An Anglican temperament?

A faint disdain for enthusiasm is the mark of a decayed and effete culture

Paul Goodman posts today in Conservative Home on “What Cameron can do next for the churches”. I’m not a natural Tory, I’m too right-wing – but the title caught my eye and so I opened it and started to read. I didn’t finish it; I’ve no slight interest in the details of what the Prime Minister can do for the churches. Some way into the article there was a wonderful statement of what Mr Goodman calls the “Anglican temperament”, which was of interest because it defines almost everything that I am NOT – member of an Anglican church though I am.

He writes of David Cameron that he “brings to politics what might be called an Anglican temperament: a certain moderation of tone, a reluctance to get hung up about doctrinal differences, an attraction to consensus, an aversion to “enthusiasm”, a sense of establishment and his own place in it, and good manners (most of the time).”

It’s worth going through clause by clause!

A certain moderation of tone – I’ve never been accused of moderation of any kind, much less of tone.  I have been accused of being “abrasive”, “alienating”, and “undiplomatic”.  As an older man I acknowledge the importance of moderation of tone, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me – I have to work at it.

A reluctance to get hung up about doctrinal differences – here is the heart of modern Anglicanism and one of the core identifying features of Englishness. The English, Anglicans or otherwise, don’t really think that what they believe matters. But doctrinal differences do matter. What we believe is a matter of life and death – in fact, as Mr Bill Shankly famously said of football, it is much more important than life and death. For me, both as a Christian and as a political animal, I do embrace doctrinal differences – I am partisan. The challenge for me and others like me is to be partisan without being tribal, to allow doctrinal differences without violent disagreement – in other words, agreeing to disagree.

An attraction to consensus – Mrs Thatcher infamously had a low view of consensus. I recall that the vicar that married my wife and I telling us that he required his PCC to be unanimous in their decisions. While consensus has it’s uses in places, at the point of crisis, it is a way to avoid making a decision. Colin Powell says that the true leader will have to annoy all of the people some of the time. At the end of the day, someone has to decide – and “consensus” may have to be over-ridden for the greater good.

An aversion to “enthusiasm” – Having spent 25 years in churches where there is a drum kit and people wave their hands in the air, I am not averse to enthusiasm. Bring it on: in fact, a faint disdain for enthusiasm is the mark of a decayed and effete culture.

A sense of establishment and his own place in it – I owe nothing to the “establishment”; I came from nothing. I am the first person on either side of my family in all of the twentieth century, to attain to higher education. I’m not part of the “establishment” – I went to a comprehensive school and a polytechnic, and many people in the “establishment” would likely cross the street to avoid a meritocrat like me. If I could say anything to the “establishment” it would be this: the status quo is never acceptable.

Good manners (most of the time) – As my kids would say: weeeell. Mr Cameron is well known as someone who can be quite breathtakingly rude to people below his station – yet without once being guilty of what he would call “bad manners”. Being decent and courteous to others and “good manners” are not the same thing.

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