April 2, 2015 by James Crossley
Along with Christmas, Easter is the time when Prime Ministers, and candidates for Prime Minister, share their thoughts on the Bible and Christianity. It might be thought that the Easter story could be a difficult one for politicians as talking about relentless violence, death on a cross, and resurrection from the dead is not necessarily conducive to issues of job creation, deficit reduction, and changes in welfare. Yet the Easter story does not have to be so bloody and can take some forms not overtly present in the Gospel accounts: see, for instance, the Easter Bunny. But to confuse matters more, read one less sentimental version of the Easter Bunny story in Arnal’s Symbolic Jesus. Here we learn about the Easter Bunny being whipped and Easter eggs broken in Glassport, Pennsylvania, in order to put the Easter Bunny in its place and as a demonstration, of sorts, of Jesus’ crucifixion. Arnal ties this whipping in with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, sadism in North American culture, transferable violence, and the War on Terror. This example of whipping for Jesus is, as we will see, relevant for understanding the forthcoming General Election in the UK.
David Cameron’s latest take on the Bible and Christianity in Premier Christianity offers no surprises for anyone who has read his previous discussions on such matters. There’s a nod to a potential Christian voters who won’t swing the election but worth keeping onside if possible (though clearly not working for those in the comments section): ‘Just as I’ve done for the last five years, I’ll be making my belief in the importance of Christianity absolutely clear’ (read: “I’m a Christian, unlike Miliband and Clegg”?). What else? We can go through the standard checklist for the contemporary post-Thatcher politician:
Bible/Christianity/Easter sort of British? Check! (‘the values of the Christian faith are the values on which our nation was built’)
Bible/Christianity/Easter boiled down to some vague principles? Check! (‘the values of Easter and the Christian religion – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility – are values that we can all celebrate and share…the Christian message is the bedrock of a good society… Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.’)
Quote ‘love thy neighbour’? Check! (‘”Love thy neighbour” is a doctrine we can all apply to our lives – at school, at work, at home and with our families. A sense of compassion is the centre piece of a good community’)
Bible/Christianity/Easter encapsulates the views of everyone, including those (voters) who are not believers? Check! (‘Whether or not we’re members of the Church of England…Those values and principles are not the exclusive preserve of one faith or religion. They are something I hope everyone in our country believes’)
Bible/Christianity/Easter is compatible with political party’s agenda? Check! (ad nauseum)
Bible/Christianity/Easter means we should be domesticated workaholics/ideal capitalist subjects? Check! (‘hard work and responsibility…values that we can all celebrate and share… enduring ideas and principles: hard work, fair play, rewarding people for doing the right thing…’)
Building on Thatcher’s Bible and her support of charity over state provision, Cameron has now provided some distinctive clichés. The Bible/Christianity/Easter are Big Society (which, we recall, Jesus invented) in practice (‘faith is a massive inspiration for millions of people to go out and make a positive difference…we have tens of thousands of fantastic faith-based charities. Every day they’re performing minor miracles in local communities. As Prime Minister, I’ve worked hard to stand up for these charities and give them more power and support. If my party continues in government, it’s our ambition to do even more’). In this respect, there is a striking line about the Bible/Christianity/Easter not being about the state but about entrepreneurialism:
But when I think of the truly great social changes that have helped our nation, they weren’t led or started by big governments. They were driven by individuals and activists, great businesses and charities – everyday people working to do the right thing.
In popular political memory, one of the major social changes was the founding of the NHS and development of the welfare state by the Atlee government. This too was justified in terms of what were deemed to be Christian values, particularly due to the influence of the Nonconformist tradition in the Labour Party. In standard retellings of post-war British politics and social change, the founding of the NHS is prominent and is currently being utilized by Miliband to try and undermine the Conservatives. Cameron, however, is presenting an alternative to this state-based narrative of True Christian Values with a distinctly anti-state Thatcherite vision of True Christian Values.
So what about the Easter Bunny and its beating? As part of a list of his government’s ‘fundamental principles and beliefs’ to be linked with morality/Bible/Christianity/Easter, Cameron mentions ‘backing those who’ve fought foreign tyranny’. This reasoning too is not new for Cameron. He previously alluded to the Bible in justifying that our peaceful interests mean that we have the monopoly on the use of violence in, for instance, the Middle East, just as Blair had done so (and continues to do so) to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. We are the ones who are legitimately allowed to whip the Easter Bunny, and the Bible says so.
So what is the Bible/Christianity/Easter for Cameron (or any other political leader)? To continue to theme of repetition, it is the higher authority for liberal democracy and, more specifically, for distinctive and potentially controversial policies.