Since the time of St Paul, Christians have struggled to find a blend between the truth revealed from heaven and the life lived on earth.
The static eschatological perfection only achievable in the kingdom of God has had to be balanced against the dynamic human nature made imperfect by the Fall.
This isn’t the Eastern balance of things similar in nature. It’s a balance coaxed out of a clash between opposites: perfection and imperfection, one of them divine and the other human, but both extreme.
That’s why the balance is so precarious: one step too far in either direction, and a precipice beckons. One or the other end of the seesaw will shoot up violently, tossing either God or man into the gaping abyss.
When it comes to specifically political life, the balancing act becomes even harder to perform, and Frank Field, MP, acknowledges this in the first paragraph of his article The Politics of Faith.
Hard, however, doesn’t necessarily mean impossible. The task only becomes impossible when one brings to bear on it an incomplete set of intellectual tools.
The most essential tool is the ability to understand and wield Christian thought, which alone can provide a bridge between the intricacies of faith and vicissitudes of politics.
Without building that bridge spanning the gap between the two, a Christian politician will have to choose whether he wants to be a Christian or a politician. Both together won’t be on offer.
Keeping the two separate is of course possible, but that reduces Christianity to the level of a hobby. It stops being the guiding light of a man’s life, which contradicts the essence of doctrine.
Mr Field senses this conundrum and tries to find a way around it. As an honest man, he acknowledges the problem – without perhaps realising its full gravity.
“I have never consciously thought of taking one course of action rather than another because I am a Christian…,” he writes. “I have never known, as those from the Evangelical wing of the Church do, a particular presence of Jesus.”
My ordained friends would probably wince. For knowing “a particular presence of Jesus” isn’t the exclusive property of the Evangelicals. One could argue that this is partly what defines a Christian qua Christian.
Another part is the ability to hold one’s action to the test of Christian thought, and this is what Mr Field self-admittedly lacks.
Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s missing something vital. That’s understandable: in his religious school he was “ given a sense of a way of life that, at its best, is an affair of the heart.”
Not for a man trying to reconcile faith and politics, it isn’t.
Mr Field refers to his Catholic faith, by which he means Anglo-Catholic, which isn’t quite the same thing. Yet his anti-intellectual view of Christianity is aggressively anti-Catholic and, dare I say it, dubiously Christian.
Christianity is the most rational and, if you will, philosophical of all religions. It does start with an a priori statement of faith, but then so do most scientific discoveries.
A scientist believes in the truth of his hypothesis, just like a Christian believes in the truth of his faith. Yet for both it’s only the starting point of a journey.
They proceed to hold their hypothesis to a series of rigorous tests, both empirical and inductive. These either confirm or disprove the a priori statement.
This analogy can’t be pushed too far. For a scientist who merely states his hypothesis and leaves it at that isn’t much of a scientist. A Christian, however, can remain true to his faith even if eschewing ratiocination altogether.
He can indeed be guided by his heart only – but not to a perch where he’ll be capable of finding a link between his religion and something as devilishly (I use the word advisedly) complicated as politics.
Alas, Mr Field confirms my lifelong conviction that a socialist can be a highly moral person or a highly intelligent one, but never both.
For, whatever else socialism may be, it’s by definition materialist to a vulgar extreme. Rather than seeking heavenly equality of all before almighty God, it seeks earthly equality of all under the almighty state.
The view of life at the foundations of socialism has no intellectual value whatsoever, for even the most strident materialists must see that there’s more to life than its physical shell (man’s mind for a start, along with the thought it produces).
Someone who tries to defend an indefensible proposition either doesn’t understand that’s what it is, in which case he isn’t very bright, or defends it for ulterior reasons, in which case he isn’t very moral.
Mr Field has been a socialist his whole life, albeit of a mild variety. That means he advocates a bit less of a bad thing, making him the Labourite the Tories love most.
Everyone who knows him says he’s a good man, which he proved by resigning the Labour whip a couple of months ago and continuing as ‘an independent Labour MP’, whatever that means in our partisan politics.
Mr Field was rightly appalled by Corbyn’s anti-Semitism, but his detractors will remind him that it was he who had originally nominated that evil Trotskyist nonentity for Labour leadership. And Corbyn never took pains to hide his true nature, did he?
Throughout his career Mr Field has advocated some vaguely conservative policies and many downright socialist ones. The two were often mutually exclusive, giving the impression that in his politics too he’s mainly driven by his heart.
Hence, by writing his article, Mr Field took on a burden his intellectual shoulders are too weak to bear. This he proved by proposing a view of Christianity that’s sufficiently ignorant to put even Archbishop Welby to shame:
“The leitmotif running through the Old and into the New Testament is the concept of the Kingdom in this world… My revolutionary politics are about that commandment to seek and, by seeking, to help to build the Kingdom.”
This is a staggeringly inept reading of Scripture, especially the New Testament. There isn’t a single word there that would lead one to believe that the kingdom in question is anything other than the metaphysical end to physical life.
Jesus himself was unequivocal on the subject when he said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” But where is that kingdom, and when will it arrive?
The Pharisees asked Jesus that very question, hoping to catch him out. His reply put them in their place: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, ‘Lo here!’ or, ‘Lo there!’ for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Many scholars regard the word ‘within’ as a mistranslation of the Greek entos. This word means not only ‘within’, but also ‘among’, ‘in the midst of’. Jesus told the Pharisees that he was the kingdom of God, which was therefore in their midst.
He himself gave an indication of that meaning by telling the Pharisees what really was within them: “…your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.”
Ravening and wickedness. Not much room left for the kingdom of God there.
Yet the kingdom can indeed be within a man, provided he lets it in. In either sense, Christ himself is that kingdom. Nowhere does he describe it as something that could be created by political means before the Second Coming.
To use the concept as a basis of “revolutionary politics” ill-behoves a Christian. This smacks more of the traditional leftist larceny of treating Jesus as if he was a Labour MP from the Momentum faction, a sort of Che Guevara of Galilee.
Mr Field knows better than that. As I say, by all accounts he’s a good man, and his attempt to find a link between his faith and his politics is a noble one.
His is a failure of intellect, not character. But good men who know not what they do can do as much harm in politics as bad men who have no doubt of exactly what they’re doing.