By Giles Fraser
The thing about our three main political parties is not how different they are, but how depressingly similar they are. Little wonder so many of us are bored with the General Election campaign even before it has begun.
Whatever happened to big vision politics? To the idea that politics is where we ask important questions about what human society ought to look like?
Part of what is different now has to do with what has happened to God.
For previous generations, Christianity provided politics with a spur to a more ambitious engagement with the problems of the world.
The original Labour Party was shaped as much by Methodism as by Marx. And when Mrs Thatcher won in 1979, she famously stood outside No10 and quoted St Francis of Assisi:
‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.’
Christianity didn’t lead the different parties to think the same political thoughts, but it did encourage them to think big thoughts, to raise their sights above mere managerialism.
Politics informed by faith cannot duck questions about fundamental morality or about what human life is for. Faith set everything in a much wider context.
In contrast, today’s politicians are terrified by the faintest whiff of religion. And their alibi is multiculturalism.
For it has now become commonplace for politicians to back off from allowing their thinking to be inspired by a broader story about what human life is for – the sort of story that, for us in this country, has been traditionally rooted in Christianity – because they fear that this might alienate those with different religious traditions.
So instead they subscribe to no story at all. They don’t do God or big ideas, believing nothing is safer. Better to be agnostically invisible than to say something that others might disagree with.
Here is the heart of the miserable defensiveness of modern political life. It’s no surprise that people are frustrated that politics has lost its way.
Last week, just ahead of the Election, Gordon Brown raised the question of immigration, saying it is the duty of politicians to address the concerns of ordinary people. But does he really understand what those concerns are?
We are a welcoming country, with diverse roots, and have no basic sympathy with the racist ideology of the BNP. In the 20th Century, many people here gave their lives to rid Europe of fascism.
The fact that we are a trading nation has meant that we have always attracted people from overseas.
What is new is the way all this diversity is being used by politicians as an excuse to jettison the deepest sources of our moral life, sources that have underpinned our values for centuries.
Take the debate over faith schools. Some on the Left argue that schools which have Christian values at their core are prejudiced against children of other faiths. It is really interesting that this is not an argument used by members of other faith communities.
No, the people who are calling for the abolition of Christian values from schools are not members of other faiths, but politically motivated secularists using diversity as an excuse to pursue their real agenda: to drive faith from the public sphere.
Defending Christian values in education is not about brainwashing children with heavy-duty evangelism; it is about recognising that much of our morality has been historically rooted in the Christian faith.
This is partly why Church schools are so popular, even with parents who are not regular churchgoers. Ed Balls please note.
Indeed, this is also why many members of other faith communities would prefer to send their children to a faith school of a different faith to their own, than they would to a secular school where God plays no part in the core values.
The Chief Rabbi, for example, went to a Church of England primary school. Secular neutrality is not what people want.
‘What is truth?’ said the world-weary politician Pontius Pilate to Christ. Pilate didn’t really think there was an answer. He had long given up on ideas such as truth. His only concern was with managing his troublesome province.
Of course, the great irony of Pilate’s remark is that he was standing right in front of the very incarnation of truth itself.
Christians believe that the self-giving love of Jesus, his preparedness to give his life for others, reveals the ultimate truth of all things – that God loves the world.
This is the truth we stand for: that love is not some sentimental emotion, but is the willingness to put others first. We are called to find the meaning of our own lives in the service of other people.
Ever since the conversion of these islands to Christianity in the 7th Century, this Christian story has been at the centre of our moral, spiritual and political life. We are who we are, and we are what we stand for, because of the Christian faith.
Politicians who use multiculturalism as a pretext for dumping this history are guilty of a dangerous cultural vandalism.
Religion offers our political life something that it can never generate on its own. For even though politicians can pass laws and make new policy, this is not how the world is fundamentally changed. The ultimate source of all change is the human heart.
Christianity speaks of the need for a personal conversion of life. Change is not some general announcement of the need for a new strategy. Change is not another Press release. Change means you. Change means me.
The expenses scandal opened a window into the workings of our political class. It revealed a group of men and women who put more effort into profiting themselves than in the challenge of making the world a better place.
In 1979, some cringed when Mrs Thatcher spoke so openly of harmony, truth, faith and hope. And some of us did not agree with how she went about putting those ideals into practice.
But even her detractors would admit that here was real political ambition tied to an active moral imagination.
Politics that does not root itself in moral values is simply a way of refereeing human selfishness. Faith has always spoken of human life as something much more.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1263427/Britain-built-Christianity–So-ARE-politicians-terrified-whiff-religion.html#ixzz0keQumQ94