The 20th Century was defined by economic and class-based divisions between socialists and capitalists. But, with the main political parties now increasingly embracing free market capitalism, it is culture rather than economics which has now become the defining political divide. The 21st Century is characterised by cultural, social and ethical fault lines between liberals and conservatives.
The main vehicles of British culture - parliament, the institutions, judiciary, universities, media, arts and entertainment- are increasingly now populated and dominated by a liberal elite which embraces an atheist worldview and the ethics of secular humanism. People who were in their teens and twenties in the 1960s are now running the country, 150 years after the start of decline of British Christendom in 1860.
Liberal elite values are characterised by sexual permissiveness, easy divorce, cohabitation, liberal abortion, drug legalisation, government interference, higher taxes, increased welfare spending and more recently by political correctness, embryo research, same sex marriage, euthanasia and the marginalisation of, and discrimination against, those with conservative values.
Social conservative values I see as including sexual purity, marital faithfulness, family and community loyalty, upholding the sanctity of life, respect for king and country, accountability, responsibility, integrity, stewardship, simplicity, sacrificial service, self-control, a strong work ethic and both charitable provision and legal protection for the most vulnerable.
In Britain these social conservative values are essentially Christian values – which have their roots in the Bible and were revived by the 16th century reformation, by the 17th century puritanism that drove the Pilgrim fathers and the non-conformist movement, and by the 18th century evangelical revival under Wesley and Whitefield (and parallel Great Awakening in America) which led both to the 19th century social reform catalysed by the likes of Wilberforce and the Clapham sect and also to the 19th missionary movement, beginning with Carey in 1793, which profoundly shaped the Christian culture of the British Empire.
Christian social conservative values are a strange mixture of right and left wing political concerns – combining traditionally left wing concerns for the poor, disabled people, ethnic minorities and concerns about developing world trade, aid and debt with a more traditionally right wing opposition to abortion, euthanasia, divorce, sexual immorality and substance abuse.
David Cameron fails to understand this because he understands Christianity primarily in terms of its influence on Britain’s architecture, language, constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy but without really grasping Christianity’s fundamental world view and ethics except in very vague terms.
His recent speech on the 400th anniversary of the KJV illustrates this well – where he talked about ‘responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities…’ but tellingly left out any reference to the sanctity of life, sexual purity, respect for conscience or most importantly any reference to the mission of Christ or his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension or return in judgement – concepts which by contrast the Queen does actually seem to understand.
Iain Duncan Smith in his 2006 analysis of ‘Breakdown Britain’ I believe attributed accurately the decline to the ‘five pathways to poverty’: family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependence, indebtedness, and addiction which he calculated costs us £102 billion per annum. He listed 191 policies aimed at reversing the breakdown, with which I have much sympathy, but I see the underlying solutions as predominantly spiritual rather than political.
This is because at a deeper level I see the breakdown of Britain and its five 'drivers' as symptoms of a more general spiritual malaise – a loss of Christian faith and values – of Christian belief and behaviour. What is missing is the sense of accountability, responsibility, human dignity and empathy that has its roots in a Christian world view.
The problem with Britain is that like a dying rose it has been severed from the very roots which were responsible for its, now fading, bloom.