Sunday, 14 April 2013

God and Mrs Thatcher: the Battle for Britain's Soul

I am planning to read a book to be published later this year by a lecturer at Kings College London Elizabeth Filkin which I am getting entitled:

"God and Mrs Thatcher: the Battle for Britain's Soul".

The book  will examine how Margaret Thatcher brought up a strict Wesleyan became a right-wing 'low' Anglican in her political years.  'Low' is a Victorian term which does not mean vulgar or menial. The 'low' church placing a high emphasis on scripture and the Reformation doctrines of Scripture, Christ and the Cross, not on 'high' church tradition. For example, the Catholics officially weigh tradition equally with the teaching of the Bible. They believe in the efficacy of sacraments, in themselves.  The low church rejects these approaches and requires personal faith by the individual. You do not become a member of the low church through being baptised as an infant. 

I still term myself a low-Anglican and I hold some beliefs in common with Margaret Thatcher including:
  • a high view of Scripture 
  • the work ethic, which is fundamental to Protestantism, 
  • a high view of morality 
  • a high view of personal responsibility 
  • a love of poetry and church music (she loved hymns) 
  • attempted obedience to the teaching of the Bible. 
However, I do not subscribe to individualism though I don't like unthinking conformism to the mores of society.  I prefer the concept of responsibility plus community action and community benefit.  Thatcher read the Bible and took it seriously, as I do. She attempted to read the whole Bible, as Prime Minister in 1988. Like me, she also read the many works of world renowned Bible teacher Revd Dr John Stott.  It is not an accident that Margaret Thatcher's grandson is a committed Christian like his mother, Diane.  There is a strong vein of Anglo-Americanism and Reformation religion, running through her family.

The book will suggest that Margaret Thatcher did not reconcile her belief in Christianity with her belief in freedom.  I recall being at a meeting with some left wing Cambridge chaplains at which one said "We need a theology which corrects Mrs Thatcher's take on the Gospels. What is she doing with them?"  I also recall sitting, as a bereft person myself (which opened my eyes to acute need) on a wall in wealthy Chelsea in 1988, with a homeless elderly woman, crying her heart out about the indignities of being forced to stay in a hostel with men -  as people rushed past to shop ignoring her.

Society was energised by making money. 1980s London seemed to have lost a heart for the weak.  I was able to take the crumbs which fell off the table - but some were not. What did that 'detachment' from real need do to the soul of Britain long-term?  It was a battle to fight against the tide to stay in touch with this concept. I believe that society needs to further encourage those with even the slightest ability to do all they can to help themselves, as I was able to, without State support. I fully believe in full personal responsibility. I hate laziness or a self-defeating view of things. I even encourage those with disabilities to take advantage of the Disability Discrimination Act, to get and stay in work, if they can, at all. I don't like the concept of being a burden on the State, which is really being a burden on your less well-off neighbours. 

But Jesus taught that there are some people completely unable to help themselves, through illness, or some other weakness. He teaches in The Story of Lazarus (Luke 16):

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Jesus makes it clear that what we do to those in the depths of need counts more than money, in relation to our eternal soul. We all have a deep responsibility to Lazarus.

Second, I find nowhere in Scripture, the commend "to earn as much as you can" attributed to John Wesley, who was not always fully Biblical. I have also analysed the teaching of Christ for its emphasis. It resulted in an insight which surprised me: Jesus spoke more about the dangers of money and the love of money than about anything else. The Bible would scarcely tell people to "earn as much as they can" or make "the golden calf" their number one priority, over faith, obedience, service, love, wisdom. learning, education, art.   The teaching of Proverbs makes it clear that faith and wisdom are the pearl of great price. The Gospel is the priceless treasure buried in a field. The Kingdom of Heaven is the eternal jewel.

Margaret Thatcher also asked whether the Good Samaritan could have helped the man attacked by thieves "if he had not had money". Johannes Brahms's mother said the same thing, about being poor but being unable to help people, materially.  However, The Gospels  tell us to live "by faith" in a great God who provides. He can provide from nothing. Jesus taught that he provides for the birds, so He can provide for those who have nothing. I know, as I had to rely entirely on prayer at times!

If you can give materially, you do exactly what the Good Samaritan did. If you have nothing, you rest on His provision to someone, through prayer, and share the Gospel that people can trust in Him to provide, forgive and help them. You offer the knowledge of His infinite goodness. The Jewish priest and Levite did not pray for the man who had fallen among thieves. They walked by on the other side. They should have prayed to God for what to do for him. They should have taken some responsibility.

It is this 'walking by those unable to help themselves' that the Christian is prohibited from doing.  Margaret Thatcher did not reportedly do this, on a personal basis and she ensured that the disabled were well provided for through The Disability Living Allowance.

But the apparent high view of "money" in Thatcherism seemed to put money-making out of a healthy balance with honesty, learning, growth in true spirituality, integrity and loving service.

This disconnect made some people turn money into their only security. Those without a clear set of inner principles or belief viewed it out of proportion with life's other purposes, as the sole sign of "success".  

1 comment:

  1. Agree I learned yesterday how much one of our neighbours earns. A battle with some sudden covetousness ensued. From the desire for money we can so easily derive the idea that success is measurable by material possessions.