Christianity: left and right; anywheres and somewheres

Folk who know me will know that I seek to base my political views on my theological understanding, all too aware that there are those who come close to sharing my religious beliefs and yet who radically differ with my political opinions. It is not just a matter of should I take an interest in politics and how, or whether I should be left or right in my views but as today’s BBC Radio 4 Today program “Thought for the day” speaker discussed whether I should be in the “anywhere” group or the “somewhere” group.

All of which I will elaborate upon in due course but firstly I will give a word of explanation as to why I raise the matter now. A few days back I was accused of being unchristian in my outlook because I took the “somewhere” position as opposed to the “anywhere” one, because of my view on restricting Muslim immigration in the interests of promoting national identity. A little after then I posted the above meme on my Facebook page, along with the provocative (in a good sense) statement: “If there were more Rosens of this world, I really would become a Conservative!”, and it led to some lively exchanges which have helped me making this blog post.

What I wanted to point out if space allowed was why I made that statement. I grew up on a Council estate a son of decent working class parents of modest means who voted Labour (in a day when people tended to vote along class lines). I often remember my mother bemoaning the Conservative proud claim that it was they who put an end to post war rationing, given that prices then sharply rose meaning only the better off could afford to buy the newly available food items. I brought into the ideology of redistribution of wealth and nationalization of industry on the basis this would be fairer for all. Just prior to going to university, I became less political since as newly converted Christian I was persuaded that politics and religion should not mix. While at university and shortly after, I was dissuaded from left leaning politics (although not altogether) for a variety of reasons: socialism didn’t work where is was most forcibly practiced i.e. in the Communist world; I saw a disrespect for the rule of law coming mainly from the left; I could see the benefits of free enterprise and allowing people to hang onto their wealth.

Since that time, I have seen so much waste when politicized wealth redistribution policies are adopted and while I support the need for welfare, I am in a quandary how best those needs can be met. I question too much government interference and wonder if too much state control is counter productive. I have also seen how effective community, faith and voluntary groups given the right incentives and encouragement can be when it comes to addressing real need. But given real practical concerns when wealth accumulation doesn’t benefit the needy, and that the trickle down theory (of wealth from those who have to it to those who need it) is flawed, I find these days I can be neither left nor right. I tend more to support persons who I consider suitable than parties I am skeptical of. While social justice issues are things that concern me, I also see the importance of a sound economy and keeping the country secure including the vexed question of national identity and having sound shared values.

Up till the present day, I have taking an interest in politics (more so in recent years) and while I hanker after my socialist roots, I have many reservations, as I have with all the alternatives on offer (for the reasons I have given), which is why I feel unable to commit to aligning with any of the political parties. When I look at the Bible, I see many principles ranging from social justice to national security where it is possible to argue that for any of these one or another party maybe better placed to respond. What the Bible doesn’t show us is democracy in action, because in the main the political authorities were dictators, who more often than not weren’t nice. The two glimpses of something more on the lines of what I can base my views on as to how to operate in today’s paradigm are Old Testament theocracy and the New Testament church.

In the first example, when it worked which wasn’t often, government regulation other than military conscription was minimal but issues around helping the poor and doing justice were taken care of because people did what was needed because they feared God. Something similar happened in the New Testament church (rarely repeated since) whereby no one went without because all members gave generously to a common pool that meant the needs of the have nots were taken care off. They were not compelled to do so and did what they did without ostentation. It seemed to me that Harris Rosen epitomized this spirit and if more were like him the need for the state to take from the rich would be less and the need for socialism would be redundant. Sadly, that isn’t the case but my observation e.g. working with the homeless is Conservatives and Socialists are equally represented when it comes to people going out of their way when it comes to helping the poor and doing justice. It goes without saying that neither model can be applied today but both can foreshadow what might be.

The thought for the day speaker saw globalization as being a significant factor in dividing people into two groups (these days as much significant as the left right divide). The “anywheres” comprise those who feel comfortable in any cultural setting; they have liberal values, relish free trade and support the free movement of people.  The “somewheres” comprise those who feel rooted to a particular place; they are socially conservative and uncomfortable in the face of their communities changing before their very eyes; feeling threatened by immigration. What we are seeing with Brexit, and now in France and Turkey, is the advance of the somewheres as a reaction to previous inroads made by the anywheres and that material gain is not enough and that belonging and identity is at least as important. As for the speaker, she saw that the Christian message has elements that appeal to both groups and the challenge to politicians is recognizing the concerns of all.

It is true that for this Christian, the Kingdom of God is that which I am committed to seek. While political involvement may be needed, a change in the human heart is needed more. I can see too there are elements to be welcomed as well as not welcomed in both left and right ideology, and that when it comes to anywhere and somewhere, I am neither and both at the same time. When the Kingdom comes left and right will become an irrelevance as it was in Old Testamant theocracy and the New Testament Church and much as I see myself more somewhere e.g. regarding Brexit, that Kingdom embraces all.

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