By fortuitous geo-genetic accident of birth, I’m as English as Shakespeare. By historic political union and the national lottery of passport administration, I’m also British and thereby privileged to travel the world under the protection of Her Britannic Majesty. And by cultural inculcation and personal spiritual enlightenment, I’m Christian and Anglican, and that’s a godsend.
It all suits my essential disposition, though I freely acknowledge that each categorical identity forged my character in an inescapable framework of nature and nurture, bound by concentric hermeneutic circles of reason, tradition and experience.
I am also European. It is my cultural endowment and geographic patrimony. It is the cradle of democratic values, the inspiration of Christendom and the fountain of the Enlightenment. My grandfather fought in two world wars so that I might be free. I treasure his medals. But, unlike many politicians and most bishops and other circulating elites, I don’t equate historic Europe with the political civic empire called the EU, and it seems that my desire for UK secession from this artificial construct makes me ‘un-Christian’.
At least that’s Lord Deben’s assessment: “So we stop working with our neighbours; finding common ground; influencing for good – not my idea of Christian,” he tweeted to me a few weeks ago. Like Jeremy Corbyn, it seems, I’m locked into an otiose 1970s view of the world. Everything has changed, and I just haven’t realised that sovereign nations can no longer work effectively with their neighbours on matters such as trade, taxation and regulation: “Most big international decisions (are) made between EU and US,” Lord Deben asserted, before needling: “Why do you want Britain excluded?”
You see how the caricature goes? The EU is ‘top table’ (though it really isn’t, but that’s another blog post), and Christians who favour UK-EU secession become isolationist, xenophobic, un-(anti?)-Christian ‘little Englanders’. He didn’t say ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’, but he might as well have done. My ‘idea of Christian’ is self-evidently blinded by nationalistic bigotry and naively fomenting apocalypse. No matter how much you try to reason back with gracious statistics, humble facts and philosophical insights, the inference is clear and crushing: there is no place in the Church of the Enlightenment for those who identify with the narrow, sectarian parochialism of a national democratic polity. No informed, intelligent or discerning Christian could possibly be so spiritually witless or theologically illiterate as to advocate withdrawal from the EU.
I support the Leave campaign not because I desire economic isolation or social exclusion from the Continent, but to extricate the UK from the unaccountable elitist pursuit of unending politico-economic integration at the expense of democracy, accountability and liberty, which, to me, are perfectly sound biblical principles.
The EU was neither born of democracy, nor is it proceeding in accordance with the wills of the peoples of Denmark, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Italy, Greece… It is not just undemocratic: it is anti-democratic. Treaty referendums are held multiple times if the people dare to give the ‘wrong’ answer; and sometimes democracy is even suspended altogether, with elected prime ministers toppled and Brussels Eurocrats installed to implement the very economic policies rejected by the people. How can it be ‘Christian’ to bypass general elections in pursuit of ‘ever closer union’? Why is it un-Christian to challenge this? There is no sense of a European demos; no Continent-wide consciousness of free association or of belonging to a community of democracies who, together, exercise democracy. Why is it anti-Christian (or, indeed, ‘anti-European’) to seek to mitigate the possibility of the abuse of power by the corrective restraint of free and fair elections?
We, the governed, ask ‘Who governs?’, and the answer is lost in a pathology of bureaucracy and unfathomable institutional structures which seem purposely designed to convey a façade of democracy while shielding the executive elite government from the inconvenience of elections. We are governed by a wealthy, supranational, technocratic oligarchy, and no popular vote can remove them or change the direction of policy. This might fulfil Lord Deben’s apprehension of righteous government, and I am sensible to the fellow-feelings of European humanity in its unanimous yearning to eradicate civil strife and internecine war. But all I see are disparate peoples desperate for the restoration of national identity against the failures of forced continental integration.
But what do the poor, fickle people know of business, economics, military strategy or justice? The intricacies of law and ethics are beyond us. We are, as Plato observed, guided by unreliable emotions and distracted by money. Europe now has a soul, and our theo-political utopia is called ‘European Union’. You will learn it, preach it, and vote for it. And those who do not are heretics. And we know what happens to heretics, don’t we?
About the author
Adrian Hilton is a political theologian, educationalist and commentator on politics, religion, culture and the arts. He is a former parliamentary candidate and policy adviser to ministers and shadow ministers. He is founder and editor of the award-winning eponymous blog ‘Archbishop Cranmer’, and has also written for ConservativeHome, The Spectator, Guardian and Daily Mail. He lectures in the UK and the US on politics and philosophy, and holds a Guinness World Record. Most recently, he founded ‘Christians For Britain’ which he co-chairs with the Rev’d Giles Fraser – “praying for EU sense.. preparing to leave”.