What does the decline of religion have to do with the current leadership battle in the Conservative party? In our strange constitutional arrangement this is not a petty incident of political squabbling, but a much more important contest which will decide who our Prime Minister will be.
CS Lewis in his essay “The Decline of Religion”, written in 1946, said, “the decline of ‘religion’ is no doubt a bad thing for the ‘World’. By it all the things that made England a fairly happy country are, I suppose, endangered; the comparative purity of her public life, the comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of some mutual respect and kindness between political opponents.” Yet again, I believe, Lewis has been proved correct in this prediction that a decline in religion makes our public institutions worse for the public.
Most people believe that standards in public life have dropped considerably. These standards have dropped in line with the decline of Christianity. The endless stream of “partygate stories” demonstrated that our leaders did not believe that the lockdown rules that they made applied to them. The Christian virtues of prudence or indeed humility were not for them. The rules were for the little people.
This may well have been forgivable had they taken responsibility and resigned – but at every instance the politicians involved, right to the very top, refused to leave. I believe we have indeed witnessed a collapse in standards, as Lewis predicted. These low standards of behaviour, the ducking and diving when it comes to basic ethics, exists across all of our key public institutions including the Monarchy, the civil service, the government and of course our own Church. It has been a race to the bottom.
The latest institution that has seen a horrific drop in standards has been the police. Lewis again named the police and their humanity as something that made England “a fairly happy country”, saying that this would become endangered by the decline of Christianity. Prophetic once again.
Things are now so bad that the Metropolitan police have been placed in “special measures”. Worse still, police forces across middle and northern England have been rocked by scandals involving the sexual assault and grooming of young white girls by mostly Muslim Pakistani men involved in the night time economy. It is bad enough that these grotesque offences against children have been committed, but what compounds the evil is that the police knew about these offences and looked the other way – fearing that they would be deemed racist or that it would damage race relations. Police lost all humanity when dealing with these young, vulnerable girls. One case actually involved a girl being picked up by her abusers at a police station after she went there to complain about being abused. From Manchester to Telford to Oldham and Rotherham the police were utterly devoid of all humanity as they looked the other way while young girls were being raped time and again by older men.
Finally, we must consider if “the possibility of mutual respect and kindness between political opponents” has been endangered. Recently, the front runner for the Tory leadership Penny Mourdant was asked to say something nice about Keir Starmer. Her reply was that “he [was] in opposition”. I assumed this was intended to be a funny quip meaning that it was a good thing that he was in opposition and not the Prime Minister.
I thought to myself, can this woman really not think of anything nice to say about the leader of the opposition? By all accounts he is a good husband and father. Surely this is something to admire? Even Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were able to be nice about each other in the brutal Presidential campaign and debate series; both complimented eachother’s families.
Does it matter if there is mutual respect and kindness between political opponents and that as Christianity declines, these values decline also? I believe so. Again, the decline in Christianity has caused not only a decline in standards in our political leaders, but political debate has become more tribal, divisive, and heated. If we are to solve the problems that need solving this sometimes requires compromise and often persuasion. One must persuade your political opponent that, unlike the last time, compromise is not possible because of the issues involved. In both cases surely respect and even kindness is a necessary, if not sufficient, start to political progress.
I often think that standards in political life have fallen so dramatically that they cannot fall any further. Then another scandal hits. Sadly, if Christianity continues its decline such standards will slide even further and this damages us all. It destroys our faith in public institutions and the common goodwill that holds our very diverse nation together.
It is time to speak up and defend Christianity, its values, standards, ethics and virtues, arguing that not only do they have a place in public life but they are critical if we are to reform and revive public life from its current low standing.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund