We should be very cautious when someone tells us that they can interpret history’s direction. Nevertheless, events over the centuries suggest large multinational political units have not fared well. That intuition is reinforced by the warning that humanity’s quest to achieve greater political centralisation is ancient and sinful- a reasonable interpretation of Genesis chapter 11, verses 1 to 9 and especially verse 6.
Competition between countries has sometimes caused immense suffering, especially through war. Nevertheless, that competition has also been used by God’s providence as a device to contain evil. (There is even a respectable historical argument that it was the plurality of states which provided the crucible for modern democracy and industrialisation.) Evil would have been greater if, instead, we had a few super states or, perish the thought, a single world government.
I concede that back in the 1940s-50s the European project aspired to peace building. For some, it was even a desperate attempt after the blood-letting of 1939-45 to shore up what Winston Churchill called “Christian civilization”. The Catholic tradition, given its supra-national church, found the institution-building aspect of the project more congenial than some Protestants did; the Lutheran Ludwig Erhard, German Economy Minister during1949-63, called the proposal to unify Europe a, “macroeconomic absurdity”. In practice, greater European unity was probably as much the result of peace as its cause. The European Community/EU produced the obscenely wasteful Common Agricultural Policy, the Euro and associated mass youth unemployment and a not very coherent response to the collapse of Yugoslavia. Here in Northern Ireland we should be grateful for Europe’s interest in our own troubles, but the EU role in the political process has been greatly exaggerated.
So, I voted Leave not through any antipathy against the other European nations but simply from a desire not to be part of an “ever closer union”- admittedly, the EU’s stated intent to punish the UK for leaving suggests this is one club we are better off leaving. The laws which effects our lives should be made by a government accountable to us. It is not surprising that we have been seeing something of a continent-wide peasants’ revolt against a decision making elite which looks increasingly remote and sheltered. The “European project” survived the recent Dutch and French elections but resentment is growing.
Although my own professional background is as an economist, I always thought the economic arguments were given undue prominence by both sides. Making precise predictions as to what might happen to the economy is impossible and certainly some of the fear expressed by Remain has not so far been justified. Christians and others should certainly make prudent precautions about the future but we have been warned against over-confident forecasting! (See, James chapter 4, verses 13 to 17 and especially verse 13.). I still feel that 10-15 years on from Brexit the net impact on the economy could well be quite small; plus or minus one or two percent on total jobs and incomes. So, it was quite sensible for voters to have made their decision last June based on other considerations- the role of Parliament versus the European Commission or the level of migration into the UK.
That Brexit is causing division and emotional pain to some I regret, but that is what happens when we confront a great issue of political principle. The Bible seems to warn us against multi-national political centralisation as does a reading of European history; better off out!
Dr Esmond Birnie is a Senior Economist at the University of Ulster and a former MLA, and contributed to Contemporary Christianity’s ‘A Soul for the Union’ event in 2016.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
Tomorrow: Sean Mullan writes from the perspective of an Irish citizen.
Having read this post I feel compelled to respond. Before continuing I want to make it clear that even though I would have been pro-remain I have absolutely no problem with those who voted to leave on the basis of sovereignty, economic reasons or something else. In fact, I would welcome more dialogue and insight into some of the economic reasons for leaving. However, what I cannot accept is the way in which theology has been used to justify this position. The author has said that greater political centralisation (presumably referring to remaining in the EU) is sinful! In doing so, he has claimed God to be on his side. Is God really on the side of the Leavers? So where does that leave those of us who voted to remain – as sinners? On the wrong side of God? On the side of evil, the devil? Theologically and morally corrupt? Outside of the realm of God? Outside of his love? In need of redemption? This cuts to the heart of sectarianism, racism and every other ism that keeps our societies divided here and abroad – and needs to be seriously challenged. Is God not the creator of all humanity and on all our ‘sides’: the remainers, the leavers, Catholics, Protestants, blacks, whites, Muslim, Christian, male, female – the list goes on!
As a South African I have heard Gen 11 used far too often to justify the Apartheid state – a crime against humanity – which cannot in any way be theologically justified. The story surrounding the tower of Babel is one in which God scatters the people as an act of judgement for their pride and arrogance. However, Apartheid theology said this was not so much God’s judgment as it was his will to separate nations, races and cultures.There’s a very distinct and vital difference between the two – each of which lead to fundamentally different goals and outcomes. In this post I’m hearing a very similar theology being employed. Indeed, churches across South Africa have all publically confessed to the SIN of Apartheid.
So, if we want to go theological on this then we see a very gracious God who in the next chapter (Gen 12) starts working for reconciliation calling on Abram to search the nations and bring the people back to him. Throughout the Bible we read about a God of reconciliation who is seeking to break the walls of division and not build them. A God who has given us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 11-21) whose cosmic vision is to bring people from every tribe, nation and language before him (Rev 7:9). As Jesus prayed: Thy will (his cosmic vision) be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Response to Esmond Birnie’s PS
I agree whole-heartedly with Esmond Birnie when he warns that we should be very wary of tring to predict the history’s direction. The Bible makes it very plain that only God is the Lord of History and only he, therefore, knows its direction (c/f Amos and Habakkuk among other prophets) Yet , how ironic that Esmond goes on to state immediately that “….events over the centuries suggest that large multinational political units have not fared well.”
However, when one reflects over the fate of the large empires throughout history (Greco-Roman, Otoman, Habsburg, British, just to mention a few at randon), one has to grant that he may have a point. But immediately then one is forced ask: have the small political units have fared any better? Political units, large and small, come and go. If that were not the case, then empires would never come into existenceand Greek-city states would still be with us.
Esmond quotes Ludwig Erhard, the West German Finance Minster as describing the proposal to unify Europe a, “macroeconomic absurdity”. Yet, to the bset of my knowledge, Erhard, despite his serious misgivings about the unification of Europe, was happy to serve in post-war German governments, which pursed European unification project openly and vigoursly, for nearly twenty years, four of them as Chancellor. His contention that “(i)n practice, greater Europen unity was probably as much the result peace as its cause”, is like the question “which came first, chicken or egg” and we have no way of answering that question categorically one way or another.
Nobody woul disagree with Esmond that Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been very wasteful. But disavantages of CAP have to be balanced against both some of the benefits of CAP and the benefits derived from the Europen project as a whole. I feel certain that, in pure economic terms, any objective assessment of the project will show that, at least for the member states, benefits of EU will far outweigh the costs. And we must also bear in mind other benefits: political, social, cultural, educational, and so on.
Very few democrats would disagree with Esmond when he says that “laws which effect our lives should be made by a government accountable to us.” But we must also remember that we live in an ever increasingly global, interconnected and interdependent world. Briatain is a member of all kinds of inetrnational organizations and it is grossly misleading to imply that most, if not all, decisions in the EU are made by an “elite which looks increasingly remote and sheltered.” Every member of the EU has a veto and so the representative of any member can veto any legislation he/she does not like. If this argument against EU is to be taken its logical conclusion, then Britain should leave the UN, WTO and many other international bodies she is a party to.
Esmond is quick to point out that “some of the fear(s) expressed by Remain has not so far been justified”, ignoring one crucial fact that since the Referendum a year ago the pound has been devalued by 15%, and as an economist he ought to know that there are enormous costs involed in such devaluation of a currency of country, at least for a significant number of her citizens. He also seems to overlook another simple fact: Britain has not yet left the EU and that many of the consequences of the decision to leave will accrue over a long term after she has left.
Finally, I turn to Cathy Bollaert’s response. She rightly reminds us that to invoke God’s support and blessing on the side of the Leavers is to imply that all those who voted for Remain are sinners, at least going against God’s will. But let me assure her, on the basis of my long friendship with Esmond, that in quoting Genesis 11 and James 4:13-7, Esmond never entertained the thought that all who voted for Remain are. He could have been a bit more careful in drawing the implications of those passages for the EU debate. The same passages, especially James 4:13-17, could be quoted against the Leavers, especially in the light of his claim that “I still feel that 10-15 years on from Brexit the net impact on the economy could well be quite small: plus one two percent on total jobs and incomes.” I voted for remain. Yet I am happy to grant that he may well be right!