Mitt Romney’s visit to London this week - a visit he handled so disastrously that both the prime minister and the mayor of London (Conservatives both) were piqued into mocking him publicly - has brought many Brits face-to-face with this year’s U.S. presidential election for the first time.
Britain and America have been described as two countries divided by a common language, but the bewilderment extends well beyond the linguistic: it spills over into religion and politics as well. Indeed, in the U.S., the First Amendment notwithstanding, religion and politics seem largely intertwined: right-wing politics especially.
And here our puzzlement only deepens. For in the United Kingdom “Christian” tends to be seen as a shorthand for “trying to be kind; trying to care about others; trying not to be selfish; trying not to be judgmental.” In short, it amounts to “trying to be a good person,” which , of course, those of us who don’t think of ourselves as Christian are trying to do too.
Concern for others and a sense of obligation towards them have long been a part of the British national character, or so we like to think. Our National Health Service, for instance, is one of the few things for which we notoriously reserved Brits can be depended on to show passionate support: our provision of healthcare, free at the point of delivery, for all who need it, regardless of ability to pay, is a source of real national pride to us.
The fierce, often vicious, opposition to “Obamacare” in the U.S. therefore left us completely baffled. All the more so because the most passionate resistance seemed to be coming from the very people most likely to claim their lives are based on Christian values.