Christopher Smith ponders politicians ‘doing God’, and the job satisfaction ind
Eastertide is with us at last, and we can set aside our fasting and do a bit of feasting. And our politicians have given us some Paschal food for thought on the subject of religion. The Prime Minister tells us that he finds `a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance when he goes to services at St Mary Abbotts. He has, I think it is fair to say, ‘come out’ as a Christian in a way in which none of his three immediate predecessors did: John Major seems to have been a sort of non-churchgoing Anglican, Tony Blair was keen to be a Roman Catholic but was not allowed to talk about religion, and Gordon Brown talked about it but never actually went to church.

Tying themselves in knots

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition has come out as an atheist, but has declared that, although he is an atheist, he is a Jewish one, and he is pleased that religion provides nourishment; for some of us at least. He thinks that it is ‘a really important thing for a lot of people’

The cynic in me might point out that Bran flakes also provide nourishment, and central heating is a really important thing for a lot of people, but I shall forbear. Still, warming to his theme, Mr Miliband opines that we are really lucky in having the Church of England as an established Church. It’s a great institution, not just in the spiritual faith and nourishment that it gives to lots of people, but also the good work it does in communities:

Now, to be fair, young Ed, being a Jewish atheist, is clearly not comfortable in the world of theological discourse. For him, ‘nourishment’ is a good thing, and so is good work in communities, so religion in general and the Church of England in particular must have something going for them. But isn’t it interesting how politicians can and do tie themselves in knots on the subject of belief in God? If Tony Blair was right to fear that the public would think he was a ‘nutter’ (his word) if he talked about religion, then one can see why: politicians had perhaps fallen into the trap of assuming that religion, or at any rate the practice of a religion, is something which ‘normal’ people just don’t do. And if they do do it, they don’t talk about it.

Oddly comforting

Yet funnily enough, we often find that, when we do talk about it, people are quite interested. It is rare, I think, for us to find someone who becomes actively hostile when we mention that we are churchgoers. It does happen, certainly, but generally people are respectful and perhaps oddly comforted by it. They are gently pleased to learn that, even if they cannot quite bring themselves to cross the threshold of a church, somebody they know can.

The Prime Minister, in fact, was quite explicit in his address to guests at his Downing Street Easter Reception. `I’m proud to be a Christian myself,’ he said, and he talked about his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He also said something about evangelism, which was couched in terms of ‘getting out there and making a difference’ (my paraphrase), and he spoke warmly of the way ‘people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds:

Well, maybe it’s the easy option for politicians to talk up the social action aspects of the Gospel, and perhaps we would like to hear a little more about the belief which is the springboard to that action. But in the meanwhile, let’s give them some credit for moving away from we don’t do God’ towards a more open and respectful conversation.

Job satisfaction

I wonder where the job of politician falls in the hierarchy of happiness? Perhaps readers will have noticed the recent Cabinet Office survey of job satisfaction which placed clergy at the top — most satisfied in life out of the 274 occupations surveyed —and publicans at the bottom. Now, whether the satisfaction comes from the occupation or from trust in God is another question, but the survey makes for interesting reading.

Somewhere in the middle were plumbers and electricians, but I was most struck by the variation in the index. The score is out of 10, and clergy clock in at an impressive 8.3, significantly ahead of the second place, chief executives, on 7.95. Fiftieth come teaching assistants on 7.6, 100th are radiographers on 7.4, 150th come health and safety officers (yes, really) on 7.3, 200th are the cooks on 7.1, bin men come 250th on 6.8, and there is a sharp falling away at the bottom, with those landlords on just under 6.4. Bang goes my fantasy of retiring to a little country pub.

Primary school teachers fare pretty well (13th), and better than secondary teachers (still reasonably high at 34th), with school inspectors two places behind them. Journalists come in at 111, estate agents at 154, web designers at 188, and quantity surveyors at 234, in spite of their average earnings of nearly £40,000 per year. Unsurprisingly, then, money isn’t everything when it comes to job satisfaction. Conspicuous by their absence from the list, though, are politicians. Perhaps there are too few of them to show up in the statistics, but they might appear higher in the index than they otherwise would if they are prepared to carry on ‘doing’ God.