PC: Politeness Turned Sour
‘Political correctness is politeness turned sour. The courtesy and tolerance of which we boast in today’s avowedly multi-ethnic Western nations, is in fact a by-product of Christian faith… We should be proud of the good Christianity has done. We should, as Queen Elisabeth suggests, celebrate the strength we have found in its message...’
Recently, the Queen made a speech to the Church of England Synod. In it, she talked with heartfelt candour about the ‘uniqueness of Christian faith’.
‘When so much is in flux,' she said, 'when limitless amounts of information, much of it ephemeral, are instantly accessible on demand, there is a renewed hunger for that which endures and gives meaning.'
'The Christian Church can speak uniquely to that need, for at the heart of our faith stands the conviction that all people, irrespective of race, background or circumstances, can find lasting significance and purpose in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’
Reflecting on the Queen's comments, the Daily Telegraph editorial made the following observation:
‘As the Queen implied yesterday, it is, paradoxically, Britain’s Christian particularism that protects the multitude of other religions that flourish here… The protection of minorities is best served by a common respect for the historic culture of the country.’
Even in an age of cynicism and criticism of Christian institutions - some of it warranted - many Europeans are looking to the Christian church to actually stand for something.
Many in the community - even newspaper editors, it seems – are hoping that the church might provide a solid and strong voice to a culture in which political correctness has produced only more confusion and fragmentation.
Political correctness is politeness turned sour. The courtesy and tolerance of which we boast in today’s avowedly multi-ethnic Western nations, is in fact a by-product of Christian faith.
(You won’t find the same tolerance of other faiths in some regions I could mention.)
No, the church hasn’t always practiced what it has preached, but true Christianity has always recognised the right of human beings to make their own choices about faith.
The two greatest commandments, said Jesus, are that we should love God with everything we have and are and then, as a consequence, that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves. To love one’s neighbour involves, among other things, allowing him to believe as he wishes.
That doesn’t mean, though, letting error go unchallenged. If we turn someone to truth we are turning them to eternal life, it says. But it is a fundamental human right, given by God, that people can make up their own mind about faith in Christ.
Christ himself refused to call down fire from heaven on those who disagreed with him, scolding his disciples when they suggested it. Yet, he unashamedly issued a polemic: there is only one way to truth and life. All paths don’t lead to the same destination.
In an age of political correctness we must not lose touch with our historical moorings. We are not children of nothing: our thought and values sprang from and are still influenced by our parentage.
T. S. Eliott, the celebrated poet, noted the close historical link between the Christian faith and worldview and European civilisation generally.
‘The dominant feature in creating a common culture between peoples, each of which has its own distinctive culture, is religion. I am talking about the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is, and about the common cultural elements which this common Christianity has brought with it. It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe -- until recently -- have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance.(1)
‘Most [scholars of Medieval history] would agree that the unifying feature of the mediaeval world is to be found in organised Christianity,’ says celebrated historian Norman Davies. Most Europeans up to the Medieval period, he writes, would have seen themselves as Christians living in a Christian part of the world. (2)
Even during the Enlightenment, Christianity, then under attack, continued to play a central role. Voltaire, who launched vicious attacks on established religion and what he saw as its empty superstition, nevertheless sprang to defend the existence of God.
Reflecting on sky at night, he said, ‘One would have to be blind not to be dazzled by this site; one would have to be stupid not to recognise its author; one would have to be mad not to worship him.’ He went on to say, wittily, ‘If God did not exist, he would have to be invented.’
Many of the Enlightenment’s greatest philosophers, still revered as giants of European thought, could never have emerged had there been no Christian faith. The roots of their philosophies -- and the passion of their commitment to them -- sprang from a desire to denounce dead, institutional religion which had so infected the Christian church.
Eliott puts it succinctly: ‘Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. ‘
What is the future of Europe? One thing, at least, is sure. There can be no European culture without reference to its ‘cult’: the underlying religious belief which in one way or another has driven its development for so long.
‘An individual European may not believe that the Christian faith is true,’ writes Eliott, ‘and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all depend on [the Christian heritage] for its meaning.’(3)
‘I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith.’
We should be proud of the good Christianity has done. We should, as Queen Elisabeth suggests, celebrate the strength we have found in its message of faith, hope and love.
We can and should welcome people of other faiths while remaining, at root, a Christian culture – or, at least, a Christianised one.
(1) Quoted in ‘Europe: A History’, by Norman Davies, Pimlico, 1996, p. 9
(2) ibid, p. 292
(3) op cit, p. 9