What will the verdict of history be on David Cameron?
What, in particular, might the verdict be sub specie aeternitatis? It should be good. Cameron is a Christian and, while in office, spoke frequently about his faith. “I’m a typical ‘Church of Englander’,” he said in an interview with the Church Times in 2011, “and I believe that there is a power greater than us and the life of work of Jesus Christ is an important guide to morality and action.”
In an interesting article on the Theos website, Nick Spencer itemises the former prime minister’s professions of faith. Cameron was aware that Britain was now home to different religious communities – he held receptions for Eid and for Diwali, and gave a message each year during Ramadan – but nonetheless insisted Britain remains a Christian country.
However, Spencer quotes Anthony Seldon, Cameron’s biographer, to the effect that his subject was “institutionally, but not spiritually religious”. Hence the concept of the Big Society, which Cameron promoted in the early days, a wish to enlist churches and other voluntary institutions in communal benevolence. Some Catholics saw it as an expression of the Church’s social teaching; its detractors, as a means to save on the cost of welfare. Whatever its intent, the idea was dropped: it would seem that we could not break our addiction to a welfare state.
Spencer suggests that Cameron’s willingness to talk about Christianity and faith was not in spite of his non-doctrinal approach to religion, but because of it. What Cameron himself called “wishy-washy Christianity” enabled him to make his own conscience the arbiter of what was right or wrong. It did not seem to trouble him that the leaders of almost all Christian denominations, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and the Pope, condemned his initiative to legalise same-sex marriage – a proposal which, as Spencer puts it, “came out of the blue”. Clearly, Cameron thought that there was no need for a Christian country to conform to Christian norms.
Many will remember Cardinal Vincent Nichols writing at the time of the passing of the Act that it destroyed the meaning of marriage as it had been understood for millennia, and made “people of faith … in these regards, strangers in their own land”. So much for the Big Society.
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