Churches are generally ideal venues for public debates. But there’s a slight chance that a speech about the perils of EU membership will be interrupted by a homeless person doing a pee in the corner. At a debate on Christian responses to the EU at St James the Less church in Pimlico last night, Giles Fraser left off quoting his hero Tony Benn on the evil of unaccountable power in order to do his muscular Christian duty and help eject the man, who spluttered invective as he departed. Did I imagine it or did he shout ‘Fexit Brexit’?
A bit earlier, his opponent Ben Ryan had set out an optimistic vision – not Project Fear but Project Hope. He argued that the European project was never simply about economics: it was based in a Christian moral vision. He said that the desire for pure sovereignty was illusory, and reminded him of Milton’s Satan who preferred to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven. Nice to see Christians taking the heat out of the debate.
When Fraser took to the floor, he cleverly affected to have misheard Ryan at first, thinking he was proclaiming Project Pope. Being a Protestant, he said, he was wary of the message of ‘unity first’ that Ryan, a Catholic, had offered. It’s quite rare to hear some Protestant-Catholic ding-dong in an Anglican church these days. Ryan soon admitted that the EU was largely founded by Catholics and remained much more popular in traditionally Catholic countries, but said that we should get away from tribalism in assessing its worth.
Both claimed to care not a fig for the economic consequences of ‘Doing the Right Thing’. Fraser said that he would happily eat grass for a year to regain his sovereignty, which added a touch of Nebuchadnezzar.
I was hoping for some discussion on whether Europe was still a Christian idea, and whether the EU should articulate a position on religion (isn’t it ideologically flimsy if it evades the issue?). But I suppose such questions are not directly relevant to this referendum, which is partly why it’s so boring. Even religious polemics can’t inject much life into it.