Comments: General Election 2017: "Archbishops highlight the place of faith in British life"

It is hard to say whether the primates are wanting us to vote Tory, because that is the vehicle that is most likely to neutralise extremism, or whether they are wanting us to vote against the Tories, because that party is the vehicle that has been most effective at neutralising extremism, albeit by appropriating it.

What is clear to me is that the experiences of the last year have deranged many established political predicates. With every passing day the expressions ‘left’ and ‘right’ (always more appropriate to the French experience) have ever less meaning. When someone as sane as Giles Fraser can write something as disorientating as this:, it becomes ever less clear what is the ‘correct’ thing to do.

My own view is that parliamentary democracy is an oxymoron; that it evolved because of the ‘tyranny of distance’, a problem which does not exist to the same extent in a ‘hyper-connected’ world. As such, parliamentary systems tend to subvert ‘democracy’; they also sanction a near-monopoly by whipped parties over the parliamentary process, which is arguably inimical to ‘democracy’. We have lately witnessed the spectacle of many ‘liberals’ deprecating the highly ‘democratic’ device of the referendum on the basis that it is Bonapartist/fascist but that, surely, is the point of it: if the people want something, they should (as Mencken noted) have the right to ‘get it good and hard’.

I will not vote (and have never voted) because to do so is to legitimise a party system that is not so much the essence of ‘democracy’ as its negation. Some people consider this irresponsible, and argue that ‘millions of people have died for the vote’ (which may be at best a half-truth). I disagree; anyway, I would rather have a legislature composed of experts and people selected at random.

Of course, this is to assume that democracy (whatever it is) is actually desirable in itself. It strikes me that the general thrust of Christian ethics is that it is the inter-relation of God and His people, and the associated outcomes, which are more important than the mechanisms for achieving those outcomes (even if the mechanisms themselves can sometimes be useful signifiers of those outcomes).

On reflection I believe they are wanting us to vote Tory with the proviso that Brexit should not become a distraction from more fundamental, if similarly insoluble issues, such as the housing problem.

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 2:17pm BST

If this was meant to a non-partisan intervention then it has failed. Social Media has conservative commentators latching on to the stability word as an endorsement of the Prime Minister's robotic offer of strength and stability. Did no one at Lambeth spot that this word was now a party rallying cry?

The only consolation is that the advice in their letter, some of which I think is excellent, has been issued early on in the campaign. Not many people take any notice of Archbishops anyway, these days, so I think whatever they say is likely to have a negligible impact on the election result, except perhaps to get Christians to pray, which is a good thing.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 3:03pm BST

Well, in at least one respect, the Archbishops are clearly wrong.

The best antidote to religiously based discrimination--especially by the established church--is absolutely "further secularisation of the public realm."

Including--if the CofE continues to discriminate in the cause of faith--disestablishment.

The Archbishops are pleading to continue to have it both ways. This will not wash.

Posted by JeremyB at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 5:08pm BST

Well worth checking out "this estate. Blog spot. Com" for a very reasoned and critical response to the pastoral letter from our Archbishops.

Posted by Paul Richardson at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 7:31am BST

This is, I suppose an improvement on the Lambeth Palace press office's assurance that 'the Archbishop will not be commenting on the election' soon after it was called. Nonetheless it is a pretty paltry contribution to the debate and highlights the vacuum in Anglican social teaching (where has Radical Orthodoxy gone when we most need them?). It would be a wonderful tribute to the late Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge, Dr John Hughes, and all his pioneering work in this area, if Graham Ward, John Milbank and Simon Oliver were to produce a 'counter' statement that is not fettered by the political loyalties Welby has for May and Sentamu has for the Daily Mail.

Posted by Will Richards at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 9:16am BST

In referring to "shared British values," it's clearly escaped their graces' notice that one half of the union between England and Scotland emphatically rejected isolationism and xenophobia, and is on the verge of seceding.

They're also ignorant of what secularism means: the legal separation of church and state, not a rejection of faith. Devout believers can be, and are, secularists. Secularism began not with atheists, but with Christians sick of being persecuted by their alleged brethren.

If the CoE wasn't a state church, perhaps their graces could condemn a government that knowingly drives disabled people to suicide, and excommunicate a prime minister who's not only willing to overseee such barbarism, but who boasted that she'd slaughter 100,000 innocents with nuclear weapons, a woman who sullies Christianity by association.

But then, CoE's naturally the Tory Party at prayer, isn't it?

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 12:39pm BST

I try to see this through the eyes of most of the white people in my parish who don’t come to church (the non-whites are nearly all Muslim and I don’t know how they are being advised, if at all). If it impinges on their consciousness, they might be inclined to ask “what’s an Archbishop?” Do we church people realize just how peripheral and irrelevant we and our little club are? Of the approximately 200 people who live on our street, only one (other than us) attends any sort of church. The rest, all friendly, lovely and perfectly affable people, pursue other hobbies on Sunday mornings and have far more cosmic concerns, as they see it, than what goes on in the building opposite the Town Hall (cannibalism and vampirism as one provocatively said to me) and the pronouncements, however coherent, of a couple of oldish men who dress strangely and hate gays.

On the basis that less is more, the archbishops might have more impact if they opined less frequently. And though a 3 page document is better than a 30 pager, they might make their next letter even shorter and pithier. Having worked in the real world for 30 years before ordination, I know that people rarely read a document past page 1. I am left wondering who the Archbishops thought they were writing to, and did they really imagine that anyone other than the church groupies would take much notice. Or is writing letters like this something they feel they should do?

Someone will accuse me of the sin of cynicism. That is always the tactic of those who cannot tolerate loyal dissent. I worked for years for a CEO of that ilk – “bring me solutions, not problems” – with the result that perfectly foreseeable pitfalls were never considered until too late.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse, aka Fr William at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 5:43pm BST

Can I second that?

When I saw the length of the letter I decided not to bother reading it, and clicked on something else.

Had it been a sensible length, I would (possibly? probably?) have copied it into our service paper.

I'm afraid they've wasted their time and effort.

Posted by John Roch at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 6:29pm BST

@Dr Monkhouse: yours is one of the very best comments I have seen on TA for a while. Yes, I think that we grossly overplay the impact that the Church has upon society: for the overwhelming majority church buildings are mere dead space and they (alas!) find the message of the Gospels completely tedious and unconvincing, even (or perhaps especially) on the very rare occasions when it is inflicted upon them by sincere believers.

I would estimate that the number of people who read these archiepiscopal pronouncements or, indeed, any missive/charge emanating from any bishop, seldom exceeds more than one or two hundred people (most of whom are in orders, and a majority of whom do so out of misplaced feelings of duty). If the archbishops made no announcement would anyone notice? When they make any announcement does anyone care?

Posted by Froghole at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 6:48pm BST

In the immortal words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, "Ah, a cynic, what an idealist calls a realist."

The cannibalism crack's old as the faith, but that vampirism quote's great. Will now forever have images of church as a cross between a Hammer Horror and Buffy, with a dash of Anne Rice on the side. Which isn't far from the truth.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 6:58pm BST

Thank you Froghole. You write "they (alas!) find the message of the Gospels completely tedious and unconvincing". Indeed. So do I, at least as it is often presented. What keeps me in this extraordinary job is the psychological authenticiy of the Gospel. And that is what I preach. I make no secret of the fact that I think much doctrine poetic and beautiful, but no more than that, and a great deal well past its sell-by date, and so should be ditched. Some is frankly abusive, and I say so. But still the people come to church for decent liturgy and a good sing of traditional hymns, with a large dollop of Wesley (I'm a cradle Wesleyan who now likes dressing up and swinging the smoke) - not in droves, but certainly more than 2 years ago. Others will condemn me, but life abundant is what it's all about - or in the Greek, excessively abundant. There's not much life (super)abundant in archiepiscopal letters.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse, aka Fr William at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 7:13pm BST

"[C]annibalism and vampirism as one provocatively said to me."

This is not always mere provocation. Although not expressed in those words, this was very much the sincere reaction of a friend of mine, on attending communion for the first time.

Quite frankly, he seemed to find the words of institution repulsive.

Needless to say he hasn't been back.

It is useful, sometimes, to understand how very strange the church can seem, to those who are not brought up within its cultural assumptions.

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 8:42pm BST

James Byron: and zombies in the pews?

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse, aka Fr William at Monday, 8 May 2017 at 8:43pm BST

In April 2015 I visited Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire. A tourist board told of the special privilege that people there had to elect their vicar over centuries, until this was handed to the PCC early in the last century. Wandering up to the church (St Thomas Becket) I saw on the door a notice signed by the Bishop of Derby forbidding anyone to exercise the right of appointment for 5 years. Despicable, I thought, but then on the way home read that this very same Bishop of Derby was urging everybody to register to vote in the upcoming parliamentary election. When bishops accept democracy, then perhaps they can preach it. As for me I tore up my registration form in disgust.

Posted by T Pott at Tuesday, 9 May 2017 at 11:24pm BST

For those who find a three page letter too much to read and digest may I suggest a brief 10 word summary?

"Vote for the strong and stable vicar's daughter - Brexitia's Britannia!"

However, contrary to the Two Graces coded advice I shall be putting my cross next to the Labour candidates name.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 11 May 2017 at 8:07am BST
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