The politics of love

One of the features of this election, as probably all election campaigns in this country, was what could be called “binary arguing”.

One side puts forward a proposal, on immigration or welfare or some such, and the other side argues that it is wrong and puts forward another – usually an opposite – proposal. In this election, given the number of smaller parties, there were often more than two proposals, but the same principle applies; if one view is right, then the opposite, and all other views, must be wrong.

This could be seen at work in just about every interview, television debate or “question time” style panel discussion. Every politician remained committed to the proposals of their own party and argued for them and against everyone else’s proposal, more or less regardless of any points that were made.

It’s what leads to that tiresome aspect of modern politics, the refusal of a politician to answer a straight question (“yes” or “no” are words that are almost never heard), even while saying such things as “I’m glad you asked me that” or that often heard phrase “we’ve made it very clear”.

It is further reinforced by the way in which the House of Commons is arranged, with two rows of seats facing each other, designed, it seems, for the kind of yahboo politics that is such a turnoff.

Reality, meanwhile, is more complex. We know there are usually more than two sides to every story, every argument; the world turns with what the poet Louis Macneice called “the drunkenness of things being various”. Not everything one party says on an issue is true, nor is everything another party says untrue – though few seemed convinced by those politicians who set themselves up as a modulating voice ready to provide brains or hearts as required. Interestingly, in our day, the Christian churches, probably because of their handson experience of life in just about every community in the land, have become expert at pointing out the complexities behind the soundbites of politicians.

Interesting, because at least some of the criticism often levelled at religion is that it tries to peddle certainties in an uncertain world. Jesus, you could say, was a master at turning things around. To the accusers of the woman caught in adultery he said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” and when they asked him if they should pay taxes to Caesar, he replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.

In other words, work it out for yourselves. You know how complex the world is, you know where your loyalties really lie; you know that the world is complex and that solutions to problems have to be found amid all the mess and often chaos of existence, not in a politician’s soundbite or a party’s manifesto.

Nor, probably, in a religion’s doctrine. All these things can help to frame discussion, lay out arguments, but when reality bites, where real people have to make the best – the most – of the lives they are living, what’s needed are those central Christian virtues of listening, coming alongside, forgiving and accepting… and loving.

As Jesus said, “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” – perhaps that’s the Christian church’s calling in the post-election world – the politics of love.

Michael Docker