Like most of my fellow compatriots, the last fortnight has felt so tumultuous that the very basis of our communal lives seems threatened. This blog deals with the Church of England, so at first glance you might argue politics is an area we should steer clear of. But Church and State are not separated in this country, in fact they are intertwined in a perpetual dance in which the survival of each depends on the ability to accommodate the views of the other.
Our General Synod is now in purdah as they engage in ‘Shared Conversations’, trying to find a modus vivendi. Please pray for them, and the Church.
Many years ago, I copied out by hand the 577 words which follow, words to live by. Please take the time to read them, and think how we can hold on to these values in the face of the multiple tsunamis which beset us.
I have only one life to live and only one country I wish to live it in. In this country, we do not live in a valueless moral vacuum, like astronauts floating weightless in a a lunar spacecraft. We are entrusted with a set of values through which our reasoning is tempered with humanity, moderated by fairness, based on truth, imbued with the Christian ethic, applied with commonsense, and upheld by law. If there is a gulf of hypocrisy between the professing and the practice of these values, that does not mean that we should abandon them.
Our society…whatever its present troubles, is by nature and tradition reasonable in the way it lives and governs itself. That way is by peaceful reform rather than violent revolution. For all that we have to be ashamed of or anxious about now, we have only to look at what enormous social and economic progress we have made in these islands during the last hundred years, without bloodshed, under the much-abused parliamentary system which is the cornerstone of the Reasonable Society.
In the Reasonable Society, there can be no place for absolutes, no place for theories which must be rigidly adhered to, no place for dogmas which must be defended to the death…there should be no principle which is too important to be reconsidered for the sake of others, no interest which cannot make some sacrifice for the common good.
The idea of the Reasonable Society is deeply rooted in our temper and tradition. That temper and tradition has much in common with our climate…and also perhaps with the quality of light and colour which goes with that climate. To a visitor from a country where the climate is fierce, where the sun and sky are harsh and brilliant, the English light is gentle and the colours have a certain softness – the qualities of light and colour captured with such magical effect by the genius of our greatest painter, Turner, in his landscapes.
The Reasonable Society, and the institutions which have grown with it, has flowered in the temperate climate of our mental habits. Equanimity is preferred to hysteria. Experience is a wiser guide than doctrine. Absolutes are alien to us. We know that absolute equality would extinguish liberty; that absolute liberty would demolish order. We shrink from extreme measures. We harden ourselves to take them if we must, though sometimes we are almost too late. Humour, both coarse and subtle, is part of our very being. Humour is our sense of proportion our sense of proportion is the essence of our reasonableness.
The Reasonable Society is not, as may be thought, merely a convenient idea to play about with in argument. It is fundamentally indispensable to the practical working of the British system of democracy. This is because we have no written constitution, no fundamental law to be applied, no judicial review by a supreme court, no basic rights engraved in marble. It is arguable that we should move towards such a constitution…but for the time being, and the foreseeable future, our constitution is expressed in six unwritten words: ‘The Queen in Parliament is supreme’. Such a constitution has only worked, and can only work, with the accompaniment of the conventions, traditions, customs, compromises, voluntary restraints and the national sense of fair play, all of which go to make up the Reasonable Society.
Chapter 6 of ‘Day by Day’ by Sir Robin Day, William Kimber & Co, 1975.
Sir Robin Day defined the modern political interview. He died, aged 76, in 2000. You can read his obituary from the Daily Telegraph here.