Faith & Politics

An Interview with Lord David Alton, a founder of the Jubilee Campaign.
by Brother Mark Thelen, LC | Source: Good News
Good News recently had the opportunity to interview Lord David Alton of Liverpool, who for the past 10 years has been an Independent member of the House of Lords. He served for 18 years in the House of Commons, has published 10 books, is a Fellow of Saint Andrews University and Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University. He was a founder of the Jubilee Campaign.

Q: What motivates you to give witness to the faith in today’s political world?

A: People sometimes insist that their faith is entirely a "private" matter and that it should be kept separate from their political life. I disagree. I think that the reason people put forward that argument is because they are fearful that they will be measured against the yard stick of their religious beliefs and be found wanting. In reality, all of us fall a long way short but we shouldn't let that incapacitate us or let it lead to the emasculation of our faith.

My own faith has been a consolation in times of personal defeat and in the heat of political battle it has been a source of encouragement and strength. I am deeply attracted by one of the central messages of the Gospel, that every man and woman is made in God's image and that human dignity must always be upheld. That belief, along with the breath-taking story of the New Testament, that through the Incarnation, Redemption is open to us all, is the thing that makes sense of life, and all the manifest suffering in the world.

Of course, the big temptation is to allow politics to become your faith and for political allegiances and arguments to supersede and trump your religious ones.

Q: What has the faith meant for you personally?

A: My late mother was an immigrant to England from an Irish-speaking area in the West of Ireland. I was born in a very poor part of the East End of London and was brought up on lot of simple West of Ireland truths - "the family that prays together, stays together", "it's better to light a candle than to curse in the dark", "it's in the shelter of each other's lives that the people live", and so on - and I saw how faith wove together our extended family and whole communities. Later I wanted to go deeper and understand my faith better.

As a student I was elected to Liverpool City Council, and then as an MP, and throughout the many twists and turns that have followed my faith has always been there to act as both a lode star and as a safety net.

Q: Why do you think Benedict XVI has insisted so much on the theme of hope?

A: Many of Pope Benedict's vociferous critics have been confounded by his encyclicals on love and hope. They assumed he was simply going to issue a series of interdicts and rebukes. Anyone familiar with his extensive writings knew this was an absurd caricature. His encyclicals are extremely accessible and speak directly to our deepest needs. He seems to understand the deep malaise affecting western society and that even though we have never been materially more prosperous - although that may be about to come to an end - we have never been less happy. The new idols of materialism and the dependency on tranquilizers and illegal drugs illustrate how little hope there is in people's lives. Pope Benedict realizes that these deeper needs must be met and that there is a moment for new evangelization.

Q: Where do you find hope in today’s world?

A: In recent years I have been in some seemingly hopeless situations - Darfur, Burma, Congo and North Korea among them. Yet, I am always deeply inspired by how people who seem to have nothing can hold on to the things that matter. In North Korea I heard of a group of Catholics in a place called Anju who have been worshipping by themselves in the rubble of their church for the past 50 years. What a contrast this is with those of us who have it so easy by comparison. In many parts of the world Catholics are suffering greatly for their faith. They are a source of inspiration and we should do all we can to assist and help them.

Q: What advice would you give to Christians today?

A: It's very easy to feel like the boy in one of Robert Louis Stephenson's poems who says "the world is so big and I am so small, I do not like it at all at all." We should not become depressed or daunted by seemingly impossible odds. We only need to do what we can do and then leave the rest to God. St. Augustine gave the best advice: pray as if the entire outcome depends upon God, and work as if the entire outcome depends upon you. 

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