Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester
It is hard to believe that a whole year has passed since the launch of Standpoint with my article, "Breaking Faith with Britain", in the inaugural issue. In that article, I tried to show how there was a descending theme of Christian influence on the systems of governance, the rule of law and the assumptions of trust in our common life. The ascending theme of the importance of the person as a moral agent and, therefore, as free was also seen to arise out of the biblical vision of humans as made in God's image and as exercising stewardship in the world. This discourse became hugely important in the emergence of natural or human rights language, particularly, but not only, as it was developed by the Enlightenment. I noted that there had been an Evangelical-Enlightenment consensus in place until the 1950s, which had brought about huge changes in society in its attitudes towards slavery, the treatment of workers, universal education, care of the sick and the dying and a host of other areas of life. It has been the dissolution of this consensus that has created the situation in which we now find ourselves. A basically Judaeo-Christian framework for public life has been seriously weakened, some aspects of it have disappeared entirely and others survive only in vestigial form.
By any standard of measurement, the past year has been momentous. The financial crisis had us reeling as the value of our savings and our homes plummeted. As people felt less secure about their jobs, they spent less and gave less. Not only did High Street businesses suffer but charities were also affected. It is true, of course, that the financial crisis was brought about by a failure of regulation, especially in taking account of the growing complexity of global market transactions. But it was also brought about by moral failure. Even if we grant that market processes are "amoral" in themselves, we cannot deny that we are moral agents as we act within those processes and are thus responsible for our actions. In the past, the best of British financial and commercial life was characterised by the values of responsibility, honesty, trust and hard work. Such values arose from a specifically Christian view of accountability before God, the sacredness of even the most humble task (as George Herbert said, "Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine") and the recognition of mutual obligation by people of all classes and callings, one towards another. This rich tradition was set aside in favour of an entrepreneurial free for all and winner takes all ethos. We are now seeing the results. Far from engendering the wealth which would have benefited society as a whole, it has actually left not only this generation but future ones as well in such significant debt that it will affect the lives of us all for the foreseeable future.
Just as we were staggering back to our feet, we have been hit this time by the political fireball. Once again, it is important to see this as a moral, and even a spiritual, crisis. This is so in two ways: first, the weakening of a moral and spiritual framework for society has left people without an anchor for the mooring of their moral lives and without guidance by which to steer through the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary dilemmas. Second, the lack of a framework has meant that there is no touchstone by which to judge a person's actions as right or wrong. No wonder everyone has been doing what is right in their own eyes and to their own advantage. It is clear that simply tinkering with political structures and processes will not solve the problems. A smaller Parliament or electoral reform may be good things to have, but they will not address the questions we are facing and have to answer. These have to do with a clear moral and spiritual framework for public life. The values of human dignity, equality, liberty and security, as well as virtues like selflessness, sacrifice and service, have arisen from a Judaeo-Christian worldview. It cannot be assumed that they would also necessarily have arisen from other worldviews, though agreed values with people of different world-view can, of course, be negotiated on the basis of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Any code of conduct for MPs, for example, should both acknowledge and draw upon such a rich moral and spiritual tradition rather than, once again, dishing out the familiar panaceas of the past, politically correct, but empty of content.
Simply extolling "Britishness" or "British values" is not enough. It is not enough even to remind ourselves of the importance of Christian faith for Britain. We need to ask, first of all, how our understanding of the basic political and social institutions of public life is affected by our knowledge of the ways in which Christianity has shaped them. This will shed, I believe, a flood of light on their basic purpose, on how they have developed and what shape they might take in the future. If our understanding of these institutions, their origin and purpose is superficial and functional, this will have an adverse effect on the depth of our commitment to them.
- ONLINE ONLY: Overpopulation and the Reality of Grandchildren
- ONLINE ONLY: Sharia Threatens All Women, Muslim and Non-Muslim
- ONLINE ONLY: The Last Days of the Divvy
- A Party Overrun by Lads and Libertines
- The Myth of Cameron's Etonian 'Chumocracy'
- Here Lie the Remains of Tory Modernisation
- Forget 'Islamophobia'. Let's Tackle Islamism
- Neoconservatism: A Good Idea That Won't Go Away
- Have You Heard the One About Auschwitz?
- Cameron's Too Late To Tame the UKIP Tiger
- ONLINE ONLY: Thoughts from a Hospital Bed
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once