I’m a regular reader of the UK Anglican weekly, the Church Times. Several weeks ago I almost fell off my chair when I read a Church Times editorial arguing that it was disgraceful that the EU referendum was being held at all, and even at that late date urging the British government to cancel it. I guess all those looking for a second referendum now are probably in much the same camp: the public should never have been given a say and if, foolishly, they were they should have to vote again until they get the answer right.
The editorialists were all in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU, and rather intolerant of alternative perspectives. Many of the senior clergy seemed to be of much the same opinion, some almost going as far as to suggest that building the EU was akin to building the kingdom of God, and hence not really an optional view for Christians. The Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer captured it thus:
Theologians are more thoughtful in their expression, but the condemnation is the same. This from Anglican theologian John Milbank:
Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state. Tragically, the Reformation, Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal version of Britishness last night triumphed over our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist. The spirit of both Burke and Cobbett has been denied by the small-minded, bitter, puritanical, greedy and Unitarian element in our modern legacy. Unfortunately it has duped the working classes, once again to their further ruination.
So, there you have it: “ever closer union” is the Kingdom of God: the Reformation was ruination. Poor Thomas the EU Tank Engine has been thwarted by the evil, bitter, bigoted and greedy UK Fat Controller. It is a supreme act of folly inflicted by simpletons who lacks the wit to grasp the true meaning of Christian catholicity.
The decision having gone, by a small but clear margin, in favour of the UK leaving the EU, I was curious as to how Christians voted. Lord Ashcroft commissioned a fairly large sample (12000 or so respondents) poll to better understand who had voted for which option.
The question about religion hasn’t had overly much coverage (at least that I’ve seen), but here is the chart, showing the net percentage of respondents favouring Leave for each main religious group.
There is only a rather limited amount of information here. After all, among “Christians” there is no denominational breakdown (to test, say, my hypothesis that Anglicans will have favoured Leave more than Catholics did), and the “Christian” self-identification will include those attending daily Communion, as well as those who haven’t darkened the door of a church on Sunday for many decades. I expect that the average “Christian” will be older than the average “None” (and probably also older than the average Hindu and Muslim). We know that older voters were more in favour of Leave than younger voters. So quite probably, respondents’ Christian faith may not have made much difference to their votes at all. That shouldn’t surprise anyone really – the nature of the best international governance and trading arrangements for a country don’t strike me as matters on which the gospel, or the tradition of the church, offers that much insight on.
I was also interested in the results from the same survey on which social attitudes were most apparent among Remain and Leave voters respectively. Here we have Lord Ashcroft’s more polished graphic.
Voters’ views on the value of capitalism don’t seem to differ across the Leave and Remain camps. That is interesting, and suggests it isn’t primarily economic considerations driving voters on either side.
The other results aren’t too surprising. They seem to tell a story of, on the one hand, a metropolitan urban liberal mindset which puts relatively little value of traditional culture, and on the other a small-c conservative mindset that values the long-established culture. One side tends to downplay the local as the basis for rule-setting and governance, reveling in the prospect of an international set of rules and standards (whether for its own sake, or for particular causes respondents care about). The other is instinctively cautious, conservative about the way of life that has developed over centuries, and somehow sensing that rules are best made, and applied, locally, by those with whom one shares something distinctive. They are inevitably crude characterisations, but they seem to capture something important.
What I found interesting is that not that many decades ago committed Christians would probably have been found mostly on the “force for ill” side of many of these questions – social liberalism and feminism in particular. But I guess what people meant by each of these headings is itself elusive. Of the whole list, probably the only item that I could confidently say had been mostly a force for good would be Capitalism. If globalization means more foreign trade, I’m all for it, but if it means international rule-setting at arms-length from elected governments and national courts, then I think it is a force for ill. In time, any society has a culture – or it doesn’t survive – so so-called “multi-culturalism” is mostly a delusion. Then again, a greater variety of ethnic food isn’t unwelcome – if hardly a vote-shaping consideration for me. Recognition of the impact of pollution is certainly welcome – and clearing up those old London fogs – but “the Green movement” seems mostly a force for ill.
It would be nice to have some cross-tabulations of the results, to be able to see what other factors marked out Christians who voted Remain and Leave (perhaps some are there – I haven’t got through the full 300 page report), but the data are also a reminder of how variegated attitudes of even churchgoing Christians are these days. Many now support the ordination of women. A growing number welcome and celebrate homosexual relationships and even “marriage”. And for many -even the Pope – the environment and climate change seem to have become one of those issues no serious Christian can have an alternative view on.
If it were the US we would have much richer data, probably, on degrees of commitment of the “Christian” respondents. Then again, in small and secular New Zealand, we’d probably have no data at all on the faith of the respondents.