Faith & Reason: In the Tory quest for unity can you hear the music of the spheres?

It is easy to be cynical about the tactics politicians employ, but some political clichés point us to truths that lie deep within the human psyche

Share
Related Topics

On Tuesday they were standing close enough to throw their arms round each other and dance the can-can. Michael Howard, Theresa May, Michael Ancram and Oliver Letwin were practically hugging their then leader Iain Duncan Smith and his wife Betsy as they gathered around the microphones outside Conservative Central Office. The message was in the body language - "We are united."

Barely more than 24 hours later, we knew what had really been going on. Even as they stood together, the campaign for Howard had already started. David Davis had made his approach to Howard and been given a good talking to. And Oliver Letwin was to leap into a press conference with other potential contenders, Liam Fox and Stephen Dorrell, with such speed that it was impossible not to suspect it had been planned in advance.

For the Conservative Party, unity had become the holy grail. Cynics might suggest that it was merely unity of the photo-shoot variety and that the party was united only in prioritising unity. How long-lasting is the urge to suppress disagreement in pursuit of electoral success remains to be seen.

The Tories would be well advised not to look to the Anglican Church for inspiration. Tomorrow the gay priest Canon Gene Robinson is due to be consecrated as the US Bishop of New Hampshire in a move which is tearing conservatives from radicals, South from North, the sexually straight from the queer.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is desperately trying to hold the Church together and this week set up a commission to tackle the crisis. He has put conservatives such as the Primate of the West Indies, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, alongside liberals such as the Primate of Wales, Archbishop Barry Morgan, and given them nine months to come up with a plan.

In working so hard for unity, the Archbishop has paid an enormously high price. He has hurt people. He has deserted earlier allegiances. He has lost the warm respect with which he was welcomed as a figure in British public life. All that for the sake of unity - why does it matter so much?

I think there is a clue to the answer to that question in the feast which the Church celebrates today: All Saints Day. Today is a high point in the Church's year, particularly in Latin America, where Christians put on their glad rags, get out their trumpets and party through the streets.

This day is essentially about unity, the unity of the living with the dead. The ancient church had a wonderful vision of all the saints streaming through the pearly gates wearing golden crowns. Some define saints to mean only those who have been canonised by the Church, but others say it is about all who have died. I think it includes those who have yet to be born as well.

On All Saints Day we remember that the saints are involved in the lives of those of us still on earth. The hymnwriter Walsham How suggests that if we listen when we're weary we can even hear them singing, a conceit that reminds me of the music of the spheres.

The imagery of All Saints Day is lush. It's all white robes and heavenly multitudes and trumpet sounds. It's sensuous, heroic and triumphant. The mood I find easy to grasp. What I find harder is knowing what to do with it. Are we really being asked to believe that we put on golden crowns when we die? Will we literally see each other face to face? Do I go and find my mum and dad amongst the multitude and give them a hug and a kiss? If so, how old would they look? How can we continue to be individuals if we do not have bodies? And how can we have bodies when we know our bodies either rot in the earth or turn into ash? If, as Christianity suggests, I have another sort of body when I die, then in what sense is it still me? Could I still be me if "I" existed in another form?

Christianity does not answer those questions. Nor does Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism or Sikhism. I don't think atheists have got it quite right either. The most we can say is that the mystery of death is something we have not yet cracked.

All this stuff about saints streaming through pearly gates wearing golden crowns is the best image Christianity has found to express that unity. Other faiths have other expressions. But what does seem to be a common motif in all the world's religions is the idea that the living and the dead are connected - and that after death we continue to be part of the whole. It all suggests we have a primal need to feel we belong to God and to each other. It might even be a primal need because it is a primal truth.

It's easy to be cynical about the plotting, the scheming and the backbiting of the Conservative Party. It's hard not to despair at the bigotry and the impasse of the Anglican Church. But both institutions, for all their shortcomings, are fumbling towards an important goal.

At its best All Saints Day, in all its glorious imagery, reminds us that not even death can separate us. To celebrate this day is to work for unity. And during those times when it all seems overwhelming and far too difficult to achieve, you never know - if you listen carefully you might just be able to hear the saints singing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific