Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has a thought-provoking article in today’s Times. These are some of the thoughts it provoked in me.
First the good news: unlike so many other top clergymen, what Bishop Richard says about our financial troubles is mostly right: the nature of the present crisis isn’t just economic but primarily moral. I admit to a personal interest in this subject. In fact, in the spirit of unbridled capitalism divorced from any moral substance, I’d like to commend to your attention my book on this very theme (The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, SMP 2011). The Bishop correctly says that, at a time of crisis, society will never emerge unscathed and whole in the absence of a moral and spiritual adhesive, which, in the West, can only come from Christianity. He’s also right in predicting that things will get worse, and massive social unrest is likely to follow. In order to survive the coming period of austerity, ‘we shall have to relearn… the story of the birth of the infant king in a poor family.’ Again he’s absolutely right, and this is a rousing pastoral message, especially considering whose birthday we’re about to celebrate.
Now the bad news: like so many other top clergymen, Bishop Richard has yielded to the sin of equating Christian values with ‘fair distribution of awards’, which is to say economic egalitarianism. And it is ‘the Occupy protesters outside St Paul’s Cathedral…[who] show how impossible it is to live as if finance and ethics are unconnected.’ This, for me, destroys the otherwise powerful call to arms. What those protesters show is something else altogether.
Fairness implies just desserts, payment in proportion to the value of one’s work. Hence if ‘awards’ were indeed distributed fairly, those Occupy protesters would starve. According to St Paul, a source Bishop Richard probably regards as unimpeachable, ‘this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.’ It’s not fairness that those cathedral befoulers demand, but gross unfairness: taking a lot out without putting anything in. Sensing that this bonanza will soon have to be curtailed for lack of funds, they pitch their smelly tents as a way of blackmailing the state, all too eager to be blackmailed.
When a beggar asks for a coin, we give it to him not out of fairness but out of mercy. But when a strapping youngster fraudulently collects his ‘sickie’, he’s on the receiving end of neither fairness nor mercy. He is a subject in a giant social experiment that’s ruining us all — not just financially but morally as well. Jesus talked about ‘a labourer worthy of his hire’, not a freeloader, malingering with the state’s acquiescence, worthy of his social benefits. Antisocial, is more like it.
The Bishop probably doesn’t realise that he has become party to the great larcenous shift of modernity, whereby Christian values are pilfered from the rightful owner, shifted into the secular domain and perverted. Thus Christian expansiveness was transformed into modern expansionism, Christian introspection became modern obsession with psychology, understood in a materialistic way. And thus Christian charity turned into materialistic egalitarianism of a most vulgar and pernicious kind.
Our governing spivs use ‘fairness’ for self-perpetuation; they buy their votes with our money by creating an army of dependents who’ll never vote for a party favouring small government, real justice, hard work. So far the stratagem has worked, after a fashion. But all those free chickens are springing out of pots and coming to roost. A realisation is sinking in that capitalist production can’t support socialist (‘fair’) distribution — not indefinitely. If we are to survive as a free nation at all, the gravy train has to be derailed; we simply can’t afford to keep it rolling along. But three generations of people have already been irredeemably corrupted by ‘fairness’ — they want their handouts, and if they don’t get them, they’ll take to the streets and build barricades, not those foul tents.
‘We are still borrowing £400 million a day,’ laments the Bishop, without realising that this suicidal borrowing proceeds apace precisely because the spivocrats feel they have to go on paying for ‘fair distribution of awards’. They are quaking in their boots at the thought of riots, compared to which the summer disturbances will look like innocent fun. They know they’ll be helpless: their own MPs are screaming that the use of plastic bullets and water cannon would be ‘indiscriminate and dangerous’. Yes, live rounds would work better, but this option isn’t on the table, is it?
The government ministers are stuck in the corner they themselves have painted. And the top Christian minister of London should use his moral authority to remind them of another Christian virtue: courage. They already know the ‘fairness’ bit, Your Lordship. That’s precisely the problem.