Friday, September 18, 2009

'Cameron is not an enigma, he’s an Anglican'

From The Spectator (no longer accessible free online, but Cranmer is persuaded that the religio-political observations in this article justify a minor breach of copyright, if such it be). David Cameron is indeed the very incarnation of the via media. His Grace was going to fisk it, but he has been ambushed by the Devil and besieged by demons, and is consequently more than a little preoccupied with tedious personal matters and distractions.

The Tory leader is not a holy man, says Andrew Gimson, but he is steeped in C of E tradition and, like the Church, he relies on an innate moral compass

The reason why so many people cannot fathom David Cameron is that he is an Anglican. This gives him considerable (some would say contemptible) flexibility as far as dogma is concerned, while making him intent on upholding a strict (if unstated) code of behaviour.

No wonder the Tory leader infuriates those in his own party who crave certainty. The hungry sheep look up and are not fed. Theirs is the predicament of Nigerian Christians who look to Canterbury for dogma, and find themselves fobbed off with liberalism.

Robin Harris, who as director of the Conservative Research Department was Cameron’s first employer at Westminster, gave memorable expression to the sense of betrayal felt by such Tories when he said of the present leader: ‘I don’t think that in any shape or form he could be described as a Conservative in philosophical terms. He has no principled sense of direction: his only sense of direction is upwards.’

Critics who demand intellectual consistency are unlikely ever to be satisfied by Cameron, one of whose merits is his refusal to confine himself in an ideological straitjacket, especially an out-of-date one. Christopher Caldwell recently defined in the New York Times the dilemma facing the three Tory leaders before Cameron: ‘They could not embrace Thatcherism, because it lost elections for them, but they could not discard it, because it was their intellectual lodestar.’

Cameron escapes this problem by not being an intellectual. This does not mean he is stupid: he is astonishingly quick on the uptake; but it means he can leave to anxious members of his staff the thankless task of discerning the coherence of his ideas. Nor would those staff get any thanks if they tried to discharge that task by telling inquirers that their boss is an Anglican: such an answer would produce a mixture of scorn and incomprehension, and would be taken as confirmation of Dave’s essential vacuousness.

The vacuum is in the imagination of those critics who assume that ‘Anglican’ is synonymous with ‘wishy-washy’. I am not a friend of Cameron’s, and reserve the right to be as rude about him as occasion may require, but I think I can see, albeit from a considerable distance, where he is coming from. He was brought up in an old rectory which stands next to a church where his father served as churchwarden and his mother did the flowers. His memory of Sundays is that ‘you spent a lot of time walking through the graveyard’, and he has also said, ‘When I think of home, I think of church.’

Cameron knows, as Gordon Brown does not, that ostentatious piety simply will not do, so when taxed with his family’s Anglicanism he plays it down. In an interview with Charles Moore, he said, ‘We didn’t all sit around reading the Bible every day,’ and when Moore pointed out that some of his family were holy and a great-uncle was a bishop, Cameron replied with a laugh, ‘Anglican and holy are not the same thing at all.’

Which is perfectly true, and from the point of view of this article there is no need to accuse Cameron of being holy. Nor is it conclusive that he sends his daughter to a church school, attached to a church where he himself worships and sometimes takes the crèche: this latter an experience which enables him to tell stories against himself about his inability to keep small children in order while explaining a biblical story to them with the help of a bucket of water and a cup.

The point is that Cameron is steeped in an Anglican tradition of behaviour. This gives him an innate sense that there are certain things one simply cannot do: he too has a moral compass, though the magnetism of power is such that in years to come we may find it deviating every bit as wildly as the ancestral, brass-bound instrument which Brown carried proudly all the way from Kirkcaldy to Downing Street.

Many observers are struck by the rapidity and confidence of Cameron’s judgment. He is quick not merely because he is clever, but because the greater part of his thinking has been done for him by previous generations, and he has the sense to accept this inheritance. The Tory leader is not some rootless rationalist, as sketched in Michael Oakeshott’s sublime essay on Rationalism in Politics, who ‘with an almost poetic fancy... strives to live each day as if it were his first’. Cameron instead takes his place in a political tradition which as Oakeshott reminds us ‘is pre-eminently fluid’, though the rationalist attributes to it ‘the rigidity and fixity of character which in fact belongs to ideological politics’.

By this stage the reader may impatiently be asking for some practical example of where Cameron’s Anglicanism can be shown to have had an effect. If forced to offer an example, I would cite the Tory leader’s almost evangelical insistence on the value of marriage: ‘My view is that marriage is simply a very good institution. It’s not the only way that couples come together and stay together, but it helps people, the sense of commitment, the fact that you’re standing there in front of friends and relatives and saying it’s not just about me any more, it’s about us together, we have commitments to each other... Some people will say, you’ll sound a bit old-fashioned — I don’t care... Anyway, I think I’m in a better position perhaps than some previous Conservative leaders to make this point, because when I made it, at a Conservative conference, in front of a Conservative audience, I said, by the way, I don’t just back marriage but I also back civil partnerships.’

In the same interview, with Dylan Jones, Cameron claimed his support for the family ‘is not just some view that springs from religion or morality’, to which one may reply: not just from religion, certainly, but it is hard to imagine him talking in this way without being an Anglican.

Because the Church of England is, or has become, a way of being religious without sounding religious, it is easy for observers to overlook how stern and unbending Anglicans can still be. Cameron’s moral authority has not sprung out of thin air. As Ferdinand Mount has written of the Mount side of Cameron’s family, ‘a high moral tone came naturally to them’.

The press seldom reports on the Church of England except when that institution is beset by embarrassment: the large amount of useful and generally unpaid work done by Anglicans is almost entirely disregarded. And the Church does not blow its own trumpet, not just for fear of sounding pharisaical, but because it knows it is in many ways quite weak. It cannot remain the Established Church by being the church triumphant: it has instead to be the church tolerant and inclusive, which makes friends with anyone of good will, including not only the local Roman Catholics but the local Muslims, and which encourages women to take over those roles which were previously reserved for men. Rather like the Tory party under Cameron: an organisation which many thought to be dying — it is only four years since Geoffrey Wheatcroft published its highly enjoyable obituary under the title ‘The Strange Death of Tory England’ — but which is instead regenerating itself.


Blogger Arden Forester said...

That's the thing! Cameron is flexibly Anglican, which inplies he has a good regard for the CofE but is not necessarily a pew sitter.

Those of us with positions in this via media prefer the sturdy kerbstones with which to stand on. The Catholics in the Church of England prefer certainty over flexibility. However, I am flexible enough to see that the via media is far more than a one-way street!

18 September 2009 at 13:50  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Will Dave free us from Brussels? No.
Will Dave halt immigration? No.
Will Dave halt Islamization? No.
Is Dave as useful as a chocolate teapot? Yes.

18 September 2009 at 13:57  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

What does Anglicanism say about giving people a referendum on the EU and then actually abiding by it?

18 September 2009 at 13:57  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

Cameron supports marriage, personally; buit is willing to undermine it objectively through support for civil partnerships.

If civil partnerships then why not support a brother marrying his sister? Would he accept and support such a case if it was approved of by the European Court of Human Rights?

The 'revival' of the Tory party and the Church of England cannot be attributed to Cameron and His Grace Williams.

18 September 2009 at 14:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cameron may be an Anglican but he is not a Christian namely a disciple/servant of the Lord Jesus.
Anglicism like Catholicism does not save, Christ does.

18 September 2009 at 15:34  
Blogger Arden Forester said...

Anonymous, you paint a prescriptive picture of Christianity. What is the Rock if not the Church?

18 September 2009 at 19:27  
Anonymous len said...

The Anglican Church is perhaps too low key, too tolerant,too careful about not offending people, its all to easy not to rock the boat etc, etc.
Christians are called to be salt and light,
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16)
Also the Great Commission, And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

18 September 2009 at 20:27  
Anonymous len said...

Arden Forester,
The Rock of course is Jesus Christ,
Many references are made in the Bible to Christ being the Rock.

18 September 2009 at 20:31  
Anonymous len said...

1Sa 2:2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
Psa 95:1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
1Co 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

18 September 2009 at 21:33  
Anonymous Philip said...

Agree with D Singh about Mr Cameron claiming to support marriage, then undermining it by supporting civil partnerships. Christians are unlikely to support CPs' as Christianity says the proper place for sex is betweeen a man and woman in marriage.

As for the C of E, I would have thought people would appreciate a firmer moral lead to bring certainty and to encourage stability in these morally confused times and times of social breakdown etc, rather than being the "Church tolerant and inclusive" and all that wishy-washy rubbish.

18 September 2009 at 22:07  
Anonymous not a machine said...

Your grace touches a number of points , I find the Anglican faith often asks very disturbing questions , more so as the modern world comes into question. In my early church life I assumed high church was a shop at wich you could recieve a better redemption , a more realistic working of christ in all too treacherous world .
That view it turns out was a little immature , as we grow so too does our understanding of the fall , alas it does not get any less difficult .
loving the Church of England requires a great deal of self discipline , to some it seems cold and bound in ritual complexities , but i have found over the years that these rituals and prayers can open the mind up , it takes time ,some aspects humble you to what seems impossible in the real world , yet its prayers reach out , its call of communion to value what is within and what god gives .

Perhaps David Cameron is wary of having a theological narrative to a public that have forgotten all about christian morality or even more worrying the source of our nations institutions and actions.

All I can say is that I have met David Cameron and I found him , refreshingly honest, he was on a meet and greet fundraiser , but even so , there was just somthing about his core that was more than being a vapid politician.

He wasnt glib like Tony Blair who I felt was like shaking hands with a technically correct vicar , the right words but would change his heart.

David Cameron is in a challenging profession , honesty is a currency that is invested for as yet unseen public goals , it would be unfair of me to expect him not at times to be faced with difficulties that simply mean avoiding.

Church wardens often go silently doing the same job , preparing for our worship for our heavenward uplook.

We should not be too quick to assume we have the finished article,Churchill was in his 60s when he came together as a leader .

All I can say is that so far I have found him an honest man , should we have him as PM there may well be many who have corrupted our institutions that have much to repent about , the last thing we need is another set of politcal inbreds , charmed by there own fraudulent sucesses , boasting about there selective patch ups on the backs of using and abusing the good within people .

19 September 2009 at 02:11  
Blogger Manfarang said...

All those out there who are under 30 years old living in Britain.EMIGRATE NOW!

19 September 2009 at 04:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christ is the Rock.

19 September 2009 at 19:56  
Blogger Reformation said...

Give me the old 1662 BCP piety. It tells it all for those who knows it doctrine, confession, worship and pious feeling.

Cameron and all others should fleet up and admit, yeah practice and believe, these old classic formularies.

Cheers and from an American 1662-BCP man,

D. Philip Veitch
Eastern North Carolina, USA

22 October 2010 at 01:45  

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