Sunday, June 22, 2008

Politics and Religion – 'The Open Debate'

A little art for this Lord’s Day – a painting entitled The Open Debate by Philip Bouchard, 1997-8.

It hangs in Portcullis House and contains many themes, but central to the painting is the idea that ‘politics is like a never-ending game of chess’. It explores the religio-political tension at the heart of Parliament, which has not only been a recurring theme throughout British history; it has been evident in recent debates over the time limit for abortion, faith schools, the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill, or the effects of the Sexual Orientation Regulations upon Roman Catholic adoption agencies.

The painting depicts a bishop and a knight in conversation on the edge of a chess board facing the Palace of Westminster. Bouchard says: ‘The Bishop symbolises the Church and spiritual values and the Knight, the State and temporal values.’

The positioning of the chess pieces is according to a famous end-game study called the 'Saavedra Position' which ‘has a very curious history with a number of twists and turns’.

One wonders what the final twist and turn shall be, and whether the Church-State relationship is approaching its endgame.


Blogger eddie said...

As a Baptist, and at the risk of inviting his Grace's wrath, I do hope that the Church-State relationship is indeed approaching its endgame.

While the Constantinian settlement did bring some good to the church, I fear that we have lost far more than we have gained in this alliance. This goes deeper than just the C of E too - there is a complicit relationship (though this is dying) between the State and all of the Christian denominations which I do not feel is healthy for the Church.

Sadly, I suspect that the discussion here will reflect the political agenda of the state, rather than taking a hard look at our Master's teaching on the nature of his kingdom. For those communicants who are truly interested in the nature of the Church after Christendom, I would recommend the works of Stuart Murray-Williams - though this will probably incite the wrath of his Grace even further.

22 June 2008 at 08:53  
Anonymous Voyager said...

We are back in 1641 rather as expressed in The Noble Revolt by John Adamson. Once we leave the institutional approach of eddie above we se the issues that faced Pym and Hampden and the others who resisted the desire of Charles I to adopt French Absolutism in England.

The Crown is emasculated in person but in its name an Absolutist Terror reigns in the form of Administrative Dictatorship without any ethical or physical constraint.

The Eleven Year Tyranny and the use of the Court of the Star Chamber have their parallels today, and it is the general apathy and ignorance of the English in their bowdlerised "education' that leaves them so passive and weak-kneed today when trivial men seek to emulate the stupidity of the Scottish Stuart kings.

Whenever the Scots have ruled England it has been abject failure - whether Stuart kings or Ramsay MacDonald

22 June 2008 at 11:05  
Blogger Paul said...

I cannot speak for neo-Calvinism / Reformational Philosophy on this, since it is not my area.

But what is the distinction between spiritual and temporal values?

Church and state are both sovereign within their own sphere, as Kuyper would say, as is the family, the university, the business association, etc. To say that church and state should be separate, however, is not to say that religion is irrelevant to politics; what we need is Christian philosophers and politicians, not some special influence of the church.


22 June 2008 at 11:50  
Anonymous Jenny said...


Maybe, but we won't get them. So we're stuck with 'special influence' (sadly lacking). Since evil is, like good, perpetrated by individuals not thunderbolts from heaven or spirits (sorry Your Grace) we need more people with a Christian remit, not just allegedly Christian values, making our decisions for us. Broon is a 'son of the manse', and look at the wholly un-Christian decisions he makes.

22 June 2008 at 12:27  
Blogger Paul said...

Thanks Jenny.

I think that religion is often seen as being "tacked on" to life, rather than underlying all areas of life. The distinction between "spiritual" and "temporal" values indicates the former way of thinking to my mind.

And so Christians like Blair and Broon seem to think that they can do politics without "doing religion".

Yet I think that the political aspect of life is not to be reduced to the moral aspect. And neither should Church and State, as institutions, seek to dominate each other.

But I really don't know much about political theory. So, for anyone interested, I'll end by dropping the names of some Googleable Christian thinkers I have in mind: Bob Goudzwaard in the Netherlands, Jim Skillen in America, David Koyzis in Canada, and Jonathan Chaplin in the UK.

22 June 2008 at 13:52  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

eddie , dont forget that even john wesley always thought the C of E to be the mother church , and not the orphan . i take it methodist attendences are in decline , have you wondered wether your stance is aiding this???

i cannot comment much on some of the views above , as they are bit out my intellectual arenas .

The splinters and arguments within christianity do not mean , that christianity isnt true. if the church and state are to split , by a cleave of liberal thinking , it had better be tested , as what I think i think is happening is that some people are rushing to modernise , on the basis that modernising is always justifiable.

where is the thought, the study , the basis. We hear that we would be so much better off if free of christianity .

i think the question more lies in who , would be better off if we freed our selves from christianity.

those who put there faith in laws and micro management of our daily lives , should remember , that to be subject to the law is to not love god . (the law in this case being one persons actions directly acting on another roughly the ten commandements). the law is upheld by the fear (misunderstood word these days) of the lord .

no god and law loses its meaning

no church and state looses its authority to legislate

22 June 2008 at 14:03  
Blogger Mission Impossible said...

Paul [22 June 2008 11:50] ... excellent 3rd paragraph. I can also entirely agree with its basic premise.

Nevertheless, Voyager [22 June 2008 11:05] has properly quoted historical precedents where "Administrative Dictatorships" have been quick to exploit the lack of constitutional restraints. Surely an Established Church, when led properly, should be an excellent restraint upon tyranny? Why else have Bishops in the Upper House?

As for Scots, I have lost count of the number I have met or worked with, overseas, who have never hesitated to act in a treacherous and culturally hostile manner. Well not really lost ... the count is six out of six. Sounds like a pattern to me. The seventh was a drunkard, and four of the six, almost.

Long ago, I used to think it might be me at fault ... until the third experience; the fourth clearly clinched it.

In my experience, when most Scots travel overseas they tend to spit on the Union Jack.

22 June 2008 at 14:39  
Blogger dizzyfatplonka said...

Food as a Weapon

The State is in bed with the multi National Corporates now so I think the Church should seek an amicable divorce settlement so they can preach to the flock about the evil deeds being proposed by their ex-partner and new lover.

Having said that its time for those congreagations to get back to the original concept of the Church being the people, and begin verbally kicking some preachers arses who are going along with the States agendas.

22 June 2008 at 15:25  
Blogger Paul said...

Thankyou Mission Impossible.

Within human history progress is often made through differentiation of societal structures and roles. I have outlined a theoretical ideal, which may not have been workable in past times.

The balance of power is maintained by mutual pressures exerted by the church, state, businesses, families, associations, etc. And within any one of these areas there can be a variety of ways to control the power of any one group of people; such as having a House of Commons and a House of Lords, as well as the Monarchy. But this is about the bounds of authority of institutions and groups, and not specific political issues.

So I think it is not that we need Bishops in the Lords; they can have their influence (on the bounds of the state) via the church. It is that we need Christians in the Lords and in the Commons willing to think through specific policies in an explicitly Christian way, not regarding their faith as an irrelevant "tacked on" piece of "spirituality" that they do on a Sunday.

But as I say, I am no expert here. Do Google the guys I mentioned, if you want to know more about the Reformational tradition of political thought.

PS. Hear O Israel. The state does not derive authority from the church, I think. Both derive limited authority, within their own spheres, from God.

22 June 2008 at 17:06  
Anonymous John said...

Matthew 22:21

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

Interest groups, of whatever odour, steal from those without a voice loud enough to be heard above the babel of power. Oh' for an honest voice amongst the political classes to speak on behalf of the weak.

22 June 2008 at 17:19  
Anonymous Voyager said...

John quotes Matthew when The Galilean evaded the trap - he nevertheless was executed by Roman Occupiers for being a threat to The Sanhedrin - thus neatly bringing both Pagan State Power and Religious Hierarchy down on his head.

Maybe Christ was sent to show ALL human beings were corrupt when institutionalised and that only a few disciples could be entrusted to suffer calumny and death to bring The Word.

Perhaps Christians should be martyred as in Zimbabwe for their belief in justice and liberty - is that what separation of the spheres of religion and politics mean ? You recite the kadesh as you go into the gas chamber ?

The simple fact is that British Politics has "Ministers" and "Ministries" - words straight from the ecclesiastical.

The Lord Chancellor was a Churchman until Sir Thomas More when a lawyer first took the office. The Church provided the only literate and educated men capable to conversing and writing in Latin.

That is the basis of Church/State fusion.The separation is because The State wants to be AMORAL and act in a pagan if not satanic manner. Every State which has denied Christ has butchered its own people.

It was Christianity which set boundaries on the strong - it gave the millowners a Day of Judgment to restrain their earthly powers - not all were heald in thrall - but many were, and the greatness of Britain, of Seden, of Denmark, Germany, were bound up in their Protestant Heritage and the need of the Individual to stand before God and atone

22 June 2008 at 19:13  
Anonymous John said...

But I finished with a request for an honest voice amongst the political classes, any flavour would be welcome.

22 June 2008 at 19:30  
Anonymous The recusant said...

To digress, has Your Grace seen his blog mentioned by Daniel Hannan in the Catholic Herald titled 'Catholics in the pews have clipped the EU's wings'. He gives the lie to the oft repeated charge that Catholics follow Rome’s lead blindly in all things.

It is becoming clear that the bribe offered the DUP (supported by Sin Fein) for supporting the 42 days detention was that the abortion act would not be extended to Northern Ireland.

The lesson taken from these extraordinary outcomes is that we pigeon hole people at our peril, today Ich bin ein DUP’er (is there a doughnut called the DUP, I’ll settle for Uster Fry)

22 June 2008 at 20:17  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Recusant,

His Grace takes that publication, and has indeed read the article.

But acerbic?

Acerbity is a quality much more associated with The Catholic Herald than with His Grace's august blog. And Mr Hannan fails to address the crucial question of why, given the opposition and scepticism of the Catholic laity, the bishops and the Pope so vehemently support the project?

22 June 2008 at 21:24  
Anonymous wrinkled weasel said...

Apart from the artist's self confessed tribute to Magritte,this work owes much to the works of Caspar David Friedrich, who is quoted as saying, "The noble man sees God in everything"

There are few noble men left in the Houses of Parliament. And anyway they would but see through a glass darkly.. if they bothered to look.

22 June 2008 at 23:35  
Blogger Livingsword said...

I wonder if the “prime directives” of the Church are better off served with a little more distance than is currently the case….They are very different “blood sports”….so they often play right past one another much as a conversation that lacks the unpacking of the meaning of words and those in dialogue speak past one another and simply nod their heads but never truly “wrap their minds” around the content…

23 June 2008 at 00:16  
Blogger Dave said...

I'd support the separation of church and state in a flash BUT
for the fact that the evangelical church seems to be forever preoccupied with signs and wonders. Who was it that said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earhly use?

23 June 2008 at 13:37  
Anonymous Voyager said...

I'd support the separation of church and state

Whatever that might mean.....personally I would make political parties illegal so individuals have to stand by their own beliefs without group identity politics

23 June 2008 at 14:18  

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