Archbishop, If you will…

I did not expect, on this cold yet sunny day, to be writing a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury; but upon opening my copy of today’s Mail on Sunday, my eyes were met with the headline “Archbishop: Britain split and crushed by Brexit and austerity”. The Archbishop, it appears, feels as though his job entails the same tasks as that of a political commentator. Given that the Archbishop insists upon interjecting in the lives of the non-religious, I feel that it is only fair for me to give “The Most Reverend” a piece of my own mind in return. Given his Christian nature, I am sure he will forgive me for doing so.

The Archbishop’s article begins by claiming that “we are facing our biggest challenge and shake-up to society since the Second World War”. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is the imminent arrival of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (or “Brexit”, to use that ugly term). The Archbishop says that he is neither “Eeyorish” nor “blandly optimistic” about Britain’s post-Brexit future, and appears to focus on the rocky social climate surrounding Brexit rather than the negotiations or possible implications to the economy. Of course, Archbishop, the first thing the conflicts surrounding Brexit needs is the running commentary of the Church (I hope the reader can sense my sarcasm).

However, all was not bad in his public address. I shall give the Archbishop credit where credit is due, despite my disapproval of his interjection as an official man of the cloth. He expressed his concerns with growing inequality, and his words on the tragedy that struck Grenfell Tower, which he described as “a metaphor for our collective failings, shows us that that we need a moral revolution in housing that centres on people”, were rather moving. He was also right to point out that austerity “is crushing the weak, the sick and many others”. Those words will resonate with a large proportion of the general public. The Archbishop, however, made the age-old mistake of commenting on politics whilst trying to remain apolitical. His written piece was quite clearly an attack on the Conservative Party, but it appears that the Archbishop knows he can only push his luck so far in the realm of politics.

The Archbishop finished his article with a flurry of Christianity (as one would perhaps expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury). His closing statement made it clear, at least according to him, that “it is the duty of the Church and of all us to reimagine what it means to be this remarkable nation in the 21st Century”. The Archbishop is correct to point out that Britain is “suffering from a lack of such common values”, as he was right to say the things he said about Grenfell. But the last thing this country needs is more interference in political matters from the Church (as an institution). Of course, Archbishop Welby is not the first of his line to stick his oar in clouded waters. Again, I shall give Archbishop Welby credit, and praise him for not going as far as his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who called for Sharia Law to be introduced in the United Kingdom for those who wanted it.

Despite the fact that I have many agreements with the Archbishop, we simply cannot have the Church constantly trying to put its foot in the door of politics. The Archbishop can vote as he pleases, he can favour whichever economic system he pleases, and he can be as nostalgic about the Christian days of old as he likes, but he cannot do so on his own terms; and his religious position should not, by any means, give him a national platform to comment on such issues. His opinion must remain an ordinary opinion. If Archbishop Welby wishes to influence government policy he shall have his opportunity at the polling station; he can go one step further, if he wishes, and abandon his Holy post and stand for Parliament. It must also be said that both the Mail and the Archbishop have, perhaps, overestimated the power of Welby’s position. Many people, based upon the reactions I have read online, have expressed concern at the political nature of the Archbishop’s public address, including some Christians who are in absolute agreement with him. Like many other people, my heart sinks when I see an “official” religious figure making political statements (especially when they are doing so in the national press!). Call me cynical, but before I had even read the Archbishop’s piece, I was ready to throw it into the fire of eternal damnation.

Why Are Our Politicians so Awful?

The answer to the above question is one that I have been trying to put my finger on for a very, very long time. It is only up until recently that I have felt able enough to create a clear and articulated opinion on the matter, and even then, I do not doubt many of you will disagree with me on this subject. The question of “why are our politicians so awful?” is one that we might never be able to answer. I would like to begin by confessing that I have made a very sweeping statement already – and I am willing to concede that all politicians might not be awful (or at least not equally as awful).

My conclusion on this subject is a simple one: politics has shifted from the world of philosophy, and into one of popular culture. That is to say that the philosophical backbone behind the politicians and their views has, over time, been removed. If we look at past political figures such as Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, Thomas Jefferson (to name just a few), these people were philosophers both inside and outside of their respected political arenas. Many of them even branched outside of the realm of political philosophy, and into other unrelated philosophical topics. Of course, this is not to say that they are without their faults. Especially given the time period in which these people lived, some of them might have held views many of us in the 21st Century might find distasteful.

In replacement of this philosophical backbone, our politicians and their parties now search for votes in the world of pop culture. Our politicians were once serious thinkers, but nowadays our election campaigns and debates are filled with empty slogans, rhetoric and sometimes even “banter”. The best example of this shift towards popular culture is the actions and campaign techniques of our former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who attempted to paint himself as some kind of Rockstar figure. During the dizzy heights of New Labour’s rule, Blair was often painted by the media as a “cool” guy. He was often pictured carrying his guitar, showing off his torso, or surrounded by many crazed supporters on some kind of imaginary red carpet. This is a technique that is yet to die, and I can only see it getting worse. Recently, politicians have seemingly reverted to millennial “banter”, and some have even played off internet memes and jokes to try and increase their popularity and make themselves look more “in-touch”.

Are we doomed? Is there hope? The truth is I think we are all doomed to play witness to this kind of politics until our final days. It is clear to me that we need some serious philosophical thinkers within all our political parties, but I see no sign of that occurring in the near or distant future. I think the best way for this to happen would be the creation of a new party (or maybe even parties), but this is mere fantasy. Perhaps because of the strength and mass presence of modern day media we have doomed ourselves to reduce politics to mere slogans and jokes. But surely that is just an excuse? I think the only remedy for this modern day political nonsense is for the electorate to start demanding what they deserve: genuine politicians, who think long and hard about their political philosophy and ideas, and back those thoughts up with principled action.