The Grand Old Duke
We walked like the troops of the Grand Old Duke of York, up and down the hills from Hursley to Avington through the middle of Winchester. We met a kind lady called Ruth in the cathedral refrectory who kinldy made a donation to Zane,
The sadness for Jane and me is that Moses is not with us. The poor dog managed to get a splinter jammed in his heel and when it was extracted it went septic. We hope he can join us again on Monday as we miss him bounding along. He is so trusting and full of innocent joy. I often recall the prayer: “Oh God, please make me the person my dog thinks I am.”
We were joined by Simon who walks with us. Apparently he knew Zimbabwe well. He is engaging company as we spend part of the day taking rainwear off and putting it back on. We discuss “Big Game” shooting, not a sport I have ever wished to take part in. I was put off for life after I visited a baronial home in Aberdeen when I was young. We were shown around by the aged Laird who had apparently fought in WW1. In the hall he showed us a selection of heads of animals mounted on the far wall – you must have seen the sort of thing. MacDuff pointed out the head of a gnu, a wildebeest, a buffalo and so on. And then he announced with particular relish:
“And there is the head of a German soldier I shot in the war!”
And there ….hanging on the wall was a skull mounted on a board. Under it was the description:
“Fritz: Vimy Ridge 1918”
This disgusting little man had gone back with a shovel after the war and dug up “his prize”and hung it on his wall as a trophy! Can you imagine anything more horrible than that?
As I trudge, my mind turns to thoughts of politics, religion and society, as it often does.
We have just endured yet another election where the level of debate was deplorable. Our leaders apparently assume that the average voter is a moron – perhaps it’s true? For some months, we were obliged to listen to a Punch and Judy show where senior politicians were seeking to bash into the electorate that their party loved the NHS more than any other party, and take that!
But reality is usually a casualty in elections. I have actively participated in four elections and during each one the electorate was told: “This is the most important election since the war!” Does anyone still believe such exaggeration?
Politics in Action
Of course politics is vitally important for there are obviously certain functions that only a government can reasonably undertake. Only government can ensure that the currency is not debased (we have an appalling record); that the country is properly defended, policed and represented overseas; and that taxation is collected and that the poor are well provided for. Only government can ensure that vital services, such as education, the NHS and local government, are efficiently run and reasonably financed.
I reckon that politicians should not only be judged by what they do, but also by the things they don’t do. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was never accorded sufficient recognition for keeping us out of the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 70s. How sad that Tony Blair didn’t read Labour’s recent history.
Of course, not all that government does is in fact wise: some is destructive folly. What possessed Labour to allow gaming houses to flourish smack in the centre of our poorest cities, thereby allowing the greedy to suck welfare benefits from the poorest families in the land with cormorant efficiency? And why did the Coalition allow this wickedness to continue? This is an issue of the deepest shame and no party emerges well.
I suggest that we can help the democratic process to flourish in two main ways: first by resisting the impulse to offer lazy, ignorant and vicious criticism of senior politicians, which has the effect of weakening our democracy. It was John Kennedy who said that no one should judge any politician until he or she had seen the advice they were given and actually faced the issues. Such criticism is usually made by those who know very little about the relevant issues, and it carries the implication that if the critic were doing the job, he or she would do it better: unlikely!
The second thing we can do is to actually vote.
Work to be Done
But there are a number of vital things that politicians cannot do – and I wonder sometimes if they are aware of their limitations?
Politicians cannot affect the passions of the masses and they cannot change people. They don’t have the power to build families, mend broken hearts or transform shattered lives. Politicians cannot limit the acute spiral in drug and alcohol abuse or the level of suicide, and nor can they moderate the ghastly level of sexual exploitation that is everywhere a commonplace. They cannot stem the rising number of abortions, and they cannot stop many of those who have no real need of care homes from being shunted into institutional care (by families who often can’t be bothered to look after them). There is little politicians can do about domestic cruelty or the chronic loneliness that disfigures our society, and they cannot repair the collateral damage caused by abusive families. They cannot reduce the misery suffered by neglected children – and this is not necessarily due to lack of resources or money. Politicians can do nothing to correct the blight of materialism or pornography, nor can they offer grace or forgiveness. And lastly, they cannot build bridges of reconciliation between those who are hurting and those who are demanding vengeance.
In summary, politicians on their own cannot make people happy.
Some might ask if I am forgetting the MP William Wilberforce and his abolition of slavery, or the Clapham Sect and the eighteenth/early nineteenth-century reformation of manners? Of course Wilberforce and many like him wrought miracles to bring about the correction of monstrous evils. But Wilberforce needed the vicar and ex-slaver John Newton to convert him to the foot of the cross, before the veil was lifted and he began to undertake his life’s great work.
So there is work for our Christian community to do, which, with respect, politicians and secular humanists can’t even begin to undertake. And it does not need committees or councils to achieve great things. Let me tell you that Jane and I have walked up and down this great land of ours, and I have never seen a monument or a statue celebrating the achievements of a committee or a council!
The Seeds of Change
Often the most amazing changes come from tiny beginnings, and from the grassroots up and not from government down. For example, in 1935, two drunks sat at a table in Ohio: one told the other that he had just been converted to Christ and he was going to stop drinking. His friend told him he was a drunk and could do nothing to help himself, let alone others. “Leave it to the doctors,” he said, “and just drink and be happy.”
Three months later, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by a drunk with an idea in a dingy cellar. Today AA (and its 12 steps) operates round the world, and it has never needed a penny of government subsidy. There was no great government initiative operating here. Just an alcoholic with an idea. Great things often start from a kitchen table, a cellar… and a dream.
So there is great work to be done by the saints in fighting the evils of our time. With respect to Archbishop Sentamu, I would submit that the greatest evil is not inequality (although that of course is a terrible injustice), but the fact that for the first time in recorded history man is trying to create an atheist society here in the UK and across Europe. It will end in catastrophe.
To sum up, I quote the great and late Malcolm Muggeridge, who claimed that his chat-show career had come to a sad end because each time an issue was raised and he was asked for an answer, he would keep on replying: “The only answer is Jesus Christ.” The invitations dried up.
The issue is a difficult one for politicians, for as Alastair Campbell told us: “We don’t do God.” However, the reality must be Jesus: anything else is shifting sand.