Blair, Brown, Catholicism and The Protestant Work Ethic

BlairSo, after 10 years and a roller-coaster political ride, we say goodbye to Prime Minister Blair, and hello Prime Minister Brown. Personally, I’m optimistic. I think we desperately need some new energy, vision and impetus in British political life, and I think Brown is the right man for the job.

What has been interesting though is Blair’s drift in belief. To paint in broad, caricatured strokes – it is well known that he wants to convert to Rome – he began a Protestant, committed to a highly personal drive of ‘whiter than white government’ and ‘ethical foreign policy’ – an almost Puritan agenda, and has drifted, personally as well as politically, towards a more Catholic position. Wanting to be an icon. Admiring the pomp, the finery, the rituals, the power… desperate for confession.

Blair, I feel, knows he has really screwed up on Iraq. What will be interesting will be whether he sets up this Middle East envoy task as something akin to his own political purgatory – working off his sins in order to restore his place to heaven.

Brown, even more than Blair, will be bringing his Protestant work ethic, and seemingly wearing it on his sleeve. He has just released a book of his father’s sermons. And, unlike Blair, appears more willing to ‘do God’.

Classically, Catholicism has been the grand and powerful institution of the church. And it has had to do some desperate spinning over some pretty horrific abuses. Blair too has been the king of spin. And Brown’s first job is going to have to be to try to restore some faith in the political system. Will he dissolve Parliament soon in order to do so? Perhaps here’s another Charles I ceding to Cromwell… Does Brown see himself as our Lord Protector?


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4 responses to “Blair, Brown, Catholicism and The Protestant Work Ethic”

  1. I’m thinking more along the lines of David and Solomon. The brand ‘david’ with temple and zion was all about spin – Read the last few chapters in 1 Chronciles for an example of that. The temple ideology is new labour, all image, spin and projection of a particular brand. Even when David was on his way out he wanted to leave a legacy, the temple, yet he still controlled what this would look like.
    And david screwed up big time, which involved sending inncocent people into war. However, I’m not sure if the Ugly Rumours were quite up with David’s harp playing though!
    I’m optimistic too…but can’t help feel that I’m also being a bit naive, like i was all those years ago when Blair swept into power. I hope not.

  2. I like this a lot.
    And you’re right… I get the feeling that if Brown screws up then we really are in trouble. This is one last chance for politicians to show they can be trust-worthy. Sadly, though, I think the media will therefore be sniffing extra hard for a scandal.

  3. If I may say so then there is some classically mistaken evangelical theology/ecclessiology here. Blair has never been a Protestant – his journey has been from being an Anglo-Catholic to being (it seems) a Roman Catholic which is not the big journey that many evangelicals (and the popular media) seem to think it is. Given his family circumstances it is entirely understandable, and an a “transfer” that I have accompanied several faithful Anglicans on.
    Secondly theologically “purgatory” has never been in classical theology (Eastern or Western) a place where a person “does time” for their sins. Purgatory is about preparation – but the preparation comes from the love of God rather than the efforts or intentions of the human being. Far more likely is that his first hand experience has led him to the conviction that until Israel/Palestine is solved then there can be no real peace. Finally shame that Brown said to the Independent yesterday that one thing he wasn’t going to speak about is “God” – that is too personal apparently! I don’t think the Puritan approach will work – it needs a complete rethink of national politics and its accountability to parties and people – and I don’t think Chameleon Cameron or mundane Ming have the answers either. I think we are heading for meltdown and only then can the new form emerge from people politics with the growth of independent political characters. A kind of “emerging politics” which mirrors emerging Church.

  4. Good points Tom. While I agree that Blair has come from the AC tradition, the popular perception of his first government was certainly ‘puritan’ in my view. Personally, I’ve no problem at all with his conversion to Rome. I just think the journey is interesting in the light of his political life.
    Having just watched his final Prime Minister’s Questions I have to say it was hard not to feel a little moved by his passing. ‘The End’ – a sweet exit I felt. And in the light of the above, what is also interesting is that perhaps his greatest legacy may well be the fusing of Protestants and Catholics into power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
    Whether he can find the platform for dialogue for a similar coup in the Middle East is still in doubt. What platform he had appears to have been bombed to pieces by his relationship with Bush. Which is a huge shame. I believe he really wanted to make a difference in the region; I fear he now won’t be able to. And God does it need some miracle. A very depressing state of affairs indeed.