‘We are responsible for our own actions'

by
12 April 2013

PA

Bleak: Margaret Thatcher visiting a derelict factory in Cleveland in 1987

Bleak: Margaret Thatcher visiting a derelict factory in Cleveland in 1987

Speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh, 21 May 1988

The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as given to Moses, the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour as ourselves, and generally the importance of observing a strict code of law. The New Testament is a record of the incarnation, the teachings of Christ, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and to "Do-as-you-would-be-done-by".

I believe that by taking together these key elements from the Old and New Testaments, we gain a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life.

We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. "If a man will not work, he shall not eat," wrote St Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.

Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment - "Thou shalt not covet" - recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the wonderful artists and craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth? . . .

We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't blame society if we disobey the law. We simply can't delegate the exercise of mercy and generosity to others. The politicians and other secular powers should strive by their measures to bring out the good in people and to fight down the bad; but they can't create the one or abolish the other. They can only see that the laws encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people, instincts and convictions which I'm convinced are far more deeply rooted than is often supposed. . .

In our generation, the only way we can ensure that no one is left without sustenance, help, or opportunity is to have laws to provide for health and education, pensions for the elderly, succour for the sick and disabled.

But intervention by the state must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not, unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts, too. . .

Nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together, their purpose is not - or should not be - to ascertain what is the mind of the majority, but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit - something which may be quite different.

Nevertheless, I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably right or true - indeed no majority can take away God-given human rights - but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.

But there is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals - these are not enough.

We parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.

But, when all is said and done, the politician's role is a humble one.

These are edited extracts. The full speech can be found on www.margaretthatcher.org

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