I DONT regard the evidence advanced for the existence of God or Jesus as being remotely convincing, so my own response to a question such as ‘Brexit: what would Jesus do?’ is to reject the question as loaded, and in one sense pointless, rather like asking ‘How good is the Loch Ness Monster’s sense of smell?’
In one sense, my analogy between God and the Loch Ness Monster is unfair; more people are motivated by ideas about God than by ideas about the Loch Ness Monster. Even false beliefs can have real-world consequences, so Christian ideas about what Jesus would do are going to have practical consequences, regardless of what Jesus actually said, and regardless of whether Jesus existed at all.
In an article written shortly after 2016 referendum, one author asks “Did God command the UK to leave the EU?” The article contains quite a secular analysis of how Christians voted, but fails to shed any light on God’s own position in any of this.
The author notes that:
Nearly six in ten of those who identified as Christian voted for Brexit. This is significantly higher than the 52 per cent who voted for Brexit across the nation. It is particularly stark when compared to Muslim and Hindu voters, seven in 10 of whom voted to remain. It may correlate with ethnicity and have little to do with faith.
(I suspect that ethnic minorities were wary of the nationalism associated with the Leave campaign). The author goes on to note that the view of Christians could in part relate to age (73 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain but only 40 per cent of over 65s), and noted that some fundamentalists are deeply sceptical of the European Union, equating an EU symbol (of a woman riding a bull) with a “woman sitting on a scarlet beast” (Revelation 17).
Brexit is a very divisive issue, for people of all faiths and none –but the division is all the more embarrassing for theists, for if there is a correct answer to this question, and if prayer helps people find it, we’d expect to see theists converge towards the right answer, not to be split down the middle.
Perhaps because the issue is so divisive, many commentators “answer” the question of “Brexit, what would Jesus do?” in a disingenuous fashion. The possible answers would appear to be “Leave” or Remain” – but rather than sticking theirs neck above the parapet and selecting one of these, they settle for a third option around which even Christians can agree, such as “pray that the country will make a wise decision”, or “be civil as we argue over our differences”.
In doing so, they move the goalposts, for the question originally implied by the title of the article (“Would Jesus remain or leave?”) is never actually answered, and a different question (“How would Jesus want us to think about whether to remain or leave?”) gets answered instead.
As an example of such an approach, consider this article, “Between a rock and hard Brexit – What would Jesus Do?” Its author correctly points out that with Brexit:
Everything seems to be binary: leave or remain. This deal or no deal … Even the issue of a second referendum seems to be either the best and only option for democracy or the least democratic thing ever.
He likens the situation to the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), in which Jesus, when presented by his opponents with a simple binary choice (should the woman be stoned or not?) offered an unexpected alternative that made people reinterpret their own positions, and which checked their earlier certainty (“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”).
At first glance, there’s plenty for Freethinkers to admire here (reinterpreting earlier certainty when confronted with a novel interpretation, flagging up the dangers of a false dichotomy). However, stark options are sometimes the only ones available, and in such cases, a simple choice can’t be avoided.
The referendum that started the Brexit process was a case in point. Given that “Leave” and “Remain” were the only two options on the ballot paper, how would Jesus have voted? Would he have drawn a third option on the ballot paper (“Make people reinterpret their own positions”), and ticked it, thereby spoiling his ballot? This approach (whilst certainly a thoughtful response to an ill-defined question) would have had no practical effect on ballot’s outcome.
I might also point out that many aspects of Christian thinking are themselves suspiciously indicative of black and white thinking – the view that everyone can be neatly divided into just two types, “sheep” and “goats”, being one example.In another case of how not to give a straight answer, one blogger asks “What does God think about Brexit?” before responding:
I’m certainly not going to tell you what side I think God supports, because I don’t know.
At least he’s honest. His solution (surprise, surprise) is that we put our trust in God in such uncertain times – we should, it is claimed, have “supreme confidence” in God even if “the earth give(s) way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). Notice how one Christian sounds very open-minded (it is good to make people reinterpret their positions) and another sounds anything but (the idea that God loves you should never be questioned, even if the world around you is literally falling apart). The latter sermon was posted on April 1, but was, I think, meant to be take seriously.
Other Christians are more forthcoming about which way they think Jesus would actually vote. Christian Remainers use such arguments as “patriotism is a form of idolatry”, “‘Take back control’ is a sign of selfish ambition”, “The bus campaign” (which falsely implied that money saved from Brexit would be used to boost the funds of the National Health Service) is an example of deceit, and the Irish Border issue (physical checkpoints to regulate the flow of goods and people makes co-operation harder, and could serve to inflame simmering tensions) as a grave threat to peace.
Some draw an analogy with marriage, saying:
If a marriage is struggling, our first duty as Christians is to work to save it, not to rush headlong for the exit.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, argued for Remain on the grounds that Brexit would likely hit the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK, and on the grounds that, particularly with the US taking a more inward-looking stance, it was important for the UK to work co-operatively with other nations.
Christian Brexiteers, in contrast advance such arguments as “God approves of nations” (nations are referred to in the new Heavens and New Earth – Revelation 21:24), “the EU is not representative of the people it claims to govern”, and “Controlling and reducing immigration would also make it easier to help the genuinely needy refugees”.
The most amusing argument I’ve seen equates the United Kingdom with one of tribes of Israel before claiming that Brexit is actually a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy! I think I hear the sound of theological barrel bottoms being scraped.
One of the supposed selling points of the Christian religion is that faith can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). With some Christians hoping for Brexit and others hoping for Remain, one thing’s for certain; lots of Christians are going to find their prayers unanswered.
• Editor’s note: Pink News yesterday revealed that a candidate for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, is a critic of LGBT+ inclusive education programmes.
Cuthbert, above, was selected as a candidate for the single-issue Brexit Party, which was formed by ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage to stand candidates in the May 23 European Parliament election after a delay to Brexit.
In a 2017 column for right-wing website Spiked, Cuthbert, a part-time English teacher and educational consultant, slammed education watchdog Ofsted for “forcing a religious school to include homosexuality in the curriculum.”
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Cuthbert report)