Michael Portillo has been on a long “journey” (strange new respect and all that) since his days as an up-and-coming Thatcherite star, but, given our current discussions on this Corner on the Enlightenment, this piece from today’s London Sunday Times is worth reading – and worth mulling.
Here’s a sample:
I worry because men of power who take instruction from unseen forces are essentially fanatics. Blair is filled with a self-confidence and self-satisfaction that are dangerous. They were evident last week as he refused to take responsibility for anything that has happened in Iraq since America and Britain occupied it. Those who look for judgment not from the electorate or parliament or a free press but from God release themselves from the constraints of democracy. In Britain the problem may seem more theoretical than real because Christianity in this country today is by and large a gentle thing. We should remember that it was shaped that way for good political reasons. At one time religion was the greatest threat to the integrity and safety of the realm. Under the brief reign of Bloody Mary 300 Protestants, including bishops, were burnt at the stake for refusing to accept Catholicism. Mary’s Protestant successor, her half-sister Elizabeth I, was determined that religious struggles would not wreck her kingdom. She dismissed most religious controversy as “disputes over trifles” and forbade clergymen from straying from their biblical texts into questions of rite or politics. She crafted a Protestantism that created as few problems as possible for Catholics — for example, one that tolerated candles and crucifixes. If today the Church of England is wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road, that is no accident. It is the long-term result of Elizabeth’s design. Britain has benefited enormously from a weak clergy that has mainly remained aloft from politics. Britain’s established church, headed by the monarch, has made few demands of our leaders or people. When Blair correctly cites tolerance as one of Britain’s defining virtues, he should recognise that we owe it to those wise rulers who over centuries insisted on separating religion from politics.
Read the whole thing, and bear in mind that most of the Founders (shaped as they were by English traditions), however they described themselves religiously, would almost certainly have agreed with the politics of it…