The evangelist always known as J John (it was difficult for him to anglicise his Greek Cypriot name Iouannes Iouannon any more conventionally) has laid out what he thinks has happened to ‘British values’; his use of five alliterative points is one of the tools of his trade.
Amnesia. He is an evangelist, so he begins with knowledge that people have simply forgotten Christian roots. We don’t remember what shaped our values in the past. We don’t therefore have access to the tradition which could challenge or renew our values now. I suspect others would suggest that present religious illiteracy isn’t just about what is no longer known but is also about what people think they do know (which is that Christian values are backwards and judgemental and thus not worth attention).
Adolesence. I might have come up with four of his five points myself, but I hadn’t seen this one coming. We actually admire immaturity (his prime example of ‘cultural adolescence’ is the popularity of the behaviour exemplified in Top Gear). We actually despise sophistication (so a politician is suspect if he quotes Shakespeare rather than parades pretended support for a ‘favourite’ football team). He teaches me that the French for ‘dumbing down’ is ‘la cretinisation’.
Acquisitiveness. It isn’t just that we want things for ourselves, but it is more fundamentally that greed has somehow been legitimised; I’m reminded of Mark Clavier’s recent book on Rescuing the Church from Consumerism where the thesis isn’t that we happen to behave in a consumerist way some of the time but that our assumptions (including what he sees as the illusions of personal choice and fulfilment) have become fundamentally consumerist. ‘It’s very difficult,’ J John says,’ to instil a sense of charitable values in a country with a mind-set that looks at everything in terms of balance sheets and potential profit.’
Apathy. Here he is really talking about disregard for the needs of others: ‘with remarkable exceptions there are very few people seriously concerned about the plight of the poor, the abused and the trafficked’. It is difficult to gainsay him when in the week I read elsewhere that its acting Leader attributed lack of election support for the Labour party to the fact that ‘it raised issues such as zero hours contacts, the living wage and food banks’ so that she is instead ‘urging the party to choose the leader who will best connect with voters in 2020, rather than make Labour members “feel glowing about our principles and values”’.
Arrogance. Here he is really talking about self sufficiency: ‘God has been marginalised not because people have adopted a version of atheism or agnosticism bit simply because we want to be in charge of our own lives’.
This all also reminds me of F S Michaels’ recent book Monoculture where the thesis is that inhabiting one overarching story controls what you expect and limits what you want - and, just as the overarching scientific story made us expect solutions and shaped us mechanistically, the overarching economic story makes us victims of market forces and limited choices and defines us as isolated and self-interested.
So, where would one go from here? I’d already thought that our ‘sales pitch’ might have to become become ‘here is the tradition you have forgotten’ – some alternative gems to catch the imagination. What Michaels suggests is that it is the nurturing of such ‘parallel possibilities’ which is the only way to grow stories which challenge the monoculture.
The picture is goes back again to visiting Holton-cum-Beckering church.