Cameron’s Christianity is sanitised and shallow

Jesus’ instruction to love thy neighbour is the opposite of a politically convenient message, writes Simon Ravenscroft.

Cameron and Jesusj

Jesus’ instruction to love thy neighbour is the opposite of a politically convenient message, writes Simon Ravenscroft

It’s coming up to Easter and David Cameron is out playing his Christian card again. As usual, it seems a little disingenuous.

I find it difficult these days, given events like ‘Beer-and-Bingo-gate’, not to imagine the inner workings of political parties as near identical to what you see in The Thick of It.

Presumably Cameron and his aides have had a little chat and realised that around this time of year small ‘c’ conservatives are thinking a little more about Christianity than they ordinarily would. And they’ve decided, as they do most years, that it might be a good idea to reinforce their leader’s claims to being a man of religious depth.

Speaking as a Christian and a student of religion who disagrees profoundly with the spirit of Cameron’s premiership so far, I have some serious theological problems with what he’s had to say.

Of course, Cameron’s right that religion can ‘help people to have a moral code’. He’s probably also right that non-believers and hardline secularists may underestimate the importance of this for the health of society (though some would inevitably also say that it is precisely this ‘moral code’ that is the problem).

One of the places where Cameron has pointed people this Easter for Christianity’s ‘moral code’, though, is Jesus instruction to ‘love thy neighbour’. And here he is a little… weak.

In the Gospels, this command is tied up with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told in response to a lawmaker who asked him to define what he meant by ‘neighbour?’. In the parable, Jesus tells the story of a Jew who is set upon by robbers and left bleeding and half-dead at the side of the road.

Two religious men, a Priest and a Levite, walking along the road see the injured man but don’t stop to help, instead passing by ‘on the other side’. Then a Samaritan walks past, and moved by the sight of the suffering man stops, tends to his wounds, takes him to an inn and pays for his continued care and lodgings.

Jesus then asks the lawmaker, ‘who of these three is the man’s neighbour?’, and the lawmaker replies, ‘the one who had mercy on him’.

From a contemporary perspective, this can seem as little more than a pleasant little story about the need to help strangers who are in need. In an ancient context, however, it was rather more controversial.

This is because at the time Jews and Samaritans generally hated each other. Samaritans were seen as something like a second-class of people by the Jewish authorities, and were not particularly welcome in Jewish society as a whole.

By forcing the Jewish lawmaker to see the Samaritan – rather than the Priest or Levite – as the injured Jew’s neighbour, Jesus (a Jew himself of course) was turning upside down these racial and religious prejudices in quite a radical way.

Given this, there is nothing particularly safe or ‘middle-England polite’ about Jesus’ command to ‘love thy neighbour’, since it went hand-in-hand with a definition of ‘neighbour’ which was culturally subversive, centred on those whom we might be complicit in oppressing.

As much as Jesus might be setting up a ‘moral code’ here, even more than that he is challenging the dominant moralities of his day. And it is for this kind of reason that he was seen as enough of a political troublemaker ultimately to be crucified on Good Friday.

We can think of some contemporary equivalents of the parable which might help to remind us of its actual point:

“Wanting to justify himself, Jesus is asked by Nigel Farage, ‘who is my neighbour?’. Jesus replies with a parable, ‘An English country gentleman is set upon by muggers, beaten up, robbed and left in an alley. Two Englishmen, a vicar and a city banker, see him but pass by on the other side of the street pretending to be on their phones.

‘Then, a scruffily dressed Romanian immigrant with broken English and a young child walks past. Moved by the sight of the injured man, she stops, wipes the blood from his face with her handkerchief and takes him to the nearest hospital. She buys him coffee, and waits with him until his family arrive.’

‘Which of these three is the man’s neighbour, Mr. Farage?’ Jesus asked. Mr. Farage replied, ‘the one who had mercy on him’.”

Or another, “Wanting to justify himself, Jesus is asked by a junior Treasury minister, ‘who is my neighbour?’. Jesus replies, ‘A young Conservative policy analyst is attacked by a gang of youths and left with a broken leg in a London park. A digital entrepreneur and a successful middle-manager both see the assault but prefer to carry on to their meetings, for which they are already late.’

‘Then, an unemployed 35-year old single father from the nearby council estate sees the man, and upset by his injuries helps him back to his flat and cares for him as best he can until an ambulance arrives. ‘

‘Which of these three is the man’s neighbour, junior minister?’ Jesus asks. He replies, ‘the one who had mercy on him’.”

Cameron’s contemporary use of Christianity as a way of adding an extra feather to his political cap is, frankly, a million miles from this sort of thing. It is a safe, domesticated, and rather parochial version of what we find in the Gospels.

It fails to recognise that, just as Jesus himself was despised and ultimately killed by the political and religious authorities, his teaching often drew most attention to those who polite society ignored or rejected: the poor, the sick (such as those with leprosy, who were considered ‘unclean’), women, the racially inferior (such as Samaritans), and even Roman tax collectors (perhaps the equivalent of today’s investment bankers, just in case the Left think they can avoid the challenge).

In this context, Jesus’ instruction to love thy neighbour is the opposite of a politically convenient message. It requires those who want to follow it to think critically about political and religious power, and to focus on those who the political and religious elites are currently rejecting, despising, or forgetting about.

I find it difficult to see how David Cameron appreciates any of this, or if he’s really asked the question of who his neighbour might be. Certainly, if he did, and if it answered in line with the original message, maybe he wouldn’t be so brash about associating himself – and by extension his politics – with it.

Simon Ravenscroft is a PhD student at Cambridge University, working on the social theory of Ivan Illich

42 Responses to “Cameron’s Christianity is sanitised and shallow”

  1. disgruntled

    WHAT CHRISTIAN STARVES THE POOR?:

    (Matthew 19:21) Jesus said to him: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. 
    (Mark 10:21, 22) .Jesus looked at him and said, “Go, sell what things you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come be my follower.”  But he grew sad at the answer and went away grieved, for he had many possessions.
    (Matthew 19:23, 24) Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Truly I say to you that it will be difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of the heavens. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

    WHAT CHRISTIAN FORCES PEOPLE TO WORK FOR NOTHING?

    (n.b. forced labour and withholding wages are against God’s laws)
    (Jeremiah 22:13) Woe to the one who makes his fellow man serve him for nothing. . .
    (Leviticus 19:13) You must not defraud your fellow man, and you must not rob. You should not withhold the wages of a hired worker.
    (1 Timothy 5:18) “The worker is worthy of his wages” (& Luke 10:7)
    (James 5:4) Look! The wages you have withheld from the workers who harvested your fields keep crying out, and the cries for help of the reapers have reached the ears of God

    Why is this moron purporting to be a “Christian” when he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word, Christian means ‘Christ like’ just how Christ like is Cameron???

    Did Jesus go on expensive holidays when the poor had nothing to eat?
    (Matthew 8:20) But Jesus said to him: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head. 
    (Matthew 14:19-21) Then he took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said a blessing, and after breaking the loaves, he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  So they all ate and those eating were about 5,000 men, as well as women and young children.

    I am beyond incensed that this Moron could ever call himself a Christian!
    the scripture that comes to mind that appertains to Cameron is:

    (John 8:44) You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a murderer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition. 

    By the way I wasn’t preaching at anyone
    I was just exposing Cameron as a hypocrite, because if anyone wants to be a true Christian they have to adhere to God’s word
    THIS APPLIES TO CAMERON!

    (Matthew 23:23, 24) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness. These things it was necessary to do, yet not to disregard the other things. 24 Blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!

  2. Alec

    He should have delivered some cod leftwing/socialist platitude in Christian terms. That would have got him the praise of this site.

    ~alec

  3. Patrick

    Judge not, lest ye be judged!

  4. Fidelio

    Sadly though the left these days is just as guilty. We have the likes of Billy Bragg living in mansions, bleating about capitalism whilst making millions from it; union leaders on six figure salaries.

    No one wants to sell their possessions to feed the poor, but they will campaign for others to do so.

  5. Alec

    Cool, you can cut and paste from bible.com.

  6. Steve Read

    David Cameron may fool unbelievers and sunday christians. But no way is he a true christian. More people at food banks, more homeless due to bedroom tax and more in part time work. Thanks his support of banksters. And the guise of being christian when these political leaders, banksters and others play around in secret societies taking secret oaths which bible condemns. Shows who their god is,..Lucifer!

  7. liam

    You illustrate all that has gone wrong with the CoE (presume you are Anglican by baptism) in the UK. Attending a developing world Anglican church in Asia, I realise that the UK’s brand of Anglican Christianity is really poles apart. Churches here are more into the ‘personal redemption’ message of Christ, rather than the ‘Guardian at prayer’ mission that you and others are addicted to in the UK. Anyone can shoehorn the Samaritan story, or indeed many others, into their particular policitical prejudice, as you have transparenty done above. Christianity is much bigger than that, but something tells me you are unable to appreciate that.

  8. picolax

    I think the illustration was to do with Cameron’s playing his Christian card. This is not a political prejudice to highlight the hypocrisy of loving your neighbour only if said neighbour donates wads of money or will give you a high powered or cashed job after the game is over a la another grafter that played the god card.

  9. Brin Jenkins

    Spiritual man? Possibly but its more likely to be Satan judged by his political actions.

  10. Brin Jenkins

    Perhaps you misunderstand a bit, Jesus encouraged discrimination betwixt good and evil. Evil is always to be condemned but If you don’t see or recognise evil how could you?

  11. sejam99

    You seem to be saying that one needs to be a high-level student of religion, like you, to understand what the simple message of “love your neighbour” really means. If that was true then Christianity really is doomed. I don’t consider myself a conservative or a Christian “with a capital C”. However, like most people raised in this country I could hardly avoid, thankfully, being inculcated with positive Christian values such as we should be good to other people, and I don’t think it is wrong or inappropriate for the country’s elected leader to remind people of this, or difficult for anyone to understand him. I’m not sure what could be motivating your, frankly, rather uncharitable and even slightly pompous efforts to present this in a negative light.

  12. swatnan

    Kids are happier thinking about Easter as celebrating the Easter Bunny’s Birthday than some poor bloke pinned to a wooden cross.

  13. Just Visiting

    sajem80 has it exactly.

    if we’re looking for examples of shallowness involving religion and leading political figures, how about this:

    Malaysia:
    > ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist Statues Against Islam, says former Senior Judge of the Court of Appeal.
    >“When non-Muslims build such big idols, it hurts people’s feelings,” he said.He added that non-Muslims had freedom of worship, but that such freedom must be exercised in a way where “Muslims don’t feel threatened”.

    >“Islam forbids images (of gods). Here, you allow images of Buddha in the country. That’s not consistent with Islam. But if you cover it up, you can allow it,” Mohd Noor said.

    http://malaysiandigest.com/technology/288-uncategories/497519-huge-hindu-buddhist-statues-against-islam-ex-judge-says.html

  14. Simon Ravenscroft

    None of this is complicated. You have to go no further than Wikipedia to get this account of the parable. As for motivation, perhaps the fact that the cynical identification of Gospel principles with Mr. Cameron’s politics strikes me, and many others, as absurd and abhorrent. Simple enough.

  15. sajem80

    You are right, it isn’t complicated, many people study it as infants at Sunday School, and haven’t needed to refer to Wikipedia over the last two millennia to understand. As for “abhorrent” , that is simply your subjective opinion related to some policies you have chosen to focus on, and I feel you are being a bit OTT. If you were talking about, for example, criminalizing gay people as has happened recently in other countries I would agree with the use of that word, but Mr Cameron has actually brought about something very different to that recently. Indeed, ironically, many people regard him as being “unchristian” for doing so, but from a very different perspective to yours, so perhaps the matter isn’t as simple as all that after all.

  16. Brin Jenkins

    You say subjective, a vocal minority disregard 2000 years of teachings, custom and practice. It might be thought of as Christian tolerance to disregard the non reproductive sin of Sodomy. However, now it is being taught by Governmental decree in primary schools, I recognise it as a creeping cancer destroying our culture and civilisation.

    Tolerance of Evil is never be condoned, The Frankfurt School’s Common Purpose is to destroy Christian Marriage, this is evil.

  17. sajem80

    well, thanks for illustrating my point…

  18. andrew daniels

    I think he meant the interpretation of the parable that you suggested was only for high level students was up on wikipedia, which it is. Also it’s stupid to just say it’s worse elsewhere. Shuts down all argument. DC’s claims to comprehend christian social teaching are way off.

  19. sajem80

    My point, perhaps not clear enough, was that Cameron’s government has done at least one thing that is well within the spirit of “Love Thy Neighbour” and that was to push through gay civil partnership and marriage. I find it odd that the writer can speak of how Jesus’ teaching “often drew most attention to those who polite society ignored or rejected” without that section of society not springing to mind. It’s not all about changing the benefits arrangements. This action to me earns DC the right to speak as he did without being judged cynically (much as I know others will violently disagree for their own reasons). It is in stark contrast to some other countries in which exists the truly “abhorrent” policy to victimise gays even to the point of death, countries which ironically profess to be motivated by christian principles.

  20. Brin Jenkins

    That is nonsense. Jesus would condemn all who led the little ones astray with sinful teachings on the practices of Sodom.

    By promoting the Frankfurt School’s recommendation of homosexuality Cameron’s Government has condemned itself.

  21. sajem80

    once again, thanks for illustrating my point

  22. Brin Jenkins

    You have made no point at all, only tried to justify sin by mis interpreting Jesus’s message of loving ones nieghbour. For one to sin this is forgivable with contrition, but leading others astray is more serious.

    You have the message, and you will do what you will.

  23. SERAPH1212

    Cheap jibe.

  24. Alec

    Proverbs 26:4 seem the best response to you and Patrick.

    ~alec

  25. SERAPH1212

    Hardly relevant. Cameron is out of order issuing an Easter Message as per the Political Master of this country who apparently supports abortion. However, your comment is sarcastic and will have been noted by those who prefer to discuss issues and who recognise their own inadequacies.

  26. Alec

    Noted by whom? You and your leetle leezt? Certainly not by the vacuous idiot going around quoting verses he got from sticking a pin in the Bible.

    I am under no obligation to do anything more than respond to individual comments.

    Cameron is out of order issuing an Easter Message as per the Political Master of this country who apparently supports abortion.

    I have no idea what that means.

  27. SERAPH1212

    I am not surprised you don’t understand my comment.
    You didn’t understand Patrick’s comment either.

  28. Alec

    I do understand Patrick’s comment. It’s one of a wanker.

    Yours is weird.

    ~alec

  29. SERAPH1212

    Welcome to Alec’s view of Christianity.

  30. Brin Jenkins

    Gosh, more like the playground methinks. Surely why or what you don’t understand would be a better question.

    Patrick’s comment was typical of what the simple Christians point of view might be. I think that I understood what he meant. Seraph said David Camoran was happy to condone baby murder.

    Perhaps a bit strong but thats what abortion is.

  31. Alec

    It’s primarily my view of wankers making wanky comments which have as much nutritional value as a wank stain but, now you mention it, well-done for demonstrating sanjem80’s point.

    ~alec

  32. Alec

    I can understand what a paranoid schizophrenic means… it doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re deluded nuts.

    Patrick’s comment was meaningless, meaningless, meaningless. I understood perfectly that he was being a moral five year old.

    Seraph’s was weird what with the Easter Message guff, not least ‘cos Cameron has been going on about Christianity for a lot longer than Holy Week.

    Perhaps a bit strong but thats what abortion is.

    No it’s not. I’ll defer to Cameron’s view on how to treat severely disabled children any day.

    Anyway, well done for demonstrating sanjem80’s point.

    ~alec

  33. Alec

    What is it about sodomy which gets his back up?

    ~alec

  34. Brin Jenkins

    Seraph I seem to have wandered into a loonie bin so I bid you fair well and hope to see you around. To the nameless trolls hiding behind pseudo names I hope you return to sanity one day and learn to be less rude and abusive.

  35. Alec

    Great… implying mental instability in people you disagree with. D’you come from the witch-burning strain of Christianity alive in parts of Africa? So much for Christian charity.

    ~alec

  36. SERAPH1212

    And the Good Lord said, “Who the hell is ‘alec’ and why does he keep signing his Trolling with his pseudonym?”

  37. SERAPH1212

    Well done Brin. Nil carborundum etc.

  38. Kryten2k35

    Cameron needs to shut his face. What happened to separation of Church and State? After the next election, when he isn’t Prime Minister any more, he can babble on about religious bullshit all he wants. Until then, he needs to shut up and concentrate on moving out of Downing Street.

  39. disgruntled

    i agree no one wants to give to the poor, nonetheless, don’t take what little the poor have

  40. disgruntled

    (John 8:44) You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a murderer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie. . .

  41. disgruntled

    (Proverbs 26:4) Do not answer the stupid one according to his foolishness, So that you do not put yourself on his level. . .

  42. frank100

    Many people do however give to the poor, just one example being all those who donate food to the Trussel Trust and other food banks and there are many other examples. Not all who contribute would call themselves Christian.

Leave a Reply