My take on these four people? Other than that all four of them have been exposed to power in ways that the rest of us never experience, each of them has had to make decisions that affect lots of other people. Personally I would be utterly useless at that, which is why it’s best I just preach about it.
It is odd how God gets the blame when things go wrong, but we are quick to claim the success when it all goes well.
Look at the four ‘quotes’. Whether they are real or manufactured sort of isn’t the point. They could be affixed to anyone and still give cause for reflection.
Tony Blair: prayed to God whilst deciding something. The decision he subsequently took I disagree with profoundly, and 15 years on so do many others. The war in Iraq has not brought anything but a further 15 years of conflict that has spread across the Middle East. But his quote is rather benign when compared to George Bush. His is chilling. God told him to do something. That empties my soul. It brings me up short that a man in charge of ‘the free world’ not only hears the word of God in that way, but then tells us that he acted as he did “with God on his side”. The arrogance is astonishing. Think about it: he doesn’t mention praying, but just says it boldly: God told me to do it. As such he is instantly comparable to Peter Sutcliffe or any other psychopath who hears voices. Yes, he may have prayed and heard the word of God, but, as I will explain later, this is not the same thing as acting on the will of God by going to war.
Then there’s Hillary Clinton. Her words are encouraging. God looks after her. That is a core tenet of Christianity. God is a personal God who is interested in us all, and guides us in our difficulties. She describes a relationship, and whilst not speaking of prayer implies that it happens because that is the most usual means we have of feeling God in our lives. But it is not necessarily a kneeling with hands clasped prayer. I pray walking and cycling, driving and sitting, playing my guitar or reading a book. Prayer is a moment of realisation that God is near and as such it can be revealing how we respond to it. Hillary Clinton has a Christian awareness of God, and sounds like a mature and still maturing one, as well.
Theresa May… Hmmm. As ever she seems to not really have thought things through. If this is what she said, then, I am not sure how she could have arrived at the idea that she is right from her faith in God. That sounds like a bold and dismissive attitude on my part. How do I know? I am not her, and I am certainly not God. But this kind of certitude that arrives from anything to do with God always worries me because God is not a guide book, nor a tour guide, nor an instruction manual, nor a guru, nor a source of solutions.
So, this is the bit about praying and acting I mentioned above.
Prayer is not a matter of a shopping list or a visit to the doctors. Neither is it like bumping into a good friend at the pub. Prayer is a moment of reflection and of internal exploration that opens you up to spiritual conversations. Call these ‘conversations with God’ if you like, or just moments of mindfulness. That’s a popular term currently. But mindfulness is essentially prayer. What ‘happens’ as a consequence of prayer is not at all concrete nor conclusive. Most of all it is a space in your head to have a look around and a contemplation about the whole thing of being alive. Prayer is part of the cost of living. We do it, and we are uplifted by it. But it does not, and rarely, if ever, is followed by certainty.
And that is why both Blair and Clinton, whilst a little bit pious, are less concerning than Bush or May. Both Bush and May are using God to justify their actions. Blair almost is, but I wonder: has he prayed since then about what he did? I hope so. And I’d love to hear what he says about those prayers. But they were prayers ‘about’ an action, not necessarily leading to the action itself. Clinton even more so: she simply says that God walks with her. She doesn’t say that this leads to any action per se, but that her life is lived as a struggling Christian.
Bush and May are clear: they do as they do because it makes them right with God. I worry a lot about that. It says, “I am right, and I know I am because I have invoked God’. It leads nowhere but darkness. What does Bush think now? Was God right to speak as he did? What hubris! May also: so, she’s doing right because she knows she is. Circular arguments never end well.