Brendan O’Neill

Justin Welby’s EU delusion

Justin Welby's EU delusion
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Listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury praise the EU as ‘the greatest dream realised for human beings’ for more than a thousand years, and as the gracious deliverer of ‘peace’ and ‘prosperity’ to the peoples of Europe, I felt like reminding him of one of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’ The way Welby yaks about the EU you’d think it was the Kingdom of God, here at last, though attended by corporeal technocrats rather than angels with trumpets. All we needed was for him to prostrate himself on an EU flag and profess his faith in the Word According to Juncker for his conversion to the cult of Brussels to be complete.

It’s pretty clear now that the EU has become a God substitute for our increasingly faithless intellectual elites. It’s their church, their symbol of goodness, their paragon of purity in this world beset with populism and — brace yourselves — people whose political opinions differ from the Guardian’s. Welby has twigged this. He’s sussed that if he is going to connect with that strata of the middle class that spends its Sunday mornings queuing for hours for a hip new burger place they read about in Time Out rather than filling pews and praying to God, he needs to ditch the Bible-talk and take up the Brussels-talk.

And so it was that he sang to the heavens the EU’s praises at a talk to the heads of European churches in Serbia this week. The Brussels' machine is ‘the greatest dream realised for human beings since the fall of the Western Roman Empire’, he bizarrely said. That empire fell in 476 AD. I’m going to put my reputation on the line and say humankind has realised some rather better dreams than the EU over the past 1,500 years, such as, oh I don’t know, the Renaissance, the creation of the American republic, the invention of medicines that can cure things like bubonic plague that would once have laid to waste millions of souls, getting to the Moon, the start of the fourth series of Love Island this week. All of those are greater achievements than the building of a bureaucracy in Belgium.

Welby said the EU has ‘brought peace, prosperity, compassion for the poor and weak, purpose for the aspirational, and hope for all its people’. Did it also feed 5,000 people with a bit of bread and a couple of fish? Because I’m a Catholic (lapsed) I think I’m allowed to say this: the Archbishop is talking out of his derrière. Prosperity? Tell that to elderly Greek people plunged into poverty by the EU’s ruthless debt regime. Peace? Justin has clearly forgotten the EU’s role in stirring up the Ukraine war in 2014 in which almost 3,000 civilians were killed. Hope for all its people? If that were true, millions of Brits wouldn’t have voted to get out of this glorious kingdom — and millions more around the continent wouldn’t be looking upon our Brexit blasphemy with envy and desire.

The EU acts as a kind of God Replacement Therapy. It is the one article of faith our chattering classes can cling to in these otherwise morally confused times. That is why they praise it so wildly, and so inaccurately. That is why they treat any dissent from the Brussels writ as heresy: Brexit is basically the Beelzebub to their godly EU, the black in their black-and-white moral universe. Because for some of these people, love for the EU isn’t really a thought-out political position — it’s a moral signifier, the way you show you are a good person. In the past, regular churchgoers would look down their noses at us riff-raff who never darkened the door of a chapel; now the EU’s disciples do the same to the EU’s doubters and deniers. Welby has spotted this. He now knows than singing hymns to Brussels wins more luvvie points than praising Christ.