Why Christians should vote for a different government. 15) Votes

Ballot boxThis post is the last in my series summarising some of the arguments in my new book Why Progressives Need God.

An election looms. How do we decide who to vote for?

Most of us decide differently from the way our parents did.

The Second World War generated a public mood of collaboration in a shared effort. For a few decades afterwards it seemed natural for political debate to be about how ‘we’, the nation, should be governed. The question was: what policies would be best for the nation as a whole?

One of the lasting changes made by Margaret Thatcher was to repudiate this concept. She combined a belief that ‘there is no such thing as society’ with an economic theory that if everybody pursued their own individual interests we would all be better off. Although she did not know it, both these beliefs are direct contradictions not only of the teaching of Jesus but also of the social teaching of most faith traditions. I introduced the reasons in the first three posts in this series.

After Thatcher, the trend has been to encourage people to vote according to individual self-interest. This is made clear, for example, in the way newspapers and television programmes cover the annual Budget, calculating who will be better off and who worse off.

Once this change is accepted, the next is inevitable. If each of us is to vote for whatever suits us as an individual, why do we have to focus only on our financial interests? Why not choose our own criteria? Why should we not vote, if we so choose, for the most good-looking candidate? Why not treat elections like a Big Brother contest?

And so we reach the current election debate. Polly Toynbee reports that the pollster Deborah Mattinson

asked her voter panels to keep diaries at the last election, and found 80% of what they wrote every day concerned their feelings about leaders, not the policies.

A Guardian editorial a month ago described the situation as dangerously unserious. There is

a dysfunction in the conduct of British elections: a process that is meant to advertise policy choices to voters looks ever more like an exercise in the deliberate suffocation of ideas…

The shrinkage of policy debate conducted on a commonly acknowledged basis of fact feels suddenly acute.

This is the logical conclusion of the self-centredness which an individualistic culture inevitably generates.

If there is to be any successful movement to reverse this decline it will not come from the current Government, or the main television channels, or the daily newspapers, or the leaders of industry. We have to look elsewhere for public figures who speak out in favour of something better. Ken Loach is one, with his I, Daniel Blake.

Here is another, a man who is not up for re-election and does not need to ingratiate himself with the media: Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool:

Christians are called to be involved in politics because politics is about people, about the society we want, about the love and justice we want in the world. By thinking, praying and voting we demonstrate our love for our Lord and our love for our neighbour. Here is one way where we can indeed make a bigger difference…

In particular I ask all followers of the risen Christ to think, speak and vote so as to help the poorest and displaced.This year’s election is one that can bring real hope to the UK. For us, that hope comes from the power and life of the risen Jesus. As we pray each day… we ask the Lord – in our public life, in our care for the weak, in our love for one another, as we vote, may thy Kingdom Come.

This is the kind of leader we need now. How we vote matters. We should take it seriously.

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6 Responses to Why Christians should vote for a different government. 15) Votes

  1. Jonathan, I’m enjoying Why Progressives Need God, and benefiting from it. But I have often wondered whether it is realistic to believe that we actually achieve something when we vote. And right up until this election, I was pretty sure that we do not. The outcomes of elections, I concluded, can always be inferred from the direction of the media propaganda. The voting masses are just too vulnerable to propaganda; we are just not discerning thinkers en masse. But this election surprised me enormously: Corbyn, virulently hated by the media (i.e., by its owners) and never allowed by it even to present himself in his own terms, won a bigger proportion of the national vote than Labour has since the 1940s (not counting Blair’s election, but that’s another, and very sad, story). Somehow, we turned our backs in huge numbers on the warmongers and recommenders of austerity for the underprivileged. Simply, we saw past the media’s quite depraved reviling of Corbyn and appreciated the morally much more acceptable policies of Labour. I wonder if this near-unique experience has changed our political sensibilities, and the fortunes of this nation, forever. I hope it has.

    • Thanks Sophie. Really glad you’re enjoying the book. When you’ve finished, let me know all the grammatical mistakes! I started off as a Classicist but that was a long time ago.
      As for the election I too found what you are describing extraordinary. The way I’m making sense of it at the moment is by putting together two trends. One trend is well known to evolutionary psychologists. Some species are more loyal to the herd than others. Dogs are, cats aren’t. Humans vary, and British culture has been moving in a hierarchical direction for a long time. As I argue in the book, if the people who know the answers are a small group of experts, we end up entrusting everything to them. Or to their alpha male spokespeople. In my parish ministry I have spent a lot of time with desperately poor people who absolutely love the bling of the royal family. They know they couldn’t run the country and they trust the people who do. The other trend is that over the same period of time the people with the real power have become increasingly confident in it. Bit by bit the rules have been changed in their favour. Most obviously, the newspapers and BBC have been increasingly biased in favour of their interests. I was sent to a public school, where I learned early on the culture of people assuming that it is their role in society to govern. When they don’t, it’s a puzzle. They think something has gone wrong. So it’s no surprise to me that after this election, the Conservative Party reacted to the loss of seats by looking for a scapegoat. Someone had to be blamed and sacked. As far as I know neither UKIP nor the SNP have reacted in this way.
      Where does this leave us? Presumably, that the usual power brokers overreached themselves. And that democracy only works when it’s based on a culture that genuinely believes in it, and provides voters with the information they need to make wise choices. Where do we go from here?

      • No grammatical errors, Jonathan, as I’m sure you know. 🙂 But you have posed the million-dollar question: ‘Where do we go from here?’. One thing I’d like to believe is that there has been a substantive change. I.e., the mainstream media have lost their erstwhile grip on opinion-making. The internet has provided whistle-blower informers who are countering their influence. Thanks to them, we are closer now than ever in modern history to having a democracy in which voters have ‘the information they need to make wise choices’. But there remains a big democracy problem in that only those approved by ‘the powers that be’ get to be candidates in an election. I seriously wonder if this is a fatal flaw in our democracy.

  2. Andrew (Andy) Crow says:

    Sophie wonders whether it is worth voting. Even to entertain that thought means that ‘They’ have won. It doesn’t matter who the ‘they’ are in your world view.

    It is not paranoia that divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ it is just the way it is or at the very least the only way we can perceive the World with the brains we were born with. But we are not rendered powerless by that assessment. We can (and indeed must) each determine for ourselves where we place that divide or where we think it might fall by nature or divine will.

    Mainstream media (and, shamefully, this increasingly includes the sainted BBC) present a picture of the world in these binary terms and what is dangerous about this is that if you accept the media representation you accept somebody else’s assessment of of who are the white hats and who are the bad hats.

    In the realm of religion as a badge of culture there has been over many years a conflict described between Muslim and Christian people. This is nonsense. There is no essential divide here. The real divide is between the religious and the secular. Muslims and Christians are brothers, or at least cousins, within the same Abrahamic family along with the Jewish peoples. The conflict is between the Zionists, the Islamists and whatever you call secular Christians. In reality there is no such animal as a secular Christian. It’s a contradiction in terms. Apply that insight to other religious traditions and it becomes clear that religious banners are being exploited by people with political agendas.

    Imagine the media coverage of the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland and what sense we could have made of it if news headlines had said, “Some Christians were killed by an exploding car bomb planted by some Christians in Belfast last night”, without reference to their sectarian affiliation. Yet large swathes of the British public are willing to accept that terrorist atrocities are committed by Muslims. Make no mistake, there is a political motivation behind this and if we take the media coverage at face value we are being hoodwinked.

    This logic of media manipulation of public opinion extends across all spheres of our lives and is to be distrusted. Very little can be taken at face value. The written word is not ‘Gospel’. The Gospels themselves are not ‘gospel’, because there is no such thing as the ‘whole truth’. There are revelations, insights and wisdom which can help us to see a clear path through life.

    In the polling booth (and preferably before getting there) the Christian must ask the old cliche question; “Who would Jesus vote for?”

    And don’t expect the answer to be obvious. It does require a lot of serious consideration because much of the teaching of Jesus leads us to counterintuitive conclusions.

    Those of a non religious cast of mind will have to seek their guidance from other sources. Heaven forfend it should be the mainstream media.

    • Thanks Andy. Huge amount of wisdom here.

    • ‘In the polling booth (and preferably before getting there) the Christian must ask the old cliche question; “Who would Jesus vote for?” ‘?’

      Not this Christian, Andy. I prefer to ask: ‘Which of the swine would Jesus boot out of the temple (parliament)?’ Sadly, my normal answer would be ‘the job lot’. But something did happen in this election. I tend to agree with Jonathan: ‘Presumably, that the usual power brokers overreached themselves.’

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