On Rock or Sand? Firm foundations for Britain’s future

On Rock or Sand is a series of essays analysing the state of our political system, bookended with Christian perspectives  from John Sentamu (Archbishop of York) which inform a powerful call to action. The weight of the argument rests on the view that contemporary society is built ‘on shifting sands of self-service’. So how, the book asks, is that reflected in the body politic?  And what constitutes the rock on which Britain’s future should be built?

Firstly what this book is not. It is not, as many reviewers would like to suggest, party political. It is not an attempt to impose the values of one religion on the politics of all. Yes, it calls for a consideration of Christian faith values, but exposure to ideas cannot dictate the outcome of a debate – it merely informs the viewpoint of the voter. But it is an analysis of the underlying values that are currently expressed in our society and through our economy: values based on personal acquisition and personal satisfaction.

Discussing values from a Christian perspective, of course, draws immediate criticism – secularists object to any expression of faith in the public square, while politicians and commentators tend to interpret the discussion as support for their opponents’ political views. They only react at that level. But Philip Mawer (former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards) argues that this shouldn’t exclude the Christian viewpoint from the discussion. This is not just because religion is important to many people, and not just because faith groups make considerable contributions to their communities. It is also because people of faith seek to model their lives on certain values.

Although the writers, each an expert in their own field, come from a range of backgrounds, there are common strands running through their essays.  Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) argues cogently that in casting money, rather than humanity, ‘as the protagonist of God’s story’ we have lost any concept of social solidarity and lack a moral basis for our prosperity. We have come to believe, he says, that in fixing the economy we can somehow fix human beings. Kersten England suggests that our health service, intended at its inception to be for the common good, is now viewed as an individual customer-service provider transaction which has destroyed the concept of mutualism. She also argues cogently for the enabling of personal resilience and self-care through prevention, to avert a situation where increasing amounts of money are spent on treating lifestyle diseases – life is a gift from God to be used responsibly.

Other writers consider the economy, the purpose of work, education, ageing, the health of our representative democracy and the changing face of poverty. Each essay is excellent. But what impressed me was the cohesion of the book. Common themes in each essay form the foundation stones of a central premise: that our thinking is dominated by consumerism, individualism and transaction. What would the political debate sound like if it embraced mutualism, responsibility and co-operation as its central tenets?  What if we recognised that all in society are created in the image of God (equality)? If we were collectively committed to offering everyone the opportunity to flourish (equity)? If we appreciated our inter-connectedness as humans living in relationship and community (solidarity)? Or if we accepted more fully our responsibility to take care of ourselves (autonomy)?

This is the rock on which we should build Britain’s future. However little those in power want to listen (as the lives of the Old Testament prophets bear witness), people of faith need to speak truth to power and this book does just that. As John Sentamu reminds us, Jesus came to bring abundant life and it is through service to God and our neighbour, and adherence to God’s laws that we can share the message of the gospel and the offer of abundant life.

This isn’t a book about religion. It isn’t a book about party politics. It’s a book about dealing with problems rather than symptoms, about changing hearts and minds, about building communities on the values that will nurture a strong society in a mature democracy; one in which every person flourishes as a human created  in God’s image.

 

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