Sunday, 5 April 2009

Bishop of Rochester: Ignore our Christian values and the nation will drift apart

Ed: I am reminded of the words of Leo Amery in the House of Commons on 2 September 1939, when Arthur Greenwood stood up to speak for the Labour Party following Neville Chamberlain, and Amery called across the floor to him, 'Speak for England, Arthur!', implying Chamberlain had not. Who, now Rochester is going, will 'speak for England'?

I have resigned as Bishop of Rochester after nearly 15 years. During that time, I have watched the nation drift further and further away from its Christian moorings. Instead of the spiritual and moral framework provided by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we have been led to expect, and even to celebrate, mere diversity. Not surprisingly, this has had the result of loosening the ties of law, customs and values, and led to a gradual loss of identity and of cohesiveness. Every society, for its wellbeing, needs the social capital of common values and the recognition of certain virtues which contribute to personal and social flourishing. Our ideas about the sacredness of the human person at every stage of life, of equality and natural rights and, therefore, of freedom, have demonstrably arisen from the tradition rooted in the Bible.

Different faiths and traditions will not necessarily produce the values and virtues which have been so prominent in the history of this country. It is quite wrong to presume that they will, as Gordon Brown appeared to do last week in his speech calling for "value-based" rules at St Paul's Cathedral. Some faiths may emphasise social solidarity more than personal freedom, others publicly enforce piety over a nurturing of the interior life and yet others stress honour and shame rather than humility, service and sacrifice. It may be, of course, that there is a useful overlap among these traditions in terms of values by which to live. It may also be that people of different faiths can "own" many of the values produced by a Christian framework in this nation, but this cannot take place in a vacuum.

One of the surprising aspects of what you could call our values vacuum is the historical amnesia which is so prevalent today – or, rather, a selective sort of amnesia. The perfectly virtuous pages of history, such as Magna Carta, the campaign to abolish the slave trade and, later, slavery itself, the easing of conditions of labour for men, women and children and the introduction of universal education, which all took place under the inspiration of the Christian faith, are forgotten or ignored. Instead of which we get large doses of guilt along with an emphasis on our involvement in the slave trade, religious and ethnic persecution, exploitative colonialism and other wrongs which certainly need repentance. But repentance for past wrongs without the celebration of what has been good has deprived people of a common vision by which to live and a strong basis for the future. Read more
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