Widespread ignorance of theology wasn’t just bad for Tim Farron, it endangers us all


Having worked with Tim Farron, albeit briefly, I found myself respecting his integrity, his ability to communicate with anyone and his capacity for what the educationalists now call ‘grit’.

I didn’t think, when he was elected, that he would steer the Liberal Democrats in the direction they needed to go. But I was wrong – both on Brexit and enterprise, he had begun to carve out a distinctive new approach.

I doesn’t go without saying that I was very sorry that he stood down, but I was. Hugely.

His explanation for doing so revealed an unremarked gap in British politics, and especially on the Left. I’ve no doubt that people will jeer when they read this (if they do), but I regard ignorance of theology – which so many commentators displayed – not just as deplorable, but also dangerous.

It maybe that Tim wasn’t wise to sidestep the questions about the sinfulness or otherwise of homosexuality with an appeal to the Christian concept of sin (“we are all sinners”).

And of course it was a sidestep. We are all sinners, but what I suppose the interviewers wanted to know was whether he believed a predilection for your own sex made you more so.

But I realised, after the volleys of self-righteous tweets afterwards, that people didn’t understand what Tim meant by ‘sin’ – as if sin meant somehow right and wrong, rather than simply whatever separates people from God.

You can’t necessarily be blamed for sin (a theological dispute), but it is something that you also can’t avoid. It is part of being human.

Here we get to the nub of the issue. The Left takes offence at anything that smacks of ‘original sin’. But there are reasons why, I believe, a concept of human intractability underpins human freedom and we should cling to it.

History suggests that it is ideologies that believe in the perfectibility of human beings that end up with such disappointment that the guillotine seems to be the only option.

There is also a problem with the opposite, regimes that are so cynical about humanity that they are quite happy to oppress them – but we know that already. The Left’s ideal of sinlessness simply fuels tyranny. It is part of their hidden puritanism, another example of Hilaire Belloc’s maxim that all political difference was actually theological – if only we understood it.

Tim Farron’s stance was the Christian one. He believes, I think, in the sinfulness of all of us, which implies a kind of tolerance. And that is what his record shows.

It was sickening to watch the interviewers and tweeters needling away at him, in ignorance of the theology, simply because he believed something. Meanwhile, government ministers – who show every sign of believing nothing – were asked no questions about that.

Even when they tried to negotiate a pact with the Democratic Unionists, who do believe something – and very intolerant it is.

What is the matter with the Left that, when they get a whiff of religion close to home, they break up the furniture? Why are the commentariat convinced that Christianity has something to do with homosexuality, though Jesus doesn’t mention it once in the gospels?

Nearly a decade ago, I wrote an essay in Reinventing the State, arguing that ignorance of theology and fear of religion was feeding fundamentalism. After Isis, I believe that all the more so. As G. K. Chesterton said: when formal religion disappears, people don’t actually believe nothing – they start believing in absolutely anything…

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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