God and sociology

David Cameron is not the first person to plead for ecclesiastics to keep out of politics, whilst making claims for religion which are sociological – social and historical – but not religious. It might be sensible to ask people of faith to keep their noses out of the political bear pit if your historical and ethical structures were themselves outside it. What a hope!

Muslims and Jews have never had any illusion that religion, or God’s law, can avoid political implications. But on this, as much else, Christians are likely to waver and fluctuate – or divide on ideological lines. The new Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury may have hoped that a new emphasis on the mission to help poverty and hardship would unify Christians even when sex and family issues divide them. And for the majority charity work and campaigns like support for credit unions offering more supportive finance will be encouraging. That minority which regards charity with suspicion as avoiding more fundamental change can perhaps still be dismissed as mainly secular (Marxist?) although many ordinary people dislike being recipients, i.e., dependents, whoever does the giving. But when it comes to political economy, the views of Christians currently range all the way from right-wing free marketeers to John Milbank and Radical Orthodoxy. Moreover, that range of division is apt to spread out from matters of (relative) poverty and inequality to include the Israel/Palestine conflict, energy policy and security, or migration, to name just some.

Secularists have been only too inclined to ignore sociology, and assume that provided philosophy (and law) guarantee a person’s capacity to be moral without a religious faith, they need not trouble themselves about the claim made that other people, and schoolchildren, will not learn morality without God’s instructions. As a result, they are not as good as they should be at warning us, and the political establishment, of what these sociological claims about morality might do if and when Christians, or the religious in general, begin to display their own conflicts. No wonder many schools keep RE on a loose rein! If I had more faith in the power of prayer I would pray to God to save us from bad sociology.

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