Sir Fred Catherwood

Fred Catherwood was president of the Evangelical Alliance from 1992. He was born in Co. Londonderry in 1925 and educated in Shrewsbury and Clare College, Cambridge.

His public service included being chief industrial adviser to the Department of Economic Affairs and chairman of the British Institute of Management and the British Overseas Board of Trade. He was MEP for Cambridgeshire from 1979 to 1994 and is the author of many books which include The Christian in Industrial Society (1964), God’s Time, God’s Money (1987), his memoirs, At the Cutting Edge (1995), Jobs and Justice, Homes and Hope (1997), It Can be Done (2000) and The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics (2002). He died in November 2014.

I interviewed him in June 1998.

As  an Ulsterman whose forbears landed in that part of Ireland in the early seventeenth century, you have known what it is to live among people who consider themselves to be the dispossessed natives, with you the interlopers. How far has this set of circumstances helped to form your character and shape your life, would you say? 

As a family we lived on both sides of the border. When I was fifteen we moved to Donegal where the Irish were in power, and we lived perfectly happily with them. My father knew the politicians from both sides but the Catherwoods, if anything, were against the Unionists because they nationalized the family business. We realized then what it was to be faced with a one-party state, there being no appeal against the Unionists, so I think we were rather sympathetic to the minority in Northern Ireland.

Ulstermen, and Unionists, are British, and you and yourself had an almost totally English education. Do you feel yourself to be Irish in any sense, or do you never describe yourself as an Irishman? 

I was brought up to dislike nationalism because it divided Ireland. I am a Unionist in the sense that I believe in a union of four different races in one country and all of those four races should be equally treated and equally respected and equally British if they want to be. The bane of the twentieth-century life has been ethnic nationalism. That’s certainly been so in Ireland, and it is now a real danger in England. It started with Mrs Thatcher and the extreme hostility she showed to our near neighbours on the Continent. I believe it does immense damage to them, to us, to the European enterprise, and to everything I hold dear.

You speak of attending Sunday services in local brethren assemblies, and you say what struck your mind most was the sincerity and passion of the speakers. Did you ever reflect in adulthood that sincerity and passion were perhaps not adequate measures of morality – indeed they could be used for evil ends? 

Oh yes, but we have the Bible, we have the great creeds, our Christianity is all clearly spelt out. If a particular sect goes in the wrong direction you very quickly become aware of the fact that it is wrong. You have a basic written faith on which you can fall back.

But don’t people interpret the written word in different ways? 

Of course they do. What happens when people go wrong is that they step out of the mainstream of interpretation over two thousand years. But there has been a fairly steadily agreed interpretation from the time of the apostles through the great Augustine, through Luther and Calvin, up to our present day.

You say in your autobiography: ‘If youthful indoctrination were the golden road to faith, then the twentieth-century churches would never have emptied as they did.’ This rather argues against the ‘accident of birth’ theory of religious adherence, but surely there is a sense in which we inherit our faith… 

No. The mainstream Christian doctrine is that you do not inherit your faith. The faith you have is a gift of God, and no parents can ever assume that their children are going to be Christians. What you have a duty to do as a parent is to teach your children what you see as the truth, to bring them up in the faith, but they may not accept it. So I stand by what I said.

Calvinism with its emphasis on hard work and the duty to make the most of God-given talent is the bedrock of your Christian faith. Surely you would concede that this was the culture into which you were born – in other words you didn’t just happen on these principles; you grew up with them, you imbibed them, and in this sense you didn’t consciously choose them… 

Faith means trusting that Christ died for your sins and that you are redeemed through the gift of faith. That is your relationship to God. The outworking of your faith is something which gets into a social pattern – in other words, it may well be that your children do not have a personal faith, but they can still inherit the idea of the social rights and wrongs that you teach them. They may not be Christians but they can go on doing things that Christians do, at least for a generation or so. What then happens is that it fades out, and that’s what’s happening here. This country was built up on a Christian conscience, the outworking of the Christian faith; it has now lost its basic Christian faith and therefore the culture and the social standards are coming apart.

Do you believe that had you been born into, say, a Muslim family, or even a Roman Catholic family, you would still have arrived at your present system of belief? 

Yes, because it’s a much too Anglo-Saxon or Eurocentric kind of view to think that only we in our part of the world can arrive at these kind of beliefs. For instance, at the moment, the Chinese church is the biggest in the world; it has at least fifty million adherents. China will be transformed by Christians working out their faith in the Chinese context, and it’s the same with many other countries where the Christian faith is growing. In Eastern Europe, for instance, Communism is gone and hardly anybody in Eastern Europe who is a Christian has been a Christian for more than five years. But they believe what I believe, and when you talk to them about working out their belief you discover that we work it out in the same way. God gave us talents – we have to use these talents. God made us to love our neighbours as ourselves – we’ve got to do that. The moral order that has helped this country so much will, I hope, help those countries too.

At the age of nine you were sent off to boarding school in England, a long way away from home, and although you mention briefly the feeling of separation from your family, you accepted stoically what other have described as traumatic. Is this reticence on your part, or an accurate account of the way it was? 

It’s an accurate account of the way it was. Children do accept things – this is part of the tragedy – and so you do things to them which are not right, but they still accept them. To be fair to my parents, they had not much experience. My father was sent away for his secondary education, and he just thought that education over the other side was best. He took the decision in ignorance, if you like. We didn’t send any of our children away because we believe the family is the basic unit of society and that it should be kept together. Children should come home every night and we shouldn’t farm them off for other people to look after.

At Shrewsbury you were in a very alien environment. Everything about it, from the fagging system to the fact that independence of thought and action were discouraged, went against your upbringing. Did you never openly rebel against those in authority? 

Well, it was wartime, and the authority of the school was reinforced by a nation at war, so it was not the kind of time when people were tempted to rebel. I was rebellious in the sense that I absolutely refused to accept their standards, and I didn’t measure up to the perfect model of a public schoolboy.

It was the son of a clergyman who tormented you for reading the Bible and for refusing to swear. You prayed for help and the fact that your prayers were answered immediately greatly strengthened your faith. In what ways were your prayers answered? 

This boy was trying to stir up other people against me, and he absolutely failed to do that. I prayed that he wouldn’t succeed, and my prayer was answered.

I’m interested in the business of prayer because it seems clear that many prayers remain unanswered, even for those in desperate trouble. How do you account for this? 

Well, God doesn’t promise to give you everything you ask for. Nowhere in the Christian faith are you promised an easy ride. If you read the epistles of Paul the Apostle, he promises only that if people do what is right, God will reward them.

But what is it exactly that we do when we pray? Can it really be that God can be prevailed upon to change his mind? 

What God does is to tell us to pray as a child would ask his father, but the father knows ahead of time what the child needs. So yes, God does want you to ask for something, but he does not change his mind, so to speak.

But how do you know all this? How do you know what God thinks? 

Because the Bible is full of prayers and responses, showing us through a dialogue with God what happens when the immediate prayer does not seem to be answered.  I empathize with David in those psalms and all the prophets in the Old Testament. They pray to God that he will deliver his people, but the answer comes back: ‘No, because the people are wicked, they have turned their back on me, I cannot deliver them.’ And then you find another passage in which the prophet recognizes that God’s holiness is more important than the comfort of the Jewish people who turned their backs on him. So the pattern of prayer is established through the Bible and you know your own prayer is valid because you are praying exactly the same way as David did or as Isaiah or Paul did. Paul prayed that God would remove his ‘thorn in the flesh’, which God refused to do so that Paul might realize that he was dependent on God and not on his own strength. It’s all there in the Bible, even if people tend not to read it nowadays.

So you base everything on the Bible… 

Yes. Christ came and rose again from the dead, publicly acknowledged in front of hundreds of people, and so authenticated himself as the Son of God. What he says is valid. He then authorized the apostles to speak, and what they say is valid. The Bible is an authentication by Christ. I’m a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ, and therefore I believe in his authentication. Furthermore, I am now seventy-three years old and I’ve been a practising Christian since the age of nine, and I don’t find anything written anywhere else that is as true to life as that which I find in the Bible.

But how do you know that the Bible is genuine, that what was written later on is what happened then? 

Because of all ancient manuscripts, the Bible is far and away the best authenticated. The Jews are notorious for having preserved their scriptures, generation after generation, so these scriptures are absolutely valid. Nobody would deny that, and the most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament are the most valid ancient manuscripts in history, and they go right back to the time when people were alive who could have denied them if they had been wrong. They got the circulation they did simply because the people who knew the apostles knew they were right.

You never succumbed to the public-school system, largely because of the friendship and influence of a man called Robert Laidlaw, an army scripture reader. Your discussions with him laid the foundations of your belief in upholding the highest standards of Christian ethics in business and other areas of human activity. Looking back, do you think your life would have turned out differently if he had not been your role model? 

Well, that’s a hypothetical question which is extremely difficult to answer. All I know is that he is the most vivid influence in my memory. He stayed behind in Britain when he could well have gone to the safety of New Zealand, he was a millionaire and yet he operated as an army chaplain, and he lived through the Blitz, and so on. So what boy could not admire him? He was understanding, funny and very wise, and I felt extremely fortunate to know him. I just feel the Good Lord sent him along…

I’m interested in how much of your life you think was predetermined by God. If Robert Laidlaw was given to you by God, did you think you had been singled out for a special purpose? 

Not exactly a special purpose, but I think God has a task for you to do and he sends along to you the people who are going to help you in the task he has in mind.

Are there not inherent dangers in thinking along these lines? Could it not turn out to be a terrible self-delusion with unhappy consequences? I’m thinking of gurus and self-appointed spiritual leaders, many of whom turn out to have feet of clay… 

Oh yes, but what you’re leaving out of account is that if you are a Christian you believe in the corpus of what is written in the Bible. If you believe what Robert Laidlaw believes you have a common position and that common position would avoid his exploiting you. I mean, he was a good Christian and an honourable man, and you accepted him because he put himself within the framework of the Christian discipline and wouldn’t move outside it. You were safe with him.

But how would you know that as a boy? There are some things you can only judge as an adult… 

I was sixteen and I had been brought up as a Christian. Robert Laidlaw was a chaplain, I had read my Bible, and I just knew I was on safe ground.

Robert Laidlaw explained to you why he found Darwinism incredible and you say in your book that you ‘had to agree with him’. Is this still the case? I mean, do you completely reject the theory of evolution and the descent of man? 

My view is that the theory of evolution is just that: a theory. I find it almost impossible to believe that the human eye, for instance, was not designed, that it just happened as an accident. It can focus and adjust to light, tears come out automatically, it self-cleans, it sees in colour – it seems to me that if anything was designed, the human eye was designed. Even Darwin accepted that the human eye was a big barrier to his theory.

Do you reject Darwinism out of hand? 

I read history at Cambridge under the Regius Professor Sir Herbert Butterfield who happened to have written A History of Science. Butterfield made the point, which I think is absolutely critical, that the scientific method was formed by people who were believers – the Puritans, the Huguenots, the Dutch Reformed, and so on. They believed in a creator but they also believed that he had given us a world in his image. It was unitary, that is to say the melting pot of steel would be the same wherever you found it; it was orderly, i.e. you would find an order in nature; it was rational, i.e. it had systems in it; it was stable because God promised that it would be stable; and, finally, it was benign, subject to the fact that the world was in rebellion and therefore it was no longer perfect. Those are the five foundations of the scientific method, and you cannot have a scientific method without them. None of those assumptions can be proved, but they’re all Christian assumptions. Now, it was Francis Bacon who urged that science should stick to what could be proved and should not enter into metaphysical theories about origins which could not be proved. So he detached practical science for the good of man’s estate from theoretical science, and it was the practical science that took off, but it only took off because it rested on those assumptions. If you cease to believe in those assumptions you will find that the scientific method crumbles, and indeed in our country at the present time it is crumbling. I mean, post-modernism which doesn’t believe that there is any firm yes, no, proved or not proved.

Do you believe in evolution for animals? 

You ask me if I believe. I’m perfectly prepared to accept anything that is scientifically proved before and after, but that’s got to be within the framework of what can be proved, and I think there are kinds of evolution that can be no more than theory and there are changes which occur through breeding, and so on. I believe that there is what I would call change and difference over the centuries within the framework of particular species, but I only believe that if it can be proved. I don’t believe in it as an article of faith.

For instance, there is a particular species of wasp which lays its eggs inside a caterpillar, so that when the eggs hatch they have the flesh of the caterpillar as ready food. The caterpillar is first of all paralysed and then kept alive so that the meat, so to speak, will be fresh. All of this is of course perfectly compatible with evolution, but how is it compatible with a loving God? 

If you go back to the first part of Genesis and you see that God created the world perfect, but then there was a rebellion and into that rebellion came death and suffering and everything else. From then on it was a suffering earth, but he didn’t create it in that way.

Do you see science and religion as irreconcilable? 

Not at all. My religious beliefs are prior to my belief in science, but because I am a Christian I believe in the scientific method. Were I not a Christian, then I would be taken in by post-modernism, which does not believe any longer in the scientific method. For instance, when you go through an airport waiting-room, the pictures on the wall are post-modern, they’re all chaotic because they represent the view that there is no rhyme or reason, there is no truth, there are no absolutes. But when you get onto the aircraft you are extremely glad that the aircraft is built on the scientific method, not on post-modernist principles. Unfortunately, our society today is dominated by post-modernist destruction which is taking apart the social order on which Christianity has had such a huge influence. The moral order behind it is being deconstructed, and we are therefore living in a chaotic society which doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.

You seem very critical of what you call ‘pietism’. I thought pietism was a term for exceptional devotion to religion…can you clear this up for me? 

There is a theological pietism which concentrates on the personal feelings of the individual Christian; it’s inward looking, and it doesn’t care for its neighbour as much as it should, and it doesn’t care for the objective doctrine as much as it should. Those who practise pietism go to great conventions which make them feel good. To me that is not Christianity. You have to teach what is the Christian faith, and pietism doesn’t.

You trained as an accountant and embarked on a spectacularly successful career in business management, eventually becoming managing director of British Aluminium, as well as holding high office elsewhere. How difficult was it to maintain Christian standards in such a worldly and materialistic environment. 

It depended on who your boss was. It was difficult with my first boss, and that was why in the end I left and took another job. My second boss, Edwin Plowden, was no problem at all. He was one of the most distinguished public servants in Britain, and his ethics, integrity and relationships with people were absolutely superb.

Were you ever tempted to lower your high ethical standards in business? 

No, because as you must know, business is very much about trust. I was brought up to believe that you do business with people you trust, and with people you don’t trust you don’t do business. And also, because we were looking after other people’s money, we had a fiduciary relationship which we had to keep to. Post-war standards in the City of London were extremely high, and I was very happy with that.

Can you be confident that you always preserved an ethical balance between the conflicting needs of workers on the one hand and management and shareholders on the other? 

Well, who could be absolutely sure of that? All you can say is I tried.

When Labour won the general election with a slender majority in 1964, you were invited by George Brown to become the government’s chief industrial adviser. Wasn’t that a very risky job to undertake for a man of your standing in the business world, especially as a paid-up member of the Conservative Party? 

I may have been a paid-up member of the Conservative Party, but I resigned from the party when I entered public service because I went in at a rank where you couldn’t have anything to do with politics, and I thought it was best not to belong to the party if I couldn’t do anything about it. Edwin Plowden said to me that there would be people in the City who would never trust me again because I had worked for the socialists, but I believed it was the right thing to do.

What did your Conservative friends think of it, and your decision to suspend your Tory Party membership? 

I was not an active member of the Tory Party…

But you were advising a Labour government… 

Well, nobody seemed to notice. I only took an active part in my local party, and that was over Suez, and so I really wasn’t known in the party except for that one occasion.

Were you for or against Suez? 

I thought it was a ridiculous idea. I found it extremely difficult to see how, if the Israelis and the Egyptians were both east of Suez Canal, it helped matters to send the army down the Suez Canal and separate them. The whole thing was so clearly phoney.

You thought highly of George Brown, who seems to be remembered mostly as a joke figure, a drunken embarrassment to his own party. Yet you say he simply had a very low alcohol tolerance…is this remark based in Christian charity rather than reality? 

No, it was a fact. He would get drunk on sherry – that was the problem. He was always friendly and we had very good relations. I respected his political clout and he respected my ability to carry business with me, so that was the deal.

It is noticeable that although you may criticize policies, you never speak ill in personal terms of anyone. Is this a deliberate decision prompted by Christianity? Have you privately felt dislike, perhaps even hatred, for people in the course of your life? 

Christianity is a faith which emphasizes love, and it tries to eradicate hate, irritation, and all of those kinds of things. If you’re a Christian for a long time you feel an affectionate relationship comes more naturally to you than irritation, and you try to see the best in people. And if you act with Christian love towards them you get far more out of them.

And yet you say you’re impatient by nature… 

Exactly, but one of the things that the Christian faith does is help you to overcome your natural tendencies. You have to work hard at it.

Is there any politician whatever his religion or lack of it, in whom you have recognized true goodness, a person of whom you might have thought, this is a better man than I am, to paraphrase Kipling? 

There are a great many very good politicians, yes. For example, Alec Douglas-Home was a very good man – he may have had his limitations, but as an honourable man he was first class. And I liked old Jim Callaghan too – he is a good man.

In view of the peace agreement, are you now optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland? 

Yes, I am. I have been in and out of this for thirty years and I now believe an enormous step forward has been taken. My own feeling is that once there is an assembly set up and once local politicians have got a stake in that assembly – I’m thinking particularly of the Unionist side – then it will begin to gain a momentum of its own. Once the cross-border bodies get it going it will be seen that there is not the slippery slope that the Unionists fear. The main problems at the moment have to do with how you get the IRA to give up their weapons without this being acknowledgement that they have been defeated. In their view only defeated armies give up their weapons, it’s an act of surrender, but we can’t go on having the perception that if they don’t get their way they can go back to the gun.

If for some reason in the future – demographic changes, for example – the six countries joined the twenty-six and Ireland became united, would that worry you? 

No, it wouldn’t worry me unduly, not if there were a majority in favour.

Many Unionists have resisted the very idea of a United Ireland for fear of being subjected to the same restrictions on their personal lives as those imposed by law in the South: no divorce, no artificial contraception and no abortion under any circumstances. Yet these are rules of which you might approve, are they not? 

The impression I get from the Irish Catholic hierarchy and from my colleagues in Ireland is that the church no longer has any clout in the South. The South of Ireland is becoming a very secular country, and the church has scarcely any power left.

Your uncle and namesake emigrated to America in defiance of his father’s wishes and died there without reconciliation. It was a blow from which your grandfather never recovered, but you suggest that his mistake was in not realizing that a child is as likely to react against his parents as to follow them, and that each must answer for himself. If your own children had rejected everything you stood for, including Christianity, could you have let them go without blaming yourself, taking comfort in ‘each must answer for himself’? 

Well, it’s the only comfort you have. When it happens to the children of our friends, that’s what we say to them. You do the best you can and that’s all you can do. You shouldn’t blame yourselves. With one of our children we certainly had a very sticky patch and all we could do was to go on loving and caring and being good parents. You can’t do more.

The Catherwoods, parents and children, seem to epitomize the doctrine of Calvin, that virtue should be practised for its own sake, without hope of reward or fear of punishment, and provided that is done, prosperity will follow. Do you agree with this observation? 

No, I don’t agree prosperity will follow. Our daughter and her husband are both teachers and prosperity certainly doesn’t follow in their case, and it is the same with our son, who is a lecturer and writer. It’s true that our older son is doing very well, at least so far.

Would you allow that many have led a virtuous hardworking life without reaping obvious rewards? 

Yes, of course, but it’s done for its own sake, it’s not done for rewards.

Modern capitalism is said to have arisen from the widespread influence of Calvinism, and it underpins the best of Conservative though, but we now have a Labour government which seems to have embraced much of its doctrine, a churchgoing Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who advocates an ethical foreign policy. Do you feel less pessimistic now about the state of the country? 

Let me correct one of your primary assumptions. Capitalism has been there since the beginning of time; what Calvinism did was to produce a scientific method which meant there was a colossal technological breakthrough, together with a doctrine of hard work and the use of the talents which produced professionalism. It is science and professionalism which together have created wealth, so I don’t say that Calvinism equals capitalism; it doesn’t. My definition of Christianity is love for our neighbour, but in British society there is no care for those who are below a certain line. Now that was not the way I was brought up, it was not the way the Labour governments used to be, it was not the way the Tories used to be, but since the 1980s that is the way it has been. Sadly, Blair has not done anything about that, so the rich still get richer and the poor still get poorer. I’m extremely disappointed in Blair.

How do you view personal standards of behaviour in political life – the so-called sleaze factor which haunted the last government? 

It is just one highly visible part of the deterioration of moral and social standards. The other thing that Calvinism contributed was honesty; banking and trade prospered because people who didn’t know each other could trust each other, and indeed democracy grew up in so far as it did in the nineteenth century partly on the basis of the feeling that all men were equal and partly on the basis of certain standards in public life. If you take away the moral underpinning from society, as we have done, you can’t expect that the police will not become corrupt, that politicians will not become corrupt. It is a natural result of saying that there are no absolute moral standards.

You see unemployment as a great evil, partly responsible for the moral decline of the nation…but can Tony Blair do very much to solve the problem? Governments don’t actually create jobs and there is not much point in training schemes if there is no job at the end. If you were asked to be Blair’s adviser what advice you give him? 

I actually wrote a letter to the Independent giving the Chancellor a bit of advice. British industry lives on its wits, and in a world that doesn’t owe us anything, we have to sell more than we buy. That’s the only way forward for this country. Services are important, but not as important as industry and they’re also more volatile, so you need to make absolutely certain that British industry expands at a sufficient rate to create the surplus that enables you to expand the public services pro rata. At the moment, it costs a British company fifty per cent more to put down new capital than it costs a continental company because our interest rates are that much higher. Our interest rates are higher because the government came in with a pledge that it would not raise taxation. If you can’t adjust the economy through taxation you have got to adjust the economy through interest rates. To say that you can’t have a penny or two adjustment to get interest rates down in order to make British industry competitive is absurd. We are in the single market and British industry is faced with competitors who for the next generation of every product can put down fifty per cent more capacity than we can. The government is entirely responsible for that, not to mention the resultant loss of jobs and loss of hope.

What would you say are the moral absolutes nowadays? 

We have the Ten Commandments, you know. They are the moral absolutes, and we don’t keep them.

Do you believe in capital punishment? 

I believe in capital punishment subject to the qualifications that a Christian puts on it, which is that you have to be absolutely satisfied on the evidence of at least two people.

Can you ever be? 

Well, that’s a difficult question…

Do you believe in hell, and if so, do you see it as the biblical place of fire, or simply as banishment from the presence of God? 

The latter, but having said that, we underestimate the awfulness of banishment from the person who is the source of all good.

Do you believe that anybody, however wicked, should be punished for all eternity? 

The Christian concept of heaven is the concept of being in a place of absolute good, with a good God who is honoured and respected and obeyed by everyone who is there. If you bring in a rebel, for however long, he is still a rebel. That introduces a flaw – which is how evil began in this world. There was a paradise, there was a rebel, and there was a flaw, and once you had that there was no longer the relationship with God. Heaven is a place where there is complete trust because there is complete obedience to God, and you cannot have heaven flawed. I don’t know what heaven is like and I don’t know what hell is like; all I know is that heaven is a place of total good and total obedience. 

Is there salvation for those who cannot accept the truth as you see it? 

There is salvation for everyone. What happens is that people either come to see the truth, or they don’t. But the reason that people do not become Christians is that they are not prepared to subject their right to decide what is right or wrong to the view of God who made them.

You say that Christians must have more than mere inner convictions: ‘We have to show that the God revealed by Jesus Christ was the one true sovereign God who created the universe and that that message was the only valid analysis of the human condition.’ I ask this with great respect, but how can you hope to show that? You may believe it and preach it, but how do you show it to a Darwinist, an atheist or even to a Buddhist, or a Hindu? 

I am in favour of freedom of religion, because in the free market of ideas Christianity is usually most successful. The Christian church in China now has between fifty and seventy million people who grew up during the Maoist terror. Eastern Europe suffered seventy years of anti-Christian propaganda, but everyone has now forgotten the Communists and the Christian church is rising again, and it’s exactly the same in Central Europe. The Christian church is the belief system most widely accepted in the world, and one cannot therefore say other than it is valid for every people, race and nation.

Would you say you were puritanical when it comes to sexual matters and religion? 

No, I’m a Christian, and I practise what the Christian faith says. The proper place for sex is within marriage.

But most people have sexual intercourse before marriage… 

Well, you’re asking me what I believe, not what happens with most people.

Do you believe that sex is also a gift from God? 

Sex is a gift from God but the family is also a gift of God, and sex is meant for the family, not outside the family. If you went round the inner cities of our country at the moment and you saw the estates where most of the children are brought up with no father, you would conclude that the family where a man was committed to bringing up his children was a good thing, and you would not think that promiscuous sex was helpful socially. We are breeding a generation of unloved and unwanted children who are the loose cannons of our society. It is truly appalling.

Would you agree that the language of faith is very imprecise, that it’s almost impossible for one man to know what another man means by God or salvation or divine mercy? 

That’s what churches are for, to explain to us what these things are. It’s not that there is a mystery about them, but that there is a theological system to explain everything to people. But once you become a Christian and you practise it, then it’s like driving a car. At first you think, how can anyone understand how to make all these gears and pedals work, but once you’re in the driving seat you’ve committed yourself to it and you understand what responses you get. You know you’re in a workable system and you know how it works.

You say that eternal salvation matters more than anything in this life…is that not an almost impossible message to get across to people today, particularly to the young, who have grown up with very different values in a rather fragmented society? 

The average age in our church is about thirty. I think we have about a hundred and fifty students, all highly intelligent, all very young, and the message certainly gets across to them. The fact that this is not recognized by the rest of society doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The church is there, it is extremely active, it appeals to the young. Society has this image of Anglican churches being inhabited by three old ladies, but that is not the case. Far more people are interested in the Christian faith than are interested in politics, for example.

Yet statistically there is a decline in people going to church… 

Yes, and that decline happens because in a great many churches the liberals went along with the humanists. The liberals took over and since they didn’t believe in any absolutes they began teaching people that you don’t have to believe anything, so they didn’t go to church any more. Liberal churches have gone into perpendicular decline, but the vast increase in the evangelical churches where people still hold to the orthodox faith had made up for that decline.

Do you believe that the churches should be moving with the times, so to speak, trying to adapt to modern society, or are you in favour of the church sticking to the old truths which are immutable and not to be diluted to suit modern times? 

There is such moral and social and economic chaos in our cities today that you cannot put your trust in the deconstructionist society that we have now. We are told we cannot believe in any absolutes any more, and so all the bonds that keep a society together are dissolved. Our society is in decline and we cannot have any faith in modern Britain.

Obviously you believe in an afterlife, but do you fear death itself? 

To the Christian death is particularly awesome, because you are not just snuffed out – death is not the end. It is the time when you finally account for all you have done and it is a very awesome thing to come to your judge. Therefore it’s not so much that you fear death, but that you don’t lose the sense of awe about death.

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