Politics and nationalism are a powerful concoction. They have driven ordinary people to insanity. So if you sprinkle a bit of religion into the cauldron, you can be making a potent and sometimes poisonous brew.
I’m going to try to avoid doing that in this blog entry (although the insanity is a given). But I wanted to write about Brexit and the spiritual aspect of the referendum.
The politically enlightened know that politics influences everything. The spiritually enlightened know that even politics is influenced by the spiritual.
To put things into context, Britannia has been a little under the weather recently. Her helmet has slipped and her shield has rusted in the salty sea wind. And as for her trident – well, it’s pointless and expensive. Some people think she needs to get up out of that throne and make a stand (idle shirker that she is). In fact, to all appearances, Britannia has seemed a little sickly of late.
And with a referendum coming up, the theory is that Britannia now has to decide which side she wants to be on – or to be misled in the process.
No fear tactics there then. ‘No-one’s misleading no-one’. ‘Don’t personify a country which does not even have the luxury to claim a soul’. ‘Speak sense man’.
To add some context to Brexit and the way in which it relates to Christianity, you may need to look into a Christian conspiracy theory or two. Namely, the idea that the EU is the revived Roman Empire which, in the future will be led by evil personified. This particular conspiracy theory draws from classic books such as Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ and originates from the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. You can probably see the whole theory elsewhere if you are minded to do so. It is eschatology, the study of the end times, and it is all up for debate anyway. Better still, if you haven’t already, read Revelation (but don’t read it at night as it has the same contrast of beauty and ugliness as Macbeth).
Now, throw into our concoction a few drops of freedom and you have a heady mix which smells as sweet as Britannia’s new makeover from the Royal Mint. Because freedom is what Brexit is all about for some eurosceptics – it is not necessarily about there being too many people here, or national sovereignty or immigration. For some of us it is not about immigration at all. Immigrants suffer enough and have been one of the few things which have kept Christianity going in the UK. I would rather Farage had the courage to acknowledge the good that immigrants do. It is not Christian to be racist or prejudiced.
There are other issues. Sometimes it is just about freedom. Not necessarily the freedom to retain sovereignty and make our own laws, but about feeling free. How can any side promise freedom? The concoction starts to smell bad again and maybe there is death in this particular national pot. The last refuge of the scoundrel.
I’d like to suggest that this feeling of a lack of freedom which fuels so much in life is being projected outwards. We can easily blame all our ills on another country, people or system - or terrorist group (why do the Government’s enemies have to be my enemies?). And why does it all come down to one vote (which too many are excluded from anyway)? Will the exercising of that vote bring freedom? Will it bring the hope which seems so scarce to so many?
But I’m over-spiritualising.
Christ seemed to over-spiritualise the occupation of Israel during his time on earth. Many of his people wanted to be free of the Roman Empire – but Christ would say frustratingly little about politics. He focused people’s attention on the things that enslaved them from within. Things like sin (which Christ, very liberally, called a ‘sickness’). As it happened, the Jewish uprising against the Roman occupying force came after Christ had been murdered, but it was violent and bloody too. The Roman Empire eventually declined and seemed to die and maybe it really did rise again in the EU. At least it is imaginative to theorise in that way. But Caesar, or any head of the EU is always going to be an outsider to all kinds of miracles.
The disciples were made up of patriots and those who were considered traitors, those who supported and thrived under the Roman Empire’s rules and those who longed for national freedom. They had to muddle along together under a cause which wasn’t about freedom from occupation or the maintenance of the status quo. Their cause became Christ. And this was (and still is) the cause of causes. The cause for which many live and die.
Today's disciples are also made up of eurosceptics and europhiles. Churches don’t usually take a party line on Brexit simply because they will alienate half of their audience (which I believe I may have the monopoly on). It is left as a matter of conscience.
But Christ was in a country far away and long ago and such stories and histories are either believed or dismissed. Or else we put our fingers in our ears saying we are free and we will ‘never, never, never’ be slaves. Of course, there are those who say that being a Christian somehow makes you less British. That believing in the only legitimate creator and protector of nations makes you somehow less loyal to your own country. Go figure.
Most of us still think freedoms matter, both the internal and external kind (because they relate to each other). Freedom from pain. Freedom from suffering. Freedom of expression and thought and conscience which are (perhaps ironically for some) enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Freedom to write obscure blog entries which don’t make sense. The freedom to be as eccentric in our beliefs as Britannia herself (as she sits stroking her pet lion ‘Tiberius’ (‘Tibby’ for short)).
So stir all this up in our cauldron and what do we get? Apart from mixing metaphors and personifications? We still have Britannia, sick and needing the freedom to heal and grow, with her rusty helmet and pointless trident. Still wondering who is misleading her.
Because when it all comes down to it – only Christ, who is more revived than any Roman Empire ever will be, can give any of us the freedoms we so long for. And unlike the Government or the EU, he will actually listen to anyone. Including the soul of Britannia.
Think happy thoughts.