With the prospect of a general election in the UK looking ever more likely, I thought I'd have a look at the religious beliefs of Gordon Brown (the Labour prime minister) and David Cameron (the opposition Conservative leader).
Former prime minister Tony Blair, of course, was a devout Christian in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. His wife is Catholic and Blair's conversion has been long anticipated (although equally long-delayed). However, he was careful to keep religion out of the political sphere. I saw him refer to it just once, years ago when he was still relatively unknown. On a TV show he explained his opposition to the death penalty in terms of his Christian faith.
Gordon Brown is, if anything, even more devout than Blair. His father was a Church of Scotland minister and his ethos is strongly Puritan. Today's European social democratic parties owe much of their philosophy to nineteenth-century Methodists and non-conformist Protestants. Brown's Christianity is very much in that tradition. He is teetotal, echoing the temperance campaigns of the early twentieth century, and very serious in demeanour. However, even more than Brown, he keeps his religion under wraps. No one really knows where he stands on abortion and gay rights, although he has abstained from all anti-gay discrimination measures put before the UK Parliament in the last decade. All this has made him a cipher for the secular left, like Johann Hari, who desperately hope his Christianity won't make an appearance. Given the tradition that Brown comes from, their fears are probably groundless.
David Cameron also claims to be religious. He told the BBC, "I believe in God and I try to get to church more than Christmas and Easter, but perhaps not as often as I should, but I don't feel I have a direct line." In this sense, his views are very much along the lines of most of the British who have a very relaxed view about religion, but on balance do believe in something. Again, commentators like Michael Portillo are hoping that any religious views he does have remain on the back-burner. In Cameron's case, I can't see him ever mentioning God on the stump. His beliefs are both fuzzy and unfocused without any philosophical depth.
Thus, if we do have a general election, both major parties have leaders with broadly Christian credentials. Although, Brown's are much stronger, I doubt a Conservative government would give any comfort to the neo-atheist tendency, nor cause them much concern.
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