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Good for Society:Christian Values and Conservative Politics by Martin Parsons

15 Mar 2020

Good for Society: Christian Values and Conservative Politics by Dr Martin Parsons

487 pages. Kindle £9.99 Available on Amazon £24.49

Book summary

The book sets out a vision for society drawing on the Christian Conservative tradition which emerged from among others Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and in more recent years was explicitly articulated by both Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

It argues that over the last thousand years much of the national identity and values of the English-speaking peoples has been derived from the gradual outworking of Judaeo-Christian values. It illustrates this with chapters dealing with law, social justice, family and education, international development, the environment, the economy, defence and national identity and values. Each chapter contains a theological section setting out those values, a historical section illustrating how they have influenced development of thinking in that field and a political section showing how this trajectory has influenced Conservative principles in each of these areas of government.

These values are now facing significant challenges both from Islamism and from Liberalism. As Conservatism is about conserving ‘the best of the past’ it represents the best chance of providing a successful counter narrative to the Islamist challenge. However, it can only do so by consciously affirming the historic values derived from its original Judaeo-Christian foundations, regardless of whether or not individuals choose to have a personal faith commitment themselves. It follows the example of Winston Churchill, who although rarely even attending Church himself, nonetheless described the Second World War as a battle for ‘the future of Christian civilisation’.

Length: 225,000 words

Commendations

In “Good for Society” Martin Parsons has written a book well worthy of its sub title “Christian Values and Conservative Politics”.

Good for Society is a robust defence of both our Christian heritage and the Conservative Party.

Rt Hon Lord Tebbit CH, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Secretary of State for Employment

 This is a magnificent, detailed and authoritative examination of the relevance of Christian teaching to today’s Conservative Party. Even when you do not agree with a deduction you are still challenged.

Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe, former shadow Home Secretary and Conservative MP

Dr Parsons brings together expertise in politics, careful biblical study, research in Islam and experience of life under the Taliban in Afghanistan. He mounts a powerful case for identifying Christian values and view of the world in the development of the laws, liberties and institutions of the English-speaking peoples. He also identifies these values in the approaches of Conservative politics and politicians. These must be recovered in order to develop a narrative and values to address the threat of Islamism which seeks to impose sharia both subtly and violently.  Liberal secularists who might disagree with Dr Parsons need to demonstrate a more convincing case than he presents on all fronts.

Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Secretary, Grassroots Conservatives

Christians in many parts of the world, who are influenced by Progressivism, reject Conservative values on social policy by default. They uncritically assume that big government, redistribution of wealth and other Leftist policies are closer to the teaching of Scripture, while capitalism, wealth creation, individualism and other Conservative values represent greed, oppression and injustice. Dr Martin Parsons turns this myth on its head. Exploring the great philosophical and historical traditions of Conservatism and expounding the teaching of the Bible, he demonstrates that Conservatism is firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Dr Parsons has written the definitive book on Conservatism and Christianity. I wish this book were written years ago. It would have saved me from years of wandering in the desert of Progressivism.

Rev. Dr Jules Gomes, theologian and journalist

Author

Dr Martin Parsons was previously an overseas aid worker in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including during the Taliban era when Afghan Christians were being severely persecuted for their faith.

While in Afghanistan he and a Norwegian colleague were the first westerners to visit a remote mountainous region approximately a week’s walk from the end of the nearest road, which until then had been just a ‘blank’ area on the map. He subsequently began work on unscrambling the unwritten tribal language and set up an aid project to help the local people.

He has written extensively for a number of political publications including the UK Conservative Christian Fellowship’s Conservativism magazine, The DifferenceConservative Way ForwardBrexit Central and has written regularly for ConservativeHome with a particular focus on both the challenge of radical Islam to the UK’s national identity and values and on international relations. This is his second book.

Chapter summary

1. Foreword by Rt Hon Lord Tebbit CH, former Secretary of State for Employment, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Chairman of the Conservative Party

2. Introduction

Conservativism is one of the great ideas of the English-speaking peoples. The idea that we could learn from the past, that we could develop learning, social organisations such as marriage and the family and ways of doing things that meant that we did not have to reinvent the wheel every generation with all its frustrations, disappointments and pain. But Conservativism cannot work on its own. At least throughout almost the entire history of the English-speaking peoples it has not done so on its own. Rather, it has required values drawn from the Judaeo-Christian worldview as its foundation. However, these values are now under threat and it is only by recovering our confidence in them that we can provide a credible counter narrative to the threat of Islamism.

Chapter 1 The Bible and politics

Government and politics are not a necessary evil, they are ordained by God to bring a degree of order, peace and justice to the world. The Bible portrays both the government of God and his divine delegation of divine authority to man to govern. Whilst the central message of the Bible is one of God restoring individuals to a right relationship with himself, it also sets out a vision of how society functions best for human flourishing regardless of whether people make a personal response to the former. These principles cannot simplistically be reapplied today, but require careful recontextualisation of the underlying ideals to the modern world. However, this leads to a range of possible politics for Christians. Whilst some may be closer to these ideals than others, there cannot be a single ‘Christian’ political position. However, as Conservatism is about conserving the best of the past, and much of that has been significantly influenced by the outworking of Christian values, it is closer to these ideals than either Liberalism or labour politics and can therefore be said to be ‘Good for Society’.

Chapter 2 The political landscape

This sets out how conservative principles emerged from the time of Pitt the Younger and Edmund Burke, partly in response to the French revolution. These principles, which spread to other parts of the English-speaking world such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are contrasted with those which evolved from Liberalism and labour politics.

Chapter 3 The Political landscape and Christian values

There have always been two broad streams of Conservativism: one based on both Christian principles and an argument that these values should be conserved as they have historically proved to be are good for society and a second based solely on the latter pragmatic argument. Additionally, for most of the last two centuries conservatives have understood Christian values to be of foundational importance to the UK’s national identity and values. This view was strongly articulated by among others Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In contrast both Liberalism and labour politics have always been based on overtly secular philosophies, even though in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these were ameliorated through the influence of nonconformists.

Chapter 4 The Islamist challenge

Islamism takes its inspiration from the political aspects of early Islamic history including jihad, the creation of a global Islamic state governed by a caliphate and the enforcement of sharia. It therefore represents a significant challenge to the values of the English-speaking peoples. Colonial rule of Muslim majority areas led to two divergent responses. First, a focus on devotional Islam which sometimes overtly embraced the values of the English-speaking peoples and secondly, Islamism. This seeks to spread Islamic government with sharia enforcement across the world, either through use of the political process (non-violent Islamists) or violence (jihadists). In recent years this has led to an increasing number of countries adopting various aspects of sharia enforcement, the reintroduction of aspects of sharia that were formally dormant such as slavery and jihadist attacks on religious minorities that threaten the very existence of Christianity in areas of the Middle East where it has existed since the first century. The Islamist challenge is not simply that of an alternative political idea. It represents an existential threat to the very existence of the type of free society that the English-speaking peoples have developed over many centuries. 

Chapter 5 Law and justice

The Common law and much later parliamentary law was based on a number Judaeo-Christian principles such as one law applying equally to all including the government, individual responsibility for one’s own actions, truth, good faith, concern for one’s neighbour, limitations on the power of government to protect human rights, respect for personal property and the institution of marriage. It was normal for common law judgements to be made on the basis of Judaeo-Christian ethics, sometimes explicitly so. Central to this was the common law principle set out by Henry of Bracton in the thirteenth century that ‘the king is under no man save God and the law’ which became central to later constitutional developments in England and elsewhere. These also became important aspects of Conservativism, but are now being challenged by both Liberalism and Islamism.

Chapter 6 Social justice

The Judeo-Christian belief in the intrinsic worth of all people because they are made in the image of God was foundational to understanding of social justice from the time of Alfred the Great and led to a wide range of social reforms including the abolition of slavery pioneered by the Tory MP William Wilberforce and factory reforms led by Shaftesbury. The Judaeo-Christian worldview also led to inculcation of virtues such as kindness and generosity which led to the development of charity and continue to be central to the delivery of health and social care. In relation to welfare they are based on avoidance of dependency giving those in need a helping hand back up, rather than a permanent handout. Over time these values have become central to Conservativism’s approach to social justice, which aims at a meritocratic society based on equality of opportunity. However, they are challenged on the one hand by well intentioned efforts of the Liberal-Left to give permanent welfare handouts and create equality of outcomes by treating some groups more ‘positively’ than others. They are also challenged less subtly by Islamism with sharia giving Muslims significantly greater rights than non-Muslims. 

Chapter 7 Family and education

Marriage has historically been the foundation of family life and family the basis of society. Conservatives believe in marriage not just because it is an established institution, but because repeated studies have shown it provides the most stable relationship for children to grow up in. Whilst marriage has become increasingly secular it has still retained its basic Judaeo-Christian definition. However, this is now being increasingly challenged by both Islamists and liberals. Education is primarily the responsibility of parents, though they may choose to delegate some aspects to bodies such as the state or church. It is not simply about training for work but also about the inculcation of virtues, wisdom, and the transmission of identity – including national identity, civic and social obligations and giving each generation access to the accumulated wealth of knowledge and wisdom we have acquired from previous generations.

Chapter 8 International development

The origins of international development lie in the anti-slavery movement led by Wilberforce and the early missionary movement. The latter not only promoted social welfare but also some of the key values that are foundational to the emergence of stable democracies. Poverty and underdevelopment have a complex range of causes and cannot be tackled by simply increasing the amount of money in the aid budget. They also require the creation of stable institutions such as the rule of law and a functioning democracy as well as embedding values such as equal treatment for all by the law, freedom of speech and freedom of religion within those institutions.

Chapter 9 The environment

The Judaeo-Christian understanding that man had been given dominion over God’s earth led to the concept of stewardship with its twin themes of respect for the environment and responsible use of the environment. These became central to Conservativism which saw the environment as a trusteeship to be passed on to future generations and therefore intrinsically linked Conservativism to the early conservation movement.

Chapter 10 The economy

The Judaeo-Christian tradition established a number of ethical principles which in turn helped modern capitalism emerge in the sixteenth century. These include the importance of subduing the earth in order to manage its resources, respect for private property, moral self-restraint, work as a route out of poverty, fair employer/employee relationships, fair rather than disproportionate taxation and the Protestant work ethic. Conservativism builds on these and additionally argues that free markets are an essential component of a free society allowing anyone to establish their own business independent of the state. The Conservative ideal for business and the economy is one where business is able to thrive and flourish and create employment and prosperity. It is one where the government provides a regulatory framework for business, but does not directly control it. It is a free market where competition means that the power lies with the consumer who can choose what they wish to buy, rather than with the producer deciding what to supply. But it is also one where everyone can earn enough to support their own family, without being dependent on government welfare handouts. It is one where people are able to buy their own homes, are not penalised for doing so and are able to pass those homes on to their children. It is one where tax is proportionate so those better off pay proportionately more tax, but not disproportionately more, which would create a disincentive to work hard and better oneself 

Chapter 11 Defence

Defence is one of the primary duties of government because only governments can undertake it. Much of the modern ethical basis of defence draws heavily on Judaeo-Christian foundations both the Just War Theory, the need to restrain evil and the belief that the manner in which we defend our values is as important as their defence itself. Conservativism draws on these foundations and asserts that it is because human nature is flawed that there is a need for strong defence, which contrasts with the more optimistic view of human nature held by Liberalism.

Chapter 12 National identity and values

The Judaeo-Christian worldview and the values emerging from it have shaped our national values, history and culture. They have, for example, been of central importance in the development of common law and our understanding that it is not only ethically right, but actually our moral duty to defend our nation, families and values from foreign aggression. The Judaeo-Christian worldview has also profoundly shaped our understanding of a whole range of other areas including social justice, marriage and the family, education, international development, the environment, business and the economy.

Christianity was central both to the emergence of the English-speaking peoples in Anglo-Saxon times and the development of national identity and values in later centuries. This includes the belief that the king was accountable to God for how he ruled his people, thereby providing a moral basis for government; the conviction that all men are equally created in the image of God, which along with the emergence of Bible translation in the sixteenth century laid the foundations for the later emergence of democracy.

The values which emerged included 1. One law for all with even the government being accountable to the law; 2. Freedom of the individual under the law with no arbitrary imprisonment by the government or anyone else without a proper trial; 3. The right to own private property and not to have it arbitrarily seized by the government; 4. The independence of the judiciary from the government with the government being accountable to the law; 5. The sovereignty of parliament to make laws; 6. Freedom of religion including not merely the right to worship, but also publicly to seek to persuade others of the truth of one’s beliefs, with no requirement to hold particular beliefs to hold public office; 7. Freedom of speech including the right to express opinions which are critical of the government or the beliefs and actions of others; 8. Freedom of the press to publish without interference from the government; 9. The sovereignty of our country as a nation state with its laws being determined by our own parliament and crimes within it punished by our own judiciary; 10. Constitutional monarchy.

However, these historic national values are now under threat. First, from Liberalism which in recent years has become increasing intolerant of any views contrary to its own beliefs and secondly from Islamism. The latter, in both its violent and non-violent expressions aims at the introduction of sharia as a legal system which conflicts with historic national values such as the sovereignty of parliament, equal treatment of all by the law, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Liberalism’s own conflicts with our historic national values and its naïve approach to Islamism means it cannot provide a convincing counter narrative to the Islamist challenge. However, a renewed Conservativism has the potential to. Yet, it can only do so by consciously affirming the values derived from the Judaeo-Christian foundation, regardless of whether individuals choose to have a personal faith commitment themselves. This renewed Conservativism focused on our national story and the development of our historic national values could give the UK a renewed sense of confidence both in our own national identity and our role in the world.

Conclusions

Conservativism is about conserving the best of the past, passing on what we have inherited to the next generation. Yet this raises the question of what we should conserve? Conservativism cannot simply be about conserving things for as long as we can, before they eventually slip from our grasp. This is defeatist as it simply allows the proponents of other ideologies, such as socialism, Liberalism and even Islamism to set the direction of travel. Conservativism needs a set of principles. As we have seen throughout the book so much of what is good in our society has been derived from the outworking of Judaeo-Christian principles throughout our history. In particular, this has led to the emergence of a set of historic national values which have become embedded in our legal and political institutions and spread out across the English-speaking world. These are not only central to our national identity and values, they also represent our greatest contribution to the world. As such their promotion should be central to our role on the world stage.

posted by Grassroots Conservatives in News