28 March 2019, The Tablet

Christianity, morality and the global crisis


Christianity, morality and the global crisis

Traders at the London International Financial Futures Exchange in 1995
Photo: PA, Neil Munns

 

The current global crisis might be the last chance we have to bring the Christian social vision that inspired the post-war settlement in Europe back from the margins to the centre

The genuine horror of Christchurch and the somewhat comic nightmare that is Brexit: these are two manifestations of a global general crisis. One dimension of this crisis is a widespread breakdown of trust in established institutions and a searching for alternatives, some of them extreme.

It is tempting to think of this in terms of a collapse of a liberal, secular order that has held sway since 1945. Anything international is shunned: we see a rise in prejudice against minorities and incomers and an increase in atavistic attitudes that often take religious forms. In this context, traditional Christians often think of themselves as bystanders, just as dismayed as their secular fellows at the rapid debasement of a common coin of decency. This response is a mistake. The order that is being abandoned was, to a large degree, as historians increasingly recognise, not a purely secular one; rather, it was the last Christian settlement in the West, however imperfectly so, and however much its Christian character was being eroded almost from the outset.

To understand this, it is useful to think of the parallels between today and the 1930s. Then, as now, one witnessed the clash of virulent and incompatible ideologies: then, of American-style liberalism, fascism and communism; today, of neoliberalism and national populisms of right and left. Then, as now, there were also awkward hybrids. Christians of all kinds made a creative and, to a degree, concerted response to the situation in the years before the war, allied to a certain Christian revival after the existential disillusionments following World War One.

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