March 27, 2005


It's the morality, stupid: In the run-up to the general election, religion and politics are mixing as never before. But ‘issues of conscience’ are a minefield for every party (EDDIE BARNES AND BRIAN BRADY, 27 Mar 2005, Scotland on Sunday)

TONY Blair is known to be an avid reader of his Bible. How he must be wishing this Easter Sunday morning that more people would pay some attention to Luke 20:25. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s," Christ told his disciples. It has long been taken as the definitive judgment on the need to keep the worlds of church and state at arms length. Britons - with their circumspect wariness of religion and moralising - have long approved of Christ’s guidance. Yet five weeks before a likely election at the beginning of May, the unexpected has happened: the country has become locked in an epic spiritual struggle within the moral maze. The economy, inflation and public services are out. Abortion, euthanasia and questions of faith are in. What, in God’s name, is going on?

Like no election campaign in recent memory, the separate worlds of religion and politics are mixing freely. The latest example this morning comes in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh where Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, offers his Easter sermon. His homily (which was conveniently e-mailed to media outlets more than 24 hours beforehand) is less spiritual reflection and more political rally. In it, O’Brien barely draws breath before he tackles Caesar head on. Within the first few minutes, he is addressing the issue of abortion, and alluding to Conservative leader Michael Howard’s approval for a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20. Then it is swiftly on to cloning, and last week’s report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee which calls for more experiments on embryos to be permitted. Then, on to the election. "I urge you all to question your prospective candidates on these issues and demand that the defence of life is placed at the top of the political agenda," O’Brien declares. He is only doing what his English counterpart Cormac Murphy O’Connor started two weeks ago when he commended Howard on abortion.

Interventions in elections by churchmen such as O’Brien are nothing new. But this time, they are more bullish. On the face of it, this would appear entirely unjustified. Religious attendance is inexorably in decline. Across Scotland, cities are pock-marked with redundant churches converted into pubs, DIY outlets and designer flats. Yet church leaders across several other denominations are convinced that the public mood is changing. Morality is back, they claim, because 21st-century Britons, disillusioned with the superficial promise of modern secular materialism, are demanding its return like never before.

Why don't these folks ever question Caesar's meddling in settled moral issues, like abortion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2005 7:39 AM

Is it me or do churchmen across the board in Britain seem to have grown a pair recently?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 27, 2005 9:53 AM

More like borrowed them from America.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 9:57 AM

Luther. It was Luther who gleefully placed what was God's into Caesar'r buy the protection of the powerful.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 27, 2005 11:52 AM


I suspect Luther was used more by the princes than they by him. Once the theses were nailed on the door, had he been killed, the historical result would have been pretty much the same.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 27, 2005 11:19 PM