Margaret Thatcher’s death is a trivial matter. We all die. It was going to happen to her. It will happen to you and me. I hope that God grants Margaret Thatcher rest. As Giles Fraser, the socialist Anglican put it in his recent article on the Comment is Free, death is the great democracy. Fraser will also not be protesting or turning his back on the procession because, as he admits he too has failed. He understands well how to humanise the person behind the symbol Thatcher, for human she was.
What is less trivial is the question as to whether the symbol Thatcher has died. What might it mean for the symbol to survive for us collectively? Like most symbols there will be differences in the meaning of the symbol to each interpreter. The collective conscious of the United Kingdom feels divided about a woman that represents either generational pain through the loss of dignity by losing gainful employment, or individual liberation from statist and union oppression. This duplicity is not healthy and it needs a remedy.
It might be a stretch but the story of the woman caught in adultery relates to how this symbol Thatcher might be redeemed for those that feel pain because of her politics. On the other hand it also offers solace to those that have been hurt by the people celebrating her death. Ironically however, the divisive symbol’s redemption sits in recognising that there is a society beyond the sum total of individual and familial self interest. We see this clearest in the Kingdom of God, through the lens of NT Wright‘s ‘The Challenge of Jesus’.
Jesus was being tested by the teachers of the law. They brought a woman who had been caught in adultary to him and asked him whether she should be stoned since that is what the Mosaic law required. Jesus responded by saying the now memorable phrase: “He that is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” And one by one the teachers of the law left. When they were alone Jesus asks the women whether anybody had condemned her. She says: “No one my lord.” His response is to say, neither then do I, go and sin no more.
The symbol Thatcher is like the woman caught in adultery. What she signifies to some is unchristian selfishness, characteristic of adulterous relationships. Yet others admit she had her faults but that the enemy she was fighting had forgot its Christian roots.
According to N.T. Wright first century Jews understood their relationship with Rome and the previous occupying forces to be a punishment for not keeping God’s law. So the offence that the woman caught in adultery had perpetrated was not just against God and her husband, but rather in the Pharisees mind a hinderance to the flourishing of Israel as a whole. What the Pharisees did not understand is that the true Kingdom of God is one in which forgiveness reigns and as a sign of forgiveness, gratitude and faithfulness are the appropriate response. Go and sin no more, Jesus said.
If symbol Thatcher is the adulteress who betrayed community to radical individualism, then the redemption of this symbol must be in the Tory recognition that society does exist, that selfishness is not a virtue and that mutuality and the gift of forgiveness are core to a healthy economy and country.