Giles covered a lot of ground in our conversation. For those wanting to listen, here is the full and unedited version of our conversation. You can find a shorter version of our discussion on the iTunes page. Enjoy!
Today I had the great pleasure of welcoming our first guest to Politics at the Cross+Roads, Rev Canon Dr Giles Fraser. Giles will be well known to many listeners as a journalist with Unherd (and previously with the Guardian). Giles is a priest and canon in the Church of England and he regularly contributes to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day and the Moral Maze. We had an absolutely fascinating discussion about how he sees the relationship between socialism and conservatism, about whether the pandemic is a post liberal moment and how the Church roots us in community, warts and all.
- For Giles’ new book, Chosen: Lost and Found Between Christianity and Judaism (Penguin, 2021), see https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/213/213476/chosen/9780241003268.html
- For Giles’ post liberal reading list, see https://unherd.com/2019/11/a-post-liberal-reading-list/
- On churches and the pandemic, see Giles’ thoughts here https://twitter.com/giles_fraser/status/1354091428092268545, https://unherd.com/2020/12/why-i-wont-be-closing-my-church-this-christmas/ and https://unherd.com/2020/11/boris-johnson-doesnt-get-god/
- For Giles’ discussion of Jesus as a somewhere and Paul as an anywhere, see https://unherd.com/2018/08/jesus-somewhere-paul-anywhere/
- On postliberalism and the Magnificent Seven, see https://unherd.com/2020/04/the-magnificent-seven-is-a-post-liberal-idyll/
“The flesh desires against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh…” Galatians 5:17
“My kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36
The Fleshliness of Contemporary Politics
Human systems of government fail because they mistake means for ends, or subsidiary ends for ultimate ones. The problem, for the Christian, is not simply that these philosophies are materialist, in the sense of having a concern for one’s material state of affairs (money, property, means etc.). Though, of course, these philosophies are materialist as well, and deeply so. Capitalism seeks to alter the material state of the individual and communism that of the collective via the proletariat. It is a problem when material change becomes the ultimate end. But their concern with matter is not the heart of their failure. For Christianity, after all, is also interested in the material and in man’s material means. Yet it does not seek to alter the material as a chief and ultimate end. If Christianity does alter a person’s material status, then this is always indirect. It is always sublimated to a higher end—that of the conversion of her soul, her character, her heart, her very self.
The problem is not simply that human systems of government and politics are too “material”, then, but that they are fleshly. That is, they leave man in a state that is unconverted and self-centred, apart from God. St Paul often uses flesh in the sense of “human nature” apart from God and left to its own devices. Our human systems are fleshly in the sense that they would make us materially wealthy or transformed (through whatever means), but leave our very selves languishing in a prison of despair, our souls shackled to the flesh which, left to its own devices, will only do us damage. These philosophies and systems of thought would leave us free to our own devices which is precisely the problem. Free to our own devices, we are free to destroy ourselves.
Christ comes to put the flesh to death, by his own death, and to convert the soul. If the material means of a person are changed, then this is a side-effect, an important side-effect, but a side-effect nonetheless.
***Continue reading “The Heart of the Matter: Christ and the Fleshly Politics of Our Age”
In a recent Saeculum Short, I wrote about how the future of the West politically might not be in the West but in places fighting for democracy and the foundational values of Western civilisation. Minsk and Hong Kong are major exhibits of this phenomenon and, I suggested, call forth the good in Westerners by reminding us of what we have stood and should stand for and what we could be.
I have since recalled that similar arguments have been made regarding the Church.
Just as the future of the West politically lies elsewhere, so too does its Christian identity rely on the growth and vitality of the Church in other parts of the world.
The state of the Church in the West is complex, but it’s fair to say that it is broadly in decline, and has been for quite a while. At the same time, the number of those committing to being followers of Christ has grown exponentially in corners of Asia and Africa, often under intense persecution. Fascinatingly, where growth is occurring in parts of the West, it is often among diaspora communities. Take, for instance, the movement of African pentecostal churches in urban centres in the UK (a phenomenon often referred to as “reverse mission”). Of course, the West and Christianity are not one and the same thing. Indeed, Christianity is not even a western religion. And yet, Christianity has been foundational to Western identity and the West has for a long time been a key centre of the Christian faith.
In this post, I want to suggest that the loss of Christian identity in the West is partly linked to the decline of Western consciousness. The reverse, I think, is also true: the decline of the West is partly the result of the decline of a vital Christian faith, though in this post I will focus on the former.Continue reading “The Decline of the West and the Decline of Western Christianity”
Welcome to the Saeculum, a new blog that offers a refreshingly realistic take on Christianity and politics. I intend this post as a kind of orientation to the blog and an explanation of why I have decided to start it.Continue reading “Welcome to the Saeculum”