Thursday, 30 December 2010

Not even faint praise where it is due?

There's an interesting piece here from Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph on the present U.K. coalition government's attitude towards religious faith. Now I would be the last to suggest that the Church (read that how you will) should be allied to any political grouping whatsoever, or be a cheerleader for any political philosophy or intellectual or social elite, but there are worrying signs that some senior clerics seem to be trying to revive the kind of facile 'anti-Thatcherite' rhetoric in which, no doubt, they first indulged during the 1980s.
That's not to suggest it is somehow unacceptable for clergy (senior or otherwise) to express concerns and anxieties about the range and extent of government cutbacks. Clearly, the Church's concern should be first and foremost for the most vulnerable in our society, particularly at at time of financial restraint, when economic burdens should be shouldered equitably and by those most able to cope with them.
But there should also be some recognition that the present administration is, at least in its public statements so far, more sympathetic to the Christian faith than was its unlamented predecessor.
Moreover, the wider discussion in society about the morality of a welfare system which can easily result for many people  in a culture of state funded dependency is one which we are right to be holding.
There are other means of helping the disadvantaged other than by means of direct government benefits paid from general taxation. In Britain, the result of the downplaying of the need for individuals to take responsibility for the direction of their own lives has been a major factor in the breakdown (meltdown might be more appropriate) of family life and the worrying underperformance of the state education system. This is the political 'elephant in the room;' until recently very few social commentators and even fewer politicians were willing to venture on to this territory at all for fear of offending against the fashionable liberal nostrums of the post-1960s consensus. In fact, since the 1960s there has been a massive social experiment taking place in the construction of a individualistic, self-obsessed, irresponsible and largely values-free society, promoted by those liberal opinion formers who, unlike those who are poorer and less well educated, are themselves financially very well-cushioned against the consequences of the moral and ethical mayhem they have unleashed.
 But one of the most worrying post-war trends has been the collusion of all of us in the assumption not only that the State should be the main and even sole provider of education and social welfare, but that increasingly doctrinaire and secularist public bodies (using the cloak of 'multi-culturalism' to disguise their hostility to the traditional values of the Christian faith) should pose as an impartial arbiter in seeking to control and regulate the efforts of others. There is nothing impartial or detached about the secularist stance; it's just another point of view among many. Secularism does though have the disadvantage of a thorough ignorance of the values, history and development of those institutions on top of which it sits like a parasite sapping the life of the organism upon which it feeds, whilst contributing nothing to its well-being.
The Church herself given her long and impressive history of charitable and educational work should be well aware of the limitations of a statist approach.. If the present government's idea of the 'Big Society' can be criticised it is in its lack of specific, concrete proposals to give substance to its voluntarist philosophy. One might think the Church is better placed than most to put flesh on the bones of this particular proposal and she should do so, not acting as a mere agent of an already over-mighty state but as maintaining, reasserting and developing her own traditional and independent role as educator and friend to the poor, the outcast and the vulnerable.

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