In abandoning God, our society has also abandoned a number of ideas, the absence of which has helped hollow it out. If God provides nothing else, he provides a purpose for life and a standard by which we might evaluate a good life. In his absence, life has no necessary purpose beyond the fact we have to live it; that being the case it is a good idea to live it as comfortably as we can. How fortunate (and not at all coincidental) that we have evolved a system – capitalism – which can provide whatever we want – as long as we can afford it. Of the buying and selling things there is no end; everything, in the end is for sale; everything has a price – even our values. Modern liberalism is, it is tempting to say, based on nothing more elevated than satisfying the demands of our own egos. Ultimately it leads to a form of democracy in which the fact that a majority want something means they get it, even if that something is something sold to them on a false prospectus; the majority wanted it, they get what they wanted. Parliamentary/Representative democracy was designed to put some safeguards against majoritarian tyranny; but why should the majority not simply get what it wants? Who cares about what the losers wanted? They lost. This is not, one suspects, a situation in which democracy as we have known it can sustain itself for very much longer. Here in the UK we see the chasm between the two sides of the argument on the ‘Brexit’ referendum grow no narrower, and when Mr Trump loses the American Presidential election, his supporters will be loud in proclaimed he was robbed; they will no doubt get louder as it becomes clear that Mrs Clinton has no idea of how to put things right.
Our new Prime Minister, Mrs May, has been talking about the need for Government to intervene to moderate the effects of the ‘market’. That sounds a splendid idea – but mainly to those not old enough to recall what it used to be like when British Governments thought they could control prices and incomes with a ‘policy’; of course they couldn’t. But nonetheless, in an economic situation in which the majority feel they are getting worse off, and where they can see a minority getting obscenely better off, calls for such intervention are going to be popular; that, after all, is where such calls came from back in the 1920s and 1930s. But how you create a ‘responsible’ capitalism with a social conscience in a system where shared values are few, and where what matters is how much money you can make and how much you can consume with it, is a moot point.
The values which used to underpin such ideas were based on a Christian understanding of society. They wee certainly imperfectly implemented, but they were also part of the glue which created a society rather than a set of atomised individuals competing for resources. People had a value in themselves, they were made in the image of God. The meaning of our lives was not something to be created from abstract notions of personal worth, but were rather givens to be discovered and explored through our Christian faith; we were stewards, not owners of the planet and its resources. Communities were secular versions of the church community, united by common values and assumptions; no man was truly an island.
If, as many of us would assert, we are living in a time of crisis, then perhaps the greatest cause of this is the loss of the sense of God, of anything beyond our own mundane imaginings and our monstrous egos.