QHARP criticism of the " Christian attitude to politics came from a lay author and lecturer this week. Speaking at a weekend Newman conference in Coventry, Mr. Brian Wicker, lecturer at Birmingham University and author of Culture and Liturgy, accused Christians of regarding politics as a dirty word.
Because they did not see the importance of political life, he said, they failed to contribute to the growth of society. And the reason they kept aloof from politics was because they viewed society as nothing but "an extended family".
This view, he explained, "is no longer adequate in a modern industrialised world". It implied that the only important relationships between people were "close personal relationships".
POLITICAL RELATIONSHIPS Equally important, he said, were political relationships. It was the political approach, rather than the personal, that would develop society as a whole. And only an approach which took in the whole could be expected to Christianise society.
The mistake was in trying to draw a firm line between personal contacts and politics. But Christians were not the only ones guilty of doing this. Bolshevik and Fabian socialists made the same mistake by going to the opposite extreme of regarding politics as supreme, and they over-rode personal values in the process.
The fact that Christians were muddled over the matter had shown up in recent discussions over how the "works of mercy" could be performed "in a society which is itself organised for human welfare".
Some felt the Christian's duty was to "fill in the gaps" left by the State and to stand on the sidelines criticising institutionalised welfare. Others said the Christian should take part in the work of the State and help it to transform society as a whole.
NO CHOICE The answer, said Mr. Wicker, was "there is no choice. Both have to be followed".
This could be done, however, only by recognising "the political interest which is intrinsic to all social life — in work, in education, in local government.
"This is what a socialist and participating democracy is about, and it is what the Christian needs to see himself committed to as the natural extension of his faith into social life."
He concluded: "The kind of society we fashion now will have a significant effect upon the kind of society we can expect to experience in the final consummation of man's history, which is what we mean by the Kingdom of God, or heaven."
Mr. Terry Eagleton, editor of the Catholic left-wing journal, Slant, told the conference that Christians' commitment to politics meant that they "must oppose Western capitalism".
He explained that Christ, by his Resurrection, had replaced the belief that men were saved by "mystic and special rites" by the belief that they were saved "through the quality of their relations with each other in human society — that is, through politics". .
"We belong to Christ," he went on, "insofar as we belong to each other. And we belong to each other insofar as we are part of a society which, in its political institutions. allows us to do so."
But today's system of capitalism, he said. did not allow people to achieve this sense of belonging to one another, because it was built "on human division and alienation".
"We are living in a society in Britain where I per cent of the people owns two fifths of the total private property. How, in this situation. can work be felt as a building of community?"
TRULY A COMMUNITY He continued: "We need a society which is truly a community, simply in order to have a real Church at all. The quality of a Mass depends on the quality of the ordinary communal life we bring to it.
"To make a community of Western society now means radical political change in the direction of socialism. ft means realising that community we have in the liturgy within the ordinary processes of social life, in factories and schools, fighting class-division and inequality of every kind."
He added : "If Christianity is really to face the problem of economic exploitation it must recover a truly scriptural sense of itself as a revolutionary force, fighting a merely liberal compromise with the modern forces of evil."
The other sepakers were Dr. Edwin Brooks, a member of the Birkenhead County Borough Council, and Dr. R. A. Markus, senior lecturer in medieval history at Liverpool University.
In another talk Dr. R. A. Markus senior lecturer in medieval history at Liverpool University. said that Catholics traditionally tended to accept the authority of the State, with a deference that "leads to atrophy of moral conscience". Their attitude was based on a b-lief that the State's function was to co-operate with the Church in helping men reach heaven.
But today the Church was shedding "her old triumphalism". "We are ready to accept a radically secular society on its own terms," a society that allowed complete freedom of belief, being itself "agnostic about where the good for man lies".
He added: "This is the kind of society which is emerging in some parts of the world. It is the kind of society which the Church is beginning to accept and to live with."