The Brexit referendum was the moment the ceiling fell in; but the dripping had been a problem for some time. Justin Welby’s book ‘Reimagining Britain’ is what happens when an Archbishop joins a crowd of workers leaning on shovels, looking at our nation, sucking their teeth and saying that this is going to take some fixing.
I like our Archbishops a lot. Archbishop Sentamu actually does stuff, like fasting, actually going hungry, which is a step up from most members of the order Primate, who usually only do stuff metaphorically (like ‘wrestling’ with a Bible text).
In Justin Welby, meanwhile, it is so refreshing to have an archbishop who doesn’t look like he’s just stumbled out of a library and can’t find his way back.
My liking for the Archbishops may make me too kindly disposed to this book; but even if it has flaws, it’s a really enlightening read.
Archbishop Welby is striving to ‘reimagine Britain’ after the loss of a Christian backdrop, the rise of pluralism, and above all, after the divisions brought to light by the Brexit referendum.
It’s a good fight and it needs someone, just as the nation needed an Archbishop Temple when Britain was being previously reimagined at the end of WWII. Welby believes Christians can lead this reimagining; in fact they must.
Government-issue British values
The government’s response to the retreat of Christendom seems to have been to ask some poor civil service intern to write up a set of ‘British Values’ on half a sheet of A4.1 This is to replace what grew through the toils of scholars, monarchs and martyrs in the last millennium and a half. They are:
- the rule of law
- individual liberty
- mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
Welby rightly rejects these as too flimsy and attempts to replace them.
‘When faith is increasingly privatized, it leaves a vaccuum which relativism in belief or a great plurality of incommensurable beliefs is unable to fill … There is a need for a generous and hospitable metanarrative within which competing truths can be held.’
He goes on ‘It will be a suggestion of this book that Christian faith, centred on love-in-action, trusting in the sovereignty of God rather than political power, provides the potential for such hospitable and generous holding.’ (p 17)
So he first suggests a set of values, then attempts to reimagine aspects of British life with reference to them.
The Archbishop’s suggested values for reimagining Britain are ‘community’, ‘courage,’ and ‘stability’. If those sound too wishy-washy, suspend disbelief for a moment.
Community is about the way we all belong to each other, a note distinctly lacking in political discourse at the moment. After the referendum, the leavers didn’t say ‘let’s be magnanimous, let’s move forward together’. Instead we had, ‘You lost, get over it.’
Courage means giving room for animal spirits of competition, innovation and creativity.
Stability is basically a commitment to compromise, combined with a caution that gives room for bad stuff to happen without causing everything to collapse. Compromise! Forethought! Caution! Imagine!
So it’s good stuff. These are good directions to urge our society to head.
The best bit
The best part of the book for me was the reminder that Christians can rest on two truths: God is good, and God is King. In depressing days like these, I like the freedom to hope.