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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories