The “global” Occupy movement (global in this case meaning coastal American cities and European capitals) harbors ambitions of holding the powerful to account, and toppling the institutions of the political and economic establishments. In the case of the movement’s British franchise, however, the only institution being laid low is the Church of England.
The Occupy crowd took up residence outside St Paul’s Cathedral almost three weeks ago after police stopped them setting up camp outside the nearby London Stock Exchange. The protest forced St Paul’s to close its doors to the public for the first time since World War Two, causing splits among church officials which have led to the resignations of three members of the clergy.
As at Wall Street and elsewhere in the US, the protestors are mostly well-off young white students and professional activists killing time between riots, with the London numbers boosted by young foreign backpackers scarcely able to believe their luck at finding free camping in the heart of the capital. While the Wall Street campers have been braving unseasonal snow storms the Brits have proved rather less hardy: thermal imaging cameras revealed that in London, many tents were being left empty at night as the protestors snuck home to comfortable beds in well-to-do districts of the capital.
But when they do turn up for the day shift, their demands are every bit as nebulous as those of their American cousins; they also take the same irony-free attitude to obtaining sustenance from the nearest available capitalist pig, enjoying coffee from Starbuck’s and food from the local Tesco grocery store (Tesco, which owns the Fresh & Easy chain in the US, is a favorite target of British anti-capitalist protestors).
Of course the British media has covered the protest with a seriousness that belies its low attendances, frivolity and incoherence, with the BBC and the Guardian newspaper leading the adulation. Cathedral staff were initially sympathetic to the protest, but a split developed after St Paul’s was forced to suspend services amid fears for the safety of worshipers, and the tourists who bring in vital income to pay for the upkeep of the 300-year-old landmark.
The first casualty was Dr Giles Fraser, the cathedral’s Chancellor. Dr Fraser, a card-carrying member of the Church of England’s desperately trendy ‘social justice’ faction, threw in his lot with the protestors early on, asking police not to intervene. He resigned in protest at plans to evict the protestors, which he claimed, rather theatrically, would amount to “violence in the name of the church”.
Dr Fraser was followed out the door by the Dean of the Cathedral, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles. Mr Knowles had backed the eviction plans, and fell out with officials who, spooked by Dr Fraser’s resignation, decided it might be a better idea to let the camp remain. A part-time chaplain at the cathedral has also quit. Now it appears the Occupy camp will be allowed to stay until at least Christmas, while St Paul’s, and the Church of England in general, have become a laughing stock.
What has been especially dispiriting about the episode is the willingness with which so many senior church figures have offered themselves up as useful idiots for the Occupy movement. When he resigned from St Paul’s, Dr Fraser, in what was almost a parody of “trendy liberal vicar” speak, told the media that he could imagine Jesus being born in the protest camp.
If he had, he would likely have been brought up an atheist. Those protestors who have a semblance of an ideology, as opposed to those who are just there for the party, are leftists, and it’s doubtful that more than a handful will have ever seen the inside of a church. But they’ve cleverly leveraged the moral authority of the church, such as it is these days, to lend respectability to their cause (a “What would Jesus do?” banner is prominent in every TV news report).
The media have played along, with the Guardian in particular guilty of astounding chutzpah. The bible — if you’ll excuse the expression — of Britain’s secular leftists has run a stream of patronizing opinion pieces invoking the teachings of Jesus; a favorite theme, along with WWJD? is the story of Jesus chasing the money changers from the temple, from which several columnists have extrapolated that Jesus was the first anti-capitalist, and that if he were around today he’d be bunking down with the protesters.
This from a paper that misses no opportunity to sneer at traditional values in general, and at Christianity in particular (other religions, notably Islam, are of course exempt from such mockery). It’s said there are no atheists in foxholes, and they’re equally hard to find when Christianity can be co-opted to advance a left-wing cause.
The muddled but broadly sympathetic response of cathedral officials is hardly surprising. Under the leadership of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Church of England has been relegated from a pillar of British public life to an ineffectual advocacy group for assorted liberal causes.
Williams is Michael Moore in a dog collar. In his student days he was labeled subversive by MI5 for his links to all manner of left-wing groups, and far from mellowing with age he’s brought every foolish idea with him to the church’s highest office. Two years after 9/11 Williams declared that terrorists “can have serious moral goals,” and in 2008 he called for elements of sharia law to be adopted in Britain; more recently he called the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government’s relatively timid and eminently sensible austerity policies “frightening” in an article for a left-wing magazine.
But for sheer left-wing idiocy Williams outdid himself when, allying himself with the London protest, he backed calls for a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions. Leaving aside the arguments for and against the tax itself, Williams said it would help to advance the “moral agenda” of the Occupy protestors. You read that right: Williams, regarded by many as one of Britain’s most serious thinkers, believes society’s moral defects can be addressed by government tax policy; that morality itself can be legislated. (Prime Minister David Cameron, in no hurry to introduce such a tax but forever running scared of bien pensant liberal opinion, claimed rather implausibly that Williams “speaks for the country” on such issues).
The notion that growing inequality and excessive profit-making by bankers are primarily a moral problem rather than the result of crony capitalism, statism and misdirected regulation, and that moral behavior (along with ‘fairness’) can be compelled by government, is one of the few discernible components of the Occupy movement’s belief system. That is, of course, nonsense, but if we accept that greed and irresponsibility are indeed factors, then the question of from where we get our values necessarily becomes part of the discussion.
Leftists may claim they get their values from their superior intellect, or from Gaia or the New York Times; others will argue that we learn from parents or teachers, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing explanation of what, if not religion, is the foundation of our moral code. Yet the anti-capitalists of the Occupy movement, while shrieking about morality, refuse to acknowledge a religious connection, other than when it suits them to enlist the services of Rowan Williams and other clerical dupes.
The irony of the St Paul’s debacle is that, to the extent that a crisis of morality is the cause of our current woes, it’s been caused in large part by the relentless liberal-left campaign to eradicate religious belief — a campaign which has been particularly successful in Britain, and which has been aided in no small part the by the propensity of the Church of England, and Williams in particular, to preach class warfare and other crude left-wing politics instead of the Gospels.