Bishops on a crusade

These days our politicians are driven by neither their conscience nor their reason, what with both faculties being demonstrably under strength. Instead they rely on focus groups and polls, those guides to potential success in the next elections.

When they proposed to cap benefits at £26,000 a year per family, they knew they were on a winning wicket: 76 percent of the people, including 69 percent of Labour voters, supported the measure.

As someone who believes that, for most families on the dole, such benefits ought to be capped at £0, I’m happy that this once the polls at least pointed in the right direction. It does, however, have to be said that the very existence of payouts of that magnitude represents an egregious insult to anyone with a modicum of intelligence and moral sense.

That large group doesn’t seem to include our bishops who, egged on by that font of intelligence and moral sense Paddy Ashdown, are trying to block the measure in the Lords. Allow me to remind you that these are the people who have devoted their careers to vulgarising the liturgy to a point where we’re expected to believe that ‘this ring is a symbol of our marriage’ sounds more mellifluous and Godly than ‘with this ring I thee wed’. Their destructive weapons thus honed, their Lordships have now decided to turn their attention away from the area about which they ought to know next to everything towards one about which they know next to nothing.

I’m not talking here about the nitty-gritty of economics — the bishops’ ignorance of that field would be understandable and perhaps even commendable. They may not grasp the depth of the precipice to which suicidal government spending has already pushed not just our economy, but indeed our society. However, even their tin ears, deaf to the majesty of traditional scriptural language, ought to be attuned to the moral damage wreaked by the welfare state.

They should realise that by extorting money from families who earn an average of £26,000 a year and giving more than that to families who earn nothing, the government is spurning not just economic wisdom but moral probity. By robbing Peter to pay Paul, it debauches the latter more than it impoverishes the former.

The bishops may confuse welfare with Christian charity. In fact, the two are more nearly opposite than alike: it was St Francis who was a model of Christian behaviour, not Robin Hood.

A Christian works in the sweat of his brow to earn the money he then charitably offers to the poor. He doesn’t, as our state does, hold a gun to somebody’s head to make him give away the money he has earned to someone who hasn’t. The former transaction improves morally both the generous giver and the grateful taker. The latter corrupts both the state and its clients, who are more likely to demand more than to be grateful.

That’s why one won’t find any glorification of welfare in the New Testament, and the concept was far from unknown in the Roman empire. Instead, one finds calls to hard work. These come across in the Lord’s Prayer (‘give us this day our daily bread’), in Jesus the carpenter talking about ‘the labourer worthy of his hire’ and in St Paul the tent maker stating categorically that ‘if any would not work, neither shall he eat.’ As a Roman citizen, incidentally, Paul could have qualified for the dole. He chose to make tents instead.

Having already displayed their ineptitude in their area of immediate expertise, the bishops now come up with a truly pathetic rationale for their attempts to torpedo the so-called cuts (if that’s what £26,000 a year is, I’d like to see the uncut benefits). For example, the Archdruid of Canterbury remarked that ‘no one voted’ for this new government policy.

That’s true, no one did. By the same token, no one voted for the gradual build-up of welfare to the level where £26,000 a year represents a cut. As someone who sits in a House of Parliament, Dr Williams should be aware that we have a representative, not plebiscitarian, democracy. The people don’t vote for bills; they select representatives whom they trust to do that for them. Really, it’s always best to think before speaking — that way one’s ignorance can be less glaringly obvious.

Lord Ashdown adds to these episcopal musings his deft lay touch (no pun intended). ‘I am president of Unicef and… the effect on children across the country of a cap… will be in my view completely unacceptable.’ He obviously regards as acceptable the state breeding en masse little brutalised Mowglis, trapped for life in the jungle of welfare-supported sloth. Deprived of education, devoid of pride, divorced from civilisation, what chance do they have of ever leading dignified lives? I’d say their chances of dying from stab wounds are much higher.

One shudders to think what would happen if the government really tried to put forth a responsible economic policy, rather than these risibly derisory ‘cuts’ and ‘caps’. Why, the Bishop of London wouldn’t just extol the dwellers of tents at St Paul’s; he’d move into one himself. Always provided he could pop over to his nearby palace to use the facilities.






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