Theresa May has come in for a lot of stick recently for her religious views: firstly for complaining at Cadbury’s not calling their chocolate eggs ‘Easter Eggs’, to remind us of the sacrifice of our dear Lord; and secondly for her reference to her Christian ‘heritage’ in her ‘Easter Message’ to the nation. (Have other prime ministers delivered ‘Easter Messages’? I don’t remember any.) It has been pointed out that the ‘Easter egg’ complaint was made at the very time that she was negotiating an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, to enable it to slaughter more innocent children in Yemen, which most people would regard as rather less ‘Christian’ than leaving the word ‘Easter’ off a chocolate box; and that in any case what we call ‘Easter’ eggs are clearly part of our pre-Christian, pagan heritage. What on earth have chocolate, or eggs, or bunnies for that matter, to do essentially with the Crucifixion, to make the ‘Christian’ Theresa May so cross? I rather liked the spoof ‘genuine Easter egg’ advertised on the internet recently – I’ve no idea whether it actually went into production – ‘With Real Dying Jesus’ – hanging from a chocolate cross – ‘Inside’. As for her Christian heritage: well, I suppose that as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, May can claim that for herself, formally. I’ve been able to find little out about her father via Google, although the Sun carried something on him recently: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/politics/1452669/grocers-shop-in-idyllic-cotswold-village-forged-theresa-may-and-her-vicar-dad-inspired-her/. References to the Rev Hubert Brasier’s influence on his daughter there are somewhat vague. It may well be that her Conservative mother and her own early career in banking were more character-forming. In any case, and as many have pointed out, it is difficult to see any specifically ‘Christian’ aspects – rather the reverse – to any of the policies she has pursued either as Home Secretary or as Prime Minister. For her, Christianity seems to be important simply as an aspect of Britain’s national ‘heritage’, defining its ‘identity’, in much the same way that mediaeval castles and all the rest of the English ‘heritage industry’ do. It has nothing to do with political morality, or with now.
As an ex-Christian, brought up in the Methodist church, which in my time and my part of the country was radical, tolerant and liberal, and never really having left it emotionally – I only stopped going because it required me to have ‘faith’, which went against all my principles as a professional sceptic – I have always regarded what I take to be true Christianity – that is, the Gospels alone, without that dreadful Old Testament, if you take it literally, and the appalling St Paul – as the best of the Abrahamic religions, taken as ethical teaching, and as a real potential inspiration, at any rate, for political virtue. But of course it has been distorted by its priests into an institution (or a number of them) to serve their material (and masculine) interests, and to exert discipline over others, which would have made Jesus turn in his tomb – if he were still there. I imagine other religions have been similarly perverted. (Marxism certainly was.) In this form Christianity has probably exerted more influence for evil and chaos in the world than the ‘gentle Jesus’ I prayed to as a child could ever have done, if his true message – as I see it – had been permitted to escape its human chains. Using ‘Christianity’ as May is doing (and as Blair did before her, more privately) is no substitute. It’s probably a good reason for rejecting ‘religion’ altogether, despite the healthy bits buried in the egg.
To use an au-courant useful concept, institutional christianities deindividuate their followers…and their enemies, to boot. In contrast, learning from ‘gentle Jesus’ reindividuates those open to the message. For me, Edmund Gosse’s *Father and Son* correlates with your essay here.
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