Sunday, 4 September 2016

Unable To Furnish

David Jenkins was a friend of my father's from the 1950s onwards.

He will be deeply mourned here in the North East for his opposition to our evisceration by the Prime Minister who had been paying so little attention that she had appointed him.

His theological views were in fact very restrained compared to those of many of his contemporaries, both in academic theology and among the bishops of the Church of England.

Again, consider who had appointed those latter, at least.

But of course he was a quick talker, with a ready turn of phrase.

Alas, his liberal theology was fundamentally and ultimately unable to furnish a sufficiently radical critique of, and alternative to, the economic, social, cultural and political evils that he so articulately identified.

For that, you need orthodoxy.

By which I do mean orthodoxy. Not the doctrinally light social conformity of the 1950s "C of E".

That had very largely created the problem in the first place.


  1. Didn't you say you'd write a book on him when he died?

    1. If anyone ever did write Eminent Thatcherians, following the pattern of Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians and of Piers Brendon's Eminent Edwardians and Eminent Elizabethans (Andrew Roberts did not stick to it in Eminent Churchillians), then one of the four subjects would have to be Jimmy Savile.

      How could it not be? Who, we now see, more perfectly embodied the seamlessness between the 1960s and the 1980s, via the complete free-for-all and the hopeless institutional response to it in the 1970s?

      The New Right that became Thatcherism was calling for drug legalisation and for the abolition of the age of consent, and was putting those principles into practice, as surely as was the sociologically indistinguishable New Left that eventually became New Labour.

      The Sixties Swingers hated the Wilson Government, and a decade later punk branded the Callaghan Government a "fascist regime".

      For all its alleged left-wingery, and its ability to annoy no end the forces of conservatism that in many cases really were and are left-wing, British rock'n'roll was made up of common or garden proto-Thatcherites, often tax exiles. The only exceptions were David Bowie and Eric Clapton, way out on the Far Right.

      The view of it as an expression of working-class culture is also rubbish: to cite only the two most stellar examples, neither John Lennon nor Mick Jagger came from anything remotely resembling a working-class background, with Jagger's father a second-generation teacher even then, the son of a headmaster.

      But who might be the other three subjects? Lady Diana Spencer, the sometime Princess Charles of Wales, obviously. Sir Richard Branson, the bridge between the Thatcher and the Blair Eras. And Dr Robert Runcie? No. Dr David Jenkins.

      But the sting in the tail, and in the tale, would be as it has always been: that his liberal theology was ultimately unable to provide a sufficiently radical critique, and in that way opened up the space for things like the Radical Orthodoxy that, with its broader sensibility in which many of us find ourselves, is such a significant factor in the re-emergence of the postliberal politics of which Radical Orthodoxy's founder credits me with having been the harbinger.

      Yes, I do know who that means ought to write it. But mine is already a very long To Do list.