Monday, February 26, 2007

A cure for what ails you...

William Rees-Mogg gives a history lesson in the Times today, in response to an hysterical column written by Michael Portillo:
The Christian belief was the inspiration in William Wilberforce’s long campaign to end the slave trade. His Bill received the Royal Assent on March 25, 1807, 200 years ago. That was the most important of all the great reforms of the 19th century; essentially it was a Christian reform, inspired by the Protestant conversion of Wilberforce himself. March 25 was the old New Year’s Day; it is also the feast of the Annunciation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
We live in an age when modernists regard religion with something approaching panic. It is like the Devil’s attitude to Holy Water. There was a comic example of Christianophobia in The Sunday Times yesterday. Michael Portillo, who used himself to be seen in Brompton Oratory, was hyperventilating at the idea of David Cameron going to church. “I worry,” he wrote, “because men of power who take instruction from unseen forces are essentially fanatics . . . I would be more reassured to hear that the Tory leader goes to church because that is what it takes to get a child into the best of state schools, not because he is a believer.”
Perhaps this neurotic response to Mr Cameron’s habit of going to church reflects Mr Portillo’s recognition that religion is again becoming an important influence on society. Many of the current news stories show that religion is back in public consciousness; for those who feel uneasy about religion, that is unwelcome.
The modernist attack on religion was based on the victory of science, and particularly of neo-Darwinism. Yet science was open to the same challenge as religion; it could explain only half the world. The scientists, or some of them, sneered at religion for being unable to explain the developments of nature. Yet science itself was unable to produce a science-based morality for society. Marxism attempted to create a scientific social order that ended in monstrous and bloodthirsty tyranny. Social Darwinism either meant eugenics and the slaughter of babies who were not thought fit to survive, or it meant nothing. The Social Darwinism of George Bernard Shaw, or indeed that of Adolf Hitler, has been rejected by mankind.
The whole article is worth reading as a necessary corrective to the idea that religion is responsible for all the world's evils. Rees-Mogg does fall into the trap of seeming to reduce the role of religion to that of being merely some kind of basis for morality. It's a small step from that position to that of considering Christianity as being a useful sort of morality-tale which promotes good behaviour amongst the lower orders, and leaves open the question of whether religion might not simply be replaced by some sort of secular moral philosophy. But it is a reminder of the centrality of religious thought in establishing what might be thought of as 'civilised values.'

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