In all the comment,
tributes and criticism that has poured forth since the announcement of Margaret
Thatcher’s death on Monday surprisingly little has touched on her personal
Christian faith. In the two excellent
speeches by David Cameron and Ed Milliband in Parliament it was not mentioned
at all. In the extensive TV and radio coverage, and all the newspaper comment, barely
a word about her faith – her upbringing as a Methodist and her adult commitment
Yet her Anglicanism
and earlier Methodist upbringing was an essential part of her formation as a
person and as a politician. Hers was not a showy, worn-on-the-sleeve sort of
faith, that we became wearily used to in some of those that succeeded her as
Prime Minister but a steady, discreet, deeply felt and regularly practised
commitment. She was a faithful member of the worshipping community at the
Chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea – where her ashes will lie.
In a remarkable 1978
interview with the Catholic Herald a
year before winning the 1979 General Election she told the Editor, Richard
Dowden, that she and her sister, Muriel "had a strict religious upbringing.
Sundays meant going to church three times and not being allowed to go to the
cinema or play games. They were taught what was right and what was wrong, that
cleanliness was next to godliness and the importance of discipline and duty".
Talking to Dowden she
“Methodism isn’t just a religion for Sundays – no faith is only a faith
for Sundays. There were a lot of things during the week which one attended.
Methodism is a pretty practical faith; there were the mothers’ sewing meetings
and the guilds for young people.
also evangelical, and does a lot of missionary work overseas. The visiting
missionaries, some of them from South America, some from Africa and India,
would come back and tell you of the kind of work they were doing.
must say I was very much attracted to the work they did because they really
could see results.”
this reply can be seen the very roots of purposeful activity, results-focused
effort, and cause-driven work that would be among her abiding characteristics.
It is also possible to discern the driving reasons for why she was so committed
to reform and change – to help those who needed in the most practical ways
those who admire Lady Thatcher but would reject the need for the faith that
informed her she addresses them directly:
"So you replace poverty by a better standard
of living out of people’s own efforts, because everyone’s got talent and
ability, and you teach them what we regard as necessary to life, and you teach
them religion as well.
when you’ve relieved poverty and ignorance and disease, if you are not a
Christian you think that sorts out the problems of the world. You and I know it
doesn’t, because there is still the real religious problem in the choice
between good and evil. Choice is the essence of ethics.”
“And here you have the fundamental basis of human nature—there’s
good and evil in everyone. The fundamental purpose on earth is to improve your
own human nature and disposition. You can only do that by doing things for
drive to change things, to improve them, and to open opportunity up for all
clearly comes from her this understanding of what fundamentally as a human
being she was on earth to do – improve herself and help improve the lot of
was no naive or sentimental view of
Christian faith. She was well aware of her own and others' frailties. Her
understanding of personal responsibility was rooted in the fundamental
Christian concept that God has given every human being the free choice to
believe or not.
“Even then, when you’ve been taught all the right things, all the
best things, it doesn’t mean to say you will do them.
person, whether high or low born, whether they get to high places or they have
a very simple straightforward life, earning an honest wage for an honest job,
each has that human dignity, each has that choice, their responsibility within
their knowledge and background to make that choice.
you deny that personal responsibility you are denying the religious basis of
life—that’s the difference between me and a Marxist. The values by which you
and I live are not values given by the State.
is about more than doing good works. It is a deep faith which expresses itself
in your relationship to God. It is a sanctity, and no politician is entitled to
take that away from you or to have what I call corporate State activities which
only look at interests as a whole.”
her faith and personal actions were an inseparable part of her being. What she
did and how she behaved were rooted in what she believed. It was not simply an
economic ideology or a championing of the vested interests of those in whom she
was personally interested. Her Prime Ministership was essentially a working out
of a life time’s belief in personal responsibility and opportunity rooted in
the Christian understanding of free choice and dignity for every human being.
put it this way:
“So, you’ve got this double thing which you must aim for in
religion, to work to really know your faith and to work it out in everyday
life. You can’t separate one from the other. Good works are not enough because
it would be like trying to cut a flower from its root; the flower would soon
die because there would be nothing to revive it.”
“The basis of democracy”, she said, “is
morality, not majority voting. It is the belief that the majority of people are
good and decent and that there are moral standards which come not from the
State but from elsewhere.”
this will probably come as a bit of a shock to some Conservatives. Probably as
a nasty surpise to some Methodists and Anglicans. And it is a measure of how
far apart the churches and the Conservative Party have moved apart that either
reaction will be made, but to understand her, it is necessary to understand her
Christian faith. It does not mean you have to agree with what she did, or
approve of her policies, or share her faith. But you probably need to have a
working understanding of the Christian Gospel to understand her brand of