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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Day 2017

The day dawns with deep fears for the safety of Coptic Christians, who make up around 10% of the population of Egypt, and for other Christian groups in various parts of Asia; not least, in Syria where Easter makes them a prime target for attacks that will get maximum publicity worldwide.

President Assad's prime defender, Vladimir Putin, will make an ostentatious church appearance and his friend the Patriarch of Moscow will avoid any embarrassing reference to the oppression of Syria's Christians [as usual]. Angela Merkel is likely to attend church, in a low-key manner; and will recall that the one occasion when she publicly appealed to the Christian tradition in European politics was when she had taken the reckless decision to admit an unlimited number of 'asylum seekers' into the EU without the consent of other states which are reluctant to accept a quota that she now wishes to impose on them. Several of the heads of state and government who refuse to accept into their countries significant numbers of alien [non-Christian] migrants will go to church also; and will hear variant interpretations of the Gospel.

Mrs May [like Mrs Merkel, a parson's daughter] will be in church, and Mr Trump will certainly make clear his adherence to the Christian message. Nobody of significance in China will be seen in church. In most countries, religious observance by public figures is not considered significant. Nonetheless, the Queen of the United Kingdom will publicly display the simple faith that she has maintained all her life; and the public messages issued by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury will have air-time on all the UK media.

Will all this have any resonance in political action in the coming days? Will the supposedly life-changing recognition that Jesus Christ is asserted to have risen from the dead, after volunteering for a very cruel form of execution, have any impact on the doings even of the most ostentatiously observing political leaders? Almost certainly not.

Does that matter? Did it make any difference that men by their thousands [on both sides] were marched to drumhead services and then straight into the trenches to continue the slaughter of the First World War? Did the 'benefit' that they had gained from being admonished and/or sprinkled with holy water affect their attitude to life, killing and death? Surprisingly, in many cases, it did. In my youth I knew several impressive and wholly sincere Christians, clerics and laity, who ascribed their faith to experiences in the First World War: and my own father was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in consequence of a 'conversion experience' while serving in the artillery during the Second World War. This is a most peculiar thing: while high-level political action does not often arise from religious observance, millions of individual actions by ordinary individuals are motivated by religious principles. There is every reason to take statements by Mrs Merkel and her Interior Minister in favour of mass acceptance of refugees as being concordant with the European Christian heritage were simple statements of what they believe to be the case. This has not resonated positively with Mr Orban, Mr Fico and the other  EU heads of government who have been unmoved by that rationale.

It is impossible to say that religious belief is immaterial to political action in this century, but the words of the old hymn resonate ever more appositely: "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform".

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