TISCA Main Meeting
The annual ‘Main’ meeting of TISCA took place the following week (Tuesday 14th June) in London on the theme of ‘British Values: A Christian Critique’. The principal speakers were Elaine Storkey and Mark Meynell. Both divided their presentations into different sections. Elaine Storkey explored firstly the relationship between the spirit and the letter of the law and the divine origin and ownership of the ‘deeper’ law in its widest sense as the background and framework for human flourishing. She quoted Christ as insisting on our fitness for purpose under the law (Matthew 5: 13). ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ More specifically she referred to Christ as having stated (Matthew 5: 17) ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.’ There was then a fuller referral to Matthew 23 in which Christ explores the necessity for the underpinning of love in relation to the law, castigates the hypocritical bending of the law for the purposes of the rich and powerful and emphasises the need to avoid neglect of the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith. Elaine Storkey then related this to current international issues around tax-havens, ‘vulture funds’ and land-grabbing. This wider context made it more difficult to apply the concept of ‘British Values’ with integrity.
Mark Meynell examined the provenance of political involvement with ‘British Values’ citing Margaret Thatcher’s reference to good housekeeping, John Major’s mantra of ‘back to basics’ and Tony Blair’s promise of ‘purer than pure’. He then examined the politics of mistrust and the prevalent culture of suspicion including the omni-presence of CRB/DBS checks and the seemingly greater abuse of power the more we are regulated. He noted that the theologian, Jurgen Moltmann had observed the changing emphasis within Theology from a late twentieth century concern with content to an early twenty-first century concern with context such as oppression, liberation and ‘hot-button’ topics such as sexuality and equality, religious universalism (‘they’re all the same really’) and the presence or absence of divine judgment. He explored one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment, the overarching importance of human reason and the relegation of ‘truth’ to a subjective, personal context. He expressed concern about the dominance of ‘political correctness’, for the capacity of a whole society to deny self-evident truths such as the actuality of the Holocaust, for the growth of suspicion and hatred of ‘the other’ and the corrosive effect that this has.
Mark Meynell then developed themes around the Christian foundation for educational values and ethos. This included a realistic, Biblically-based Christian understanding of our ‘creatureliness’ and our human nature and a belief in the possibility of goodness overcoming evil – not the easiest of beliefs to maintain in the last century. In the end, Christianity sets the moral and ethical bar at the highest level and this should always be our aim. That is our task.
Elaine Storkey in her second presentation focused more specifically on the source of ‘British Values’. She related them to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and also to secular humanism. What are they? She then listed them as the rule of law, democracy, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Did they relate at all to Biblical values? She suggested that the principal Biblical source was the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. From this source (Christ’s teaching) come the equal significance of all human life – no elitism, freedom from servitude, freedom of conscience and choice, freedom of worship and witness – or not, integrity of word and action and responsibility, accountability and acknowledgment of personal decisions. Why have they come to prominence now? She identified the contexts of multiculturalism, the need to counter radicalisation, the need to reinforce to significance of the law, the need to stem the tide of intolerance, victimisation and targeted violence. There were parallel developments in other countries such as Norway which inducted new citizens into ‘European’ values, particularly relating to the treatment of women.
Elaine Storkey then examined the evolution and growth of values from deep foundational questions which include ‘who or what is God?’, ‘who am I?’, ‘what is reality?’, ‘what is the basis of morality?’ and ‘what is wrong with the world?’ She then listed a set of ‘Enlightenment Values’ which included rational autonomy, freedom and liberty, freedom of conscience, responsibility and choice, the sovereignty of the individual, pragmatism not dogmatism, duty and benevolence, elimination of the supernatural, enlightened self-interest and laws enshrining individual rights.
This was all to be considered within the social contexts of school communities where the religious world-view would touch and might help to shape perspectives on the whole of life including the educational, economic and political rationale of a society. Religion and belief were coming up against post-modern thinking that was to an extent reinforced by much of the above. It emphasized individuality and relativism, it had no overriding meta-narrative it made personal choice supreme and downplayed history and tradition. Elaine Storkey ended her presentations with a series of questions about our identity, the ‘problems’ of suffering and sin and the ultimate God-given power of self-giving love with its capacity for faithfulness, commitment and life in relationship and community. The conference left delegates with very much to digest!