“The Durham Miners’ Association has been shocked and saddened at the news last week of the death of three stalwarts of the socialist and labour movement,” wrote the Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala in March 2014, in what must indeed have been ‘A Sad Week for Socialists‘. And the tributes poured forth, respectfully and compassionately, as befits the bereaved, now parted from their loved ones, distressed in their grief. “A colossal loss for the working people of Britain,” they wrote of Bob Crow. “He will be remembered above all as a fine human being,” they said of Tony Benn. “We have lost a dear comrade who is irreplaceable,” they wrote about Stan Pearce, a miner who “started work at the age of 14 at the Glebe Colliery Washington in 1946”. And so the Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala declared their fellow-feeling: “Our deepest sympathy and condolences go out to the family, friends and comrades of all of these three remarkable men.”
Methodism with all its splits and factions was the established religion of the pit communities. Almost every pit village of any size had at least two chapels, usually Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist, dividing the village ideologically – Wesleyan for the master’s men, Primitive for the Union.
While the Church of England claimed God for the monarchy, the state and capital, the Durham Primitives claimed God for the working class, the co-operative store and the Union. Organised in circuits of travelling lay preachers, these men were regarded as dangerous fundamentalists and thoroughly subversive.
Abstaining from strong drink, dedicated to education and self-improvement, and frowning on marriage outside their own Primitive sect, these ‘religious extremists’ never accounted for more than 15 per cent of the community. However, they were respected as honest, decent men and were hugely influential.
Alas, the respected, honest and decent miners of Durham long ago rejected the subversion of Methodism. Yesterday, they paraded an effigy of Margaret Thatcher in a coffin, with “Rest In Hell” emblazoned on the side. She was herself brought up a Methodist: she understood the fundamentalism of a faith founded on discipline and self-control, and sought to instil Christian values in the nation and inculcate a sense of economic morality. Few Church leaders agreed with her mission, but many believers did.
It is a disturbing level of hate which wishes upon anyone an eternity of torment and suffering, but the Left seem to be disposed to it. As The Lady lay ill in hospital with a serious bout of flu, Labour’s Cllr Florence Anderson, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, wrote on her Facebook page: “Haha, I hope she BURNS IN HELL.” She added: “I’ll dance on Thatcher’s grave, even if she is buried at sea.”
The hateful Left rejoiced at her passing, raised their pint glasses to “The Bitch is dead”, and dreamed of dancing on her grave. You can’t quite imagine the Right parading a coffin of Harold Wilson through the streets, wishing him an eternity of gnashing of teeth. You can’t imagine the Right waiting eagerly for Arthur Scargill’s funeral, deliriously spitting on his coffin and looking forward to the day they could flush his ashes into the stinking sewers beneath Congress House.
It is quite easy to say that you hope someone might ‘Rest in Hell’ as a hyperbolic corollary of the intense loathing or hatred you might feel for that person. But Hell is a frightful place of eternal torment and unending suffering, where the flame consumes, thirst is forever unquenched and the teeth gnash and gnaw as the soul writhes in agony.
It might come as disappointment to the Durham Miners’ Gala as much as to Cllr Florence Anderson, but Margaret Thatcher is not burning Hell. She was, and had been since her childhood, a committed Christian.
Her Christianity was grounded in the Protestant Nonconformity of devout and evangelical Methodism: her conservatism was Tory in its Burkean deference to the great institutions of state but thoroughly Whiggish and libertarian after Mill in its iconoclastic challenge to the big agencies of state; in her emphasis on the ‘work ethic’ kind of Protestantism, and her patriotic belief in the national British Christian spirit and her notion of morality as the opportunity for free choice. She had what some identified as a ‘puritan streak’, espousing the values of the English suburban and provincial middle-class and aspiring skilled working-class. These contrasted with the values of the establishment élite of the Church of England, landowners, university academics, the Foreign Office and the professions.
Her writings and speeches are unequivocal in the provenance of her theo-political worldview. In Statecraft, she wrote: “I believe in what are often referred to as ‘Judaeo-Christian’ values: indeed my whole political philosophy is based on them.” In the second volume The Path to Power she went further: “Although I have always resisted the argument that a Christian has to be a Conservative, I have never lost my conviction that there is a deep and providential harmony between the kind of political economy I favour and the insights of Christianity.”
But a speech she made at the zenith of her power is perhaps the most illuminating of all her statements with regard to her theology, and it is worth looking at it in some detail because she began it by saying that she spoke “personally as a Christian, as well as a politician”.
In a speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988 – the ‘Sermon on the Mound’ – Margaret Thatcher outlined what she identified as the “distinctive marks of Christianity” which “stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives”. And perhaps in a swipe at those ‘meddlesome priests’ who were critical of some of her policies throughout the 1980s, she declared that “we must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ”.
In this speech, Margaret Thatcher was unwavering in her interpretation of Scripture which gives “a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life”: of how the theological ‘is’ translates into the political ‘ought’; how Christianity remains relevant to public policy. And so she emphasises the traditional conservative view of the family which is “at the heart of our society and the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care”. And with an appeal to the Apostle Paul, she reminded her audience that “anyone who neglects to provide for his own house (family) has disowned the faith and is ‘worse than an infidel'”. Yet she was not deluded by the biblical ideal, recognising that “modern society is infinitely more complex’ and that ‘new occasions teach new duties”. But some things are sacrosanct:
I believe strongly that politicians must see that religious education has a proper place in the school curriculum. In Scotland, as in England, there is an historic connection expressed in our laws between Church and State. The two connections are of a somewhat different kind, but the arrangements in both countries are designed to give symbolic expression to the same crucial truth: that the Christian religion – which, of course, embodies many of the great spiritual and moral truths of Judaism – is a fundamental part of our national heritage. And I believe it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people that this heritage should be preserved and fostered. For centuries it has been our very life blood. And indeed we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.
To dispel any notion that Margaret Thatcher was simply exploiting the Faith for electoral purposes, it is possible to trace this golden thread of Christianity in speeches she made prior even to becoming Leader of the Opposition: there is a distinct and consistent Nonconformist leitmotif running through all of her political writings. Her government essentially constituted an applied theology; it was, she said, “engaged in the massive task of restoring confidence and stability to our people” because “unless the spirit of the nation which has hitherto sustained us is renewed, our national life will perish”. She reintroduced into British politics a missionary mood that reflected her provincial and Methodist origins. And the ‘spirit’ of which she spoke was unequivocally and uncompromisingly Christian. She said: “I find it difficult to imagine that anything other than Christianity is likely to resupply most people in the West with the virtues necessary to remoralise society in the very practical ways which the solution of many present problems require.” Of which theologian Graeme Smith observed:
Thatcher comes as close as she can to identifying Christianity and Conservatism. One can speculate that for Thatcher any distinction between Christianity and Conservatism is a technical theological distinction, and that the values and principles associated with the two sets of beliefs were normally, temporally, indistinguishable. She comes very close to this position in her volume Statecraft when she argues that certain cultures are “more conducive to free-enterprise capitalism and thus to economic progress than others”. She had in mind the “Judaeo-Christian tradition” as opposed to what she calls the “great Asian religious traditions” and the “religious traditions of Africa”. It is not necessary to agree with this analysis – and there are many problems with it – to recognize that for Thatcher a spiritual renewal meant essentially a Christian cultural renewal, not to fill the churches, but to ensure economic growth and prosperity.
Perhaps no prime minister since Gladstone could have risked telling a journalist that (s)he was “in politics because of the conflict between good and evil”, with the conviction that “in the end good will triumph”.
But it is not her policies which saved her from Hell. Nor was it her programme of government, her good works or world renown.
Margaret Thatcher is saved from Hell because Jesus Christ is her Lord and Saviour: He paid the price; she is forgiven.
Perhaps the Durham Miners’ Association might like to consider in their spittle-flecked orgies of enmity and resentment that the Lord called Margaret Thatcher to Himself, and the angels not only rejoiced in Heaven, but the name of Thatcher endures throughout the earth, and will do so long after the Durham Miners’ Gala has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Criticise her policies all you wish, and lament, if you will, what she did to the country. Pity or dislike her; hate her, even, although it harms the soul of none but the hater.
But the self-righteous Left betray their deep Christian roots when they wish the horrors of Hell upon their political opponents. And yet, having killed off those roots, perhaps that is why they are so given to hate.