Nic Conner is the Home and Social Affairs Research Fellow for The Bow Group, and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. He previously worked for The Big Issue and currently works for EN Campaigns helping the unemployed become self-employed. Views expressed are strictly Nic’s own’.
I will be going to Easter service this Sunday. This, I expect, is not such a radical statement to hear from someone writing on Conservative Home, partially as someone who would identify as a High Tory.
I go to church quite often. Last Christmas I went to just under ten services over the festive season; not in the style of the Vicar of Dibley and her Christmas suppers, but spread out over Advent.
I tend to go to at least a couple of remembrance services over the first weeks of November. I was even, until quite recently, on my parish electoral roll.
Nor is it just in my habit of worship that I am an unsurprising Tory.. I believe that the bishops have a role in the Lords and should be involved in politics. I think when Prince of Wales becomes King he should not become ‘Defender of the Faiths’ but keep the title plural. The line of succession should be exclusively for Church of England membership.
There is the catch: I have no faith.
What I mean by that I do not believe in god, not in the slightest. The idea of a supreme being is as outlandish thought to me as the existence of ghosts and zombies. Notot even when times are hard will you find me praying. I just cannot believe.
Now I suspect you are saying ‘what a hypocrite’ – but am I? Can someone like myself really be culturally Church of England, but not practicing? Can someone truly agree with Christopher Hitchens’ criticism of religion and equally Peter Hitchens’ defence of the Church? Well I think you can. Let me explain.
My interpretation of the biding philosophical principles of conservatism is that human society functions on the freedom of the individual to choose. Society is made up of individuals.
The individual can operate and chose to do as they will as long as it does not damage society. The state is just a means to protect society though the rule of law, it is not society itself.
Being a Tory means that I understand that The Church of England; the monarchy; the House of Lords; the House of Commons; and the Courts are the high institutions on which our state is made. A Tory knows that these institutions are the means to protect the individual who makes up our society.
Now I know some social conservatives will be calling me a libertarian and libertarians will be calling me a social conservative. I’m neither: I’m just a classic Tory as the state has to have a framework to allow individual people to choose, even if what they chose is deemed wrong by others. I acknowledge that the society must come before some individual choices when those choices has consequences for society.
The institutions of our state hold our society together. It keeps us free to choose to do whatever we want within reason by defining what is ‘within reason’. We all know how the House Lords and Commons do this, but less how the Church contributes.
The Church of England, not only adds to our society though its fantastic work in the community, but by being the spine of our state. It may not have the practical, legislative role as the House of Commons but it is as important.
This is way, as an atheist Tory, I take part in and care about the Church. Even if I do not believe in god. It is the philosophical tool which make sure no other ‘earthly being’ is higher than the Monarch this then binders the remanding of the institutions of state.
If you look at the relationship between the Church with the military, particularly the role as the nation’s memory, this philosophical bind come apparent.
I do worry that the modernising of Church will upset the balance of our society. The Church is starting to pick and choose what it believes in to line itself with ‘modern liberal’ values. The Church’s modernising is going against its ancient teaching and beliefs.
If the modernisers truly believe in God (unlike me), they cannot now start to say “we did believe in such and such for two thousand years because God instructed us, but now we don’t anymore as we are progressive”.
I will be going to Church on Easter Day, not to be thankful to something I don’t believe happened, but because I want to uphold the backbone and foundations to our society – even if elements of the Church are doing their utmost to undermine them.