Monday Books; In search of Christian values

CHRISTIAN SOCIALISM:

SCOTT HOLLAND TO TONY BLAIR

BY ALAN WILKINSON, SCM PRESS, pounds 14.95

THE NEW POLITICS: CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

EDITED BY PAUL VALLELY, SCM PRESS, pounds 14.95

AS ALAN Wilkinson reports in the penultimate chapter of Christian Socialism, surveys show that the Prime Minister's Christian commitment is one of the best known facts about him. This book is written to describe and evaluate the distinctively socialist strand of Christian social concern, which goes back in this country to the early days of the 19th century.

I encountered this tradition when it was at its most publicly influential, in the middle of the Second World War. As a boy of 17, I attended the much-reported 1942 meeting in the Albert Hall when Archbishop Temple and Sir Stafford Cripps launched an overtly Christian campaign for moral and social renewal after the war. In that same year Temple, as Archbishop of Canterbury, published a Penguin Special on christianity and the social order. It sold 139,000 copies and was re-published in 1976 with a foreword by Sir Edward Heath. Temple said that the widespread sales were because "everyone is planning the good world which we hope to see when the war is over".

At the end of the war, while still serving in the army in India, I also was looking forward to this "good world" when Attlee was elected Labour prime minister. I rejoiced in the opportunity to implement the Beveridge Report, and to carry forward a vision of social organisation related to Christian and humanist understanding of community and mutually responsible citizenship.

Beveridge attended Balliol College, Oxford, at the beginning of this century with William Temple and the noted Christian socialist teacher and writer RH Tawney. Tawney made a notable (though critical, for he was no utopian) contribution to Christian socialist thought in a series of books such as The Acquisitive Society, Equality, and the classic Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. The public and political influence of this Balliol trio was at its height in that postwar enthusiasm, which I shared, for Christian socialism and a welfare state. Since then, much has changed. As reported by Wilkinson, in the 1980s I found myself confronting Thatcherism for its idolatrous belief in the free market and its offensive refusal to face the task of providing effective transitional care for the victims of capitalism's "creative gales of destruction" (even if that destruction was necessary, and in the long run hopeful). Wilkinson locates all this in an interesting and detailed account of the many-stranded developments of Christian socialism in the UK. He is wisely critical, prudentially concerned with a proper assessment of some aspects of Victorian values and the values of the market, reasonably doubtful about some aspects of New Labour, and with a sharp eye for the romantic Utopian tendencies in much Christian social thought.

He also reports some quotable remarks, of which my favourite is that of the Reverend Samuel Barnett, who founded Toynbee Hall in the East End in 1884. He argued that the state should help make society more equal by redistributive taxation. Barnett was wont to remark: "God loveth a cheerful tax-payer." Clearly a text to be commended to Messrs Blair and Brown.

In The New Politics, Paul Vallely has edited a competent account of the social teachings of the Popes, from Leo XIII in 1891 to John Paul II's seven documents between 1979 and 1995. The editor contributes a stimulating survey by way of introduction, a strong concluding chapter on "John Paul II and The New Millennium", and an epilogue "Towards a New Politics - Catholic social teaching in a pluralist society".

The latter ought to be required reading for all men and women who see their faith as inescapably involved in social and political action. This essay - and indeed the entire book - provide powerful philosophical and moral points of significance to all humanists who search for universally shareable, and realistically hopeful, values. In between are chapters moving chronologically through the papal writings from six experienced writers, including the director of CAFOD on "Looking out on the World's Poor" the director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations on "People before Profit" and Clifford Longley on "Structures of sin and the free market". Taken together, they build into a remarkably sustained argument for an authoritative approach to social problems.

Alas, they do not settle the issue of how any religious body or person can claim to be right on vital issues when all churches and their representatives have obviously been wrong in the past on aspects of thinking, morals and actions. But both books highlight the fact that we Christians have something vital both to say, and to live up to. They challenge Christians to contribute more effectively to keeping our 21st-century world open to a sustainable, shareable and hopeful future.

The reviewer was Bishop of Durham, 1984-1994

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions