In my previous blog on the ugly political and social mood in the UK I suggested that it had arisen because the true God, that all-seeing and all-powerful figure who has dominated British culture for centuries, has been displaced and replaced by political causes which have claimed ultimate authority over us. In summary, we could say that issues became ideologies which, in turn, became idols.
Given this diagnosis we must ask: what can we do about it all? It is certainly tempting in such dark days to do nothing: to disconnect from all news media, find some remote monastery or simply put our head under the pillow and hope that it will all go away. Tempting but, I'm certain, wrong.
So we must act – but how? In the previous blog I suggested that the fundamental solution was a return to a belief in the biblical God and his morality. Let me here go a little further and offer five suggestions for what we can do.
First, we need to reject any idea, however enticingly presented, that says our party or political cause takes priority over morality. One of the most dangerous phrases anyone can utter is 'my country, right or wrong' and that applies equally to 'party' or 'cause'.
Unless we put morality first then all that we fight for will, sooner or later, be lost. Here, we would do well to remind ourselves of God's Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2–17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21) with their warnings not just against idolatry (commandments 1 and 2) but against hatred (6), theft (8), lying (9) and greed (10). This is easy to say but harder to do when the false claims, dubious arguments or unfair accusations support the outcome that we personally want. Yet it must be done.
Second, we need to turn down the temperature of the debate. We must remember that maintaining kindness and fairness are more important than winning arguments.
Third, we need to reject all arguments that appeal to that unholy trinity of negative emotions: greed, hate and fear. Instead, we should look towards promoting everything that will encourage generosity, kindness and peace. If there was ever a time where the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) with their appeals to such things as humility, meekness, mercy and above all peace-making were important, it is now.
Fourth, we need to stand firm for the truth. There are many different kinds of lie currently circulating and all need countering. One is the lie of nostalgia. Here an enthralling image of a cosy, contented, friendly Britain with sunlit oak trees, policemen on bicycles, full churches, and doors that stay unlocked at night is conjured up and we are promised that we can have it back. The reality is, of course, that such a picture-postcard world, if it ever really existed, has vanished beyond recovery: the Empire is long lost, we no longer rule the waves and we are simply one of many small nations in a turbulent world. For better or worse, we live in the twenty-first century and we must look to the future, not to the past.
Another lie that must be challenged is that of the quick fix. The offer is tempting: vote for us, adopt our programme and all will be made well. In 1940, Churchill – whose long shadow still falls over British politics – had the courage to say to the nation, 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.' Today, in a very different age, we are instead tempted with a peace and prosperity without discomfort, cost or effort. It will not be so. Let us challenge lies – however attractive they may sound – and demand the truth.
Finally, we should pray. I hinted in the previous blog that I felt there was something truly diabolic in what was happening in the country and I mean that. Surely there are 'powers and principalities' (Ephesians 6:12) involved here and God's children should stand firm against them in the name of Christ.
Five suggestions and I can already hear two objections. The first is that it is naive. After all, goes the accusation, we Christians are so few in number that we can do little about the present situation. Well, naivety is an accusation that has been thrown at Christians for nearly two thousand years by kings, emperors and tyrants, but the fact is that they have gone and we remain. Indeed, for all its many failures, it is Christians who have shaped the modern world.
The second objection is that it is dangerous. Alas, that is true. But to choose to stand up for the true God against powerful idols always was dangerous. The cross is not simply a reference to the great historic event that allowed us to become followers of Christ; it refers to a principle that should govern every Christian life. In view of all that is at risk, not just at the present but for the future, we need to stand firm against the idols of our time. Given all that is at stake, if doing that requires sacrifice, then so be it. Some prices are worth paying.
Rev Canon J John is an evangelist and the director of the Philo Trust. Find him online at www.canonjjohn.com