The NHS: Britain’s False Religion

An elderly gentleman walks past a hospital sign on September 26, 2007 in London, England. In a report to be released September 27, 2007 the Healthcare Commission outlines care by the NHS Trust should provide further dignity in care to the elderly.
Cate Gillon/Getty Images

The NHS: Britain’s False Religion

I wonder how long before Britain has a new national holiday: July 5, the birthday of the National Health Service. This year a thanksgiving service for the National Health Service (nhs) was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Buckingham Palace hosted a garden party to celebrate. Thousands more throughout the country attended their own events, while politicians and celebrities put out cheesy video tributes.

But the most remarkable event was the awarding of the George Cross to the nhs. This is Britain’s highest civilian award, given only for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

It was a historic occasion. The George Cross has only been awarded collectively twice before. The first was Malta in 1942, which, at the time of its awarding, was “the most heavily bombed place on Earth,” as Andrew Roberts writes in his book The Storm of War. During the two-year siege, Axis forces tried to bomb and starve the island into submission. Over 1,000 civilians were killed and 30,000 buildings destroyed of damaged.

The second collective recipient was the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who saw 300 of their men killed and thousands wounded as they faced attacks from Irish Republican Army terrorists for years.

Compared with such examples, the nhs’s award seems a little cheap.

But if you believe Britain’s leaders, the nhs is literally the best thing ever. Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer called it “our country’s greatest institution.” Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock went one better, saying, “The nhs is the best gift a nation has ever given itself.”

“Really?” asked Margaret Thatcher’s biographer Charles Moore. “Better than the fighter pilots in 1940, or universal suffrage or the abolition of slavery? Better than the U.S. Constitution?”

Why such veneration for the nhs? Politician Nigel Lawson famously quipped that “the nhs is the closest thing the English people have to a religion.” In their health service “holiday” videos, celebrities and politicians described how the nhs saved them, was there for them when they were born, and will be there for them when they die. It sounded like a faith.

The British government takes, roughly, half of the income of its citizens through taxes, many of which are hidden. About 20 percent of that goes to health care. Crunch the numbers, and you get an interesting figure: In the United Kingdom, we all pay a tithe to the nhs.

But Britain’s devotion to this new cult has harmed the whole world. It shows how much a successful Communist infiltration can transform a nation. And as America runs down the same path, it contains a powerful warning about the fall of nations.

A National Embarrassment

Does the National Health Service really deserve such accolades? What are its fruits?

The fact is, the nhs is measurably worse than health services in other developed countries. Dr. Kristian Niemietz, head of policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, compared the nhs’s performance in four common cancers: breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and bowel cancer. If the nhs functioned as well as Germany’s health system, 12,000 lives would be saved every year. James Bartholomew crunches even more numbers in his 2004 book The Welfare State We’re In. He concluded that if the nhs functioned as well as an “averagely good health-care system,” somewhere in the region of 48,000 lives could be saved each year.

We’re told that if just one life is saved from covid-19, the loss of our ancient freedoms and rights is worth it. Yet the extra deaths from having a poor health-care system are equivalent to a coronavirus pandemic every two or three years—even if you do take the official covid-19 stats at face value. We’ll give up our freedom to save lives. But we’d never give up our nhs.

The United Kingdom government spends three times as much on health care as it does on defense. The nhs has become a bureaucratic nightmare. If you meet a manager in the UK, there’s a 1 in 3 chance he or she works for the nhs.

None of this denies that there are dedicated, hardworking and caring people working for the nhs. But it does raise the question: Why do we venerate something that, as institution, is not very good?

A Marxist Project

The National Health Service began after World War ii, when the British public voted out Winston Churchill and elected the Labour Party. Labour celebrated by singing “The Red Flag,” the Communist anthem, in Parliament.

In this new socialist government, Aneurin Bevan was one of the most extreme. He was kicked out of the Labour Party in 1939 because of his closeness to Communists, then later readmitted. His biographer, Labour Party leader Michael Foot, said his thinking was “rooted in Marxism.”

“Marxism taught him that society must be changed swiftly, intrepidly, fundamentally, if the transformation was not to be overturned by counterrevolution,” Foot wrote.

Bevan achieved this with the nhs. It has a remained a socialist beachhead that even Margaret Thatcher, who restored a certain amount of British power and prosperity by combating socialism at home and abroad, was unable to dislodge.

The nhs was part of a reformation of the welfare state that deeply rooted pillars of socialist thinking into the British psyche. These reforms minimized personal responsibility and freedom, replacing them with a collectivist approach. Under covid-19 we’re seeing this approach turn authoritarian. I was amazed when Britain locked down last year. I shouldn’t have been. The foundations were laid over 70 years ago.

A man’s failings became society’s problems. If he failed to care for his health, the nation would bear the expense. If he lost his job and held no savings, the nation would take care of him. If he had children out of wedlock and could not, or would not, support them, the nation would step in.

By shielding individuals from the consequences of their own actions, the welfare state has encouraged nation-destroying problems. It has created a vicious cycle, making these problems worse. Saving for a rainy day is really hard when the government takes half of your income. And so more people are forced to rely on the government when that rainy day comes.

Of course, any just society needs a safety net. No one wants to see a child die because his or her parents can’t afford to pay the bills. But the new welfare state went much further.

So much of the decline in British character stems from this. In the 1950s, psychologist Geoffrey Gorer described the English, writing, “In public life today, the English are certainly among the most peaceful, gentle, courteous and orderly populations that the civilized world has ever seen. … You hardly ever see a fight in a bar. … Football crowds are as orderly as church meetings.” England is playing Denmark tonight. Take a look and see if that description remains the case today.

Bartholomew collects a wealth of similar accounts in his book The Welfare State We’re In. It’s like reading about a foreign country, completely alien to the Britain I’ve known all my life. He describes how an ethos of hard work and family values created this orderly and generally low crime society. The welfare state attacked both those pillars, and the rest of society fell with it.

“It is not going too far to say that there seems to have been a revolution in the culture and character of the British people in the last 60 years,” he writes. “The evidence is overwhelming that they are less polite and more violent. … A picture emerges of a country that has become brutish and even degenerate compared to how it was …. A country which had a remarkable history and character appears to have just thrown it away.”

Loss of Vision

The money to fund the National Health Service had to come from somewhere. And it came at the expense of Britain’s role in the world.

Defense spending, necessary to make Britain a major power, suffered cut after cut. For many, January 1968 marks the official end of the British Empire. Then Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that Britain would withdraw all its forces east of the Suez Canal.

United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk was incredulous. He said that he “could not believe that free aspirin and false teeth were more important than Britain’s role in the world.”

Britain’s sudden lack of interest in empire created problems around the world. Britain’s policy was “confusion and irresolution,” writes historian Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times. “There was a failure of vision; a collapse of will. In 1945, Britain controlled one third of the world. No nation had ever carried such wide-ranged responsibilities. Twenty-five years later, everything had gone. History had never before witnessed a transformation of such extent and rapidity.”

Britain had no interest in empire, or even in a responsible drawdown of the Empire. Instead, it just dropped everything and cared little about the number of lives it shattered.

In India, the result of a lack of British interest, the incompetence of British officials, and a hurried handover to these new elites was a disaster. As British authorities pulled out, the ethnic tensions they’d kept under control exploded. Somewhere in the region of 1 million people were killed in the violence—though estimates vary wildly. Around 5 million were forced to flee their homes. India and Pakistan went on to fight four wars with each other and remain in a frosty nuclear standoff. Look at some of the men who came to power as Britain pulled out: Ugandan President Idi Amin, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The entire world is a worse place today because of Britain’s worship of the nhs and our welfare state.

But this loss of vision harmed Britain too.

The 18th-century era of the British Empire began with a desire to make the world a better place. British diplomacy and the Royal Navy helped stamp out slavery around the world. For men of this time, their first experience of empire had been in fighting Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempt at world domination. In the anti-slavery battle, they saw an inkling of something different: an empire that didn’t seek merely to conquer vast territories or exalt one man. Instead, Britain caught a new vision of an empire that could better all mankind. “[F]or many Victorian Englishmen, the instinct of empire was first to be rationalized as a call to Christian duty” (Heaven’s Command).

In 1850, Prime Minister Lord John Russell rose in Parliament to defend Britain’s continued efforts to stamp out the slave trade overseas. He told the house that “if we give up this high and holy work, and proclaim ourselves to be no longer fitted to lead in the championship against the curse and the crime of slavery, we have no longer a right to expect the continuance of those blessings, which, by God’s favor, we have so long enjoyed.”

This was the view of many in that era: Expand the Empire as a force for good, and God would bless them.

Was that always done perfectly? No. Were there some very selfish individuals involved in that pursuit? Yes. Was there a lot of self-righteousness in that? Absolutely.

But this outward focus created an empire that benefited the world, that sent its wealth, men, ideas and institutions abroad. Historian Niall Ferguson writes in his book Empire, “[T]he fact remains that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labor than the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world.”

When Britain had this grand, outward vision, it rose. And when Britain turned inward, it fell.

“Human history has certainly produced some very evil empires,” wrote Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry. “Rather than civilizing the world, some empires have made it more barbaric and violent. … That ugly history has contributed to the evil view that many people today have of empire in general, especially among intellectuals and scholars in the West. However, the existence of these barbarizing empires doesn’t change the good that a civilizing empire can do.”

Many of Britain’s greatest men were filled with an outward vision, given to them by the Empire. The last of these was Winston Churchill. “Churchill’s ambitions were larger and nobler because he filled his mind with empire thinking,” wrote Mr. Flurry. “This expanded his ability to give selflessly and tirelessly, to sacrifice and do whatever was necessary to grow and preserve that Empire.”

When Britain turned inward, we lost our great men.

This is perhaps the most pernicious effect of the nhs and the welfare state. It got our focus off a wider vision and turned it on ourselves. No longer would we dare great things. And when a disease came along which 99.97 percent of healthy people survived, we cowered, and continue to cower, in fear and pray to the nhs for salvation.

A Familiar Path

On May 27, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled his first federal budget proposal, calling for $6 trillion in spending for the fiscal year 2022—the highest level of sustained spending since World War ii. Much of this aimed for new welfare spending, creating much greater government control of the economy through the Green New Deal, and funding huge social programs like Universal Day Care.

At the same time, America is rushing out of Afghanistan. The Taliban is sweeping through the country—and America’s response is simply to hasten its retreat. The country will probably be left in civil war.

This is not as simple as saying, Foreign intervention is good—retreat is bad. There are credible arguments for pulling out of Afghanistan and reducing foreign entanglements. But look at the focus. Like Britain before it, America is saying goodbye to the world, dropping everything with no thought of the repercussions while it focuses inward.

America’s founders were not keen on foreign entanglements. But they still had an outward vision—of America as a shining city on a hill, an exceptional nation that could make the world a better place through its example.

That is entirely missing from America’s leaders today. Instead, America is something to apologize for, not imitate.

Just like in Britain, this shift in focus is being led by socialists and Marxists.

But there are crucial differences this time around.

When the British Empire fell, the world was from saved chaos and tyranny by the presence of another relatively benign power ready to pick up the slack: the United States. But as America rapidly heads in the same direction, there is no similar power waiting in the wings to take over.

Nor would the radical left in the U.S. be content to set up a few socialist programs and wait. There is a critical, and unseen, reason why.

Hidden Cause for the Rise and Fall

The sudden rise of the British and American people was the result of a miracle from God. Our article “How to See God in History” shows how God forecast even the exact timing of the rise of these two powers.

As Herbert W. Armstrong explained in his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Britain and America are descended from two of the tribes of ancient Israel. God promised, unconditionally, to bless Israel. But because of the Israelites’ sins, He delayed granting those blessings until the 19th century. Mr. Armstrong’s book fully explains the “miracle” that happened around 1800.

But God didn’t supply those blessings for Britain’s and America’s benefit only. As Mr. Armstrong wrote in his book Mystery of the Ages, all God’s work with Israel was for “a special purpose preparatory to the ultimate establishment of the Kingdom of God!”

God gave Britain and America a chance to lead the world to Him. “God chose them not because they were better or because He wanted to give them special favor, but to use them as an example to other nations,” wrote Mr. Flurry in the August 2020 Trumpet cover story. “Their failure and our failure to be a shining city on a hill to lead people to God and to happiness hurt not just ourselves but all other nations!”

But these end-time nations of Israel have played a role in God’s plan despite themselves. Their history shows the world that if you want blessings and material greatness, God is the source. He can promise specific blessings, state exactly when those blessing will appear, and bring them about exactly as He promised. God rules in the kingdom of men (Daniel 4:32).

Mr. Armstrong wrote in The United States and Britain in Prophecy that these blessings given to Britain and America were “the strongest proof of the inspiration and authority of the Holy Bible! It is, at the same time, the strongest proof of the very active existence of the living God!”

If you believe the Bible, you must accept the existence of an evil spirit being who hates God’s plan and what God is doing through Israel. This spirit works through human beings to “blot out the name of Israel” (2 Kings 14:27). He wants to wipe it out so thoroughly the name isn’t even mentioned.

You see this in the self-hatred among the radical left in Britain and America. You see it in that hatred for Britain and America in nations around the world. This hatred is behind the fall of Britain and America.

Britain and America’s history is a massive signpost that points people to God. Thus, Satan the devil hates it and works to blot it out. This spiritual dimension is about the only way to understand our religious devotion to a failing institution.

That satanic attack is much more urgent now than it was in 1945 at the genesis of the nhs. The U.S. will not be able to celebrate many anniversaries of its welfare state.

But this history shows that God is ultimately in control. He has allowed these attacks because of our national sins—and He has a plan to correct and redeem the world from these sins. You can learn more about that plan in our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.