Wednesday, January 13, 2010

O, for the days when politicians 'did God'

Cranmer has been researching today, and had the great fortune to re-acquaint himself with a fine religio-political speech made by the Great Lady in 1988 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It is replete with the finest conservative themes in the great Tory tradition, and is reproduced here in its entirety, lest it fall out of public cognisance altogether:

[Rev. James Whyte] Moderator: I am greatly honoured to have been invited to attend the opening of this 1988 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and I am deeply grateful that you have now asked me to address you.

I am very much aware of the historical continuity extending over four centuries, during which the position of the Church of Scotland has been recognised in constitutional law and confirmed by successive Sovereigns. It sprang from the independence of mind and rigour of thought that have always been such powerful characteristics of the Scottish people, as I have occasion to know. It has remained close to its roots and has inspired a commitment to service from all people.

I am therefore very sensible of the important influence which the Church of Scotland exercises in the life of the whole nation, both at the spiritual level and through the extensive caring services which are provided by your Church's department of social responsibility. And I am conscious also of the value of the continuing links which the Church of Scotland maintains with other Churches.

Perhaps it would be best, Moderator, if I began by speaking personally as a Christian, as well as a politician, about the way I see things. Reading recently, I came across the starkly simple phrase:

"Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform".

Sometimes the debate on these matters has become too polarised and given the impression that the two are quite separate. But most Christians would regard it as their personal Christian duty to help their fellow men and women. They would regard the lives of children as a precious trust. These duties come not from any secular legislation passed by Parliament, but from being a Christian.

But there are a number of people who are not Christians who would also accept those responsibilities. What then are the distinctive marks of Christianity?

They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I would identify three beliefs in particular:

First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil. And second, that we were made in God's own image and, therefore, we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, that if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us. And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, "No one took away the life of Jesus , He chose to lay it down".

I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.

But we must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so well in the hymn:

"When I survey the wondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride."

May I also say a few words about my personal belief in the relevance of Christianity to public policy—to the things that are Caesar's?

The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as given to Moses , the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour as ourselves and generally the importance of observing a strict code of law. The New Testament is a record of the Incarnation, the teachings of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and to "Do-as-you-would-be-done-by".

I believe that by taking together these key elements from the Old and New Testaments, we gain: a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life.

We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. "If a man will not work he shall not eat" wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.

Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment — Thou shalt not covet—recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the wonderful artists and craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth? And remember the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment.

I confess that I always had difficulty with interpreting the Biblical precept to love our neighbours "as ourselves" until I read some of the words of C.S. Lewis. He pointed out that we don't exactly love ourselves when we fall below the standards and beliefs we have accepted. Indeed we might even hate ourselves for some unworthy deed.

None of this, of course, tells us exactly what kind of political and social institutions we should have. On this point, Christians will very often genuinely disagree, though it is a mark of Christian manners that they will do so with courtesy and mutual respect. What is certain, however, is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.

We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't blame society if we disobey the law. We simply can't delegate the exercise of mercy and generosity to others. The politicians and other secular powers should strive by their measures to bring out the good in people and to fight down the bad: but they can't create the one or abolish the other. They can only see that the laws encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people, instincts and convictions which I'm convinced are far more deeply rooted than is often supposed.

Nowhere is this more evident than the basic ties of the family which are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care.

You recall that Timothy was warned by St. Paul that anyone who neglects to provide for his own house (meaning his own family) has disowned the faith and is "worse than an infidel".

We must recognise that modern society is infinitely more complex than that of Biblical times and of course new occasions teach new duties. In our generation, the only way we can ensure that no-one is left without sustenence, help or opportunity, is to have laws to provide for health and education, pensions for the elderly, succour for the sick and disabled.

But intervention by the State must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts too.

Moderator, recently there have been great debates about religious education. I believe strongly that politicians must see that religious education has a proper place in the school curriculum.

In Scotland, as in England, there is an historic connection expressed in our laws between Church and State. The two connections are of a somewhat different kind, but the arrangements in both countries are designed to give symbolic expression to the same crucial truth: that the Christian religion — which, of course, embodies many of the great spiritual and moral truths of Judaism — is a fundamental part of our national heritage. And I believe it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people that this heritage should be preserved and fostered. For centuries it has been our very life blood. And indeed we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.

Also, it is quite impossible to understand our history or literature without grasping this fact, and that's the strong practical case for ensuring that children at school are given adequate instruction in the part which the Judaic-Christian tradition has played in moulding our laws, manners and institutions. How can you make sense of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, or of the constitutional conflicts of the 17th century in both Scotland and England, without some such fundamental knowledge?

But I go further than this. The truths of the Judaic-Christian tradition are infinitely precious, not only, as I believe, because they are true, but also because they provide the moral impulse which alone can lead to that peace, in the true meaning of the word, for which we all long.

To assert absolute moral values is not to claim perfection for ourselves. No true Christian could do that. What is more, one of the great principles of our Judaic-Christian inheritance is tolerance. People with other faiths and cultures have always been welcomed in our land, assured of equality under the law, of proper respect and of open friendship. There's absolutely nothing incompatible between this and our desire to maintain the essence of our own identity. There is no place for racial or religious intolerance in our creed.

When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg speech of 1863 of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", he gave the world a neat definition of democracy which has since been widely and enthusiastically adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of government was not in itself especially Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together their purpose is not (or should not be) to ascertain what is the mind of the majority but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit — something which may be quite different.

Nevertheless I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably right or true—indeed no majority can take away God-given human rights — but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.

But there is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals—these are not enough.

We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.

But when all is said and done, the politician's role is a humble one. I always think that the whole debate about the Church and the State has never yielded anything comparable in insight to that beautiful hymn "I Vow to Thee my Country". It begins with a triumphant assertion of what might be described as secular patriotism, a noble thing indeed in a country like ours:

"I vow to thee my country all earthly things above; entire, whole and perfect the service of my love".

It goes on to speak of "another country I heard of long ago" whose King can't be seen and whose armies can't be counted, but "soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase". Not group by group, or party by party, or even church by church — but soul by soul — and each one counts.

That, members of the Assembly, is the country which you chiefly serve. You fight your cause under the banner of an historic Church. Your success matters greatly — as much to the temporal as to the spiritual welfare of the nation. I leave you with that earnest hope that may we all come nearer to that other country whose "ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace."

28 Comments:

Blogger English Pensioner said...

I have never read it before and am pleased that you posted it. The great thing about Margaret Thatcher was that when she spoke you really felt she meant it and that she wasn't saying something just because the latest poll suggested she should.
And as she said and believed what she said, she clearly summed up her own position in "The Lady's not for turning".
Where are the politicians today who actually admit to believing anything, religious or otherwise? I can't think of one, particularly on the government side, who wouldn't change his beliefs in an instant if it was to his advantage.

13 January 2010 at 19:24  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Gracw

What a joyous rebuttal of the sterile bromide recently posted by the BHS (not being the British Horse Society) in your web-sanctuary.

13 January 2010 at 20:08  
Anonymous Atlas shrugged said...

Yes your grace, all well and good, as well as well versed common sense conservatism .

However The same sort of things have also been said in speeches by Blair, and Brown at the right times, and places.

The only difference was that Thatcher clearly believed what she was saying, whereas Blair and Brown were self-evidently lying through their teeth.

Therefore the lesson should be, ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THEN WORDS, especially with regards to the words of politicians, and PRIESTS.

On the subject of priesthoods, can we believe anything The ABofC and The Pope tell us they respectively believe? Because I for one came to the conclusion long ago, that these characters can not be trusted as far as they can collectively be thrown.

As for Cameron, only time will tell, however the signs are not at all good.

13 January 2010 at 20:27  
Blogger John MacLeod said...

I don't know where you found the text of this unjustly neglected speech, but the best analysis of it I know (and a report of the occasion itself) is in David Torrance's recent study, 'We In Scotland: Thatcherism in a Cold Climate' (Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, 2009.) I thoroughly recommend the book. Contrary to mythology, it was courteously received by the fathers and brethren of the General Assembly and provoked much worthwhile debate.

13 January 2010 at 21:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, I had no idea. I can't recall any American president who had the guts to say, "Our Lord Jesus Christ...chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven" - that's preaching. I'm impressed.

13 January 2010 at 22:45  
Blogger OldSouth said...

Thank you for sharing this! It will occupy a place in my permanent files of ideas worth preserving and sharing.

One (mild) regret of mine is that our Constitution made no provision whereby we could have leased Mrs. Thatcher from your fair land for a term or two. More's the pity.

14 January 2010 at 00:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on ya, Maggie.

14 January 2010 at 01:43  
Anonymous not a machine said...

Thankyou your grace , it gave me both light and hope , how tragic we should have to put up with Invictus .

14 January 2010 at 02:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace, while not wishing to generalize I used to work for an MP who did God. Despite being married in church he tried to seduce me (a heterosexual male) several times. Several of his acquiantances who also did God also had a bash at me.

Without success.

When not drunk and moving in the dark they vocally and publically did God.

As I say, I do not generalize. More should love their neighbours, should not lie, covet or kill. But I have seen politicians who do God and they aren't nice. (Regular, named commentator going anonymous for this one.)

14 January 2010 at 02:06  
Anonymous len said...

Whatever you think of maggie one cannot but admire her guts, determination and integrity.
This nation is crying out for someone like her to take the helm!

14 January 2010 at 08:14  
Blogger Sam Norton said...

An interesting speech, but I would strongly dispute her first 'belief', "that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil". This is manifestly wrong. The knowledge of good and evil arose from disobedience, viz, eating the forbidden fruit. In what way has this become 'a right'?

I would rather agree with Bonhoeffer: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."

14 January 2010 at 08:53  
Anonymous Paul B said...

Thank you for sharing that with us. You can almost taste her solid will and conviction in her words.

She grew into her role, she was not the finished article in 1979, lets hope the same is true of DC in 2009. My pint is half full

14 January 2010 at 09:06  
Blogger Revd John P Richardson said...

Re Sam's comment, perhaps that should be 'fundamental responsibility' rather than 'right'.

Nevertheless, it makes a point which is itself coming under immense pressure, namely that we are beings who can and should make real choices.

In addition to the notion that our behaviour is largely 'genetic' (some people have a 'gene for' criminality, a 'gene for' violent behaviour, etc) I am increasingly seeing references on the fringes of 'popular' science to the notion that consciousness is just an illusion - a projection of our physical brains which fools 'us' into imagining we have 'free will'.

The idea is palpably ludicrous (those who believe it must accept that their own arrival at this conclusion is not an insight into truth but another illusory experience forced on them by their own brains), nevertheless it is making its way into our intellectual landscape. The result will be not merely the abolition of religion but, as C S Lewis warned, the abolition of man.

14 January 2010 at 09:17  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

An excellent post, Your Grace.

When Mrs Thatcher was in power, what we got in the news media were the sound bites, which were (as I now appreciate) mostly taken out of context as part of the inchoate efforts of the left including the BBC and ITV to traduce her. The scales fell from my eyes when talking with French businessmen who lamented that she wasn't French. At that time they had to put up with Giscard d'Estaing and later Mitterand.

I worked in the MOD at the time, and she commanded great respect and was considered to be good listener. But she scared the living daylights out of us all. She actually read the documents put in front of her and could find incongruities in the most detailed arguments.

She was not averse to marching across the road from number 10 into MOD Main Building and confronting officials... Scary.

Looking back on her time in power, historians will no doubt point to things she got wrong, but there were so many things she got right.

14 January 2010 at 09:47  
Anonymous Voyager said...

The Western Churches have lost spiritual purpose and become Rotarians collecting for good causes week after week. Whether this is "Good Works" truping Faith I don't know; it feels more like a hollow organisation of do-gooders using money as a sanctimonious alternative to Faith and Action.

Most orations from the pulpit seem to be concerned with some social obligation of the State rather than spiritual redemption.

Much of what passes for Christianity in England seems suffused with Sentimentalism rather than hard-heaed Christianity.

If Jesus Christ was heralded in Isaiah and was the fulfillment of The Torah how did Western Christianity become so adrift of Judaic roots and so vacuous as to equate worshipping God with filling Christian Aid coffers ?

Isn't it a variant on changing money in The Temple to buy doves and lambs for sacrifice ? Save we do nt have animal sacrifice simply money collections in coin of the realm ?

Is Faith anywhere in all this and do parishioners actually Believe |? Do Clerics ?

14 January 2010 at 09:48  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

In answer to Sam@08:53

I think Mrs Thatcher was right in her first 'belief' about fundamental right of choice.
You are correct that having knowledge of good and evil arose from disobedience but the right to choose preceded the trespass.

Genesis 2:16-17 You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.

The important word here is “free”. God did not physically prevent Adam from disobedience. God gave Adam a choice and thus from the beginning endowed him with the fundamental right to choose. But with this right came responsibility. The sorry outcome is both history and the world as we know it.

14 January 2010 at 10:09  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

‘O, for the days when politicians ‘did God’’

The leaders of the three main political parties can’t ‘do God’ because it is clear they haven’t ‘chewed, swallowed and digested’ the rhythms and cadences of the verses found within the King James Bible.

It is clear Thatcher did.

It is clear Shakespeare did.

It is clear Cromwell did.

It is clear Lincoln did:

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others" (April 6, 1859), p. 376.

It is clear Churchill did:

‘We shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender.’

Speech, Hansard 4 June 1940, col. 796

Many people are praying for this once great nation – around the world.

May God give me such a leader or may He give me night.

14 January 2010 at 10:13  
Blogger Sam Norton said...

@knighthawk - eating the fruit gave the knowledge of good and evil, so what was the basis for the 'choice' that Adam made?

@JohnRichardson - the idea of personal responsibility has been progressively destroyed by research in the Philosophy of Mind for some decades now (I don't agree with it, I'm just saying where the popular scientists are getting their ideas from)

@Voyager - some clerics believe. There are at least two of them commenting on this post ;-)

14 January 2010 at 10:15  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

@Sam Norton 10:15

Obedience v Disobedience
God commanded:
....you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...

14 January 2010 at 10:31  
Blogger Preacher said...

Thank you Your Grace for giving us all an insight into a REAL christian leader who was not using her faith to impress or gain an advantage, she was unashamedly a christian P.M & a christian woman.
I'm afraid we will never see her like again if the present party leaders are to judge from, but with God all things are possible.
Blair & many other would be leaders have held Mrs Thatcher as an icon, but it may serve them better if instead of idolising HER, they sought the source of her strength, The Lord Jesus Christ & openly & sincerely worshipped Him. Then we might just be hauled out of the miry clay that her successors have landed us in through their weakness, pride & belief that they can make it work through their own actions.
Our Country awaits a strong Christian Leader who will welcome those who come in friendship, to work & add to the wellbeing of society but deal firmly with those whose ambition is to insult & bring disruption & sedition to our country. A leader who will stand up for our rights & our democracy, without fear or favour & who will listen to the voice of the people who elected him/her. A person whose word can be trusted, not one who uses double talk & spin to betray us.
Mrs Thatcher would I'm sure be the first to agree that she was not in any way perfect, nevertheless she will be a VERY hard act to follow.

14 January 2010 at 11:24  
Blogger Perdix said...

The speech gives me more insight than that of any modern priest.

14 January 2010 at 11:25  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

Sam Norton quotes: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."
I have been puzzling over what this means. Is it irony, or is Bonhoeffer being too clever by half? It is a popular quotation, as you can see by searching on the internet, but for the life of me I can't understand it. Can you say a bit more about it?

14 January 2010 at 15:11  
Blogger Sam Norton said...

@Little Black Sambo (also @Knighthawk, ironically) - what Bonhoeffer is getting at is precisely that Christian discipleship consists of obedience. Assessing good and evil has its origin in a judgement made separately from God's judgement, and therefore enthrones the ego (=that which judges) as an idol. This is also why Jesus repeatedly tells us not to judge each other.

14 January 2010 at 15:49  
Anonymous no nonny said...

@ Sam Norton, - I couldn't figure that one either. I guess Bonhoeffer either didn't express it well, or we need to take it in context.

I pray every day for the leader we need; however, Mrs. T and Churchill were products of our Christian and British society - the one that still had its head screwed on and wasn't cowed by ignorant minorities or bullied by commies over the water.

Yet, if we can still appreciate them, the mould may not be broken? Perhaps we have still a chance of producing (and promoting) one of our own? One lives, one hopes.

Great post eliciting great comments - you've put up some of my favourite quotes ever all the way through!! Thanks all.

14 January 2010 at 17:27  
Blogger Revd John P Richardson said...

Sam, thanks for your comment - and I'll bet those philosophers who find people disagreeing with them get jolly stroppy about it, and blame them for all sorts of ignorance and obtuseness.

14 January 2010 at 17:45  
Anonymous Ingenieur said...

DS & Preacher have got it about right. Allow me to add another pertinent quote by Churchill, made almost one year before the outbreak of WWII

"we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies.
"Thou are weighed in the balance and found wanting."
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."

The subject of discussion was Chamberlain's 'piece of paper' in which we sold out our rights and responsibilities. It then took a radical change of our nation's leadership and a bloody war to undo the damage done.

What will it take to undo the damage done by the Lisbon Treaty?

14 January 2010 at 18:16  
Blogger Terry Hamblin said...

Thank you, your Grace, for the sermon. Why, Oh why, did we not hang on to Mrs T when we had her?

14 January 2010 at 19:10  
Anonymous chris r said...

Wow! What a speech! I am almost moved to tears - that such things were once said by a great leader of this Nation and at how far we have fallen since then.

Some real gems here, her perspective on the Christian role in society and her views on democracy, for example. I love this:

When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg speech of 1863 of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", he gave the world a neat definition of democracy which has since been widely and enthusiastically adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of government was not in itself especially Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together their purpose is not (or should not be) to ascertain what is the mind of the majority but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit — something which may be quite different.

14 January 2010 at 19:45  

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