Friday, 5 June 2009

Where not to put your cross on polling day

Cranmer's Curate writes to me with the following story:

Our church hall here in Sheffield has been used as a polling station for
the European elections. Cranmer’s Curate was somewhat bemused to
find that a picture on the Sunday Club notice board displaying three
crosses had been covered up.

Cranmer's Curate rang the electoral services department of Sheffield
City Council for an official explanation and spoke to a charming
gentleman. He said there had been no general policy issued by electoral
services on covering up religious symbols in polling booths but because
there was a Christian Party in the election he could understand why the
presiding officer might have felt it necessary to cover up our crosses.

The presiding officer might have been worried that he could be accused
of bias if he had left the crosses exposed so near the polling booths.

Cranmer's Curate's parting shot to the gentleman at electoral services
was: ‘No Christianity, no democracy.’ He said it with a smile on his
face and friendliness in his voice but meant it seriously.

CC thinks it "highly unlikely" that anyone would have been swayed to vote for the Christian Party (leader, the ineffable George Hargreaves) by seeing the prominently displayed cross in the polling station. But you can never be too careful. I can well imagine a voter, confronted by the long and unfamiliar list of fringe parties, struggling to work out where to cast their vote. Perhaps they wanted to vote for UKIP but were unable to unfold their ballot paper. Suddenly casting up their eyes, there before them they see the symbol of one of those small parties. A sign! And indeed the Christian Party/Christian Peoples' Alliance used as their slogan the catchy "Put your cross by the Cross".

It is, CC tells me, a sad reflection on the state of our democracy "that a presiding officer considered it necessary to capitulate to the complaints culture by covering up the symbol of mankind’s redemption by God’s Incarnate Son Jesus Christ". But if you make of that sacred image a logo for a political campaign, what do you expect?

29 comments:

WeepingCross said...

Exactly. The whole notion of a 'Christian' political party is ludicrous. Christian what? Socialist? Libertarian? Campaigning for the restoration of the Jacobite monarchy? Tempting, that last one. At least 'Christian Democrat' tells you something, albeit not very much helpful.

Round here the Christian Party did have a candidate wonderfully surnamed 'Cherub', though that was balanced by Mr 'Bacchus' (nice to see my second favourite religion, Graeco-Roman paganism, being represented).

McDuff said...

What does "No Christianity, no democracy" even mean? Are we to somehow believe that, despite the Christian bible containing absolutely no description of democratic government and has lots of nice words to say about monarchy, that only Christians were possible of, um, copying the Greeks?

Seriously, how can you take someone as pompously wrong as that seriously.

WeepingCross said...

In fact the Christian Party's website manifesto seems to be a mildly leftish, greenish, liberalish piece of work. Good for them. Bona. I think I'd probably be quite comfy in their company. But I doubt Ann Widdecombe would, and I don't think they'd understand some of my own lapses in respect of the Divine Right of Kings. Suggests it's a non-starter, really.

The Heresiarch said...

Really? Last time I checked they were pretty hardline Eurosceptics with a notable attachment to "traditional values". Including, if memory serves, the advantages of corporal punishment in schools. Their last campaign for the Scottish Parliament was marred by accusations of homophobia. And Hargreaves occasionally hits the headlines for saying that the Welsh Dragon is a satanic symbol and suchlike things. Perhaps there's been a major change. Or perhaps there are two Christian parties.

Edwin Moore said...

The Christian Party are not harmless at all, WC. They took 12% of the vote at the last parliamentary election in the Western Isles and their nasty campaign against a decent Labour MP gifted the seat to the SNP.

Their influence is highly localised but also quite strong - and most Christians I know, whether Church of Scotland, piskie or Catholic, dislike them intensely.

WeepingCross said...

They're not putting any of that in their manifesto headlines - which is as far as I read. I stand corrected. Oh well. Rather makes the point of the pointlessness of 'Christian' politics, really.

david cameron's forehead said...

"Rather makes the point of the pointlessness of 'Christian' politics, really."


Yes, just look at the endless hilarity of the BNP's assertion that they represent "Christian values". Of all the risible statements I've heard, that one has to be up there.

The Great Simpleton said...

How did they hide the fact that the polling took place in a church hall? Wouldn't that confuse people into thinking that they had to vote for a Christian/Religious party?

Julian Mann said...

Absolutely right, Great Simpleton. That's the bureaucratic illogic of not accepting what goes with the territory in a church hall. I'm told that in other church premises used as polling stations in the parish crosses were not covered up. In some buildings where for example the cross is placed high up, it would be a real palaver to cover it up and a presiding officer might even breach 'elf 'n safe'de in the attempt. So, there would be a real clash of PC principles there!

Thank you H. for sorting me out with posting.

valdemar squelch said...

Check out the Christian Democractic Union in Germany. Very old party, doesn't use cross as a symbol, despite Germany having some really excellent ones! Or perhaps because of it...

Ny polling station was a theatre bar. Nobody covered up pictures of an amateur production of The Producers. BNP landslide or disaster? (Yes, the BNP bit is a joke.)

McDuff said...

Julian Mann

Is there some hidden code in the whole hilarious "spelling words phonetically" gag that I'm unaware of, or is it just meant to identify you as the kind of person who reads Littlejohn's column in the Mail and goes "right on!"

Since when has health and safety legislation been about the Political Correctness boogeyman anyway? Other than the fact that they both stop decent working class people (of a generically white and male stripe) doing exactly what they want to to, bugger the consequences?

Could it be that, rather than being yet another encroachment of the "PC" fascist state onto our tiny honest workman lives, that this was in fact a single person making a judgement call, which is why it wasn't repeated. Could it also be that the judgement call, which may have been off base, actually didn't hurt a solitary soul? Could it also be that the only people making any kind of fuss about it are the kind of harrumphy middle class bollocks-mongerers who think any impediment to waggling their religion around means we're all going to the dogs because, let's not forget, they believe that Christianity is a necessary precondition for Democracy. Not only would this surprise the ancient Greeks, it would also surprise Ataturk, who established a democratic Islamic state before the Christian nations all started that great big tiff over whether democracy was that good an idea after all.

So, not an official policy, but an individual judgement call whose only actual harm has been to cause professional umbrage-takers to do what they do best. Good lord, man the barricades!

Julian Mann said...

Universal suffrage democracies developed in Christian civilisations.

Had the cross been on the roof for example or above the door, the presiding officer would have needed a ladder to put a shroud over it and quite sensibly (I take your point) he would have needed additional manpower from the city council.

What with the demands on local authorities, I suspect election day would have been over by the time persons authorised to ascend ladders would have been available.

The Heresiarch said...

"Universal suffrage democracies developed in Christian civilisations."

Like Athens?

Julian Mann said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong H but I don't think Caroline Flint would have had the vote in Athens.

Please don't think I'm suggesting the pagan Athenians would have made the right call there!

The Heresiarch said...

Well, if you're going to insist on female suffrage, I would point out that by the time they got around to giving women the vote Western civilisation had ceased to be Christian in any meaningful sense. If the term "Christian civilisation" has much meaning, it would refer to the world as it was in the Middle Ages, where Christianity was the primary building-block of the whole socio-political worldview. And medieval society wasn't notably democratic - though there were some proto-democratic institutions, largely in Italian city-states. (Our own Parliament doesn't really count at that stage.)

The modern idea of representative government is is largely an Enlightenment synthesis, and religious leaders were among its strongest opponents. Papal Rome was the last place in Europe to hold out against any notion of popular representation.

Those thinkers who argued for democratic institutions were inspired by ancient city-states, mainly Athens and the Roman Republic, and tended to be highly suspicious or religious influence on politics.

It is, I suppose, possible to contrast Jesus's injunction that one should "render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's" with Mohammed's unifying of political and theocratic power, and argue that the former made the secular state possible in the West. But the secular state is not the same thing as democracy. That is a Greek idea, as is the word itself.

McDuff said...

The Heresiarch has covered the "no they didn't" angle. What we did manage to invent in Christian nations - before we got the hang of the democracy thing, but also after - was the concentration camp, imperial domination and ethnic slaughter. By the reasoning that they emerged here, one could make a pretty compelling argument that there'd be no such thing as genocide without Christianity either.

It's also worth noting that "universal suffrage" in Christian nations was wrestled from the Christian leaders of said nations only after long and tortuous political processes. One might wonder how, if Christianity was responsible for universal suffrage, how come women only got the vote in England nineteen hundred years after Christ. That's remarkably slow going, don't you think?

It's funny how people think Christianity can take the credit for all the good things that it happened to be around for, but never seem happy when it goes the other way. I think I'd be happy to suggest that Christianity was responsible for our particular strain of western democracy as long as you're happy to admit it was responsible for the Trail of Tears, the torture of the Kenyan Kikuya, the eradication of the Aboriginal population of Tasmania, the transatlantic slave trade and the vast swathe of history where Christians argued that blacks and women weren't full human beings.

Or perhaps you'd like to withdraw your point before you look altogether too silly?

McDuff said...

Had the cross been on the roof for example or above the door, the presiding officer would have needed a ladder to put a shroud over it and quite sensibly (I take your point) he would have needed additional manpower from the city council..

And indeed were such a thing attempted, or was such a thing official policy rather than the inclination of one particular presiding officer, you might indeed be inclining towards a point.

How many hours did you take to erect a straw man that large, incidentally? I hope there was no taxpayer cost incurred in its erection.

Julian Mann said...

Interesting H. Enlightenment-influenced humanism certainly has to be seen as a big factor in the development of Western democracy, including as you say female suffrage.

In northern European countries and the democracries elsewhere in the world that sprang from them, surely, for example, the wide availability of the Bible in the vernacular and theological ideas such as justification by faith which loosened the power of the clergy were important factors in the development of participatory, accountable government?

McDuff said...

"theological ideas such as justification by faith which loosened the power of the clergy were important factors in the development of participatory, accountable government?".

That would be the Christian clergy, one assumes. Does that mean that Christianity was both instrumental in creating democracy and in being the oppressive force that precipitated its arrival? Seems rather a schizophrenic way to go about it, to me.

Julian Mann said...

Quite how Christian the clergy were at the time of Reformation is open to debate. The perception that many of them weren't very was one of the factors that fuelled Protestantism. It is difficult to argue historically against the proposition that the wide availability of the Bible in English led to a significant increase in the active involvement of Christian laity in the life of both Church and State in the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, the Marxist historian Christopher Hill certainly wouldn't argue against that proposition. Just the opposite in fact.

valdemar said...

Julian, you have a point. Democracy is about individuals voting according to conscience. Individual conscience is given great prominence in Protestant theology, and therefore it looks a lot less elegant that that wonderful edifice of glittering twaddle Catholics are so proud of. It's not surprising that fascism emerged in Catholic Europe.

But once you allow individual conscience in matters of faith (and Luther's conscience allowed him to edit the Bible - the Epistle of James was 'one of straw' etc) then the next logical step is to let people decide whether they believe in God at all.

Which perhaps explains why Protestants were as ferocious as Catholics in using terror to try and impose a religio-social orthodoxy that ultimately had to fall apart.

None of which has much to do with the Christian party, who are abaurd. And perhaps in legal trouble if they refuse (say) to allow openly gay people to join.

McDuff said...

I'm sorry, I forgot that we were using the word Christian to mean "whichever particular sub-branches of Christianity best supports the point today".

Not only are Catholics Christians too, they also have a much longer pedigree than you Protestant upstarts. They did write the Bible, after all.

valdemar said...

Well, McDuff, if I'm wrong I'm in good company. Orwell, for instance, argued that the novel was an essentially Protestant creative form.

Erm, Catholics wrote the Bible? I thought it was actually an assorted bunch of Jewish blokes, with 'Christians' taking on the role of editors and sub-editors. But I'm no theologian...

McDuff said...

"If I'm wrong I'm in good company" is a marvellous bit of rhetoric. However, it doesn't actually prevent one being wrong. Further, quite what "the novel is a Protestant form" has to do with "there would be no Democracy without Christianity" escapes me for the moment.

McDuff said...

And: the distinction between "writing" and "editing" is rather academic in this case. The Catholic Church decided what was going to be canonical scripture and ran the religion for over a thousand years before the Protestants came along.

Assuming that there's something to either tradition's claim that they actually know God, it seems more reasonable to believe that God's on the side of the Catholics than that He was conspicuously absent for 1200 years until an Anti-Semite came along and pinned a note to a door. I mean, either claim is ludicrous, but one's even more ludicrous than the other.

Julian Mann said...

Protestantism was a reaction against Roman Catholism, which arose after the Canon of Scripture was decided at the Council of Nicaea in 321 AD. Mainline Protestant Churches, such as the Church of England, claim to be part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

It is simply an unavoidable fact of history (and one which Valdemar who has no brief for Christianity has the grace to acknowledge) that the wide availability of the Bible in the vernacular in Protestant countries was a crucial factor in the growth of the power of parliaments.

McDuff said...

And that, frankly, is as much a factor of the printing press as anything else.

The trouble, Mr Mann, as I've mentioned above, is that in the hands of the "Christianity=Democracy" theorising types the actual assertion becomes quite slippery. We've already seen the transformation as "Christianity" gets reduced to "Protestantism", with presumably "Catholicism" being part of the problem in the first place. We thus have, as pointed out, two religions affirming the divinity of the risen Christ taking the role of both hero and villain. Indeed, one might be inclined to point out that if the formulation you posit is correct, if God had backed the right horse 1200 years earlier we might have had secular parliaments in Europe in 6-700CE.

One might also point out that, since the chain of events rarely occurs in the order "new theological interpretation discovered, public sentiment erupts in support, world changed" as much as it does "significant shift in public thinking, theologians create post-hoc justification for why they thought this way all along" (while not denying, of course, that in very religious societies it is never simply a one-way street), Protestantism itself would never have emerged without the inevitable corruption of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire.

There is a conflation in your arguments between the historical fact that things happened in a certain order, and the ideological insistence that any given link in the chain is a necessary component. The argument is not that Protestantism led to Democracy, but that without Protestantism - indeed, in CC's original formulation, without Christianity in all its forms - there would never have been Democracy in Europe. One is a matter of historical interpretation, the other a matter of slanting history to support an ideology.

I don't really have time for the notion that we westerners are in some sense able to play games of petty one-upmanship with other cultures simply because we came up with democracy first. We are not now and have not historically been particularly pleasant people. While we were "enlightening" ourselves about democracy, human rights and freedom we have also slaughtered other people both in our own nations and abroad on Imperial adventures on scales comparable to the "savages" in other, less enlightened nations. You don't need to be that good a scholar to see that if there is a link between the protestant reformation and the emergence of democracy, there is just a strong a link between Lutheran anti-Semitism, the blood libel and the Holocaust.

I have even less time for petty insinuations that because Protestantism showed up in the same countries that democracy showed up, this intimates quietly that the Protestant God really is the One True God after all. Although I'm sure nobody here was trying to do that, were they?

Julian Mann said...

Thank you Mr McDuff - before I sign off. I must also thank the Heresiarch for his hospitality.

There is also an ideological slant that refuses to give Christianity the credit for very much and wants to blame the Faith for the fact that some people use it as a pretext for doing the evil that they want to do. There is an ideological slant that refuses even to acknowledge the huge benefits of living in a Christian-influenced democracy where freedom has been allowed to flourish under the rule of law.

Evangelical Christians have been at forefront of combating many of the evils you have cited in your posts - William Wilberforce against the slave trade; Shaftesbury against economic injustice and exploitation; Corrie Ten Boom against anti-semitism (at great personal cost to herself).

It surely cannot be denied that at least those Christians obeyed Christ's command 'to do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.

McDuff said...

Christianity (are we still talking about mere Protestantism here or back to including Catholicism?), and indeed all strains and forms of spirituality from Sikhism to Buddhism, has been cited at length by both those who would do harm and those who would prevent harm. Indeed, sometimes those harming are the same people as those preventing harm. If the Bible can be cited with rapturous certainty by those who bomb and those who oppose bombing, by those who enslave and by those who oppose slavery, by democrats and monarchists alike, might it not be at least somewhat reasonable to say that the writings contained within cannot be claimed as responsible for one set of actions unless we also consider that they are responsible for the opposing set? Or, perhaps, might it be considered evidence for the proposition that the Bible is responsible for nothing but provides a wonderful post-hoc patina of righteousness for whatever people were planning on doing anyway, righteous or otherwise?

The argument is funny, in a way, because of the dancing around by the ones who try to neither use their preferred construction - that democracy was caused by and is a direct result of Christianity, and also because of the unpoken but present "therefores." "No Christianity, no democracy. Therefore..." Christianity is a better religion; Christianity is associated with things we value; you need Christianity to keep this society on a moral and ethical even keel; if you get rid of society we will soon be undemocratic too! Tosh when stated, of course, but then, that's why they're implied and not asserted.

Christianity being such an interwoven part of our history it is, of course, a selective reading that associates it only with the good things, just as claiming that Christianity is the root of all evil in Europe also requires a similar selectivity. It's been involved in everything, often on both sides, and often being just as influenced as it influences. Catholicism was corrupted by money and power. Protestantism was just one result of a cultural drift away from monarchical conceptions of society. But it is this very universal presence which is so damning, because it shows it to be so utterly malleable to other social forces, so obviously able to be tossed about wherever the current wind is blowing, that it completely undermines it's claims to be a guiding force or a causative factor. Where it has been on the side of good it has more-or-less been because good people were doing the good things they would have done anyway.

You can't really jump from actual history to a belief that Christianity was a guiding moral beacon which led us towards freedom and justice and democracy. It's been covered in mud for too long, and lagged change rather more than it has led it. It has been neither necessary for good things nor sufficient to prevent bad things happening.

You can see the Christianists like lightweight mobsters. "You'd better not cover up no crosses. Remember who gave you this democracy in the first place. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it, wouldn't it?" Unfortunately, their clumsily-veiled musings about consequences if we keep abandoning and ignoring them come across more and more like desperate pleas to the rest of us to keep thinking they're relevant. Being around when important things happened in history is neither proof that they were the motivating cause, nor any kind of indication that they are required for its continuation.