There’s No Such Thing As The Big Society

Good people don’t need religion to be good. Neither do they need a Tory slogan.

The parallels between the Conservative party and religion have been noted before, with the Church of England often playfully referred to as the “Tory party at prayer”.

In the main, David Cameron appears to have taken on board Alastair Campbell’s sage counsel to Tony Blair – “we don’t do God” – but I think our Prime Minister’s “Big Society” has a couple of things in common with religion.

Religion provides daft reasons to be good – obtaining the approval of a non-existent supernatural entity or entities and ultimately a golden ticket into a celestial theme park – and by definition equally daft reasons not to be bad – avoiding eternal, tortuous punishment from the same (merciful and forgiving) non-existent supernatural entity or entities in the shape of a hellish place called Hell.

How absurd and utterly self-indulgent it is to believe that a divine creator would take a personalised, bespoke interest in the actions and inactions of a single individual – be it concerning attendance at a certain place of worship; pilgrimage to a holy site; dietary habits; or prayer at specific times in specific directions with the intention presumably of altering or influencing whatever divine and therefore perfect plan He has already formulated or is yet to formulate – when He has far more pressing issues to wrestle with, such as THE ENTIRE FUCKING UNIVERSE and actual, tangible suffering of His chosen species through war, drought and, err, acts of God.   But of course it’s the godless infidels who are selfish and arrogant, and not the believers who expect God to alter His perfect plan just for them!  (“Dear God, please change Your plan, because I’m asking you to. Thanks. Your most humble servant.”)

Ok, I might find those reasons daft, but who am I to question what motivates some people to behave properly? Surely if it works for them there’s no problem?  Yes, I suppose so, but maybe part of me just fears that, without their religious crutch, these people might have no reason to behave well, and it’s also quite clear to me that their religious beliefs can just as easily whip them up into frenzied bouts of grotesque wrongdoing which benefit from the ultimate possible justification: a divine one.

In my opinion, behaving decently requires no recourse whatsoever to the religious or supernatural, which if anything can even be quite counter-productive because if the foundational premises of that justification start crumbling away or become the subject of personal doubt on the part of the believer, the need to behave decently potentially slips away with it, too.  The need to behave decently can be articulated quite satisfactorily in banal, secular terms: just be nice to others and don’t infringe their legitimate rights.

Anyway, back to the Big Society, a concept conjured up by Cameron’s blue-sky thinker, Steve Hilton, which the Tories have tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to flog to a confused and bemused public (including their own supporters).

Like religion, the Big Society provides a bad reason to be good – political ideology – which not only cheapens the act of being community-minded but is, again like religion, potentially divisive by its very nature.

I consider myself reasonably community-minded but my reasons for being so have absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with…just wanting to be decent to my fellow citizens. In the past year, for example, I have taken part in a programme to provide career mentoring to young students and I have also dispensed pro bono legal advice to charities.  The idea that I might be doing this to vindicate some half-baked political ideology is not only ludicrous but actually a bit offensive – to me and probably to the beneficiaries of my actions.

I don’t need God or Gods to be good, and I sure as hell don’t need a political slogan, either. Do us a favour and put the Big Society into a Big Bin, Dave – it’s a muddled embarrassment.