As we all know, a lot of rubbish is being talked about the EU referendum from both sides. At the same time, there has been a tendency to over-simplify the issue as well. Effectively the choice has been presented as voting between economic prosperity (remain) and reducing immigration (leave).
Both approaches are not only simplistic but also lacking in “big picture” concepts. So let’s look at things from the uniquely Christian viewpoint of love as Jesus defines it.
Within a Christian worldview, Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to “love God with all our heart and soul and mind”. He also tells us the second most important command is to love our neighbours as ourselves. Finally, he warns that we cannot serve both God and Money (or Mammon as some translations put it), since we will inevitably love one and hate the other. Let’s consider each of these in turn.
(1) The EU, the UK and loving God.
How do the EU and UK respectively measure up to “loving God” in the way Jesus sets out? Well, the House of Commons in the UK has prayers before the start of each day’s business. There is a House of Commons chaplain. There is a Head of State, the Queen, who, whatever the merits or otherwise of an hereditary system, is “defender of the faith” and speaks openly of her personal faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not perfect as a system, but there are these things there.
By contrast, there is no mention of God or Christianity in any EU treaty or proposed treaty. Attempts to include such mentions in texts in the past have failed. A final draft of the later abandoned European Constitution referred simply to “Europe’s Religious and Humanist inheritance”. I am not aware of any European Parliament chaplain or prayers.
(2) The EU, the UK and loving our neighbour.
In a way, it might seem obvious that being part of the EU helps us as a country love our neighbouring countries. This is certainly the view of Justin Welby. In the Mail on Sunday of 12th June he wrote:
“Sacrifice, generosity, vision beyond self-interest, suffering for others, helping the helpless, these are some of the deeply Christian principles that have shaped us. They are principles that show us at our best, as an example to other countries, as a home of freedom and democracy, as a beacon of hope that shines around a dark world. They are forward-looking virtues. Those who fought in two world wars were not looking back but forward. Those who built the EU after the two wars, in which millions of Europeans had died, looked forward.”The implication seems to be that the EU helps us love our neighbours.
On the other hand, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali takes a different view:
“The founders of the EEC were mainly Christian humanists who wished to unite Europe around a common spiritual and cultural heritage and for free trade. This has since mutated into the dangerous desire for a super-state with totalitarian aspirations and with an atheistic agenda that diminishes respect for conscience, freedom of belief and reasonable accommodation. It is now seeking to redefine that foundation of society, the family, in ways never intended by the drafters of the UN Declaration of Human Rights or of the European Convention. All of this has had a baneful effect on national legislation and policy, not least in upholding parents as the primary guardians of their children.”
There are real questions about whether the EU, as an institution, has crossed a line. Does it still foster love between nations – or does it force its will upon nations? Does it help us live as good neighbours over the garden fence, or does it force us all to live as co-tenants in a single property with over-stringent house rules?
Certainly the experience of Greece, and the history of a number of referendums in the EU, suggests a tendency these days towards authoritarianism rather than love. See another post on this blog for a more detailed discussion of EU democracy.
We could also ask: does the EU help us love those who are poor, either abroad or in the UK? The well known Anglican speaker and writer Canon J John has written:
“As a forgiving man I would be prepared to be reconciled to the EU if I sensed any repentance and desire for reform. Yet the impersonal figures that govern from Brussels seems to have no desire for change but, instead, are unrepentantly pushing forward their arrogant project of an empire – a ‘United States of Europe’ – extending from the tip of Scotland to Turkey’s eastern borders… That rings alarm bells with me: very few empires have been a blessing to the poor, the weak or the Christian.” (See more here)
And the Labour MP and social justice campaigner Frank Field has argued in the Church Times:
“Compassion toward the weakest members of our society … demands that we vote to leave the EU,” (see here )
What do you think? And why?
(3) The EU, the UK and loving money.
Since the 1980s and the exaltation of competition at the expense of public service, profit over the common good, and work over rest, the UK has undoubtedly been a worshipper of money, with all the corrosive consequences we have seen in terms of the banking crisis, wage gaps between rich and poor, and lack of affordable housing.
But it’s arguable the EU has gone a stage further by making the Euro currency its whole raison d’être. Indeed, in the absence of any notion of God (see point 1 above) it is scarcely surprising.
The laughable thing is that the EU doesn’t even “love money” very effectively! The Euro has led to the stagnation of much of Europe as an economy; southern Europe has suffered by being forced into a currency union it could never really fit into; there is massive youth unemployment in many areas. Yes, the EU loves money – and it doesn’t even do so very well.
So from a Christian perspective – what do you think? How do the UK and EU shape up in terms of loving God, loving our neighbour and (on a negative note) loving money? And how should that impact our voting? The great thing about democracy (while we still have it) is that you decide!