Recently, standout Tory backbencher and British conservative cult hero Jacob Rees-Mogg (left) was interviewed by BBC personality Jo Coburn, “JoCo” to her sycophants. Rees-Mogg has become somewhat of a celebrity in spite, perhaps, perversely, because of, his extreme social conservatism, leavened by sublime communication skills, spine and urbane authenticity.
Though a mere backbencher, Rees-Mogg has been installed as the bookies’ favourite to be the next Tory leader. The focus of the BBC interview was the former investment banker’s strong Catholicity and in particular his traditional Catholic views on marriage and abortion.
While deftly batting away leadership questions, Rees-Mogg nonetheless took offence at JoCo’s implication that folks with old fashioned views – she naturally made reference to Rees-Mogg’s (delightful, in my view) nickname of “member for the 18th century” – are beyond the political pale. JoCo also suggested, somewhat nastily, that Rees-Mogg would feel, at best, uncomfortable with his gay colleague Ruth Davidson’s impending motherhood. He replied that he loved babies – he has six children – what a joy they are, and good on you Ruth! (Not a view held by all in those fair northern isles these days, it would seem). Forty-love Jacob, serving for the match.
Then Rees-Mogg went so far as to accuse her, on air, of bigotry. She rationalised. The BBC management rationalised.
Astonishingly, the UK Catholic Bishops – or at least two of them – roused themselves sufficiently to enter the fray, supporting publicly the social conservative facing on-air, in-your-face liberal intolerance. Catholic bishops in the UK, and most other places, are normally unrousable in these circumstances, but on this occasion they spoke out and took to the BBC with vigour.
The question posed by JoCo, ultimately, was whether someone with “eighteenth century” views on hot button moral questions could today seriously aspire to lead a “conservative” party. Actually not an unreasonable question, even if impertinently posed.
This antipodean contratemps may not indeed be a million miles from the position of Australia’s own Catholic conservative parliamentary rump – aka Tony Abbott – removed forcibly from office by a cabal of secularist liberals with the “right views” on the matters discussed by Rees-Mogg and JoCo. Jacob said at least once that the Tories were a “broad church”, a favourite image of John Howard’s when the Liberal Party in Australia was, indeed, a broad church and able to govern successfully with the two factions largely under control.
Can Catholic conservatives, that is Catholics with orthodox views on moral questions, hope to aspire to positions of influence, let alone leadership? Yes, Abbott was replaced by a “catholic”. Some of the other senior members of the Black Handed wets, like Christopher Pyne, are “Catholic” as well. But what I am referring to here are Catholics who, first, accept the old orthodoxies of the faith – all of them – and who, second, do not see religion, even their own, as a merely private affair that actually need not inform their behavior in the public square or their votes in the parliament. There are “catholics” everywhere in politics. For goodness sake, I understand that mad Daniel Andrews is one. Pelosi. Biden. Yesm, that Biden who officiates at homosexual weddings. The late Ted Kennedy, Mr Chappaquiddick himself.
It is the holding of old fashioned views that would seem to preclude holders of those views from high office, not just the nominal Catholicism. Ask Bill English, former NZ Prime Minister and orthodox Catholic. Even Bill claimed that he had “modified” his view of same sex marriage after its relatively non-controversial implementation across the Ditch. The tugging of the forelock towards the zeitgeist is seen as necessary these days to tick that box and to remain politically acceptable.
How much was Abbott’s Catholicism a ticking time bomb for his leadership, which one might argue he achieved only by accident in 2009 due to that other guy’s incompetence? Who knows? But JoCo certainly would think it likely.
The Rees-Mogg kerfuffle touches more broadly questions of the place of social conservatism in the public square, including in Australia. This is way more important than the mere political aspirations of would-be leadership aspirants, and touches deeply matters of free speech and freedom of thought in these times of turbocharged culture wars.
Recently we saw the de-sponsoring of Christian footballer Israel Folau who (when asked specifically for his views on the matter) had said that he believed that homosexuals go to hell. Without debating the finer points of his theology here, and there is much to be said on the matter, Folau was vilified by the usual suspects. More than this, his financial position was impacted. He lost a sponsorship for his expressed views, and was hauled before the rugby powers that be, and, one would guess, was subject to a little pep talk. A bit of re-education, even. All very corporate.
Libertarians, as always, ask the so-what question. The company sponsoring Folau is free to sponsor him. Folau is free to express his views. The company is free to end sponsorship because of his views. Then – boom – customers are free to turn on the sponsoring company if they disapprove. The big question is about process, not outcomes. If everyone acts freely, then what is the problem?
All very good, very easy. It all works. But does it?
The estimable Michael Sexton has raised these very questions in the media, in a piece on the implications on religious freedom of the passage of legislation giving to OK to same sex “marriage” and on the forthcoming publication (we assume) of the Ruddock Committee’s consideration of these matters. It is one thing to be concerned about churches, and the offence taken (apparently) by homosexuals at churches actually teaching their principles AND living by them, for example by repeating the thousands-of-years-old teaching that homosexual acts are sinful. The “offence” taken at this by homosexuals, many of whom would not believe in a Deity, is perplexing. More relevant, maybe, is their claim of discrimination when they are denied jobs in religious organisations like schools. But what about the “free speech” of others who object (say) to same sex marriage, on religious or even non-religious grounds? Say, because homosexual acts and the attendant lifestyle spread disease.
Sexton’s take on Folau’s situation is a bit like the libertarian’s. Sad or not, he states, these days sports people are sponsored and, sad or not, they had better tone down any views they might have that might clash with those of the sponsor. (This is all a bit ironic since, in reality, perhaps save for Alan Joyce, the CEOs of most companies couldn’t give a rat’s about gay rights. They just like being popular with the ruling ideas of the age, viz social liberalism and secularism. They just want to let the world know they are hip to the scene. We call this “virtue signalling”, and its hold on all manner of organization is mighty powerful.
The Folau matter is merely one instance of many thousands across the Western world, seemingly growing by the day, where disagreeing with a majority view or an “official” on a hot button issue. One finds scholars losing their jobs for questioning the rotten “science” at the heart of climatology (as we used to call it at school). One finds teachers in the UK being bullied in staff rooms, sometimes forced from their jobs, for questioning educational orthodoxies. We had an Australian archbishop hauled before a human rights body for having his Catholic schools teach the Bible on sexual matters. We are accused of “hate speech” when we audibly state our beliefs that someone things might offend someone. People lose face, lose income, lose jobs, lose careers, get bullied on social media, and on and on.
As I have argued before, we are at war. (Or at least I am). And libertarian soothing noises about “free” processes that deliver decidedly queasy outcomes fail to staunch the bleeding wounds of our decidedly illiberal body politic, let alone to advance our position on so many cultural fronts. Smart alec JoCo, alas, might be on to something. For the sake of Britain, one might hope she is wrong about Rees-Mogg specifically. But about the power of the zeitgeist, and the fear (not of God) it apparently puts into the minds of participants in the public square, JoCo speaks wisely, if unintentionally.