Today is the last post for the April Blogging Challenge, and Rory thought of asking about something that we all have in common although in different ways. Amanda‘s passion is animals, Rory is on fire for LGBT+ issues, and as for me, I missed Mass because I missed the last bus after delivering leaflets for Gavin Barwell last week, so I’m not sure whether her idea of religion and politics is really true. I do try.
Fundamentally, the answer to the question is that as a Christian, I feel personally responsible for other people, while respecting their own free will and liberty in the law to act upon it. It started through volunteering, and when I had a scholarship to spend on personal development the IMPACT course came up as an answer to a prayer, as I didn’t know how to use the money. Despite my being adamant I had no clue what I wanted to do in politics, I just knew I had to do the course, they let me on the course, I paid the course fees, I paid my party membership, and fast forward two years I’m involved in many affiliated groups, and 90% of the people I know, I know them through the party. I’ve ended up in Croydon, and the federation is like a family to me, everyone is so nice and supportive, and it’s the first time I truly know people in the local area after moving to big scary London, so that also drives me to be involved with the campaign. This is my home now.
Other than such personal considerations, what drives me is mostly my faith. All that I do comes from being deeply a humanist, and believing in the dignity and sacredness of life as made in the image of God. People are wary of outspoken Christians in the public sphere, but I have no interest in changing laws and creating a theocracy ruling over people who don’t know Jesus. I’m one of the Benedict XVI generation, evangelical about my faith and mostly not scared to talk about it to whoever is interested in listening (I don’t shove it down people’s throat indiscriminately). I hardly ever proselytise, as I mentioned with regards to Pope Francis’ criticism of it. It’s usually a kind of: this is me, this is important to me, this is how it affects my life, thanks bye.
I guess also there’s an element of mutual influence between my political ideas and my religious beliefs, something that most people would probably call values, but anyway one reason I am an activist and party member is that I’m not ideological about what I believe in. I’m willing to have a conversation and explore alternatives, trying to find the best way. A lot of criticism is given from people who not only have the wrong idea of what the party stands for (or why it stands for that), but they also assume that members and voters just mindlessly agree with everything handed top down, but as I wrote previously about the Conservative Policy Forum there are lots of avenues to make our voice heard. We can shape the party and policy as a whole with good lobbying, which isn’t just a dirty word about big businesses bribing people as that’s what people seem to think. However, I re-read Sam Wells’ Power and Passion and realised just how much of a subconscious impact it had on me in 2013. Power is not a dirty word, but the only way to affect change, which is one reason why I would rather change from within a party that is powerful than try to remove them from power.
I’ve written ad nauseam about One Nation Conservatism. Contrary to popular belief that Tories are evil and don’t care about the poor etc, I believe that the conservative approach is the best way to make sure that as few people as possible will ever be vulnerable and marginalised. Things in government haven’t been perfect, because life isn’t perfect and it’s very complicated, especially on a very large scale, but I believe Catholic Social Teaching are really explicit about our role in the world rather than just leaving everything to an impersonal big state. Just pushing money into something isn’t being more caring, and I wish people were more appreciative of that. Pope Francis, in his recent TED talk, talked about the Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with the story whether or not you’re a Christian, but for me it’s a really striking example that, contrary to popular belief, Jesus is not a socialist.
In the Jewish law at the time, a corner of one’s field was commanded to be left for the poor to harvest (Leviticus 19:9-11). Jewish society was very family-oriented, but this way people who did not have relatives to rely on would be catered for, and in a very delicate and dignified way as well. Effectively, 1/60 of the work of the owner of the field would be taken away from him for the poor, just like our tax system. The produce was also at the heart of the Temple tithes which provided the livelihood of the priests and Levites. The very people who, in Luke 10:25–37, pass by the beaten and robbed man, and move away as if he wasn’t there. The parable is always taken to show us that we should be charitable, but if we scratch a bit deeper than the surface, the fact the two “bad guys” are those who live by the letter of the law should strike as relevant too. The laws surrounding the behaviour of priests, and to an extent Levites, because they too worked in the Temple, were strict. Purity was their most important concern. Breaking the rules was to endanger the whole people of Israel in the eyes of God. Looked at in this perspective, or like Dr Jonathan Stökl would say using a modern analogy, like the priests and Levites worked in a nuclear power station, our jumping to judgment on their character appears, to me, a bit rushed. We don’t truly know what they were thinking, and they could have had good reason for what they did. At the same time tho, it shows us the limitation of a structured society in being able to extend mercy whenever we feel it, and Jesus stressed the importance for us to be those extending mercy.
This isn’t to say that I believe the Conservative party to be God’s chosen people, nor this is a point about the actual exegesis of the passage, but it was important in my own discerning that there is a moral option in a small state, because there are many things we are better able to do when there aren’t regulations restricting us. Catholic Social Teaching, like the Pope’s TED talk, is clear there is a you (I) and an us.
There is also an area in which I campaign on an openly religious topic, and that’s religious persecutions worldwide. I give more money to Aid to the Church in Need than I actually have to spare, and I’m always very vocal about the persecutions, lobbying my MP whenever something relevant is going through Parliament despite the pressing local issues like Southern railways, and trying to educate people about something that is hardly ever in the news. However, this is still fairly political, except maybe the raising awareness of the issue and just how big the faith is worldwide.
I guess in a way I simply don’t see how the religious isn’t political when it comes to living out in the real world, instead of looking inwards, waiting for the kingdom of God we were called to build to build itself.