Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Butler-Schloss’

F.D. Maurice on the Role of the National Church

May 25, 2013

In recent years there have been increased demands by secularists in Britain for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church or a reduction in its constitutional position as the national church. The most recent of these was the suggestion in the pages of the Independent newspaper by Frank Field that the bishops should give up their place in the House of Lords. Field is a Labour politician, who also commands considerable respect amongst Conservatives for his advocacy of further reductions in the welfare state. He is also different from many of those demanding the church’s removal in that he is a Christian, who has written books describing the influence of his faith on his political views and activity. The arguments for the removal of religion from the public sphere have been attacked by the British philosopher, Roger Trigg. The Church of England and its role in political life has also been defended by a number of public figures in the book, Why I Am an Anglican. The contributors to that volume include the British High Court judge, Elizabeth Butler-Schloss, and the editor of the satirical magazine, Private Eye, Ian Hislop.

It’s interesting reading the views of the great 19ith century Anglican churchman, Frederick Denison Maurice. Maurice’s framily were Unitarians, and he seems to have come into contact with almost every religious faith in England at the time before he finally converted to Anglicanism. His faith was therefore the result of a long search for religious truth, rather than the kind of simple acceptance so denounced as brainwashing by atheists like Richard Dawkins. Maurice was deeply concerned with the poverty and squalor created by the industrial revolution. He saw its cause as capitalism and laissez faire competition. He criticised and attacked the Utiilitarians, who he viewed as easing the consciences of the upper and middle classes by claiming that the degradation and appalling living conditions of the working classes were their own fault, rather than due to the very nature of capitalism itself. With Charles Kingsley, the author of the children’s book, the Water Babies, launched the Christian Socialists. The great historian, A.J.P. Taylor in his turn has criticised the Christian Socialists as doing little except soothing the consciences of British country squires. Nevertheless, the Christian Socialists influenced several generations of prominent Anglican clergymen, including Bishop Westcott, F.J.A. Hort, Charles Gore, Henry Scott Holland. Maurice’s views were also influential in the several conferences held in the 1920s debating and protesting against exploitation and poor living conditions of the working class. These included the Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizenship held in Birmingham in 1924, the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work, in Stockholm the following year, and the foundation of the Industrial Christian Fellowship.

Maurice believed that the nation was a divine ordinance and that the state was therefore God’s servant. He strongly argued that a National Church should work to raise and improve the national mind, remind both governors and governed of the ultimate source of their laws and guide them in the pursuit of truth, the only guarantee of political stability. He wrote:

‘A National Church should mean a Church which exists to purify and elevate the mind of a nation; to give those who make and administer and obey its laws a sense of the grandeur of law and of the source whence it proceeds, to tell the rulers of the nation, and all the members of the nation that all false ways are ruinous ways, that truth is the only stability of our time or of any time … This should be the meaning of a National Church; a nation wants a Church for these purposes mainly; a Church is abusing iits trust if it aims at any other or lower purpose’.

These views clearly belong to a past age of deference when both the state, the Church and the authorities commanded far greater respect than they do today. Too many scandals have erupted in all these institutions for them to have the same profound respect they commanded in the 19th century. Yet nevertheless, there is much to recommend the view that there should be a national church to raise the nation’s moral standards and the content of laws and institutions. Much legislation is based and expresses a particular moral view. It therefore needs to be remembered that for Christians, all true moral legislation ultimately has its origins in the Almighty, even when the legislator is not a Christian.