Socialists who would valiant be

Share
Related Topics
THE discussion about Christianity and the Labour Party has nothing to do with claiming some 'moral superiority' for one party over another or about staking out a claim that one set of religious beliefs is better than another. Nor are we trying to solve political problems by simplistic theological solutions. It is rather an attempt to explore the reunion between the ethical code of Christianity with what are the basic values of democratic socialism.

Like any great cause, Christianity has been used for dubious and sometimes cruel purposes that are wholly at odds with its essential message. At its best, though, it has inspired people for almost 2,000 years to believe in and work for a better, more humane and more just world.

To radicals, Christianity has always had especial validity. Radicals want change, and change - personal and social - lies at the heart of the Christian religion. But it is change based on a fundamentally optimistic view of human nature. It accepts the existence of our faults and our weaknesses; it is not in any sense Utopian, but it believes there is a potential in human beings to do good that can be brought out, developed and made real.

Central to Christianity is the belief in equality. This does not mean that we are uniform in character or position but rather that, despite our differences, we are entitled to be treated equally, without regard to wealth, race, gender or standing in society. Christianity is about justice. We should all have the opportunity to make the most of ourselves. The waste of human talent in our country and in our world today is an affront. It is shameful that millions of our fellow citizens are out of work, that many of our young people are left without hope and opportunity. And it is a brutal outrage that countless millions starve to death in a world that has abundance and plenty.

It is also about compassion, the recognition that we will have to - and should - pay a price to help those less fortunate than ourselves, not as an act of charity to help them in their dependency upon our bounty, but as a means of allowing them to achieve a better life for themselves. It is about liberty - personal and social, freedom from unnatural restraint and freedom to enjoy and develop character and personality.

But above all, it is about the union between individual and community. It enshrines the belief that we are not stranded in helpless isolation, but owe a duty both to others and to ourselves and are, in a profound sense, dependent on each other to succeed. This philosophy is sometimes seen as the opposite of selfishness or even individualism. In one sense it is indeed distinct from the notion of life as being about nothing more than personal acquisition or consumption. But this can give rise to a false choice between self and others. In reality, the Christian message is that self is best realised through communion with others. The act of Holy Communion is symbolic of this message. It acknowledges that we do not grow up in total independence, but interdependently, and that we benefit from that understanding.

In political terms, this belief in community expresses itself through collective action to provide the services we need; the infrastructure of society and government without which modern life would be intolerable.

Thus the values of democratic socialism, founded on a belief in the importance of society and solidarity with others, are closely intertwined with those of Christianity - and this is hardly surprising in view of the Christian beliefs held by many of the Labour Party's historical and present-day members. By rethinking and re-examining our values, and placing them alongside those of the Christian faith, we are able, politically, to rediscover the essence of our beliefs. This lies not in policies or prescriptions made for one period of time, but in principles of living that are timeless. Such a re-examination allows us to distinguish better between values themselves and their application; the first is constant and unchanged, the second changes constantly. To a Labour Party now undertaking a thorough and necessary analysis of its future, this is helpful.

IT IS also a powerful compass for the direction of change in our country as a whole. The new agenda in politics will reach past old debates between economic ideologies and state control and laissez faire and embrace different issues: the development of new economic opportunities for the individual; the environment, the Third World, the international economy, the creation of modern, efficient public services. These issues must take their direction from some political values and we should be sure of what they are. A return to what we are really about, what we believe in, would be a healthy journey for our country as well as the Labour Party.

It would also help us to comprehend more fully the importance of personal responsibility in our lives and its relationship to society as a whole. Christianity is a tough religion, even though it may not always be practised as such. It places a duty, an imperative, on us to reach our better self and to care about creating a better community to live in. It is not utilitarian - though socialism can be explained in those terms. It is judgemental. There is right and wrong. There is good and bad. We all know this, of course, but it has become fashionable to be uncomfortable about such language. But when we look at our world today and how much needs to be done, we should not hesitate to make such judgements. And then follow them with determined action. That would be Christian socialism.

The author is Labour MP for Sedgefield, shadow home secretary. This article is an edited version of his Foreword to 'Reclaiming the Ground: Christianity and Socialism', by John Smith and others, published by Hodder & Stoughton/Spire on March 20, pounds 5.99.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Good2Go is the sexual consent app  

Good2Go: It's proper Sex and Relationships Education that will help end assault, not an iPhone app

Sian Norris
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)  

London is too rich, and too expensive, for its own good

Simon Kelner
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?