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Thursday, 19 February 2015

The #cofe House of #Bishops 52 page letter - 11 tests to use when deciding who to #vote for, the 14 arguments supporting that advice - 6 points about christianity and politics - for the 2015 #UK General #Election

The 52 page Who is my neighbour letter is about how Christian men and women should approach the UK General Election to be held on 7 May 2015.

"we want to move beyond flagging up lists of issues to dig deeper into questions about the trajectory of our political life and visions of the kind of society we want to be and which political life should serve. If anyone claims that this letter is “really” saying “Vote for this party or that party”, they have misunderstood it." (page 4)
I have tried to summarise below the main arguments the letter puts forward in terms of

- a better vision built on virtues

- 11 tests to use when deciding who to vote for 

- the 14 arguments supporting that advice

- 6 points about christianity and politics

A better vision built on virtues

The letter is about building a vision of a better kind of world, society and politics. Underlying those ideas is the concept of virtue – what it means to be a good person, politician, neighbour or community.

Virtues are nourished, not by atomised individualism, but in strong communities which relate respectfully to other communities which make up our nation.

Strong communities are schools of virtue. They're where we learn how to be good, how to live well and how to make relationships flourish. They build on the traditions through which each generation learns its national, local and family identity.

11 tests to use when deciding who to vote for

It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though they may have to vote for something that falls short of a vision that inspires them.  And they must work with politicians and others to try and make that vision more inspiring.  Voters are encouraged to support candidates and policies which:

1) Halt and reverse the accumulation of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands (of the state, corporations or individuals);

2) Involve people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most;

3) Recognise the distinctive communities (whether defined by geography, religion or culture) which make up the nation and enable all to thrive and participate together.

4) Treat the electorate as people with roots, commitments and traditions and address us all in terms of the common good and not just as self-interested consumers;

5) Demonstrate that the weak, the dependent, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable are persons of equal value to everybody else. (E.g. Is what they propose on austerity fair?  Do they support a Living Wage sufficient for a full time worker to live decently? );

6) Offer the electorate a grown up debate about Britain’s place in the world order and the possibilities and obligations that entails;

7) Acknowledge the insecurity and anxiety that permeates 
our society after decades of rapid change, not least the changes brought about by the banking crisis and austerity programme;

8) Recognise people’s need for supportive local communities and that the informal/voluntary sectors hold society together in ways neither the state nor private enterprise can match;

9) Recognise that people need a sense of place and of belonging;

10) Address the culture of regulation and litigation where anxiety about potential litigation can be a brake on local voluntary action;

11) Reflect the obligation to secure the common good of future generations, not just our own, address issues of inter-generational justice, be responsible on environmental issues.

14 arguments put forward to support the voting advice

In arguing for a better vision the letter includes various observations on politics, politicians and our society and culture.  I've summarised the arguments presented below.

Too much power in too few hands is not good

1) Widespread indebtedness is another manifestation of the accumulation of power in too few hands. This is as true for nations as for individuals and families. (From the "Debt and a humane economy" section).  It is perhaps this concentration, and the way some seem to treat politics as an extension of consumerism  - which has contributed to so much apathy about politics and politicians (from the "Apathy, cynicism and politics today" section)

The choices we face are rarely as simple as politics suggests they are

2) State or free market - Politicians seem to either place excessive faith in state intervention on the one hand or the free market on the other, (from the "Visions worth voting for" section)

3) “Us” and "them" rhetoric - stirs up resentment by dehumanising or demonising "them". Ethnic minorities, immigrants, welfare claimants, bankers and oligarchs – all have been called up as threats to some fictitious “us”. (From the "Equality – us and them" section)

4) Neighbourliness is both what we do for others and are willing to receive from them - So being willing to receive from those we fear, ignore or despise. The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as “the problem” has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration. Crude stereotyping is incompatible with a Christian understanding of human social relationships. But we also challenge the assumption that to question immigration at all must always be racist. (From the "Power, identities and minorities" section)

5) Right or left - Its not a choice between “right” and “left” nor do we imagine truth lie equidistant between extremes.  The letter emphasises an approach to politics which can trace its roots on both left and right and which could be embraced by any of the mainstream parties without being untrue to their own histories. (from the "Beyond “Left” and “Right” " section)

6) Agree or don't work together - Its wrong to think people can only work together if they agree about every issue.  The ability to make, and break, alliances – so that people can work together on issues they share, but may not be on the same side on other issues – is what makes the voluntary sector generally, so crucial to a flourishing democratic society (From the "Disagreement, Diversity and Coalitions" section)

7) National or local approaches
Sometimes we work best as a nation & sometimes as members of smaller and more local groups.  A sense of “place” helps to form people’s identity in community. People cannot so easily be uncoupled from the geographical spaces they inhabit. (From the "A Community of Communities" section)

8) A thriving society needs intermediate institutions (bigger than the family, far smaller than the state).  These informal/independent structures are small enough not to need every activity to be codified.  So they can help people to learn to work together in trust, not just according to rules. Such bodies can disagree with each other and pursue incompatible goals. A culture in good order needs that kind of diversity and capacity to argue about what makes a good society. (From the "Strengthening institutions" section)

None of us can stand alone

9) We prize individualism and autonomy yet a society of strangers is a vision few of us want. Instead most of us still find numerous ways of being with other people – at work, by volunteering, through religious services or sports or other interests.  Each of these have their own customs and shared solidarities and ways of identifying with each other.  Without them our lives would be extraordinarily fragile and lonely. (from "A Society of Strangers?" section)

10) To be dependent on others is what makes us social creatures.  In understanding the balance between the individual and the community we need to move beyond the superficial.  (from "The Person in Community" section)

11) No nation can stand alone - Its an illusion to think a nation can flourish without strong international alliances.  Our reliance on world trade demonstrates how intertwined our national economy is with other nations. People and nations are divided, not just by military conflict but by grotesque inequalities of wealth and power. The accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few nations has a profoundly destabilising effect. Supporting developing nations without creating unhealthy dependencies is politically challenging and yet absolutely necessary (From "The community of nations" section) 

Community, involvement and the long term

12) Living as part of a community and depending on others  - shows us the moral limits of the market.   This kind of community does not even need to rely on personal acquaintance, only on a perception of mutual reliance. In the maritime industry, shipping companies compete against each other in an open market. But when a ship is in trouble, it is unthinkable that other ships in the vicinity will not go to its assistance, at considerable commercial cost.  Those who make their living on the sea know their need of each other. For the rest of us, our mutual dependence is no less real, but is often obscured from our sight until troubles arise.(From the "Debt and a humane economy" section)

13) A good constitution involves as many people as possible in decisions  - even if like the UK's it is largely unwritten and has evolved over the centuries. (From the "History in an old country" section)

14) People will commit to the long term if they have a stake in it - A thriving economy needs investors who look to the long term. Intergenerational justice depends upon sharing power and decision making now. By enabling people to build a stake in the communities they are encouraged to live, not only for the day, but for their grandchildren’s future – and, on behalf of future generations, to cherish the created order rather than viewing our environment as a commodity to be consumed. (From the "Our grandchildren’s future" section)

6 points about Christianity and politics

1) Religion is not just something that belongs solely to the private sphere. Belief - of its nature - addresses the whole of life, private and public. (page 5)

2) Without a grasp of the power and meaning of religion, it is impossible to understand the dynamics of global politics today. (page 6)

3) Christians are called to love their neighbour as themselves and in the Lord's prayer say “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven”. This incarnational faith is why politics and the life of the Christian cannot be separated. (page 7)

4) As individuals christians start with an acknowledgement that all is not well, that what is good and right has been neglected and that change is inescapable. (page 8)

5) The Biblical tradition is not only “biased to the poor”, but warns constantly against too much power falling into too few hands. (page 9)

6) Christian theology behoves all people to “think it possible that you may be mistaken” – to use the words of Oliver Cromwell. (page 10)

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