve made my point already.

You go on later to speak against “secular neutrality”. Oh David, please. Don’t you know that some of us (including some of us religious types) will thrive best in a state that embodies the best and highest goals of secular neutrality? There are strong voices who believe that the state should be founded on religious values. You know, those people frighten me Dave. Don’t add your voice to theirs.

Prime Minister, ethics and religion are different things. You’ve got them muddled in a way that the press just love, but they are muddled in your mind all the same. Oh yes, religious people have ethics and quite a lot to say about how to behave. However, our common life in the UK needs to come from a place where laws are recognised as good because they are, well, good. We can’t be in the business of commending some laws more than others because they have their genesis in one religious text or another, now can we?

I do admire your gall in suggesting that we need to so vigorously defend the Christian heritage of our nation whilst describing yourself as merely vaguely practising as a Christian yourself. Full marks for honesty. Full empathy marks from the religiously bewildered public I bet, but go on, show us you mean it. Take the kids to church.

Finally, you said that “The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.” and immediately went on to say, “Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, …we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Oooh, tricky thing to invoke Lady T in this argument, PM. Tricky, tricky, tricky. Do you think her values align with the Biblical values you want us to follow?

One last thing. You seemed to imply that the churches had short-changed the country in not standing up for these good decent biblical values that you are on about. This, you seem to say, has led to the decline in public life – the politicians expenses scandal, the awful mess that the bankers have made and so on. Lucky you to have the Christians to blame. (Throw them to the lions….). We could add the trouble with the tabloid press too, couldn’t we?

You know what, I think it was dishonest politicians who brought parliament into disgrace.  I think it was greed that got the bankers into the mess we are in. Not just their greed either. We’ve shared our greed rather than our prosperity in recent years and that has not brought us to a good place. And, I think it was behaviour verging on the criminal at the highest editorial levels that got the press into such a pickle. Still, at least we know you had nothing to do with those kind of people.

Anyway, enough from me for now. All good wishes for Christmas when it comes. Who is coming to lunch at Chequers this year?

Wishing you every blessing, as they say,

KELVIN

PS – full marks for taking a sideswipe at the Archbishop of Canterbury for not being robust or clear enough in his liberal Christian concern for the poor and the marginalised btw. He is so hard to understand, even if you are religious. That is what you meant, right?

Comments

  1. “Must defend” => guaranteed to fail.

  2. william says

    Kelvin – why should Dave take the kids to church?
    You didn’t really help him, far less convince him that that would necessarily be a good thing for his children!

    • I think that going to church is a good thing, for Prime Ministers and for everyone else. I wouldn’t be in the business otherwise.

      I’d hope that if Dave took the kids, he might learn something from them about the difference between morality and religion. Children often see things clearly.

  3. william says

    Is that it?
    It’s not only Rowan who is hard to understand, even if you are religious!

  4. DementedBonxie says

    I’ve not heard Dave’s rave on KJB – keeping BP stable… But I’ve really enjoyed your reflections on it. Thanks, spot on. So maybe I should be grateful to Camo for inspiring you – lol…

  5. Harry Campbell says

    Well said. Evan Harris is valiantly rebutting this sort of cant and demagogic hijacking of religion on Radio 4’s Any Questions at the moment.

    • Evan comes from a slightly different starting point on this to the one I come from, but all power to his elbow.

  6. Randal Oulton says

    >> What values are we talking about? Those that people in our nation used to argue in favour of slavery? Those they used to argue against women’s suffrage?

    LOL exactly bingo! Add those arguments in the Bible used against universal suffrage (us hoi polloi), and why we should always have just done as we wuz told (meaning no Anglican Church, no land ownership for peasants, let alone health care.)

  7. fr dougal says

    Actually Kelvin, I think the PM does take the kids to Church, not least because I think they go to St Mary Abbot’s C of E School in Kensington.

  8. Witty and hard-hitting, as always. Well done!

  9. On second thoughts, though: I agree in general that secular neutrality benefits all of us, but only provided that the secular is genuinely neutral. There is a variety of secularism that borders on an atheocracy which is just as tyrannical as theocracy.

  10. Patsy says

    Dear Kelv

    You make some interesting points. But do you have to be so rude? All the “Dave” stuff is a bit juvenile. If you want to have a serious debate surely you can show a bit of respect? Also maybe a little charity – was it really necessary to be quite so snide (I almost said “nasty”) about the PM’s rather hesitant comments on his own faith?

    • william says

      Well said and well put – Patsy.
      Sadly ‘revisionists’ don’t seem to recognise ‘rudeness’, lack of ‘charity’, ‘unattractiveness’ in what they say and do within the church, although they believe they recognise them and see them in others.
      It could be that blindness to all of this is because of the paucity of grace in their mindset; Pelagians don’t feel the need for grace or atonement as much as the rest of us.
      They seem to assume God is always smiling on them, and is always pleased with the worship they present to Him, whatever its content or assumptions. Even in whatever behaviour they engage in, even boast of.
      In Jeremiah’s day, in contrast, the religious were warned frequently with words like: peace, peace – when there was no peace. But most did not have ears to hear such warnings.
      Maybe your wisdom will strike a chord of caution.

      • >They seem to assume God is always smiling on them

        Oh yes! Oh yes!

      • William, you and Pasty know (or should) that ‘Dave’ is a popular phrase quite widely used to refer to Cameron’s ‘couch sofa’ style Blairist governing style and his attempts to *present himself* as a man of the people rather than a privleged OE. Dare one say that calling a David ‘Dave’ is , in terms of rudeness, not exactly up there with demonising gay people, nor implying that someone who disagrees with an opinion *on* a theological matter is somehow ignorant *of* theology?

        Can you cite a ‘non’ revisionist expression of church that offers worship that would please the God of Jeremiah, William? Personally I think the sort of glorious Eucharists that St.Mary’s feature hit closer to the mark than either (say) Shine Jesus Shine style worship songs or the glum langours of (e.g.) ‘biblical’ presbyterianism, but YMMV….

        Also, given that this is the same David Cameron who appeared in gay mag Attitude suggesting that the C of E could take lead from the now (relatively) gay-friendly tory party and giving it the sackcloth-and-ashes in regard to Section 28, I do have to laugh at self-styled fundamentalists accusing beastly Kelvin of being so mean about Cameron’s in-no-way-largely-for-political-gain theological musings.

  11. william says

    Ryan – have a happy christmas – William!

    • Ah, robust and scrupulous engagement with comments as always William! 😉

      And also, as they say, to you.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    “It could be that blindness to all of this is because of the paucity of grace in their mindset; Pelagians don’t feel the need for grace or atonement as much as the rest of us.
    They seem to assume God is always smiling on them, and is always pleased with the worship they present to Him, whatever its content or assumptions. ”

    This is not merely inaccurate but terrible theology.
    1-Nobody is more scrupulous about worship than Kelvin. The content of Episcopal worship is (unlike that of denominations less heavily influenced by the Catholic tradition) carefully prescribed.
    2 – Grace, in the Reformed sense is, in fact, a frequent theme of his sermons.
    3 – The real trouble with Pelagians is that they assume they have to EARN the favour of God – and that he is not very likely to be induced to smile on them. It is Athanasians who believe that God comes to them, and despite their inability to get things right, smiles on them. You have reversed the two. Allow me to suggest that Kelvin’s theology, which as one who has listened to him and read him, I think I understand, is such that he knows he is beloved by God even if he sometimes gets things wrong. Whereas you write as though you think you have to get your theology and other assorted beliefs right to be loved by God. But it is not so. Even people who make the most astonishing mistakes God are still his children, loved and carried in his heart.

    • Right on all counts, Rosemary. There is nothing I can do to make God love me more. I’m already utterly loved. Morality, ethics, grace and love are all predicated on that love being entirely unwavering. There is nothing that I can do (even less believe) that would make God love me more.

      I would add that I have been to a place which claims to be the tomb of Athanasius.

      (It was a little smelly).

      • william says

        How profound, and yet how gloriously true – “There is nothing I can do to make God love me more.”
        That’s the whole biblical meta narrative – God does everything, even recreates us in the image of His Son by His Spirit – as Paul said, we are ‘new creation’.
        And our heavenly Father has done all this for us that He might have children bearing the family likeness – not that our obedience will make Him love us more.
        But disobedience to what He has spoken will surely lead to fatherly chastisement.
        So in that regard there is always more we can do, as opposed to “There is nothing that I can do”. Good fathers do not smile on their children’s disobedience, even though they do not love them less.
        Sadly Pelagius pursued and taught the route of meritorious good works to please the Father [and the heresy is still vigorously alive today] – he was blind enough to think he might even be able to do this.
        Augustinians pursue grace – but increasingly their lives are being conformed to the likeness of Christ as Jesus said, by their fruits you will know them.
        Righteousness by faith is not a legal fiction!

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    There appears no way of liking Kelvin’s comment ‘oh yes,oh yes,’ but consider it very heavily liked.

    Somebody tell william that getting me going on Jeremiah might not be wise. Oh, I know, tell him to read http://lovebloomsbright.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/with-justice-and-with-righteousness/

    • william says

      Rosemary – I did read it and found it intensely moving.
      Probing the intensity of the Father’s yearnings over His ancient people is only matched [fulfilled is maybe a better word]by His Son’s brokenness for us at Gethsemane and beyond.
      Yet that’s the way – the only way – for us ever to have His smile upon us.
      Have you done a reading on Isaiah 5?

      • Rosemary Hannah says

        That is very sweet of you william- and actually Is 5 is an excellent suggestion for one of my pieces.
        I would say that, essentially, the yearning of the father and the brokenness of the son are contiguous aspects of one phenomena.

  14. David Baker says

    So we have a Prime Minister defending the Bible, and an Episcopalian provost attacking it?

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