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Are agnostic political leaders better than Christian leaders who are frauds?

Welcome to the post-Christian right. We must take our comfort where we can find it.
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Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom. Daniel Leal-Olivas-WPA Pool / Getty Images
Joseph Shaw By Joseph Shaw

January 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — There is a theory going around that Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is going to grasp a historic opportunity to realign his Conservative Party in relation to emerging voting patterns. It goes like this. Johnson’s predecessor-but-one, David Cameron, combined austerity and globalisation with social liberalism, notably by forcing “same-sex marriage” through Parliament, against great opposition from inside his own party. This did much to neutralise the opposition of the liberal media and arts establishment.

But things have moved on. The hyper-liberalism of the political left has cut them adrift from their traditional working-class supporters, who value family and country. Public finances don’t look quite as bad as before. The vote to leave the European Union and the ferocious opposition to this by the political and media establishment has crystalized the break between the left and its traditional base. Johnson’s strategy will be to pivot the Conservative Party into a more socially conservative, but less capitalist-friendly, party, to scoop up these newly available votes.

There is obviously a parallel with politics in the United States, and indeed, there are trends indicating a problem with left-wing parties losing their traditional supporters across the West. How the parties of left and right respond to this is one of the great questions of our time.

Real life is always more complicated than the models beloved of political scientists. Two things seem reasonably clear, however. One is that there is an opportunity for political parties and movements in the “socially conservative,” or perhaps better “culturally conservative,” area of opinion, which does not line up with the left-right distinction of the recent past. (Was it really a good idea for left-wing opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union to brand it a “right-wing” project? Did this not make it inevitable that many traditionally left-voting “leavers” transferred their allegiance to the right?)

The other is that this political space, if it does come to be represented successfully by political parties and movements, will not be represented by Christian leaders, in the way it would have been fifty years ago. The United States is something of an exception here, but in the UK and Europe, such leaders — cultural, intellectual, political — do not exist, and the voters I am talking about are not themselves predominantly church-going Christians. They are, to be crass about it, mostly contraception-using, divorced and divorcing, pornography-consuming agnostics, who are nevertheless fed up with being told what to think (and indirectly thrown out of work) by clever-clever internationalist and politically correct media.

It’s not just that more traditional views and lifestyles have waned. The clerical leadership of Catholic and most Protestant communities have increasingly identified themselves with issues beloved of left-wing parties that reject the old “family issues” completely. This clerical leadership frequently views political leaders from its flocks who try to make something of family issues with disdain. This makes it difficult to make a coherent public case for Christian values.

Boris Johnson has been married, and divorced, twice. Some of his extramarital affairs have become well known. He was baptised a Catholic and confirmed in the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, but I don’t think he has any but the vaguest cultural affinity with Christianity. In this, at least, he is typical of his generation. Welcome to the post-Christian right. He’s pro-abortion but keen on free speech. We must take our comfort where we can find it.

Perhaps this will be a movement of an informed cultural respect for Christianity. The atheist biologist Richard Dawkins could share his love of hymns. The works of the late agnostic Roger Scruton could educate the nation on the glories of Gothic architecture. The agnostic Jordan Peterson could encourage young people to read the Bible. If they are all simultaneously saying the metaphysical basis of the Christian religion is a lot of nonsense, we may still be better off than under the old kind of political leaders.

These were leaders who paid lip service to Christian institutions, and perhaps even nurtured “personal” religious faith, a faith they thought it would be impolite to talk about much, let alone act on. Johnson’s predecessors as prime minister, the Conservative Theresa May and the Labour Gordon Brown, were brought up by religious ministers. Between them came David Cameron, a church-going Anglican; before them, Tony Blair, whose faith journey actually led him to be received into the Catholic Church after his departure from office. The degradation of the law and political culture under these four prime ministers was breathtaking: on euthanasia and abortion, homosexual “marriage,” experimentation on human embryos, and the creation of clones from them, the U.K., tragically, became a world leader.

While as a voting bloc Catholics have almost zero influence on U.K. elections, we may at least be able to have a conversation with the proponents of the new politics.


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Joseph Shaw

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and has edited a forthcoming book on the liturgy: The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and eight children.