Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE FAITH OF BARONESS THATCHER

IT IS hard to imagine a prime minister doing such a thing now, and even then it seemed rather surprising. In May 1988 Margaret Thatcher went to the General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland and gave what would soon be called the Sermon on the Mound. It was an impassioned statement of a certain form of Christianity. The Conservative leader stressed individual salvation over social reform, the legitimacy of moneymaking when combined with altruism, and the “responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ”.

In religion, as in so much else, Mrs (later Lady) Thatcher was a bundle of paradoxes. She was the last British prime minister openly and emphatically to acknowledge the influence of Christianity on her thinking, in particular terms not fuzzy ones.
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Precisely because she had such well-defined ideas, Mrs Thatcher was almost bound to have stormy relations with England’s established religion. In her time, the Archbishop of Canterbury was Robert Runcie (pictured above), an Oxford contemporary who irked her considerably. A decorated tank commander, he commemorated the Argentine dead at a service following the Falklands war; he produced “Faith in the City”, a left-wing tract on urban blight; and he chided the government for demonising its opponents. Mrs Thatcher preferred the chief rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits, who shared her view that self-improvement, not subsidies, would relieve poverty.

She helped to ensure that Archbishop Runcie was succeeded by George Carey, an unpretentious evangelical who this week remembered her as a person of “uncomplicated but very strong faith”.
Thatcher's political philosophy, nurtured by her view of Christianity that little resembles the Gospel, put the baroness squarely on the side of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps and not looking to the government for support.  Her speech makes for quite an interesting read, and it's easy to see why she and Runcie did not get on, and why she wished to insure that he was not followed by another archbishop who would write "left-wing tracts" against war and sympathizing with the plight of the poor and unemployed.   Thatcher speaks of the Kingdom of God in her speech:
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.
Thatcher's view of the Kingdom of God sounds very like the prosperity gospel preached today.  All Christians are meant to be prosperous, and those who are poor - well it's their own doing.
  

16 comments:

  1. And of course, the verse from II Thess 3.10 is in the context of the very immanent return of the Lord in glory, and so some of the Thesalonians, as far as we can tell, had stopped working because they thought Jesus was coming, like, tomorrow. (And so did Paul, so don't blame them too much). And so we need to be careful with that verse and how it applies. I personally do think that an able-bodied person should somehow always contribute to society in return for support, but that may be by going to school or any number of things. I don't know if anyone called out Thatcher for bad exegesis after her speech, but someone should have.

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    1. You're quite right, RFSJ. Some good Presbyterian should have called Thatcher out. I believe people of able body and mind should work, too. I always have, and I still do, even as I keep in mind that there would have to be jobs available, and even as I realize that there are people who are virtually unemployable, because they lack basic skills.

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    1. Yes it is, JCF. We have our share of Christians here who think the same way.

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  3. The very definition of "people of able body and mind" is that they work...that they want to work...that they will work even if they don't get a paycheck for it, in fact. What's wrong with people that they don't get this?

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    1. Who would want to live on $1000 per month if there was an alternative? And that makes me think the minimum wage must be raised.

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    2. The very definition of "people of able body and mind" is that they work...that they want to work...that they will work even if they don't get a paycheck for it, in fact. What's wrong with people that they don't get this?

      Or, conversely, what's wrong w/ you, that you DO get (believe) that, Sharon?

      I'm all for "Ora et Labora", in a Benedictine sense. But Benedictine labora presumes that work has MEANING. So much "employment" under Capitalism is AT BEST wage-slavery. At worst, it's EXPLOITIVE of others (or even one's self).

      Thatcher was all about the latter: life defined by employment (defined by paycheck). An empty philosophy that has blighted BILLIONS of people (and is in active danger of exterminating all life on the planet). God have mercy on her---she'll need it! [Won't we all]

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    3. There will always be tedious work that must be done, but there's no excuse for the powers to exploit workers. I think of Brother Lawrence's prayer as he went about his work in the kitchen of the monastery, which has a permanent place on my sidebar:

      "O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections."

      All honest labor is worthy of honor, and all workers are due respect.

      Lord, have mercy on us all.

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  4. It would seem that Mrs. T. overlooked "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal."

    And what about "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon"?

    That said, I think it is true that in the long run, people are better off if helped to be self-sustaining rather than merely dependent on others. But there's a balance to be struck there, as in all other areas of life: unbridled socialism is as abhorrent and destructive as unbridled capitalism.

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    1. Has untrammeled socialism been tried on a large scale? The systems of the Soviet Union and China at their worst, were not exercises in untrammeled socialism. I'd call them something else - perhaps state ownership with policies dictated by a tyrannical oligarchy.

      And we see where we are with nearly untrammeled capitalism.

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    2. I believe in a golden mean between extremes - what individuals can readily do for themselves, they should be free to do in the way that they please. What individuals can scarcely do without assistance, the state should do, or at least should carefully guide and regulate.

      As in our own Anglican ethos, I think there is a political via media to walk, where a happy balance is found between extremes, sensible exceptions to the rules are made, and doctrinaire philosophies are shunned. Mr. Jindal and Mr. Perry, as you and I well know, have no concept of this, of course - nor do lots of other folks.

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    3. Yes, we want balance, but then we end up in the thicket of sorting out the deserving from the undeserving poor. Ah, what can I say? I'm a bleeding heart, except about the bankers and financiers who ran the economy under and received millions in bonuses from our tax money. I don't bleed for them. I want the money back.

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    4. You may have seen in recent days, and if not you can easily Google it, that the CEO of J. C. Penney's has been fired after only 18 months on the job. But like Liberace, he is crying all the way to the bank - his employment contract specified that he would receive a separation payment, or whatever the term is, of - and I kid you not - $150 million whether he was fired or left of his own accord.

      I contrast that obscene, outrageous news with the memory of our sweet little Lucille, who was my mother's maid for twenty years, and was a widow living on a pittance of SS and SSI. She was a prodigious worker in spite of having a short leg - the result of a fracture back in the 1950s that was never set right. In her old age I used to visit and it broke my heart that she was reduced to taking her heart and blood pressure medicines only every other day - she could not afford to fill both of them for a whole month at a time.

      There is a balance urgently to be sought between these two ungodly extremes, and that's what I mean about a via media in society and politics.

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    5. Russ, the Penney's CEO separation pay is obscene capitalism in play. And the people in situations similar to Lucille's shame us as a country, exposing how little we care for the most vulnerable among us.

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  5. Work? Work is a requisite for what? Worth?

    Remind me again of the beggars Jesus told: "Get a job!"

    Nothing against work, mind; but work is as common and ordinary as breath. It isn't a source of virtue, it's simply a necessity of existence. Besides, "the laborer is worthy of his hire" Jesus says in Luke, and the Didache echoes. But the essence of a system of employment is that it all but demands exploitation, and certainly rewards some far above others, for reasons apparent only to the system and those in charge of it.

    Which kinda runs in the face of "the first shall the last of all, and servant of all." Jesus rather explicitly and repeatedly preached the basiliea tou theou was a race to the bottom, not a constant struggle towards the top (gained by stepping over someone, or on them, if need be).

    Thatcher was, theologically and exegetically, full of what we used to call in seminary "bullsgeschicte." A very proper German term, you understand; since all the best exegetes are German.

    I would go on, but then this would turn into a blog post, and that would be rude of me.....

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    1. Rmj, I wouldn't mind if you went on. Rough translation of "bullsgeschicte" - bullshit? Let's just say that our democratic republic does not operate according the the rules of the Kingdom of God.

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