You are here:   Ethnicity > Breaking Faith With Britain
 
As I survey the field, what do I see? I find, first of all, “a descending theme” in terms of Christian influence. That is to say, I find that the systems of governance, of the rule of law, of the assumption of trust in common life all find their inspiration in Scripture; for example, in the Pauline doctrine of the godly magistrate and, ultimately, in the Christian doctrine of God the Holy Trinity, where you have both an ordered relationship and a mutuality of love. As Joan O’Donovan has pointed out, the notion of God’s right, or God’s justice, produced a network of divine, human and natural law which was the basis of a just ordering of society and also of a mutual sense of obligation “one towards another”, as we say at Prayers for the Parliament. Such a descending theme of influence continues to permeate society, but is especially focused in constitutional arrangements, such as the “Queen in Parliament under God”, the Queen’s Speech (which always ends with a prayer for Almighty God to bless the counsels of the assembled Parliament), daily prayers in Parliament, the presence of bishops in the House of Lords, the national flag, the national anthem — the list could go on. None of this should be seen as “icing on the cake” or as interesting and tourist-friendly vestigial elements left over from the Middle Ages. They have the purpose of weaving the awareness of God into the body politic of the nation.

In addition to this “descending theme”, there is also what we might call the “ascending theme”, which comes up from below to animate debate and policy-making in the institutions of state. Much of this has to do with our estimate of the human person and how that affects the business of making law and of governance. Such an estimate goes right back to the rediscovery of Aristotle by Europe — a rediscovery, incidentally, made possible by the work of largely Christian translators in the Islamic world. These translators made Aristotle, and much else besides, available to the Muslims, who used it, commented upon it and passed it on to Western Europe. One of the features of the rediscovery was a further appreciation of the human person as agent by Christian thinkers such as St Thomas Aquinas. They were driven to read the Bible in the light of Aristotle and this had several results which remain important for us today.

One was the discovery of conscience. If the individual is morally and spiritually responsible before God, then we have to think also of how conscience is formed by the Word of God and the Church’s proclamation of it so that freedom can be exercised responsibly. Another result was the emergence of the idea that because human beings were moral agents, their consent was needed in the business of governance. It is not enough now simply to draw on notions of God’s justice for patterns of government. We need also the consent of the governed who have been made in God’s image (a term which comes into the foreground). This dual emphasis on conscience and consent led to people being seen as citizens rather than merely as subjects.

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
DR J
January 14th, 2009
2:01 AM
"Imagine there's no heaven, and no religions, too..." John was an excellent songwriter and a poor sociologist. Remove the spiritual underpinnings of a society and you do not remove the need for spirituality. Crap and Islamofascism will fill the void.

D. Thornton
October 2nd, 2008
7:10 PM
Kentun8 - I have also heard the bishop speaking, & am extremely impressed by his grasp of what is happening in this country. As for the Anglican church's "constant adjustment to secular values" - that is its nemesis: it is becoming secularised & will eventually have no purpose for existing.

zodiaclove
September 30th, 2008
11:09 AM
hola I can't agree with what you said really.... please ellaberate a bit more for me ;D thank you

kentun8
July 13th, 2008
11:07 PM
To go back to the article... does anyone really know what the bishop was saying? He proposed "a rigorous investigation into the origins of nationhood", to show, I think, that Christian values moulded those that are essentially British. But his grasp of historical development is not just fuzzy but absent altogether. To cite one secular example, there was no consensus between Evangelicalism and the Enlightenment, the former arose in protest against the latter's diminishment of faith and Biblical belief. In his own backyard of church governance, the founding documents of Anglicanism, - the preface to the 1662 Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles - reflect the pervasive influence of secular values such as political tolerance, individual rights (mostly founded on property), and respect for personal conscience on the life of the church, rather than the other way round. And a phrase "The Westphalian consensus is dead" suggests that he does not even know what the Treaties of Westphalia were concerned with - the right of an outside force to interfere across national frontiers to right what it perceives as a moral wrong; if the concept of nationhood that grew ut of those treaties is really dead, why are we tying ourselves in knots about conditions inside Zimbabwe's borders, as we did over Bosnia, Kosovo, etc? I know the bishop is the media's conservative darling, but he is not the real article. He has no sense of the abiding values of the Anglican church, its tolerance, its constant adjustment to secular values, and its continuous self-criticism. As one of the bishop's flock, I have listened intently and repeatedly to his sermons, and I know him personally to be a kind and charming man, but I have never known him present an intelligent, clearly argued statement of what he actually believes.Or more alarmingly still, what he actually knows.

RacFos19
July 3rd, 2008
1:07 AM
When I was young I attended Church every Sunday with my family and was ridiculed for doing so by the neighbourhood children. As I grew up and learnt more about religion and the world in general: new discoveries, technologies and ideologies I too turned away from God. How in an age of reason could a person believe in and worship children's stories and fairy tales? And then I continued to grow up and discovered that although one didn't necessarily have to believe in the supernatural aspects of God one could believe in his teachings. Being a good and moral person how could one scorn the teachings of the bible? I was happy to discover that a man born some two hundred years ago thought along the same lines that I was thinking, I am of course referring to Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of America, who took a pair of scissors to the Bible and cut out the supernatural aspects and repackaged it as "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth". However after looking at the long-term impacts that removing the Church and God from studies, as he perpetrated, and day to day life I realised that you can't have one without the other. Some think that I am quite childlike in my belief that man can and will be better. At one time politicians were of quite good moral stock, yes you could always find a bad apple in the barrel but generally speaking recent history has shown that those who democratically governed us did so with truth and honesty. I do not believe that it is childish or naive to think that that time will come again, and is, in fact, closer than we realise. Politicians today have a bad rap and in most cases quite deservedly, but the new generation of politicians will learn from their predecessors they will see that they cannot base their careers and campaigns on lies and deceit because it is getting harder and harder to fool the public, and so the new stock of politicians wont be the same mealy mouthed rats that we have grown so accustomed too. They will be of the most impeccable scruples, morals and decentness. To believe in God is not to believe in "sky Gods" to believe in the teachings of God is not to believe in "nonsense" it is to believe in the better nature of man and to believe that man can and will be better. God doesn't insist that you genuflect to him, or that you partake in costly rituals. He only asks that you love him and that you love your neighbour. God will forgive even the most destitute sinner if that sinner truly repents. God is merciful but only if the mercy is deserved, many people have the mistaken belief that if you say sorry for your sins that it gives you leave to sin again: because you can always say sorry again and God loves you and will forgive you. God does love you and he will always forgive you, but remember whatever God does to you he does because he loves you. If you are of the stock that sins, makes a false apology and then sins again, he will find a way of making you truly repent before opening the doors of Heaven to you.

Robert Callow
June 27th, 2008
5:06 AM
Miles, The bad news is that because of man's increasingly deceitful and proud state of mind, we are willfully killing ourselves at an increasingly alarming rate: The knowledge and power to completely destroy deluded mankind becomes increasingly more available to an increasing number of people who are growing increasingly more evil. The good news however, is that God has made known to us how to overcome this death culture and to look forward to His promised paradise where the infinite imagination of the Spirit of truth is the infinite realm of everything, where pure love's endless glory is perfect love's free and endless creation. Freedom is the freedom to choose.

Amy Jayne
June 26th, 2008
10:06 PM
This should not be about whose religion is "right" or "wrong". This should be about the ability of out nation's religions - and athiests - to co-exist without conflict or without the need to overshadow one-another. I am only 19 and yet I am greatly saddened by what I see has become of this once great country. Britain is weak and lacking in identity. This is nothing to do with how many Muslims we have, how many Christians we have or how many Hindus we have. It is to do with how many horrible, nasty excuses for human beings we have roaming our streets and running our country, and the rifts that they driving open between our many wonderful communities. The religious and non-religous alike should be uniting against these hatemongers, not each other.

Miles Sinclair
June 25th, 2008
7:06 AM
If christians want to believe in their god, then go ahead. BUT - if you are planning on "sharing" the good news that we all deserve death and eternal punishment - and that is what we will get if we don't believe what you believe, then expect a challenge. And it will be loud, and reasoned and equally passionate.

Richard Calhoun
June 12th, 2008
11:06 AM
The Churches only have themselves to blame, they have conspired with socialism since 1945 and abdicated their responsibility to the people to the 'Welfare State'

John Scott
June 11th, 2008
1:06 PM
The intellectual history outlined here is, frankly, so oversimplified as to be incredibly misleading (an obvious example, one cannot simply lead from the neo-Scholastics concerned with the Americas to John Locke: a hundred years and Northern European permutations are something of a gaping chasm). We are fortunate indeed that the current Archbishop of Canterbury is not given to making such intellectually dubious pronouncements.

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.