Theresa May’s comments about her religious beliefs have attracted a good deal of hostility and suspicion. The Sun’s headline is particularly silly
GUIDE ME, O THOU GREAT THERESA
Theresa May says her faith in God will guide our path out of Europe as she admits Brexit is keeping her awake
Several critical voices have quoted the headline of this Independent piece:
Theresa May reveals how her faith in God gives her confidence she is ‘doing the right thing’
However that summary rather flattens the original interview for the Sunday Times:
How does she steel herself for making tough decisions? There will be many of them ahead.
“It’s not so much about how do you steel yourself, it’s about, ‘Are you doing the right thing?’ If you know you are doing the right thing, you have the confidence , the energy to go and deliver that right message.”
That sounds rather moral. “I suppose there is something in terms of faith, I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do. It’s not like I’ve decided to do what I’m going to do and I’m stubborn. I’ll think it through, have a gut instinct, look at the evidence, work through the arguments, because you have to think through the unintended consequences. But ultimately, if you’ve done all that and you believe it’s the right thing to do , then you should go and do it — but sometimes it is difficult.”
She didn’t bring her faith into the original comment about ‘doing the right thing’, only commented on it when prompted, and she did so with characteristically Anglican hesitancy – ‘I suppose there is something .. and so forth’. I don’t think she is claiming direct (party political) guidance from God. Her processes – whatever you think of the conclusions she reaches – seem rational and considered. Perhaps the faith element lies most in her determination to do what she thinks is right, to carry it through, rather than in any claim her own precise sense of what is right in relation to, for example, Brexit negotiations, has any divine mandate. Personally (and not for partisan political reasons) I’d rather she nuanced that ‘if you know you are doing the right thing’ because there must be so many decisions where you simply can’t have that kind of certainty.
Given that she is a Christian, given that she seems to have had a nudge from the interviewer to discuss her moral code (and possibly the interviewer directly raised religion in a question), I don’t find anything particularly outrageous in her comments. There’s a huge difference between seeking to impose the rulings of a religion through government, and having a sense that your own outlook and way of approaching difficult questions has been in some way shaped by your faith.