David Cameron’s Favourite Bible Verses

A lovely touchy-feely story in the Guardian today about David Cameron’s favourite Bible verses.

For someone who once likened his religious faith to the “patchy reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”, David Cameron‘s public professions of belief continue to intrigue.

In his contribution to a project celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the prime minister chose to write out two verses from Philippians rather than select a pair of biblical verses on the shortlist compiled by his office.

Philippians 4:8 and 4:9 read: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

All good so far. Good Pauline passage. No problems.

And then.

Brace yourselves.

A Downing Street spokesman explained Cameron’s choices: “The reason he chose those verses is because he’s always liked them,” he said.

They contain the central message of the Bible about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can. There is no hidden meaning and I wouldn’t read between the lines.”

Right. That’s the central message of the Bible. Be nice. Be good. Go on, you can do it folks.

Pity the central message of the Bible is the absolute opposite, that you can’t lead a good life, that you can’t do the best you can and that that means you fall way, way short of the mark and need a Saviour.

Either the spokesman decided to make up a nice explanation as to why Cameron chose those verses and so is completely misrepresenting Cameron to us (in which case Cameron let him lie) or Cameron in reality has absolutely no clue what the Bible is all about.

Namely, Jesus, not us and our failure to lead good lives and do the best we can.

27 Comments on “David Cameron’s Favourite Bible Verses

  1. Axe to Grind much? It’s perfectly possible to interpret Cameron’s comments in a Happy Clappy Alpha course way i.e. the bible is ABOUT leading a good live (with the, of course, vital additional clause “which we can’t do by ourselves hence our need for Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour”) And of course if the ultimate Good means accepting Christ (which might be commensensical if not strictly Calvinist ;-)) then “leading good lives” hardly need necessarily denote a mere bunch of good acts.

    But there’s no winning for politicians like Cameron. C.f. the unhinged American religious right who assumed that Bill Clinton can’t be a Christian (republicans hardly being strangers to sex scandals) because he believes in godless socialist medicine and isn’t a wing-nut proto-neocon creationist. Salvation, for that kind of Christian, presumably being a matter of agreeing with Newt Gingrich and Robert Bork. Sad.

    (Clinton, if memory serves, opted for Romans 7:19)

    • So, cerebusboy, you accuse Peter of having an axe to grind, and then go on to rant about the ‘Religious Right’. Again. My irony detector just exploded.

      • @Wicked conservative Sounds like your “Stick Up For People/Ideologies Who Might Be on My Team” unintentional- irony detector is on the fritz, tho ;-)

        The point remains. If you think David Cameron is a wishy-washy “heir to Blair” then his “good lives” comment will indeed seem unscriptural. But you could do the same thing with any Bible verse and any politician. Hence invoking Clinton; context is great, you should try it sometime…. ;-)

  2. So, cerebusboy, you tell off Peter for having an axe to grind, and then start ranting about the religious right. For a change. My irony detector just exploded.

        • @Wicked conservative Hmm, am (perhaps unsurprisingly) leaning towards this experience-validated “New Revelation” myself ;-)

    • @Wicked conservative Also, meant to say WC : I finally managed to post a reply to your Daily Mail points, but that thread has now been closed. I’ve copied it below – don’t want you to think I just ignored your points! Yours in respectful dialogue,

      Two wrongs don’t make a right, surely. If someone is criticising The Daily Mail then pointing out that other newspapers are as bad, even if true, hardly negates the original point. And, like many people, I would say that the Daily Mail is (to the best of my knowledge) especially bad. For example, a football website I read (www.football365.com) recounted an opinion piece the Mail had on Wednesday, in relation to the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand (alleged) racism incident and basically advised players who suffered such abuse to just get on with it (!) :http://football365.com/mediawatch/7266895/The-Page-That-Is-Off-To-Say-Hello-To-Dr-Buckles And only a day later the Mail specifically named witnesses (QPR players) who can refute John Terry’s denial of racist abuses (meaning that he was therefore guilty of said offense):http://football365.com/mediawatch/7268612/The-Page-That-Wasn-t-Really-Concentrating No other newspaper ran with that story.

      • @Wicked conservative

        And whilst (not least the Murdoch titles, The Times aside) are hardly paragons of journalistic virtue, The Daily Mail’s Amanda Knox coverage does sum it up:http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/2011/10/03/invented-eyewitness-accounts/ I suppose it could be argued that Churchill himself, “Why England Slept” etc, accepted that there may be seeming valid reasons (or at least cultural forces) that might lead to people accepting appeasment or isolationism in regard to Nazism. Such people were demonstrably wrong however. And of course I quite agree that cheerleaders for murderous communist regimes deserve just as much condemnation. I certainly would never defend ludicrous guardianista dictator fanboys like George Galloway. However, if I wanted to call the Daily Mail fascist I would do so. My point might seem opaque, but that’s because of my sub-Mailer High Church-y torturously purple prose style, not any attempts at obfuscation. And I’m not sure that the point is that opaque anyway. To use your own examples, saying: “The Guardian has previously supported murderous communist regimes and left-wing dictatorships.Such attitudes are, to say the least, not exactly a clear vile contrast to the Guardian’s current ideological priorities” is a quite different point to saying “The current Guardian is a supporter of left-wing dictatorships and murderous communist regimes” We are talking about points on an ideological spectrum, and degrees of bias. Nuance is important. The decline of newspaper sales means that online versions are becoming increasingly important (c.f. the times going behind a paywall), so, even if there is clear blue water between the print and online versions of the Daily Mail, it’s not necessarily illegitimate to criticise “The Daily Mail” on the basis of its website. I read Martin Samuel’s football articles there every Monday, and, to judge from this admittedly brief browsing window, it does look like all the regular print articles/journalists are available online. —

        Ryan D’ God may reduce you on Judgment Day to tears of shame, reciting by heart the poems you would have written, had your life been good.

        • @cerebusboy@Wicked conservative I stand amazed Ryan. You managed to write a coherent comment engaging with right-wing tabloid excess without once resorting to “Daily Heil”, “Bigot”, “Homophobe” and the like.

          Simply stunned.

        • @peterould@Wicked conservative Come now Peter, your rule here is that “homophobia” should not be applied to fellow commentators. One which I agree with! Do you think the word is similarly without merit when applied to institutions? If so, let me know and I’ll happily comply!

          However, I’m not sure that striking “bigot” from one’s vocabulary would aid accurate description of the tabloid press. “Call a spade a spade” is surely a virtue than you, me, Jill and everyone else on this thread would or should agree with!

          And, dare one say that a comment-worth-engaging-with is a comment-worth-engaging-with, irrespective of whether it uses “Mail” or “Heil”? :-)

          I certainly don’t think that a comment that referred to (e.g.) “guardianistas” would be *necessarily* without merit!

        • @cerebusboy@Wicked conservative I think you know the point I was making Ryan. You managed to make a substantial argument without once having to launch into any level of pejorative. Were it so always…

        • @peterould@Wicked conservative Duly noted, shall try and keep all posts up to that standard.

          However, more broadly speaking, I don’t think you could deny that much of the language on these areas is contested, and that one man’s pejorative is another’s usefully-sharp astringent (for example, I used “one man’s” in that sentence quite naturally, but I’d imagine that many a feminist would object to its basis!). So any pejoratives are certainly not necessarily meant that way (“homosexuality” would be considered a medicalising pejorative by some groups, as would “homosexual practise” for example)

        • @peterould@cerebusboy@Wicked conservative

          Perhaps next he will manage a post without invoking my name! I haven’t opened my mouth on this thread yet! I do hope I don’t give you bad dreams, Ryan. :)

        • @Jill@peterould@Wicked conservative Tee hee! Some people would love to be so infamous, Jil!

          Apologies, however, for any offence caused.

          And, for the record, my dreams tend to be more of the Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman variety ;-)

  3. Well, I expect that if you asked most people what they thought being a Christian was about they would say something about being nice to each other and loving animals, so not too far distant from what Downing Street said. But why are we interested in what politicians believe or what their favourite Bible verses are anyway? I would much rather have an honest agnostic/atheist PM and ministers than someone who professes some Christian belief but by their lives and attitudes denies that profession.

    The trouble with his proposition ‘ that you can’t lead a good life, that you can’t do the best you can and that that means you fall way, way short of the mark and need a Saviour’ is that it isn’t true either, at least no for me and the majority of Christians who don’t belive in the penal substitution theory of atonement. Christianity and some Christians are very good at trying to make everyone feel very guilty because that way they can control how they act and what they believe.

    • @Richard Ashby

      ‘The trouble with his proposition ‘ that you can’t lead a good life, that you can’t do the best you can and that that means you fall way, way short of the mark and need a Saviour’ is that it isn’t true either, at least no for me and the majority of Christians who don’t belive in the penal substitution theory of atonement’.

      Richard, belief that you need a Saviour is a basic Christian belief that is fundamental. Belief in the penal substitution theory of the atonement is a belief in the mechanism by which salvation is accomplished. The second is legitimate area for disagreement between Christians. The former is a non-negotiable fundamental.

      From the Nicene Creed:

      “For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven”

      • @PhilipCole

        Goodness me, only one response. I am suprised that I haven’t been inundated with those who would want to put me right. Perhaps I am beyond saving!

        • @Richard Ashby@PhilipCole The great thing about Calvinism is that it really cuts down on the amount of time someone needs to spend on evangelism ;-)

        • @cerebusboy@PhilipCole

          And of course, you don’t have to worry about being saved or not. Either you are or you aren’t and there is nothing to be done about it. Makes life so much simpler.

  4. Fairly typical wallpaper stuff from DC – a man who comes from a PR background and whose whole political career is based on PR rather than policy. I can’t be bothered to critique his comments on ‘the central message of the Bible’ as they’re so utterly predicatable. A perfect politician for a bland, media dominated age in which politics has died.

    • @PhilipCole Come now, ‘spin’ (the concept) was hardly invented by Blair and Campbell. I’m reminded of the Nixon-era politican who promised to “tell the truth” which prompted many a wag to note that “he wanted to take the truth out of poltiics”. New media might have presented different challenges, but Clinton and Blair (say) were “superb politicians” in a manner (working the room, bringing together opposites, nullifying threats, inspiring support etc etc) entirely consistent with their antecents.

      Was Thatcher’s “Sermon on the Mound” any more Biblical? Cameron might be wrong in his opinions of the Bible, but that still compares favourably to any kind of politician trying to suggest that Scripture ‘supports’ their particular political party.

      Also worth noting that Cameron appeared on the front cover of Attitude and supported Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better” anti-homophobic bullying campaign. Wonder how that squares with Jill’s contention that most straight people are Daily Mail reading homophobes ( I’m sure many a Labour voter would wish that the Tory party was still anti-gay, as it would ensure their continued unelectability!)

  5. Whilst it’s pretty obvious on other grounds that David Cameron is a ‘semi-detached’ Christian, is it so clear to all Christians that the grace/works balance is quite as you put it?

    Perhaps he’s just a heretic rather than having absolutely no clue? (Speaking as, from a Calvinist point of view, another heretic myself!)

    • @Lazarus The interesting thing, sociologically speaking, is whether his views (as spun) are representative of the normal, MOR everyday C of E churchperson-on-the-ground, or whether the evangementalist takeover of the C of E has really (as many have warned) come to pass. How many in either of those groups have the sorts of rags-to-riches (i.e. drug addict finds Christ, turns life around) narratives so conducive to the orthodox message of Christianity that Peter and others think Cameron is downplaying here? It might be justifiable to speculate that, lacking in ex-prisoners/hard men etc etc, your stereotypical evangelical church consists of nice middle-class people who, if they weren’t Christians, would probably behave much the same, except they wouldn’t persecute gays. Am not sure that’s a better “tribute” to the HCF than Cameron’s (mad props to Sam Cam tho…. Queen of the MILFs! :-))

      • @cerebusboy I’m not sure Cameron is downplaying the rags to riches narrative: in some ways, he might be seen to be confirming the ‘get Jesus and you’ll become nice’ (which is perhaps just a rather more banal version of rags to riches). Peter’s point I took to be more radical: centrally, it’s not about what we do at all. (Which, of course, can be twisted into, ‘Whatever I do is fine’ -and hence your ‘would behave much the same’. But no theology is immune to perversion.)

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