Mrs. Thatcher’s Faith

Mrs. Thatcher’s Faith April 13, 2015

Charles Moore at The Spectator, on a book by Eliza Filby called God and Mrs. Thatcher:

As I swink in the field of Thatcher studies, this book brings refreshment. It is a welcome and rare. Far too many writers attitudinise about Margaret Thatcher (for and against) rather than studying her. I doubt the author likes Thatcher much, but all the more credit to her that she makes a fair-minded effort to understand what she believed about God, and how she succeeded and failed in applying her beliefs.

Not all who knew Mrs Thatcher agree that she was religious. In a way, they are right. She was not churchy or denominational, which is good. She was not sacramental (she once told me that her twins were baptised but ‘didn’t have the water’) or spiritual, which is not so good. But Denis thought she had a serious Christian faith, and I think he would know.

Her religion was of a kind which once dominated England. God’s word, expressed in the Bible, set out how to live. People should try to follow this, not only in their private lives, but in the ordering of society. This was a lifelong, exacting duty, requiring ceaseless work to improve oneself and serve one’s country. Material wealth was part of the good harvest which the country needed. Somewhere inside these thoughts was an almost Jewish idea of a chosen people: her talk of Victorian values was partly a romanticised folk memory of a special, British (or rather English) Christian order. Critics might say it was a ‘Sunday best’ religion; but Mrs Thatcher wanted the best seven days a week….

This book covers almost the whole sweep of subjects where God and Mrs Thatcher had something to do with one another: Sunday trading, Section 28, the Bomb, debt, riots, unemployment, Aids, apartheid, appointing bishops and The Satanic Verses. The only important political/religious point it rather misses is that Mrs Thatcher was strongly morally driven to fight the selfishness of trade union power as well as the economic damage it did. Filby repeats the error that she called the miners ‘the enemy within’. No, that was what she called the miners’ leaders, the men who wouldn’t let their members have a ballot.

Filby’s conclusion is unfavourable to Mrs Thatcher, not so much to her motives as to her success. She thinks that, without wanting to, she presided over the end of Britain as a Christian country. I haven’t yet got far enough in my fieldwork to know whether she is right, but I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested. ‘Dare to be a Daniel,’ Margaret’s father always told her, and she did. Although it must be admitted that the lions she confronted in the episcopal den were pretty toothless, it is a surprisingly exciting story.


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