BBC Radio 4:Tim Stanley - 07/06/2018


Good morning. A new law in the German state of Bavaria says that a cross must be hung at the entrance to public buildings. The state’s premier Markus Soder, explains: “We want to give a clear signal that people have a desire to stress their identity.”

Indeed they do, and I have some sympathy for it – but this law is part of a bigger, political movement that demands scrutiny. Across Europe and America, populist parties are presenting themselves as defenders of a Christian civilization under attack.

Now, there’s no denying that for centuries the predominant culture of the Western world has been Christian – or that polls show many people are worried that the historic identity of their countries is being eroded by mass migration.

But I have to ask, is it really immigrants who are responsible for changing Western culture? I would direct the populist’s attention to consumerism, secularism and the fact that since the 1960s, vast numbers of Westerners have simply stopped going to church. You can’t blame a migrant for the rise in disbelief. That hanging crosses has to be imposed by law to make them more visible is revealing: it implies that people aren’t voluntarily doing it for themselves.

But the thing that most troubles me about the politics of Christian identity is that it implies a Christian society is defined by it calling itself Christian. Faith is about a lot more than that.

Take mass migration. On the one hand, there is the argument that if you allow vast numbers of non-Christians to settle in a European country, it might possibly change forever the Christian identity of that nation. On the other hand, an authentically Christian society, I would’ve thought, would be defined by a desire to help those most in need. “I was a stranger,” says Jesus, “and you invited me in.” I perceive a tension between Christianity as a cultural identity and Christianity as an ethical framework. I define the latter by the words of Mother Teresa who summed up Christianity this way: “Give until it hurts.”

In the middle of the Calais migrant CRIsis, I met a Christian who told me that in general she didn’t think the British government should let in so many people, and yet she was organizing the delivery of supplies to the migrant camp. Why? Because it was the stories of individual suffering that touched her and directed her personal actions. Whether you have faith or not, I believe we’re all engaged in one way or another in a struggle to determine what is right and what is wrong that goes much deeper than the politics of religious symbolism.

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