Theo Hobson Theo Hobson

No, Brexit wasn’t a defeat for humanist values – or for love

Perhaps the most important pundit to have emerged from the earthquake is Giles Fraser. As a left-wing vicar and longstanding anti-racism campaigner, he makes it harder for people to depict the Brexiters as closet racists. He disrupts the defeated Remainers’ assumption that they represent progressive values, humanism. The same applies to the handful of pro-Brexit Labour MPs, but MPs can be assumed to have murky motivations. On last night’s Question Time, Fraser quoted Galatians (one of the readings in churches yesterday): Love your neighbour as yourself. We need to get beyond our current divisions, and trust in this supra-political principle, he said.

Contrast this with today’s offering from Zoe Willams, his fellow Guardian columnist. Brexit was a defeat for humanist values, she says – even a defeat for love.

‘The principles that underpin internationalism – cooperation, solidarity, unity, empathy, openness – these are all just elements of love. Politicians only ever say the word ‘love’ when they’re talking about gay marriage. But, to channel Lyndon B Johnson, the stakes are as high as ever, and the answer still the same: “We must either love each other, or we must die”.’

To equate support for a particular international organisation with ‘love’ is a big deal. Is the EU a sort of secular humanist church? The average secular humanist was not in the habit of thinking so until very recently, but now is anxious that her ideology needs such structures, as if it might melt into air without them. The referendum has highlighted the poverty, and intense anxiety, of secular humanist thought.

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