Back to whose basics?
It's a good slogan for wintertime, when the landscape is stripped bare and life can become a simple matter of keeping warm and dry. A concept easily grasped by the peasants in the Bruegel painting. But how simple is it for us civilised, sophisticated twenty-first-century centrally-heated and altogether pampered individuals to understand what is basic? Almost every definition you hear seems more ridiculous than the last.
In terms of morality, for example, the Press leaves us in no doubt. Basic morality has no connection with consideration for others, respect for individuality, the right to a private life. Morality concerns nothing except the love-lives of politicians. A politician can lie to his constituents, he can neglect his children, he can speculate on the stock exchange and do people out of their savings, he can get drunk every night, he can direct companies that poison thousands, and nobody will turn a hair; but if he uses the same charm that lets him get away with all the above on a young woman, heaven help him.
Religion, of course, is different, isn't it? We all know what's basic in religion Except, of course, that when a particularly brave person – usually the Bishop of Durham – has a stab at defining what beliefs are basic essentials and which are not, he is publicly reviled in every medium of communication available (except the Church Times, and who reads that?). When the poor man points out that, while the Resurrection is the central fact and proof of our Faith, the resurrection of the body is a fifth-century attempt to use physical references to describe a spiritual matter, all the people who haven't been to church for forty years cry out that this is heresy. When he suggests, most tentatively, that the same criticism can be applied to the idea of Virgin Birth, unparalleled dismay seizes the nation.
The point is, of course, that the people who make all this noise about morality and religion nowadays are the very ones who know least about either subject: politicians, journalists, broadcasters. I actually heard one of them the other day, attempting to prove his thesis that crime can be eradicated by severer punishment (and if that were true, Australia would still be unpopulated), say 'All I ask is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, like it says in the Bible'. The man had evidently never read his Bible as far as Matthew 5: 38, where Jesus specifically disowns that slogan.
From inside the Church, the view is different. We know, for example, that to become a member of the Church of England does not demand total acceptance of every Creed ever written, nor blind belief in the literal truth of every page in the Bible, Old Testament or New. At Baptism and Confirmation, we are asked to affirm the Trinity, and we answer three questions:
Do you turn to Christ?
Do you repent of your sins?
Do you renounce evil?
Answer YES, and you have called yourself a Christian. And what is this Christianity that we profess? What, basically, does it demand of us?
Jesus said, Man must love God with all his heart and with all his mind and with all his strength; and he must love his neighbour as he loves himself.
Saint Paul put it even more strongly:
'The only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments 'do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not desire what belongs to someone else' – all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, Love your neighbour as you love yourself. If you love someone, you will never do him wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole law.'
Now them's what I calls Basics. Can you think of one of the world's problems that wouldn't be solved by getting back to them?