The Meaning of Values

By Timothy Vince

November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice following the War to end all wars, when there was – and still is – a consensus that Britain and her allies were fighting for the preservation of shared values in the face of tyranny. During the Second World War, the Directorate of Army Education published a book entitled The British Way and Purpose (B.W.P.). This publication set out respectfully and thoughtfully the importance of faith, acknowledging that although our soldiers had a broad outline of what they were fighting against, there was a shortfall in understanding what they were fighting for.

In a similar vein the secular UK government of today, faced with real and perceived dangers of religious fundamentalism, have attempted to draw up a secular code to which every citizen can/must subscribe. This has variously been described as ‘modern’ values, ‘democratic’ values and more pointedly ‘British’ values, but the meaning has become confused even in the title. Adding the epithet ‘fundamental’ hasn’t added clarity. The wording used in legislation can often be clumsy. The advent of the term ‘Fundamental British Values’ (FBV) is a classic example. Leaving aside confusion of what British represents in a devolved UK (and notwithstanding the observation of C.S. Lewis, “England is wonderful but Britain is wicked!”) there is the problem of the meaning and ‘value’ of values. By definition they can change and be subject to differing interpretation depending on one’s beliefs. The fact that one of the four headline definitions of the British Values legislation contains the respect of belief gives little comfort when others contradict a particular belief. Society has moved over one hundred years from the relative comfort of a common values system – which prevailed prior to the Great War – to progressive (some would say regressive) relativism.

Situational ethics – where one person’s value system can have the opposite or inverted meaning (or value) to another person’s value system – has essentially replaced law as a concept. Laws have increasingly become honoured more in the breach than the observance and legislation has followed trends rather than uphold standards. Law making has moved from a ‘natural’ and ‘universal’ framework to the ‘progressive’ and ‘scientific’. The framework of an ordered universe created by an infinitely good transcendent lawmaker has been replaced by humankind being the masters of their own destiny. The law takers have collectively become the law makers. Values have become subject to ongoing ‘enlightenment’ based on the innate goodness of humanity and instinctive collective desire to preserve and progress the species. This increasingly prevalent belief or ‘worldview’ has become increasingly intolerant. It could be argued that the seeds of such intolerance are inherent in the worldview.

FBV has become tied up in knots trying to implement ‘equality’ values. It has extended the innate value of all humanity shared by most faiths to an innate value of all beliefs and choices and even opinions. This directly contradicts the teaching of right and wrong held by traditional beliefs. The danger of applying a secular code to values that breaks with tradition is that the definition of such values has no reference point and ultimately no meaningful definition. Since the Great War – and partly as a result of it – there has grown a lack of confidence in the fixed values/absolutes taught by traditional religions. The British Way and Purpose that protected us then should not be jettisoned as we move into more uncertain times – which it could be argued have directly resulted from the confusion of untested and unstable so-called ‘fundamental’ values.

Timothy Vince is Director of Christian Education Europe.