Guardian: The Church of England is the longest-running prevent strategy in history. If not from its inception, then certainly from the end of the English civil war, the big idea of the C of E was to prevent radicalisation – precisely the sort of radicalisation that led to religious people butchering each other throughout the 1630s and 40s. Its strategy was to discourage two things: big expansive politically minded theology – the sort of theology that has ambitions to change the world – and religious passion (or “enthusiasm” as it was dismissively described).
From the end of the 17th century, a new mood of religious inclusivity would dominate. Increasingly suspicious of theological dispute, the idea was to kill off God – or at least God-talk – with religion. People would all pray together, using the same form of words (the aptly described Book of Common Prayer), but be discouraged from discussing the ideological side of religion. Religion itself – going to church and so on – was reclaimable as a part of the much-needed project of national togetherness. It cemented all that one-nation, big-society stuff. But God had to be kept out of it as much as possible. Thus the formation of the English dinner party rules: no discussion of God, sex or politics. And under pressure not to “do God”, the wet non-committal English clergyman became a figure of fun – at best, a local amateur social worker, and at worst, a social climbing hypocrite. The Vicar of Dibley or Mr Collins. Thus God is defeated by religion. Indeed, one could even say that, for the English establishment, that is precisely the purpose of religion. They trap Him in boring services so that people won’t notice the revolution for which He is calling.