Page 6, 14th September 1984

14th September 1984
Page 6
Page 6, 14th September 1984 — One Man's Faith

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One Man's Faith

However, with the encouragement and help of his wife Elizabeth he joined the Labour Party in 1936 and rose to be Leader of the House of Lords 1964-68 during the first two Wilson Governments. Describing his political affiliations, Lord Longford said that his "sympathy would always be with the so-called underdogs".

One of the themes of One Man's Faith is the importance of his faith in Lord Longford's activities in the political arena. He felt that there was and remains a "strong Christian influence" in the Labour Party, but emphasised that the prevailing tone was not Christian.

In this context he quoted Clement Attlee whom he served in various posts, including Minister of Civil Aviation. Attlee was brought up as a Christian, but could not accept the "mumbo-jumbo" which he felt went with the faith, Lord Longford said.

Yet he respected Attlee as a moral man. In what he himself describes as "in my eyes the only original section" of One Man's Faith, Frank Longford puts forward the view that in Great Britain, in general terms, "on average, Christians behave better than non-Christians". In the book he defines a Christian as one who perceives himself as a Christian, who tries to follow the example of Christ. With that example, their morality should be superior, shouldn't it he asked.

Turning to humanism, Lord Longford dismissed it as "just negative really", a group name for those without religion, and certainly not a fully-thought out set of alternative ideas. The ideas of groups like the Bloomsbury Circle did not formulate "a collective doctrine" in the same way as something like Marxism does, he maintained.

One of the most striking features about Lord Longford is the sureness he feels in his faith, and how that faith shapes his actions. One cause with which he has been much associated in the public's eye is that of Myra Hindley, the Moors Murderess, and her accomplice Ian Brady. The day after I met Lord Longford he was going to the Midlands to visit Ian Brady in prison.

He questioned whether it was indeed his faith that prompted him to undertake such a journey, and felt that it was very difficult to be sure of motives for each action.

However, in general, he considered that faith must have an important role to play in shaping attitudes and actions. His interest in the treatment of prisoners is just a case in point.

He argues persuasively in One Man's Faith that there does indeed have to be some form of punishment for crime in order that the law be upheld and respected. But he believes strongly that the sentences handed out in Britain are often "absurdly long" given the crime.

He defended these views by pointing out that the longer a person spent in prison, the less likely they were, in his view, to be able to be rehabilitated, because of the resentment which builds up within each prisoner at his continued lack of freedom. In the case of Myra Hindley, he considered that after nineteen years in prison she was "not the slightest bit dangerous" now, and dismissed the idea "that she will damage people" as "absurd".

The strength of Lord Longford's faith did not prevent him, however, from admitting that there are certain mysteries which he doesn't expect to answer "this side of the grave". In this category, he put the existence of the Devil, and remarked that evil spirits "have no meaning for me".

He did recognise though that there was a great deal of evil in the world which remained unexplained. The question of suffering also troubles him. He

deals with it in a brief chapter of One Man 's Faith, and although he finds it difficult to find a completely adequate explanation for suffering, he considered that it "should not cast doubt on the love that God feels for us". The justification for suffering was to be in the afterlife, he said, and whilst recognising that suffering may cause some to lose their faith, he felt that those who held on would receive an eternal reward,

In his book in this context Lord Longford quotes Richard Cave, the founder and chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain whose wife suffers from the disease. "I think" writes Richard Cave, "that our difficulty in coming to terms with this problem stems from the fact that we tend to look art ourselves as the focal point round which our little world revolves. What is so difficult for our human intelligence to grasp is that we are all members of the mystical body of Christ. We are members of his mystical body and are called on, in one form or another to make reparation for the evil which has walked the world since the beginning of time".

One of the lasting impressions of One Man 's Faith is that Frank Longford is confident and clear-minded in his belief. However, he himself would not make such a bold claim, and described himself only as someone who has been "trying to practice Christianity for a long time".

To that end, he listed his future plans as attempting "to draw closer to God". His two particular aims were firstly, in the words of Tennyson, to seek a new vision of God, and secondly to leave the world a better place than how he found it, he said.

As to accepting a slower pace of life, he made it clear that he has no plans to retire. "I would only be a nuisance to my wife" he said.

*Published by Hodder and Stoughton. Price £4.95.

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