Gordon Brown’s religion

Paul Vallely, Associate editor, the Independent writes to Prospect Magazine:

Prospect Magazine“Richard Cockett asks whether Gordon Brown will be able to find a language to articulate his Christian faith in a way that bridges the divide between secularists and believers. Don’t hold your breath.

Although Brown is happy to embrace values associated with the Presbyterian tradition—“duty, responsibility and respect for others… honesty and hard work”—there is nothing Calvinist about his theology; indeed, there is almost no theology at all. Brown quotes Isaiah in the way that he quotes Martin Luther King and even (though he does not name him) Ronald Reagan, as a colourful and succinct summary of his own beliefs.

Those beliefs, by contrast, are invariably set out using vocabulary of the Scottish Enlightenment. Christianity is held at arm’s length. Brown speaks approvingly not of religion but of “the churches,” which he sees as little Burkean platoons, vital to civil society not for their religious beliefs but because they implement what the common good requires.

This is why, despite coming from a quite distinct church tradition, Brown is happy to work with the Vatican, where in 2004 he became the first British cabinet minister ever to speak. He regards Rome as an effective international actor on issues of global poverty, partly because a huge percentage of clinics and schools in Africa are run by the church, but also because he understands that the churches are the organisations which turn out the most activists for campaigns like Make Poverty History and Jubilee 2000. Brown sees Rome as a powerful ally in the struggle to get the UN’s millennium development goals taken more seriously.

In all this he reverts to a modernist universalism, by contrast with Blair, whose attitude to religion was distinctly postmodern. You will get no talk from Gordon about a post-secular society. Secularists will find this refreshing, but Muslims in particular will have difficulties; they do not buy into Brown’s notion that Britishness must be predicated only on shared values, and want their cultural and religious identity acknowledged. Interesting times.”

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