Tag Archives: value

Cameron: Jesus founded the Big Society

The Church Times has reported that David Cameron used an Easter reception at Downing Street to welcome the role of Christian organisations in building the Big Society.

Describing himself as a “wishy-washy sort of Christian” he nevertheless spoke of the need for committed involvement of Christian groups in public and civic life.  He said:

“You’ll all say that our Lord was really dealing with, starting, the Big Society two thousand years ago, and you’re absolutely right. I’m not saying we’ve invented some great new idea here.

“What I’m saying is that one of the best things about our country is that people step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations, as churches, and do extraordinary things in our country in terms of helping others and helping to build a bigger, richer, more prosperous, more generous society; and all I’m saying is wouldn’t it be great if we did even more of that.”

Yet the question which most politically aware Christians are concerned with is not whether their role in “helping others” is welcome or not.  The sheer number of services provided in this country by Christians – both through explicitly Christian organisations, or as private individuals motivated by Christ’s teachings – is staggering.  The question is whether the Church might be allowed to engage in public life as more than a service provider.

On this, the Prime Minister had even more encouraging words:

“I’ve never really understood this argument about ‘Should the Church get involved in politics? Yes or no?’ To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church, is involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. . .

“So I don’t think we should be frightened about having these debates, and these discussions, and frankly sometimes these arguments about politics in our country and what it means to be a Christian and what faith brings to our politics.”

As some commentators have pointed out, however, it is not clear that we have a sufficiently robust public discourse to allow these arguments.  The fear of appearing sectarian too often means Christians fall for the secularist line that we can only speak to each other in politics through an apparently ‘neutral’ common language.  (You could write at length about this topic here, and others have done so elsewhere.)  Yet language which seeks to be neutral necessarily avoids speaking about the things we feel most ardently about and, therefore, the things which matter most to us.  Values are thrust out of the public square.

This is really a topic for a future blog post (watch this space), but it does shine an interesting light on the PM.  Those who sought to dismiss David Cameron as nothing but a PR man appear to have misread his character.  Of course, his comments might be pandering to an audience.  But they don’t feel like words spoken from a script.  There seems to be a deeper reflection on morality and public life going on here.  The question is whether his words will remain verabl encouragement, or be translated into something more tangible as the Coalition’s policies shaping the Big Society gradually become law.

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Andrew Brown: Behind the Burqa Ban’s Reasoning

Andrew Brown has posted a characteristically balanced and intelligent article on the Guardian website about the ban on women wearing the burqa or niqab in public just introduced in France.

He is caustic in his argument that the ban is not about free speech as such, but about the state’s right to make and promote value judgements:

This seems to me to be less about speech than about beliefs: it implies a claim that French citizens believe – or at least live as if they believed – in particular values. Is that something that a state can legitimately ask? The question is idiotic. It is something that all states do, in fact, demand. In the case of France, there is a well worked-out set of principles to which all citizens are expected to subscribe. This is more than Charles de Gaulle’s “certaine idée de la France“: it is a particular idea of being French. Values and people cannot be disentangled. A state that is grounded on particular values demands that its citizens live by them, too.

Though this remark evokes a fair degree of chagrin in the comments section following his article, Andrew Brown’s argument has a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about it.  It is incredibly hard to sustain a convincing argument that the state can be genuinely neutral. Indeed, Britain may not be the ‘Christian’ society it once was but it remains heavily value-laden. Laws against discrimination – especially when some rights are decided to trump others – or the expression of hatred, for example, clearly express values.

Yet acknowledging that our society remains underpinned by values – however opaque – is an uncomfortable truth for many to hear when set alongside the liberal mantra of free choice. It is a truth which exposes those values to scrutiny. That is not to say they are necessarily wrong, but it does caution us to not see them as immutable.

This is particularly important when it comes to the issue of social cohesion. If we lose sight of the values underpinning the state and therefore stop articulating, justifying and defending them, then we should not be surprised when people ‘turn off’ from politics.  As Andrew rightly observes, a state that rules by force alone is tyranny.

A constant refrain among critics of the current government is that people did not vote for them. That may be true, but it exposes an ignorance of how a plural democracy is supposed to work. Competitive electoral systems like ours often have a fragmentary impact on political and social divisions, breeding a ‘winner takes all’ attitude. In the absence of a shared conception of the common good for which our government should strive, a democracy gives the victor all the power and all the decisions. Opponents feel powerless in response.

Losing a sense of the values underpinning our state may well be a contributory factor feeding the current sense of political discord and disillusionment. The answer to that will not be a change of government. It may be to recognise once more that our state, like any state, is based on values. Identifying, sharing and defending those values might just be a step in the direction of a more consensual system and more empowered electorate. And it might help us think more clearly about what is going on elsewhere in Europe.

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Of Good Character

Character is creeping back into fashion.  One of CTC’s core research streams is looking at ‘Formation, Values and Virtue’ and it’s clear that in seeking to foster more conversation on the topic we are pushing at a door which is ready to open.

Although still muted in the main public arena, conversations about the decline of virtue and the need to address questions of personal, and social, character abound.  It is worth highlighting a few recent contributions to the field.

In 2009 the Demos produced a report entitled Building Character which examined the role of parents in bringing up children.  Confronting the liberal instinct that questions of character are best left to private individuals, the report’s authors argued that “to the extent that certain elements of character impact equality, opportunity and fairness, it ought to be a concern for policy makers interested in those outcomes” (p.12).  Policy makers lack a vocabulary for discussing the issue, however, and despite making a few suggestions around childrearing, the report is resigned to accepting that “there is no set of policy solutions that can solve such an intractable, private and complex cluster of problems” (p.57).  The formation of children, though, is identified as a legitimate focus of policy action.

The empirical grounds for doing so are provided by another recent publication by Professor James Arthur which is the book Of Good Character: Exploration of Values and Virtues in 3-25 Year Olds.  An outcome of the Learning for Life project, Professor Arthur’s book draws on extensive qualitative and quantative research to move towards a modern definition of ‘character’ and to identify its traits and formation in young people.  It is well worth engaging with, or at the very least reading the Young Foundation’s review of it.

These are just two contributions to the discussion and there are many more out there.  We will be posting more resources in the coming weeks and months.

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