Conventional wisdom is that Democrats learned about the importance of talking about faith after the election of 2004. Madeline Bunting, writing in The Guardian, says that Gordon Brown is the third Prime Minister in a row in Great Britain to “do God.” The son of a Church of Scotland minister, he says he will bring “competence and serious moral purpose” to government.
It’s a curious phenomenon that at a time when Christianity continues its steady decline in this country, religion has re-emerged as a central inspiration of political rhetoric – not as the flash-in-the-pan aberration of one individual but now well established as a convention of the centre ground, acknowledged by the Cameroons as much as by Labour. This strange afterlife of religious belief must be pretty galling to secularists and humanists.
But even as Brown talks about “moral purpose,” and is comfortable with integrating his faith into his political talk, there are differences between him and his predecessor, Tony Blair.
It’s very hard to imagine Brown praying with anyone, let alone George Bush, nor is he likely to make references to God’s judgment on his Iraq policy, and least likely of all is his being tempted down the path to Rome. Blair found God in emotionally charged prayer meetings in Oxford hosted by a gregarious Australian vicar. In contrast, Brown saw faith sustaining communities through hardship in his father’s ministry – he describes it as “social Christianity”. He was not interested in theology and personal salvation in the hereafter, the hellfire and damnation side of Presbyterianism, but in how religion inspires bonds that help individuals and communities through hard times, how it provides solidarity and ensures resilience – and that still fascinates him.
Brown’s faith bears the hallmarks of his origins. He may have done away with hellfire but he’s replaced it with a dour if noble vision of endless duty, effort and obligation – his school motto of “I will try my utmost” – without even the promise of celestial reward. Self-restraint and self-discipline are principles written into the Brown DNA but to a consumer-obsessed, debt-ridden electorate, they are as foreign as Mars.
Meanwhile politicians in the U.S. continue to play the God card. Recent evidence: