Michael Gove on Tony Blair’s Christian Virtues

Over on The Spectator blog Michael Gove, the Conservative Party’s answer to the Tea Party, is having a pop at people who are disdainful of Christians.

In the article Gove chooses Tony Blair as a role model example for Christian virtue. He refers to Jeremy Paxman’s disdainful interview of Blair where he implies that Blair’s tendency to pray indicated potentially deviant behaviour.

Within a paragraph of mentioning Blair, Gove refers to Christians as, “the kind of people who built our civilisation, founded our democracies, developed our modern ideas of rights and justice, ended slavery, established universal education and who are, even as I write, in the forefront of the fight against poverty, prejudice and ignorance.” Just as Tony Blair wasn’t one of “that kind of people” it is ridiculous to suggest that people of one faith, whose faith is simply an accident of birth location, have some type of monopoly on morality and social justice.

There would be little point me listing those of no faith who exemplified all of those virtues that Gove bestows only on Christians. Gove overlooks those who predate Christianity who also had virtue. He overlooks those of other faiths who fought for social justice. His logic is that of the tribe: “my tribe is better than yours because I say so.”

But let me list some of the people on the libertarian right who would take issue with his puerile argument. Hayek was an Agnostic. Adam Smith was a pillar of the Scottish enlightenment and there is evidence that he questioned his faith. Milton Friedman had no belief in a god or gods. Many Conservative MPs have no religious faith. Indeed when I organised a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference a few years ago – the meeting addressed by Professor Richard Dawkins – we had a packed house and loud cheering from the packed room as Dawkins made his unarguable case for disestablishment of the Anglican Church and the removal of Anglican bishops from the House of Lords.

Christians are, indeed, losing their privileged position in UK society – and that’s a good thing. No group should claim a monopoly on virtue. Each has to win respect based on force of argument and winning hearts and minds. Liberal democracy has a tendency to move away from closed shops – that’s why we broke the stranglehold of the trade Unions. It’s also why we need to remove religion from education – because it isn’t educational. It simply presents an unquestioning world view on malleable minds. Our children should be taught to think, not simply accept.

Gove seems uncomfortable in a world that’s moving away from his world view. That’s a good thing, for all of us – those of us of faith and those of us with none.

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  • Joe_Hoggs

    Another Christian bashing rant, nothing to see here.

  • PaulT

    I dislike fundamentalists of all hues, the fundamentalists mentioned in the OP, the fundamentalist that wrote it and the fundamentalists it’s promotes.

    I’m one of the vast majority that see the good and bad in most things in life and will happily jog along and accommodate others.

    I wish secular fundies would wake up and realise that their fundamentalism is just another ego trip same as the religious fundies.

    PLEASE leave us alone, I do not want the right to draw cartoons of Mohammad nor do I don’t want Christmas cancelled, nor do I want the right for 8yo kids to explore homosexuality, nor all the other tripe you fundies are flogging

  • mickfealty

    Gove as a one man Tea Party, yep! Great line. Knowing people who work day to day in the English education system I’d say he’s been a curate’s egg. Some parts very good in fact, including a massive qualitative improvement to OFCOM’s reporting.

    But his antipathy to local democratic oversight is his most profound Whiggish (Tea Party) reform, which merely continues the unravelling of the bindings of the British state which was begun by Mrs T and at the least left undisrupted and unquestioned by Blair.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “I wish secular fundies would wake up and realise that their fundamentalism is just another ego trip same as the religious fundies.”

    True dat. A chap once described to me the likes of Richard Dawkins as ‘evangelically anti-evangelical’.

    I don’t like religion flung in my face but nor do I want people getting stuck into it all the time.

  • Korhomme

    Mr Gove says that Christians ended slavery. Who then was involved with the African Slave trade? Or the thirty-years-war, or the Salem witch trials?

  • NMS

    Mr. Gove’s article is quite a considered piece. It is an attack on the general relativism that pervades modern societies. His defence of those who approach their role in society from a clear Christian philosophical view is timely. It contrasts strongly with the vacuous views of his leader as described by Isabel Hardman, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/isabel-hardman/2015/04/david-camerons-curiously-sanitised-christianity/. For those who want to read Dave’s views, see http://www.premierchristianity.com/Topics/Society/Politics/David-Cameron-s-Easter-Message-to-Christians

  • Abucs

    A Godless education system is not neutral, it is on the extreme.

  • GUBU

    Great line indeed, but not necessarily an entirely accurate representation of Mr Gove – just as the rest of the post doesn’t accurately represent the views expressed in his article.

    As Roy Walker used to tell the contestants on Catchphrase: it’s good, but it’s not right.

  • Abucs

    Hello Korhomme. There is a difference between ending slavery and ending slavery for good. We don’t know if slavery has ended for good, but we live and hope.
    Christianity used to be ridiculed as the religion of slaves as there were so many slaves who became Christians. As Christians became prominent in the old Roman Empire, slavery disappeared for centuries in that part of the world.
    Later Christians were taken as slaves by both the Vikings and the Muslims in large numbers. The Church sent missionaries to both and was successful in the north, again ending slavery (and widespread rape and pillage).
    In the south though the missionaries were not successful and slavery, rape and pillage continued. (Finally causing the Crusades). You are right to hint at Christian states also later joining the African slave trade and buying black African slaves from the Muslims even as the Muslims were still taking Christian slaves from Europe.
    It was quite a time again until the Christians put an end to slavery for yet another time and promoted international treaties to hopefully make it permanent this time.
    It is interesting that in the 1891 papal encyclical I posted earlier critiquing socialism, the Pope also warned unchecked concentration of capital in the hands of a few businessmen could again bring us back to a form of slavery. Although he criticised the ideology socialists created to prevent this as counter-productive and unjust.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    In the article Gove chooses Tony Blair as a role model example for Christian virtue

    Fabricate an entirely fraudulent case to invade a country and in the process of so doing cause in excess of a half a million civilian deaths. Some virtue.

  • Korhomme

    Hi, Abucs. The concept of ‘slavery’ is really quite tricky. In the African slave trade, the merchants of Bristol and Liverpool weren’t able to ‘recruit’ the numbers necessary locally, or on the continent. They turned to Africa, and unwittingly began what we now call ‘racism. And those African chiefs who traded with the sea captains held their men in a form of ‘debt-bondage’, reclaiming what they were due from the traders. Indeed, the idea of ‘debt’ seems to infuse the concept of ‘slavery’. Interestingly, when we look around great houses such as The Argory we aren’t told that they, like Mansfield Park, were built on the profits from sugar. Neither are we told that when the British Empire abolished slavery, the slave owners were being deprived of material goods, for slaves were chattels. The slave owners, including Dave Cam’s ancestors, therefore sought, and received, compensation from the state. What about Thomas Jefferson and ‘all men are created equal’? He had slaves, but as ‘things’ they weren’t people, so didn’t enter the reckoning.

    What then of today? Are those who take out pay-day loans not entering a form of ‘debt-bondage’? Aren’t we all ‘wage slaves’? This might not quite what you think of as slavery, but it is still a form of debt, and debt was one of the earliest reasons for slavery. You might also think of ‘zero hours contracts’ in a similar way.

    What irks me about Mr Gove is his very simplistic answers to very difficult and complicated questions. It was God-fearing English merchants who enslaved the Africans; the problem was as much mercantile as it was of fundamental ‘rights’. (And something else we don’t get told; the Confederated in the US Civil War argued that the abolition of slavery would be economically damaging if they had to pay wages, so all would suffer.)

    It does seem that slavery more or less disappeared around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire; whether this was because of, or despite, Christianity is very debatable. Certainly, during the Dark Ages the Church didn’t officially condemn slavery. And slavery is still present; we call it ‘trafficking’ today, yet often its origin seems to be in debt, or supposed debt.

  • Gerry Lynch

    As a Christian, I’m relived to note that we were responsible for neither Hayek* nor Milton Friedman.

    * To be fair, The Road to Serfdom is a great book. What it got wrong is that there is more than one road to serfdom, and worship of markets seems to be another road to serfdom…

  • Abucs

    Thanks for the information regarding slavery, debt and English and American history. I will read up more on your points.

    Regarding the Dark ages


    and Papal directions against slavery


  • Korhomme

    The ‘Dark Ages’ isn’t a good label; much more about this time gradually being pieced together. As I understand it, the church, in the first millennium didn’t actively oppose slavery, that—as your second link shows—came later. But then, things and attitudes do change over time.

    You could try this, though it’s long and a bit hard going at times:


  • Abucs

    I would also add Korhomme that papal encyclicals usually address current issues in the Church and society at large. If slavery was ended early in the Church’s rise to prominence and then didn’t resurface until 1000 years later then perhaps this explains the timing of the Church’s encyclical. If something like the European participation in the African slave trade had gone on for centuries before the Church opposition then we might be more questioning of the Church’s response and lack thereof.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Hayek, and other Austrian economists such as Mises, argued for free markets. Cronyism and corporatism militate against free markets. I do not “worship” anything – certainly not markets. But the best social and political structures emerge from freedom, not serfdom, and not minds closed by ‘faith’.

  • Pass the bucket, please! Christians in the US are also in the forefront of condemning homosexuality, denying equal marriage rights, burning effigies of the President (simply because he is black), murdering young black men, taking away women’s reproductive rights, denying black and immigrant people the vote, accusing poor people of being poor simply because they are “lazy”, defunding any welfare programmes aimed at helping those in need, propping up tyrannical regimes and inventing reasons to go to war against people whose religions or morals they don’t like. And that’s just for starters!

  • Duncan Pugh

    Funny how they bang on about Britishness and Christian virtues and all the politicians I saw on TV Good Friday were showing us exactly what Britishness has become … prostituting yourself to big business. I agree that the case for disestablishment of the C of E is unarguable but Dawkins doesn’t really float my boat … the thing is doesn’t disestablishment ultimately require abolition/extensive reform of the Lords, Commons and Monarchy which wouldn’t be a problem for me?