Thursday 8 February 2024

Pressing the self-destruct button?


There was a story back in the 1960s about a CofE vicar preparing the service for the Sunday after an election before he knew the result. In something of a quandary about which hymn to sing, he eventually settled on three alternatives, so that he covered all bases. If the Tories won, the congregation would sign “Now thank we all our God”, substituted by “Oh Lord our help in ages past” in the event of a Labour victory. Just in case the Liberal Party (as they called themselves back then) were to win, the fall-back option would be “The Lord moves in a mysterious way”.

The CofE was then – and still is in some circles even today – regarded as being ‘the Tory Party at prayer’, and the old joke plays on that view. It’s an association which some in the Tory Party seem determined to end once and for all, with bishops and archbishops now added to the list of dangerous enemies of the people, along with judges, lawyers, the BBC, the Civil Service, foreigners in general and the EU in particular. Liz Truss and Sirjake seem to have added quite a few more enemies of the people to the list at their little jamboree a couple of days ago. The ‘crime’ being committed by clerics in this case is to actively welcome converts from other religions, and Islam in particular. Some may have laboured under the delusion that proselytizing is a core activity for any religion, but it seems that the CofE has been converting the wrong people, at least as far as Braverman and Patel are concerned. For truly traditional English conservatives, the job of the English state religion is to support the establishment, and especially the Tories, not to go off and recruit people who are ‘not quite like us’. The bishops are, apparently, not looking deeply enough into the souls of the new converts to establish the degree to which the conversion is genuine.

There is half a valid point behind all this. Given that apostasy is a capital offence in some countries, the attraction of converting to Christianity for an asylum-seeker who cannot then be returned, under UK law, to a country where he or she might face the death penalty is clear enough. Thus it’s perfectly possible that some of those converting are less than entirely genuine. Whether it’s happening on the scale alleged by the less-than-dynamic duo of former Home Secretaries, and whether it’s the job of bishops to interrogate would-be converts to establish the depth and sincerity of an enthusiastically-expressed new faith is another question. How could the bishops even do what is being asked of them if they wanted to? Maybe the duo think that we should return to the methods of the Spanish Inquisition which, with a little bit of torture, managed to extract confessions of heresy (not all of which would have been entirely genuine) from most of its victims. The duo both strike me as the sort of people who would be not exactly averse to the odd torture session and might even find it pleasurable, as long as it was being applied to someone else. Especially foreigners.

There is something else that strikes me about this particular duo. I’m sure that both of them have been quite vocal in demanding that those who move to the UK should do more to integrate with the local culture and values. Some might see conversion to England’s official (even if, by now, minority) state religion as a good example of doing that. That does not, however, fit the political agenda of the English Conservative Party, which would sooner see it as almost a terrorist act in itself. As the Truss event showed, they are increasingly in danger of allowing themselves to be destroyed by their own paranoia.

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