Friday, 24 May 2013

Margaret Thatcher's religion

Interesting article at the Thatcher Foundation on "The Religious Mind of Margaret Thatcher" by the writer and historian Antonio Weiss.

People often forget that Thatch, a relentlessly practical woman, was also deeply religious.  Her father, Alfred Roberts, was a Methodist lay preacher - some of his sermon notes have even survived.  Thatcher herself regularly attended church throughout her life, and she spoke unselfconsciously about religious ideas and the Bible.  Her personal religiosity tends to be obscured by her terrible public relationship with the Church of England and her well-known affinity for Jewish colleagues and community leaders, notably Nigel Lawson and Chief Rabbi Jacobovits.

The strange thing is, however, that Thatch's religious faith, as imbibed from her father, was decidedly eccentric.  It did not fall into any of the familiar categories of British Christianity.  It was not old-style Bible-thumping evangelism, calling for the conversion of sinners to Christ lest they be damned to Hell.  Nor was it - obviously - the left-leaning, blessed-are-the-poor social gospel which was common in Methodist circles.  Nor, again, was it the respectable Anglicanism of Macmillan, Douglas Home and Heath - though Thatcher did effectively convert to Anglicanism from Methodism in adult life.

The truth seems to be that the faith which Alf Roberts inculcated in his daughter was an idiosyncratic creed which embraced modern scientific scholarship and emphasised personal choice and individualism.  This style of belief was transparently inspired by Roberts's political convictions, which were those of a right-wing free-market Liberal in the tradition of William Gladstone.  Like father, like daughter.  So it was that Margaret Thatcher's politics were, in a real sense, also her religion.