Brown’s ‘moral vision’ to awaken the ‘conscience of the world’
It was delivered to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, and he talked much of his Scottish Presbyterian upbringing in a Kirkcaldy parish manse, and assured the assembled faithful that he was still anchored firmly to his father’s ministry. The speech was made exactly 20 years after Margaret Thatcher gave her "Sermon on the Mound" at the same venue, in which she expounded the theological basis for her free-market thinking.
But the Prime Minister’s speech was nowhere near as politically honest, as spiritually insightful or as theologically well-informed as that given by Mrs Thatcher. Consider:
And amidst all the challenges and headlines of recent months I have learned what really matters: that, for me, a life is best measured not by what office or title you hold but by what difference you can make by seeking to do what you judge the right thing…
So why did Gordon Brown spend most of the past decade lusting for prime ministerial office?
I am not here to presume a distinctive interpretation to scripture. Instead I stand before you today to affirm my personal commitment to the Church's enduring vision of the good society - the good society of compassion and justice that today is needed more than ever, at home in our own country and abroad in our world.
His ‘vision of the good’ presupposes a most distinctive interpretation of Scripture. It is one in which the ‘collectivism’ and ‘common ownership’ of Christian Socialism have been replaced by ‘community’ and ‘tolerance’, but his distinctive interpretation of Scripture is Socialist to the core.
As a son and now a father I believe in the Parable of the Talents my father taught me:
• that everyone has a talent,
• everyone should have the chance to develop that talent,
• and everyone should be challenged to use that talent and given the best chance to bridge that gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become.
It is just a pity that his father never told him that a ‘talent’ is money: it is, in fact, a small fortune – about 3,000 shekels. And manifestly not everyone possesses a talent, but, as he observes, those who do ‘have the chance to develop’ it – ie, make it grow. The parable is in fact concerned with extracting interest payments from the poor, social justice and financial responsibility.
And we find that from the timeless wisdom of all the great religions - from which billions across the world derive daily inspiration - there is a consistent ethical core that propels us to act: encapsulated in the golden rule that informs not just Christianity and Judaism but also Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam - showing that we are not moral strangers but there is a shared moral sense common to us all:
• that we are our brother's keeper;
• that we should do unto others as we would have them do to us;
• the enduring summons to justice that echoes down the ages ---- our belief deep down that when some are poor all of us are impoverished, when even a few are not free none of us can be fully free, when others are weakened in spirit and hope no one can boast our society is truly strong.
While it is undoubted true the world’s ‘great religions’ have much in common, there is, in fact, no Golden Rule in Islam at all. He appears to have read the same bowdlerised Penguin edition of the Qur’an as Mr & Mrs Blair.
And what I want to argue is that the joining of these two forces - the information revolution and the human urge to co-operate for justice - makes possible for the first time in history something we have only dreamt about: the creation of a truly global society. A global society where people anywhere and everywhere can discover their shared values, communicate with each other and do not need to meet or live next door to each other to join together with people in other countries in a single moral universe to bring about change. And the truth is that linked across oceans and miles, a chorus of countless voices - inspired by the strength of shared values - can now touch and move the conscience of the world.
And here we have his vision for a ‘New World Order’ – a global society with a global government concerned with global issues and founded on ‘a single moral universe’. And in accordance with the new global spirituality, Mr Brown desires:
conscience linked to conscience - people with a shared moral sense and a capacity to communicate and organize; and the power that comes from calling, networking, marching for change, millions can now be moved to action - as with Make Poverty History - against the great injustices of poverty, disease and environmental degradation.
He wants to
turn moral values into common action and shared vision into a global reality: to 'undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free'.
And he continues with his messianic vision when he observes:
Acting together, the first generation in the history of mankind to abolish illiteracy and give every child the right to education; acting together, the first generation to eradicate tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, malaria, on the way to eradicating HIV/Aids. And to honour the dream of the scriptures: that justice will roll like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
One almost expects him to roll up his scroll and announce that today this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing.
Rather like the recent speech given by his immediate predecessor Mr Blair (in Westminster Cathedral), who also spoke of his desire to 'awaken the conscience of the world', there were no references to Jesus, no mention of God, and scant references to Scripture.
The speech by Mrs Thatcher in 1988 was replete with all three.