We live at a crucial moment for Western civilisation. A century of decadence and declining engagement with the historic Christian religion has left a culture hollowed out. Family breakdown is rife and producing its poisonous fruit across society. The birth rate is at an all-time low and beneath the rate of replacement, leaving populations ageing and, but for immigration, shrinking. Lax border controls at a time of mass population movement have produced dramatic cultural and ethnic change in a short space of time, contributing to serious issues of social integration and cohesion, as well as practical and economic concerns about public services and job shortages. Global economic and technological developments have seen the outsourcing of mass production to low wage economies and a marked growth in automation leading to crises of livelihood and identity amongst working class communities, with a huge knock-on effect on wider society. At the same time, the threat from political and militant Islam has developed into a clash of civilisations as Western nations have found themselves the target of a steady stream of terrorist atrocities perpetrated by jihadis.
In the face of these challenges the West has displayed a profound cultural disorientation. A crisis of confidence has afflicted the elite culture and its leaders, manifesting in various forms of self-abasement and a commitment to overturning every vestige of traditional practices, values and beliefs. In the name of equality and diversity society has been subjected to a sustained assault on received values and understandings, and been compelled to accept new and experimental values based on radical ideas of gender, sexuality, culture and nationhood. Criticisms of these ideas have been systematically silenced, squashed, and written off as the ravings of racists and bigots. Meanwhile, God has been quietly shunted off into the spare room wardrobe where he can cease to make people feel awkward about the fact that they’re basically ignoring him.
Secularisation has seemed increasingly inevitable, with the drop off in religious belief and participation, yet it has apparently offered nothing but hedonism and nihilism to replace the Christian vision of God and his law and his grace. Yet this has shown itself in no way adequate to face up to the great challenges confronting Western peoples: not only those already mentioned, but also the global problems of persisting economic inequality and poverty, the loss of confidence in democratically elected governments which, whatever party is in power, appear to be all too ready to cosy up to self-serving elites, and the increasing pressure on the earth’s finite resources from human activity and industry.
Where is God in all this? And what can we really expect from him anyway in relation to a culture which has so determinedly turned its back on him and his ways?
This blog aims to be a voice in this cultural wilderness. It takes inspiration from two of the great statements of public theology from Britain’s past. The Westminster Confession of 1646, which includes one of the definitive accounts of the relationship between God and government:
God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers…
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (Chapter XXIII)
And the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, where the persistence of the moral law is unambiguously asserted:
Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral. (Article VII)
This moral law has come under attack in recent times and it has been suggested that there is no objective or absolute morality, or that it is something mysterious which we cannot reasonably be expected to know or agree about. Underlying the comment offered in this blog is a different idea, of a moral law which is hardwired into human nature by its divine creator, and which is readily discernible by the human intellect. This human nature and its natural law exists independently of any particular human individual, which are of course always to some degree imperfect, but the substance of it can be surmised from the goals towards which individual souls aspire, however falteringly. Nevertheless, to address any opacity, the moral law is confirmed in the inspired words of holy scripture.
These imperfect but morally governed human beings are located within an ordered system of nature. Within this they occupy the high rank befitting a rational and free creature formed in the image and likeness of its creator. In virtue of which image also they possess dignity, and natural rights and duties which all should respect and honour, and they hold the privileged position of dominion and stewardship over God’s creation.
This, in condensed form, is the general approach of this blog to questions of ethics, politics and religion, and how it understands the will of God to relate to law, morality and government. It is not so much theocracy as natural theology, natural justice and natural law, the rule of a theologically informed reason.
Faith and Politics will, I hope, contribute in some small way to the renewal of our culture.
About the Author
Will Jones is a UK-based writer on politics and religion and the interface between the two. He has a deep interest in learning about Western civilisation, its origins, influences and prospects. He has a PhD in political philosophy and an MA in ethics and political theory from the University of Reading. He also holds a Diploma in biblical and theological studies from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and a BSc in mathematics from the University of Warwick. He is the author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove 2017).