[ by Charles Cameron — on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, with a brief note on her theological stance ]
Many of my friends in the UK detested her, many of my friends here at Zenpundit think highly of her: my interest here is to note on the day of her funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral the grace and closure which high ceremonial brings to a nation — the other side of the coin, if you will, to the vigorous and at times raucous debate which marked her time as Prime Minister in London’s House of Commons:
The Church of England understands the power of ceremonial, and the English choral tradition is among its greatest treasures. Both are on display in the video above, which makes a fine addition to those of the recent Papal and Canterbury enthronements and the Coronation of Elizabeth II, which I presented in my recent post, A tale of two cities: Rome and Canterbury.
For your convenience, today’s Order of Service can be found here.
As to Thatcher’s theology, I found these paragraphs from the blogger Cranmer illuminating:
Baroness Thatcher’s Christianity was grounded in the Protestant nonconformity of devout and evangelical Methodism: her conservatism was Tory in its Burkean deference to the great institutions of state but thoroughly Whiggish and libertarian after Mill in its iconoclastic challenge to the big agencies of state; in her emphasis on the ‘work ethic’ kind of Protestantism, and her patriotic belief in the national British Christian spirit and her notion of morality as the opportunity for free choice. She had what some identified as a ‘puritan streak’, espousing the values of the English suburban and provincial middle-class and aspiring skilled working-class. These contrasted with the values of the establishment élite of the Church of England, landowners, university academics, the Foreign Office and the professions.
Her writings and speeches are unequivocal in the provenance of her theo-political worldview. In Statecraft, she wrote: ‘I believe in what are often referred to as “Judaeo-Christian” values: indeed my whole political philosophy is based on them’. In the second volume The Path to Power she went further: ‘Although I have always resisted the argument that a Christian has to be a Conservative, I have never lost my conviction that there is a deep and providential harmony between the kind of political economy I favour and the insights of Christianity’.
Also useful — and also via Cranmer — come these remarks from Antonio E. Weiss, The Religious Mind of Margaret Thatcher:
Of all British Prime Ministers from Harold Macmillan to Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher was by far the most vocal about her faith whilst in office, and the only one to draw direct and explicit parallels between her personal beliefs and her political ones. Macmillan believed that ‘a nation can[not] live without religion’, and, more personally in his official biography, he claimed that ‘I go to Communion as long as I can…I reach for the Bible whenever I can…I still find religion a great help’. For Douglas-Home, ‘Christianity was of the heart, not of the pew, a matter of private witness and personal conduct’. Wilson was brought up very much in the Nonconformist manner as a Baptist, joined the evangelical Oxford Group at university and told an interviewer in 1963 that ‘I have religious beliefs and they very much affected my political views’. Heath’s attitude to religion was more similar to Home’s, in that he did not speak openly about it – as he told James Margach in 1965: ‘It’s not a thing one talks about very much but it has a secure hold’, but when reminiscing in his memoirs, he did also claim that: ‘My Christian faith also provided foundations for my political beliefs … I was influenced by the teaching of William Temple (former Archbishop of Canterbury)’. Callaghan’s mother was ‘deeply religious and fundamentalist’. He became a Sunday school teacher in the late 1920s and although he claimed to turn away from his Baptist upbringing when his activities in the Labour Party increasingly had the ‘first charge on my energies’, he also stated in his memoirs that he owed an ‘immense debt’ to his Christian upbringing and that he had never ‘escaped its influence’. Major, on the other hand, whilst professing belief in God – ‘I do believe. I don’t pretend to understand all the complex parts of Christian theology, but I simply accept it…[I pray] in all circumstances’ – seemed to be uncomfortable with the whole issue: ‘I was mortally embarrassed to be interviewed about my religious faith on Radio 4’s Sunday programme’. And of course Tony Blair famously admitted to praying to God for guidance when preparing for the Iraq war of 2003.
Some further reading, including the sources quoted above:
Cranmer, Margaret Thatcher has died and passed into Glory
Cranmer, Margaret Thatcher renewed the relationship between Christianity and Conservatism
The Economist, High office, low church
Damian Thompson, Margaret Thatcher’s Christianity: if only the Churches had reached out to her
Telegraph, Margaret Thatcher: her unswerving faith shaped by her father
Catholic Herald, Some think it ironic that pugnacious Mrs Thatcher should pray for harmony. But she was closer to St Francis than you may think
Of related interest:
It would be interesting to see a similar set of quotations and readings for recent US Presidents…