In his maiden speech on 29th January, a Conservative MP said something which even the Bishops in the House of Lords aren’t saying. Danny Kruger, the Member for Devizes, made not only an unapologetic appeal to national identity, but also to the Christian foundations of that identity:
I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.
This is the liberty of order and virtue, and it is the duty of government – and especially of a Conservative government – to maintain it in substance and preserve it in our national institutions. It is a theological liberty, mindful that as man acts from bad motives, base passions and selfish prejudices, it is God who exposes evil in our hearts and in high places; it is Christianity which enlightens, and it is Jesus who redeems, restores dignity and liberates.
Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.
This is the liberty of innovation and rights; the liberty which believes that a little more equality yields a little more justice, and that all evils can be eliminated by education, social programmes or better government. It is the liberty of ‘progressive’ politics, which is a social philosophy of man. Original sin thereby becomes a ‘myth’: if man is created in the likeness of God, then our individual and social salvation will be found in natural science and the science of man. Base desires and impulses can and must be controlled by the labour of human thought, and differences can be eradicated by bringing them to the fore in human and political affairs in order to diminish them.
I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture. There is so much to be positive about. I share the Prime Minister’s exuberant optimism about the future, but we need a set of values and beliefs to guide us.
We have spent the last 50 years casually throwing away the inheritance of our culture, and with it increasingly the foundations of our liberty. The situation of those who framed our liberties (and, indeed, of those who wrote the Bible) are not ours, and this needs to be acknowledged and reckoned with for scholarly integrity. The nation and the national Church are no longer co-extensive, not least because pluralism and diversity have chipped away at the notion of the visible Church in civil government, so the values and beliefs for which Danny Kruger appeals to guide us are not going to be a source of unity, except for those which are based on ‘progressive’ politics and the rights of man, which constitute the inescapable framework of modern identity. With this new regime of ‘uniformity’ comes an inviolable assertion of supremacy. It would be a brave politician (and a rare bishop) indeed who would make the case for those values and beliefs to be based on those of the received laws and liberties of the Church, which are, of course, the fons et origo of those values and beliefs of our “new identity”.
As we advance at speed into a bewildering world in which we are forced to ask the most profound questions about the limits of autonomy and what it means to be human, we may have reason to look about for the old ways and to seek wisdom in the old ideas that are, in my view, entirely timeless.
In asking the most profound questions we must deal with the fact that human laws are ultimately answerable to eternal order. It is refreshing indeed to hear a politician with the theological instinct to prod and poke Parliament’s socio-political assumptions, and that there is at least one on the Conservative benches who understands and appreciates that the nation and the national Church are bound together by generations of custom and law.