This blog offers a ‘Christian Left’ perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture, sustainable living, Scottish independence and constitutionalism.
This blog is inspired by a radical approach to Christianity in the tradition of progressive dissent going back to the Lollards and the Levellers. It is based on an active commitment to Christian ethics and values, an immersed but critical engagement with the Christian scriptures, narratives, aesthetics and culture, and a lively if idiosyncratic Christian faith.
When I started the blog, I would have defined myself as a ‘Unitarian Christian’, but over the years I’ve gradually moved away from that. I’m still deeply influenced by the Quaker and Unitarian traditions and still see much of value in them. I’m still skeptical of conservative evangelical understandings of the Christian faith and I still oppose fundamentalism in all its forms. However, I’ve come to a somewhat more orthodox Trinitarian position – I can now, more or less, affirm the historical creeds without too much crossing my fingers behind my back.
In this journey I have been inspired by the teachings of N T Wright in particular, who has done much to convince me that there is more to Christian life than a binary choice between brittle evangelicalism and ineffectual liberalism – that the Gospel is not about ‘how to get to heaven when you die’, but the good news that God is restoring and redeeming the whole cosmos, and that we are invited to take part in that process.
I’ve come to an appreciation of the wider universal church, with a renewed respect for the moderation, tolerance and via media offered by Anglicanism at its best (although I cannot accept the idea of an established religion).
A recurring theme of this blog will be the attempt to define a viable and compelling vision for an ethical politics of the Common Good, rooted in humane values, social justice and ecological sustainability, that can revitalise the intellectually and spiritually moribund democratic left.
I associate myself, politically, with the ‘Christian Left’. I’m motivated by my understanding of Jesus, the Old Testament social justice prophets and the great Social Encyclicals. I believe that Christian Democratic concepts such as solidarity, personalism, subsidiarity and mutualism offer an attractive and feasible ‘middle way’ between the harsh collectivism of bureaucratic socialism and the solitary, uncaring individualism of global corporate capitalism. I’m also inspired by Left-Liberal thought (L. T. Hobhouse, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge), Distributism (G. K. Chesterton, E. F. Schumacher, G. R. S. Taylor), Ecologist thought, and the Civic Republican tradition (Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Giuseppe Mazzini, and modern scholars like Philip Pettit, Maurizio Viroli and Stuart White, amongst others). But mainly I just rant about how evil and wicked the Tories are.
Tony Benn said you can place anyone’s politics by which side they would have been on at the Battle of Marston Moor. I would have been a Roundhead, fighting for Parliament and people, for a better world and a fairer deal. My heart breaks when I see the injustice that surrounds us. I am moved with compassion for those who are poor, exploited or downtrodden, who are denied justice, a voice, a choice, and a decent life. My righteous anger is directed against all who deal corruptly, who selfishly amass excessive wealth, who abuse power or privilege, or who inflict pain or suffering on the weak. (The problem, of course, is that really doing something serious about all this, and not just being a lazy hypocrite with an internet connection, would involve hazarding my own comfort and convenience. The Holy Spirit is still working on this, mostly through slaps on the back of the head.)
Much about modern Western life makes it hard to be happy. It is hard to be happy because it is hard to live well, to flourish in a way that fully develops our whole personality. So much is virtual. We are too often isolated in a fake, sterile and impersonal world, which diminishes our sense of agency and our empathy for others.
Often people are forced by a market system that uses rather than sustains people into a ‘hobson’s choice’ of no work or overwork – penury or stress – that obscures the true value and affirming quality of work, and makes it hard to maintain a healthy balance. So I’m interested in the art of living – the virtuous life, the pursuit of eudaemonia, the ‘well-rounded’ character, the balanced and harmonious life.
I think that being together physically is central to this: eating together rather than grabbing a sandwich, talking together rather than typing into a computer (irony), singing together rather than listening to produced music, working together rather than isolating ourselves in our own personal task, having good sex with the one we love rather than masturbating alone in front of a computer, crying together rather than trying to blot out our solitary sorrows in the abuse of drink or drugs, laughing together rather than seeking ‘personal entertainment’ in an electronic box.
So, my radical leftism is rooted, in some ways, in quite traditional values. The family matters. Friends matter. A sense of community matters.
We are on one planet. It’s the only one we have. We all have to live here. And we all have to look after it. This means that being ecological – having systems of production and consumption that recognise we are part of a fragile ecosystem – is not a luxury for the yurts-yoguarts-n-yoga brigade. It’s vital to the well-being of us all, and part of our duty to our fellow creatures and to future generations.
I’m strongly in favour of Scottish independence or a form of democratic home rule that is very close to independence. This is not because I’m a nationalist, but because I see it as an opportunity for revitalising our democracy and building a fairer, more just and sustainable society.
By training and by profession I am a constitutional scholar, and constitutionalism and democracy are recurring themes.