Sunday, September 19, 2021
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The end of the West – or the beginning of a return to Christian values?

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THE Afghanistan debacle seems to be some kind of turning point in the self-confidence of the West. Suddenly, commentators are asking if this is the fall of the West – a result of the failure of Western liberal, secular values. Paul Kingsnorth suggests the West has lost its virtue.Janet Daley thinks there is a global power crisis. Allister Heath thinks the West has become ‘racked by self-doubt . . . self-loathing . . . it no longer has values to sell’. 

Nick Timothy argues that liberal democracies are ‘struggling to contain social fissures caused by ageing populations and changing demographics, radical individualism, woke ideologies and political fragmentation’. He argues that Western values are based on Christian assumptions, ‘however much modern liberals might deny it’. 

Often commentators point to woke as the consequence of this loss of confidence. The inexplicable rise of woke is explained well by the historian Robert Tombs. He writes in the Spectator: ‘What makes “wokeness” formidable is certainly not intellectual cogency or even numerical strength. Rather, it is the willingness of institutions – international corporations, globalised universities, civil services, museums, the media, schools, civil services, local government, and even churches – to give in to, or worse, to exploit it. Paying lip-service to wokeness is an insurance policy that seems to cost little and offer much: a fig-leaf for the privileged, a PR strategy for institutions, a path to personal advancement, a source of profit, a shield against criticism, a token of virtue, and an instrument of power.’ 

But this loss of confidence in core Western values has been decades coming. It was described by Tom Oden in After Modernity . . . What? (1992) as having four strands: narcissistic hedonism, autonomous individualism, scientific reductionism, and moral relativism. All views and beliefs and moralities are equal. None is more true than any other. Thirty years later this has changed. It has transmuted, as George Orwell saw it would in Animal Farm. Some views are not equal because some views are more equal than others. And indeed woke tells us that some moral positions are actually reprehensible. This is particularly true of the Christian position. In the early 1990s, when I wrote my nursing doctoral thesis Lighting the Lamp (1994) on the spiritual basis of nursing coming from Christian vocation, when many nursing writers were turning to New Age Buddhist ideas of spirituality, as well as revisionist nursing history, I was told by eminent professing Christian nurses that I could not take a Christian approach as it might cause offence. A Dutch nurse told me in a critical tone that my thesis was ‘being provocative’. I had little support from Christian clerics who seemed embarrassed by my project.

But as the Dutch theologian Hendrikus Berkhof wrote in Christian Faith (1991), you cannot sit on the branch that you are busy sawing off, or you cannot keep the fruit of the tree if you kill its source. The fruit of Christianity cannot survive without the faith that upholds it. As Her Majesty the Queen has pointed out, Christian faith and values have been the basis for her life of service to the United Kingdom. And she is not ashamed to say this in her broadcasts to the British people and the Commonwealth.   

Yet the Western world is ashamed of Christianity and has largely rejected its values, but this is removing the very foundations of Western civilisation, as Nietzsche predicted. Into this vacuum will come other moralities such as those from China and Russia and the Islamic world, and the West will have no basis to argue against them. This reminds me of a family-owned department store founded in the late nineteenth century near where I live. A few years ago it was sold for flats. The block of flats has kept the shop façade, even with the original name in lights. But it is not a shop and sells nothing. It has sold out.

Is this the end of the West – like the end of this shop – merely a pretence with nothing inside? Or is the future open to us to return to our Judeo-Christian values, turn to God and repent? Am I even allowed to write that? Even Christians may say not, and that Christian faith has to go into the very private closet and keep quiet in the public forum.

But historically this country’s social services, schools and universities, democratic system, freedom of thought and speech, family structure, rule of law and of policing without fear or favour are built on Christian values. I would argue that women are far better protected in a Christian-based culture than in a purely secular one or in systems founded on other religions.

The Enlightenment, with its insistence on free critical thought, and the rise of science, was rooted in Christian values. The realm of the arts and music likewise arose from Christian inspiration. This is not to say of course that our history is unstained, slavery notably under the Scottish Stuart kings of England who enjoyed the revenues was a horrendous wrong and anti-Christian, and it took decades of campaigning by the Quakers, Wilberforce and his fellow evangelical Christians to overturn it. Prime Minister Pitt issued a profound repentance for this sin. The British Navy proceeded to attack and eliminate the massive Red Sea slaving of Africans for the Arab and Turkish empires. 

And of course, the UK alone in Europe stood against the Nazi empire and its industrial project of mass murder. This was understood as a Christian civilisation resisting a vicious pagan empire.

So why the self-loathing of our country now, through the school curriculum’s narrative of British history then and now? Yes, our history contains many wrongs but many virtues, and the rush to migrate to the UK fully rebuts the myopic claims of BLM – and none wishes to leave these shores. The Christian theological understanding of a good society includes a Christlike care for all as taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the creation of human beings as equal before God and born with the moral law within, and freedom of the Spirit to pursue the truth and use our potentialities for good. Freedom and form as against chaos and control: that is the Christian response to those vilifying our core values and institutions.

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Ann Bradshaw
Dr Ann Bradshaw is a recently retired SRN and senior lecturer in adult nursing at Oxford Brookes University. She is the author of The Nurse Apprentice 1860-1977and The Project 2000 Nurse

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