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

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital