Roget’s thesaurus is my constant companion. Invaluable. Marvellous.
It allows me to say that you may be astonished, surprised, bewildered, nonplussed or disconcerted to hear that I have been taken aback, startled, staggered, rattled, jolted, unsettled, thrown a curve, left open-mouthed and somewhat overwhelmed by the revelations unfolding before me in the course of the US elections.
I never imagined that American and English people might be so different.
Specifically, I am amazed by the difference in political emphasis and ideology between English Christian voters and American Christian voters.
On Facebook I have a number of US Facebook Friends whom I have never met in person but who seem a cheerful enough bunch, keen to share recipes and post links to lovely hymns and photos of concoctions in jam-jars or sewing projects in progress or sleeping grandchildren (I never have any to post because I do almost no cooking and my grandson never sleeps, just larks around and tosses things in the air). These are mostly calm, sane kind of women (and a few men), with stories to swap about nutritious food and cloth nappies (diapers) etc, and I had been labouring under the illusion that we were all singing more or less from the same hymn sheet in our approach to life the universe and everything. Until the US election. Oh my goodness!
Suddenly the masks were torn off and I was stopped in my tracks by the passion – and in some cases vitriol – concealed underneath.
In England, you see, we think Barack Obama is a Good Thing. In England, “socialism” is not a dirty word. Our right-wing party – the Conservatives – are centre-to-left-wing by US standards. In the Church of England I would hazard a guess that there’s a fair admixture of Labour (socialist), Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters. The Lib Dems are a kind of moderate, middle of the road bunch, who are closer to the socialist Labour party than to the Conservatives with whom they currently share government in uneasy coalition. Among (English) Quakers I have encountered almost wall-to-wall socialism – if there are any Conservatives they’re keeping very quiet. In the Methodist Church, the heavy predominance is Labour (socialist), though there’s a good sprinkling of Lib Dems and a few Conservatives here and there. In general, social traditions find more Conservatives in rural parts, and concentration of socialism in urban contexts – or this is the impression I receive. My own political views are instinctively Conservative (by UK not US definitions) but I have always voted Labour because Labour party policies offer the greatest provision and protection for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society - and I figure that where Conservative types like me can probably make it under any style of government, some who have not had my benefits and advantages in life
might would struggle under a Conservative régime. But I feel sympathy with most political points of view, and overall I feel that it is impossible to legislate goodness, and a country will flourish with almost any political system administrated with compassion and integrity and degenerate under any administration corrupted by selfish hypocrisy.
In England, I have never met a single person who thinks the National Health Service should be scrapped, or that the poor should receive no welfare benefits, or that the government should not provide a comprehensive and responsible programme of education, or that the elderly and disabled should not receive protection and provision by the state. It’s how we look after each other. It’s how we make sure that if you have gammy legs or failing eyesight or mental illness but you have no family to take care of you, even so you don’t get lost and forgotten or fall into despair. Our welfare state is how we make sure that however poor you are you can still get your teeth fixed and have a college education. Even our most right-wing Tories (Conservatives) who would never dream of educating their children outside the private system, and rue the day that the evil socialist government stopped them riding to hounds to tear foxes limb from limb for a fun day out in the English countryside, stop short of confessing they think the National Health Service should be scrapped as only the poor rely on it.
In England, many (but by no means all) Christians feel deeply opposed to abortion, but few would like to see it outlawed – not because they want to see abortions happen, but because they don’t believe you stop abortion by making it illegal. They think you slow down the abortion rate by lifting children out of poverty, by seeing that young single mothers are housed and provided for, by providing state education and health care and birth control facilities, and a proper social welfare system so that fewer pregnant women are pushed into despair. They believe that making abortion illegal simply relocates it to the back streets, with all the associated infection, infertility and death.
The rows over homosexuality in the English church are as loud and deeply felt as they are in America. But in London our buses ride around sporting ads proclaiming “Some people are gay. Get over it”: and increasingly that is the common view. Increasingly the approach of individual Christians, whatever their private views, is towards live-and-let-live. The tendency is increasingly to refrain from seeking to dominate, regulate, espalier, define, strait-jacket or circumscribe the private relationships of others in conformity with one’s personal ideology.
The reason the English Christians I know are in favour of Barack Obama’s election are that he espouses the ideals that we perceive as godly: he openly cares about the environment, equality and the poor. He wants to put in place a welfare safety net to rescue the poorest from exclusion. He wants to respect the conduct of private relationships as a personal matter. He believes in the alleviation of the poverty that increases the likelihood of abortion, rather than criminalising it and leaving the poorest to their despair. In England, we like this – not just me, most of us. Not all of us. Racism exists in the UK as well as in the US, and I have encountered it plainly expressed in the few English voices I have heard raised against him.
But my jaw has dropped in astonishment when I have read on Facebook what my US Christian Facebook Friends (except the Quakers) have to say about Barack Obama. What has surprised me most of all is the rationale for the opinions I have read. If I had encountered reasoned opposition on carefully argued grounds to a range of identified policies, that would have seemed reasonable to me. But I have heard that he is corrupt, that the entire state of the US economy is all his fault (and nothing at all to do with intransigent divisions in the US Congress - if I've got the right term there - and Republican stonewalling), that America has barely survived the last four years and cannot imagine how they can ever get through the next four (but you might like to read this). And I have come across (again and again) only three complaints against him: 1) He does not wish to criminalise abortion, 2) He does not wish to criminalise homosexuality but to accord equality to homosexual people and 3) Obamacare – the provision of a safety net for the poorest of the poor and the requirement upon everyone else to take out responsible health insurance.
Yes, my US brothers and sisters in Christ are (in some cases) vehemently, furiously, specifically opposed to the establishment of social provision to rescue the poor from sickness and destitution. This is what they believe (I would not have believed this if I had not read it with my own eyes) will be the ruin and downfall of America. In England, we are puzzled.
This morning I left a comment – and then thought better of it and deleted it – at the end of a thread of US Christians spitting tacks about the election of Obama as president.
I feel that in the last month I have been introduced to a side of the American psyche I had never imagined, never dreamed, might be there. We are so very, very different. Divided, as has often been said, by a common language. It seems that when we say the word "Christianity", it is code for two completely different social schemas.
I recognise that my task is to listen and learn, to respect and observe, until I understand the riches that lie always in diversity. For now I am still just comprehensively gobsmacked.
[Your views as always are most welcome, and I am most happy to be set right by US friends if I've got this all wrong; but in this issue especially it helps if opinions are securely based on evidence. And both US and non-US friends, please be considerately respectful to those who may disagree, in expressing your thoughts.]
I was seized with a desire to wear checked skirts after a visit to the Darvell Bruderhof. However this proved to be merely derivative/plagiaristic – the checks being far too strong a pattern for my real preferences.
A lacy orange vest. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Fab. D’you know their music?