British Values

What are ‘British Values’? I read the phrase quite often nowadays; it is used to to win all sorts of arguments. But I have not come across any generally accepted list. Perhaps we could make a shot at constructing such a list – and one on which we all agree.

I suspect that in practice we appeal to the principle which suits us best. So we may strongly object to Muslim women hiding their faces. I am tempted to agree because I am made uneasy by encountering people whose facial expression I cannot see. An element here perhaps is that the woman in question probably comes from a foreign family. Then there is the argument that people must show their face in court or in official circumstances where recognition is required.

But then I wonder whether I am starting down the path which leads to the state defining what we may wear – similar to the uniforms which schools require. I understand the need to avoid immodest or threatening clothing but just how far do we go? Here’s a thought: what would we think of a woman who walked down the high street with bared breasts? That would, or once would, be perfectly acceptable in other countries. Why is the female breast unacceptable and the male breast acceptable?

How about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake because it had a homosexual message on it? Do British Values demand that the baker had no right to pick or choose, or should the customer have been prevented for setting out a view which is unacceptable to at least a large minority? How would you react to a Christian baker refusing to to decorate a cake bearing the message; “Freedom for abortion”?

I conclude that a British Value here is the acceptance that individuals and groups should have the maximum freedom to exercise their free choices. No such choice should be curtailed unless it is established that this choice causes commensurate damage to our society. Normally this will be a question of balance but in cases of uncertainty the choice of the individual should have the benefit.

With regard to those who, through age or mental capacity, are unable to make rational choices, the guiding principle is the best interests of the individual concerned. This of course includes all individual human beings, which by definition includes the child in the womb.

A final thought is that no one is entitled to condemn the choice of another unless they are prepared to accept that their own choices and actions may be similarly outlawed. Sauce for the goose.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to British Values

  1. galerimo says:

    Good topic Quentin. I think the British value health greatly. They have provided truly humanitarian and exemplary care in the way they have for decades taken care of the disadvantaged through their welfare system.

    It astonishes me how the world’s most powerful country, America, cannot provide a health care system free from the manipulation of big (insurance) business for all of its citizens, just like their next door neighbours, Canada, does.

    True value is a living, breathing and evolving thing. I believe it emerges from the wilderness where it is born slowly and then held aloft. When John the Baptist turned his back on the establishment and went out into the desert it became the true birthplace for hope as he challenged the powerful standards of compromise in his day.

    Lambeth Palace is hardly the wilderness except maybe in one sense. It certainly is as British as British can be. I like how Justin Welby challenges the measures and standards of his (British) society and holds out a living breathing value in his Lenten reflections (2017), “Dethroning Mammon”.

    “What we measure, controls us” – he maintains and in that simple statement he goes to the heart of his highly controlled and controlling, consumerist society to examine and expose the selfishness and inhumanity driving contemporary Britain (and the whole developed world). The Christian values of “preference for the poor”, “self-sacrificing love”, and Jesus as Jesus carefully viewed in his actions and words (using those Lenten texts) is the embodiment and proclaimer of the real values, desperately needed in Britain today.

    In a recent survey “Religion” was listed as an optional leisure activity among others. In that sense I think the Archbishop of Canterbury is a voice in the wilderness. In a world where the source of ultimate meaning is relegated to a place alongside “walking”, “reading” or “going to the movies”,
    the wilderness has truly arrived for Christianity, …again.

    “What we master, brings us joy”, is Justin’s final chapter. Joy truly is the great need for all humanity. It is inspiring to hear Jesus Christ presented in terms of true British value for contemporary society. Even if is is a voice in the wilderness crying out all the way from Lambeth.

  2. John Thomas says:

    Islamic dress/ its proscription. I’ve thought a lot about this, particularly its proscription in France. I used to support the French policy, because it seemed right that a nation/society sought to value and protect its traditional culture – but then I realised that it banned it on behalf of the secularism of the state ideology, which is necessarily anti-Christian; so I think allowing it in this country is a recognition that religious identity should be respected – but I also feel very uneasy in the presence of full-veiled women (and men with long beards!).
    “British Values” – aren’t they something the state/education establishment uses to promote gay culture/practices? Well, ok, and a few other things …

  3. tim says:

    “There are no general maxims” So we are reluctant to stigmatise behaviours to which we are unaccustomed (except for queue-barging). It would be un-British!

  4. John Nolan says:

    British values:
    1. Fair play.
    2. A sense of proportion.
    3. A sense of humour.
    4. Common sense.
    5. Dislike of ideological posturing.
    6. Tolerance of dissent.
    7. Intolerance of unthinking conformity.
    8. Respect for tradition.
    9. Amused acceptance of eccentricity.
    10. Stoicism in adversity.
    11. Aversion to public displays of affection.
    12. Aversion to public displays of grief.

    All gone, of course. The nauseating and hysterical reaction of so many people to Diana’s death twenty years ago showed how much society had changed. And it gets worse every year.

    • Quentin says:

      I like this list. But as I hold that I, amongst many others, would produce a list which would give ‘Quentin’ values, and not necessarily British values, it would be good to see whether others would modify your selection.

  5. Iona says:

    Confronted with someone whose face I can’t see – while they clearly can see mine – I feel uneasy. However, I think the French were going much too far in banning the swimming “burka”, – long-sleeved, long-trousered costumes worn by Muslim women for disporting themselves at the seaside.
    As for the cake: suppose a Jewish baker had refused to bake a cake with a message supportive of eating pork, – would he have been condemned for that?

  6. John Nolan says:

    Someone in public life makes an innocent comment. A spokesperson from the ubiquitous PC lobby decides to take offence. The said public figure then makes an ‘unreserved’ apology.

    We now have a new class of criminal offence – the so-called ‘hate crime’. The law has always taken intention into account (mens rea) as well as the actual offence (actus reus). But this is something else, since it seeks to give undue weight to the opinions of the perpetrator, rather than his intentions or actions.

    The McPherson report described a ‘racist’ comment as one that the recipient, or indeed anyone else, deems to be so. The same now applies to ‘sexist’, ‘homophobic’, transphobic’ or indeed anything else that attracts the attention of the liberal guardians of the new morality.

    So, free speech is no longer accepted as a ‘British value’. Say what you like, as long as you don’t offend anybody. What would Alexander Pope or Samuel Johnson have made of this?

    If (as is highly unlikely) the aforementioned public figure riposted with a robust ‘quod dixi, dixi, and get a life’, then he would be exhibiting another British value – that of obstinate bloody-mindedness when confronted with cant.

  7. Iona says:

    I’ve just been looking up “hate crimes” on a CPS website called “True Vision” (rather pretentious title, perhaps?)
    It seems that there are “hate crimes” and “hate crime incidents”. The former are actual crimes – such as physical assault, damage to property etc., which are motivated by hatred of a specific group (racial, religious, disability-related, sexual-identity-related, etc.) The “hatred” makes the crime a worse crime.
    Hate crime incidents, however: – the website admits “There is no legal definition of a homophobic or transphobic incident. However, we adopt this definition: Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic or transphobic by the victim or any other person”.
    So a homophobic / transphobic incident may have nothing to do with what actually happened, and nothing to do with the intentions of any person or persons involved in precipitating the “incident”, but only with how someone else perceived the incident.

  8. Peter Foster says:

    John Nolan’s list of British values is, I think, a set of attributes or qualities. Fundamental values evolved over centuries as we grew from out tribal-like origin to develop stable institutions informed by ideas of justice as did. our neighbour nations. They were formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in 1948.

    The question of values is now of concern through our encounter with large numbers of immigrants who don’t share them; and confusingly because of our own regression from them.

    Here are a few for illustration:
    Article 16
    (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
    (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

    Article 18
    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedon to change his religion or belief, ……..

    Article 19
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; ……

    Article 25
    Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. …..

    Article 26
    (1) Everyone has the right to education. ……..
    (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

    All of these to some extent are today denied or under threat.

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