“If only the Church of England had paid Mrs Thatcher the courtesy of taking her Christianity seriously when she was in power,” writes the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson about her years as prime minister. She was, he argues, a serious and thoughtful Christian, but the established church’s bishops did not engage her as one. “Perhaps some policy mistakes could have been avoided if the bishops were prepared to engage with Thatcherism instead of winning cheap applause by misrepresenting it.”
Thompson quotes from “a remarkable interview she gave to The Catholic Herald” in 1978 (the link can be found in his article):
Christianity is about more than doing good works. It is a deep faith which expresses itself in your relationship to God. It is a sanctity, and no politician is entitled to take that away from you or to have what I call corporate State activities which only look at interests as a whole.
So, you’ve got this double thing which you must aim for in religion, to work to really know your faith and to work it out in everyday life. You can’t separate one from the other. Good works are not enough because it would be like trying to cut a flower from its root; the flower would soon die because there would be nothing to revive it.
That’s well put, of course, but Thatcher’s legacy is, as people say, complicated. She seemed to confuse her semi-libertarian form of individualism with Christianity, for one thing, and then there was her failure on the test case of abortion — something most religious conservatives, like our friends Mark Tooley and Albert Mohler, have not mentioned in their praise for the late Conservative leader.
Thatcher had voted — “without compunction,” as Nicholas Wapshott puts it in Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — for the 1967 act liberalizing England’s abortion law and does not seem to have made not the slightest gesture in defense of the unborn thereafter. (“The various social issues meant little to her,” writes Wapshott.)
Her thinking on the matter was at best muddled and revealed a defective view of the human person that undoubtedly played itself out in other matters. Also from the interview in the Catholic Herald:
Abortion, I said to Mrs Thatcher, was a subject of great concern to Catholics. What was her attitude to it in principle?
“The abortion law is only related to the early months and I voted for abortion under controlled conditions.
“I’m perfectly prepared to have the Act amended along the lines of the Select Committee recommendations because I think that it’s operating in a slightly more lax way than was intended, but I’m not prepared to abolish it completely.
“Abortion only applies to the very, very early days, but the idea that it should be used as a method of birth control I find totally abhorrent.”
Mrs Thatcher accepted that we differed on this subject, and said that while Catholics believed that as soon as the ovum was fertilised you had a human being, she believed that after a few months of pregnancy the foetus took on the characteristics of a human being.
Even then, she said “you may have to take the life of the child in order to save the life of the mother, but that is a medical judgment.”
What about the future of the abortion issue in the House of Commons? I asked Mrs Thatcher.
“It is not a party political thing at all. We have so much private time both for discussion and legislation, but no one has taken it up this time.”
Among those who didn’t take it up was, of course, Margaret Thatcher.