Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!


His Grace is delighted to announce that he was 100 per cent accurate in all of his predictions for 2011: the coalition survived; there was a LibDem meltdown in May; there were wars and rumours of wars; Israel continued to be portrayed as a pariah state; there were terrorist atrocities; taxes increased; people died; and Jesus didn’t return.

This is one of the advantages of existing incorporeally in the ether. While His Grace does not quite know perfectly or see God face-to-face, the dim reflections in dark mirrors are certainly fewer. In celebration of his astonishing prescience, His Grace offers the following predictions for 2012:

The Coalition will survive another year.

The UK will remain a full and compliant member of the EU.

There will be wars and rumours of war (especially in the Middle East).

The eurozone will split (but the moon won’t turn red).

Meryl Streep will win her third Oscar for The Iron Lady.

She will decline any advances from Mitt Romney to be his running mate.

Barack Obama will win a second term as President of the United States.

Boris Johnson will win a second term as Mayor of London.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams will retire.

He will be replaced by another lefty-liberal male.

Pope Benedict XVI will criticise humanistic creeds and moral relativism.

A baby will be born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

It will be male, and brought up in the Church of England.

Israel will continue to be portrayed as a pariah state.

Taxes will rise again and more people will die.

Jesus will not return.

His Grace again makes the last prediction with a high degree of certainty (though not infallibility), for there is still no sign of the Tribulation or Rapture, and it would be a little rude of the Son of God to upstage Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations: a God of love simply wouldn't do that. In addition, for the parousia to occur during the Olympiad would take the shine off all the gold medals, since the Lord is citius, altius and fortius than any of them. And finally, Mr Cameron isn’t quite ready to give a full account to Jesus and place the government upon His shoulders.

His Grace wishes all of his readers and communicants a happy and blessed New Year.

Thank God for Gerald Ronson CBE

There is a bit of a fuss being made over the CBE awarded to Gerald Ronson, an ex-convict imprisoned in 1990 for his part in the Guinness share-trading scandal. He was found guilty of conspiring to create a false market, false accounting and theft. He was also fined £5million.

He is awarded the CBE for services to charity, having raised more than £100million for (and donated more than £30million to) charities such as the Community Security Trust, NSPCC, the Prince's Trust and Jewish Care.

Labour find this deplorable. The Daily Mail is apoplectic.

While it is indeed rare for a former prisoner to have such an honour bestowed, surely it is a good thing to reward those who reform themselves; to honour those who have turned away from sin, vice and crime and chosen to walk a righteous path. Are those who have erred and paid their debt to society to be denied recognition? Are they to be outcast forever?

When the wayward and prodigal return, the angels rejoice and God honours them with a banquet. The state should do no less. Bestowing a CBE upon Gerald Ronson is symbolic of healing, wholeness and forgiveness. We should be proud that we live in a society in which redemption may be found. Mr Ronson has received words of admonition and been subject to the discipline of the community. He is thereby worthy to receive words of encouragement and the forgiveness of the community. Rebuke and correction cannot mean that a person becomes a perpetual pariah, for then there is no mercy. It means, rather, that the person becomes an object of the community's missionary efforts: the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one who goes astray. If it is not God's will that any should be lost, the ultimate goal of the community's disciplinary action must always be the restoration of the sinner to fellowship, thereby providing forgiveness and reintegration of the wrongdoer into the life of the community.

Since his fall from grace, Gerald Ronson has not only raised millions for charity, he has received many awards including 'Entrepreneur of the Year' from the Variety Club of Great Britain; 'Businessman of the Year' from Hambros; and he won the Property Industry Award for High Achievement. King Juan Carlos of Spain has also bestowed upon Mr Ronson the Encomienda de Numero of the Spanish Order of Civil Merit Decoration. He is also the Ambassador of the Druze Community on Mount Carmel, and in 2009 was awarded an Honourary Doctorate in Civil Law by Northumbria University.

There is no shame or disgrace in Gerald Ronson CBE. On the contrary, we must thank God that justice may be tempered with mercy, and that reformation can be rewarded with forgiveness.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Vatican lauds the euro as 'a stimulus for greater unity'


His Grace is reminded that this New Year’s Eve marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the euro coins and notes. It is easy to pour scorn over the BBC, the FT, the Guardian or poor Michael Heseltine for their europhiliac obsessions. But what may be easily (or purposely) overlooked is the boundless enthusiasm (Gr. 'inspired by God') which arose from the Throne of St Peter in Rome. ‘Euro in the Vatican gets Pope's blessing,’ bleated The Telegraph even before the coins were minted.

And a special ‘Celebrative Silver Coin’ was minted (‘Europe, a project for peace and brotherhood’). Pope John Paul II addressed the faithful pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square regarding the introduction of the Euro, saying:
I extend a special greeting of peace and of prosperity to the Nations of the European Union that today, with a single new currency, have reached an historical goal. I very much hope that this will favour the full development of the citizens in the various countries. May justice and solidarity grow throughout Europe for the advantage of the entire human family!
Historic goal? The ‘full development’ of citizens?

According to a Wikileaks cable from the US Embassy in the Vatican to the State Department in Washington, the Vatican’s Finance Minister Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani said the euro can be seen as a kind of guiding light ‘so that it can overcome the barriers of past divisions and become a stimulus for greater unity among the nations’. It notes: ‘The introduction of the euro is actively supported by the Vatican for political reasons rather than economic reasons’. It adds: ‘Throughout his pontificate Pope John Paul II has consistently preached of a Christian Europe stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Ural mountains.’ And then we read: ‘He is likely to regard the introduction of euro notes and coins as another instrument towards the realization of the dream.’

That dream is of a united Roman Catholic empire stetching 'from the Atlantic to the Urals'. And it remains the religio-political objective under the pontificate of Benedict XVI (eg here and here). His Grace will say no more, lest the mere reporting of these (inconvenient) facts incite the usual suspects to the same tedious ad hominem.

Anti-Semitism at Warwick University

Smadar Bakovic, a Jewess from Neveh Ilan near Jerusalem, has won a long campaign against Warwick University and her anti-Israel dissertation supervisor Professor Nicola Pratt. Miss Bakovic was studying for a Master’s degree in the Department of Politics and International Studies, under the academic direction of Professor Pratt. Her dissertation was concerned with the identity of Israeli Arabs after the second intifada.

It transpires that Professor Pratt is a notable activist against all things Israeli, and is a leading proponent of the campaign to boycott, divest and impose sanctions. She was a signatory to a letter in the Guardian calling for Israel to lose the battle with Hamas, stating that the ‘massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war Israel has waged against the people of Palestine’.

Understandably, Miss Bakovic was a little perturbed by this, and asked the university to assign her an alternative supervisor. “I am not challenging Prof. Pratt’s intellectual abilities,” she wrote politely. “I’m sure she is extremely competent... (but) I would be much happier that a person who is not involved in anti-Israel campaigns be my supervisor.”

Her request was refused.

In due course, Miss Bakovic’s dissertation was awarded a ‘pass’ (60%) by Professor Pratt. This was substantially beneath the standard of the rest of Miss Bakovic’s degree work, which was of ‘distinction’ level. One of Professor Pratt’s criticisms of the dissertation was that Miss Bakovic had a tendency to ‘adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as thought they were uncontested facts’. As an example, Professor Pratt cited the student’s point that minorities in Arab countries did not have equal citizenship rights. Professor Pratt countered: “That is not strictly correct. Minorities in Arab countries have the same citizenship rights as the majority but there are usually restraints on the freedom of religion (except Lebanon) and also limits on minority cultural expression in Syria. More significantly, there are restraints on citizenship rights in general for the whole population.”

Right.

Professor Pratt is supposed to be an ‘expert’ in the politics of the Middle East, and apparently has no knowledge at all of Egypt’s Coptic Christians or of Gaza’s gays. If minorities in Arab countries have the same citizenship rights as the majority, why are minorities so persecuted? Is she not aware of the plight of the kuffar and infidels throughout the region? Of their systematic eradication under autocratic Arab regimes? And minorities aside (since Professor Pratt is also keen on feminist narratives), is she not aware of how women are treated in Arab countries?

It is quite incredible that the concerns of a Masters level student went unheeded by Warwick University. It is equally incredible that Miss Bakovic had to contend for seven months against the pervasive Guardianista culture of the education establishment in order to have her academic thesis assessed fairly. After further consideration, the University re-marked the dissertation, and Miss Bakovic was awarded a distinction (71%). One might expect examiners at this level of academia to differ by a few percentage points, but 11% is an unbridgeable gulf.

There is little point in trying to get Professor Pratt put through competency or disciplinary procedures, because her superiors have already shown themselves to be blind to her anti-Semitic views. Of course, had this been a Muslim student complaining against a Jewish professor, the University would have bent over backwards to address the student’s concerns (and the Jewish professor would probably have been summarily dismissed for racism). The academic world appears to be oblivious to the fact that by calling for a boycott of all things Israeli, or by singling out Israel alone as a target for sanctions, amounts to an irrational hatred for Israel and loathing of Jews.

There is prima facie evidence that Professor Pratt's personal political opinions prejudiced her academic objectivity. His Grace would advise Miss Bakovic to leave Professor Pratt to progress her career (the LSE would welcome her with open arms) and focus on suing Warwick University for breach of contract, breach of trust, and failing in their duty of care. This blog stands ready to support her every step of the way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alcohol price-fixing will not solve binge-drinking

It is rumoured that David Cameron is inclining towards the imposition of a minimum price for alcohol in order to the problems of binge-drinking. The Prime Minister is understood to have instructed officials to develop detailed proposals to ban the sale of drink at below between 40p and 50p a unit.

So a professing Conservative free-marketeer in coalition with a professing Liberal proponent of equality seek to adopt a Socialist mechanism to interfere with market prices which will disproportionately hit the poorest in society. Estimates suggest that a minimum price per unit of 45p would result in the steepest price increases for cider, gin and vodka, while wine, beer and whisky would see more modest rises.

So, a bottle of Sainsbury's finest gin with around 37.5 per cent alcohol content would go up from £6.95 to £11.85. A two-litre bottle of Tesco's cider would more than triple in price from £1.20 to £3.75. The cost of a £12 bottle of whisky would rise to £12.60, while a bottle of cheap wine would go up from around £3.75 to £4.20. A four-pack of beer with more than five per cent alcohol content would cost a minimum of about £3.95.

Cold someone please tell the Prime Minister that louts and slappers intent on getting off their faces on a Friday night binge in the town centre will not be deterred by a couple of quid: those who can pay £1.20 for two litres of cider will certainly find £3.75. And what 60p on a £12 bottle of whisky will achieve is something of a mystery (other, of course, than to swell the coffers of HM Treasury). The poorest will find it hardest: low-income households who drink their stout responsibly will feel the effects far more than the middle and higher-income households who swim in lager and guzzle down the Chardonnay.

National price-fixing will not solve binge-drinking. And if it is left to local authorities to introduce bylaws to make alcohol more expensive in the town centres, this will simply introduce incoherence into the market and give retailers outside the controlled zone an unfair advantage. There is also an EU dimension here which cannot be ignored, but is tangential to the main issue, which is that it is not the supply of alcohol that needs regulating, but the demand.

People drink for a variety of reasons, and the vast majority do so responsibly. But alcohol is a drug like any other, and those who seek escape from loneliness, depression, abuse or the stresses of modern living are far more vulnerable to its effects and prone to addiction. It is tragic to hear of 25-year-old men with incurable cirrhosis of the liver. It is heart-breaking to read of young mothers who have been drinking heavily for 10 years and who bring up their children to prefer Tetley's to Ribena. And it is profoundly distressing to learn of children who cower in fear when their fathers return at 2.00am; when the doors slam and the shouting starts. Those scars can last a lifetime.

Alcoholism is a classless disease quite independent of wealth. It may be more discreet in the affluent suburbs, but only because it spreads behind closed doors. In poorer areas, it has to spill out onto the streets because there is an overwhelming need to escape from a home of tedium, depression or abuse. However fleeting, alcohol makes you feel better: it anaesthetises you to the unbearable reality.

A few quid on a bottle of vodka will not address hopelessness, despair, mental illness or family breakdown.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas concerns: a pope, a queen and a couple of archbishops

Having trawled through the Christmas messages of leading Church figures, there was only one glimmer of light; only one person used the occasion of the birth of the Son of God to communicate joy to the world. And it wasn’t a cleric in a pulpit.

After the Prime Minister had issued his challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the UK is a Christian country ‘and we should not be afraid to say so’, Dr Williams duly responded, saying: “Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost.” He urged people not to build lives based on selfishness and fear. He lamented: "Whether it is an urban rioter, mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today's financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark."

Merry Christmas to you, too.

The Pope did no better, choosing to focus on the increasing commercialisation of Christmas. He opined: “Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light."

Of course, one man’s ‘superficial glitter’ is another’s sacred tradition.

The most egregious Christmas message came from the Roman Catholic leader in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who saw fit to use the occasion of the birth of the Son of God to criticise Israel for constructing a security barrier. He spoke of the shadow that falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem: “At this moment,” he said, “the people of the parish of Beit Jala prepare for their legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel.”

Of course, one’s man’s ‘expropriation’ is another’s historic and legal right. But note this is ‘further expropriation’, without any context of on-going terrorist atrocities or understanding of the security concerns. “We are to be freshly attentive to the needs of those who, like Jesus himself, are displaced and in discomfort,” the Archbishop said, adopting the narrative of ‘Jesus the Palestinian’. One wonders why Archbishop Vincent did not see fit to mention those Jews are slaughtered in their own homes, because Jesus was a Jew, too. And he also faced one or two bloody atrocities.

And what of the Coptic Christians, Archbishop? Or the Assyrian Christians? Or the Palestinian Christians? Perhaps the Nigerian Christians bombed to kingdom come by Islamists on Christmas Day came a little too late for his sermon, but there are many thousands of believers all over the Middle East who must wonder why such a senior bishop would chose to ignore their plight and focus instead on 50 Arab families in Beit Jala.

Love your neighbour? Perhaps so. But one’s neighbour is also the Jew who lives in Israel, who is dependent on the security wall for his life. But perhaps the Archbishop is ignorant of those who are victims of ethnic and religious cleansing by successive Palestinian authorities. And the little town of Bethlehem, which 20 years ago was 60 per cent Christian, is today less than 15. Perhaps he has forgotten the Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002. How many Christian families have been ejected from their homes, Archbishop? How much land has been ‘expropriated’ by Arab Muslims?

There was only one Church leader who spoke inspirationally of courage and hope; only one who used the occasion to speak of the importance of family, friends and the indomitable human spirit. Only one who spoke of the gospel of forgiveness, the uniqueness of Jesus the Saviour, the love of God through Christ our Lord:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And there were shepherds abiding in the field

The birth of the Son of God was heralded by the Angel of the Lord, accompanied by the Shekinah, the Glory of God, followed by a multitude of the Heavenly Host singing praises. Hallelujah!

And for whose benefit was this magnificent display?

Kings? Presidents? Politicians? Religious leaders?

No, it was all for a few lowly shepherds – humble, poor, obscure and unnamed rustics of whom nothing more is heard in Scripture thereafter. While today’s puffed-up prelates court the wealthy, famous and influential, so today’s wealthy, famous and powerful seek out the privileged counsel, private chapels and cathedral pulpits of those same prelates for their displays of religiosity.

But not these shepherds. No, the Lord deemed them worthy because they were lowly. They were not body-beautiful celebrities, gifted orators, powerful decision makers or authoritative opinion formers; they were simply ordinary men, and the Lord chose them to be among the first to know that the Christ was born; that the Messiah had entered history; that the Son of God had come to redeem mankind - Immanuel.

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

The real deliverer and the real fulfilment of the needs of humanity is human, one of us, flesh of our flesh. He is born to rule, born to be a king, conceived of the house and lineage of David. His name is Wonderful – a mystery of divinity in humanity; Counsellor – the oracle of wisdom; the mighty God – the Word was not just with God, but was God; the Everlasting Father – not the same person as the Father, but of one substance with the Father; the Prince of Peace – bringing a peace that passes understanding.

His Grace wishes all of his readers and communicants a blessed, joyful and peaceful Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Behold, a virgin shall conceive

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

His Festive Grace

Readers and Communicants will have to forgive this slight interruption to His Grace's daily homilies: he is rather preoccupied with sundry festive preparations and innumerable celebratory gatherings. He has also discovered what a lush drink is port mixed with brandy. Normal service will be resumed (he promises) in good time to hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Church of England warns of ‘disastrous’ EU policy

There is more than a little tension at the moment between Lambeth Palace and No10. So when the Church of England’s ‘Europe spokesman’ in the House of Lords is critical of the Prime Minister’s negotiating style in the European Council, it’s a fair bet that the Archbishop of Canterbury has given the nod. The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who chairs the House of Bishops’ Europe Panel, said: “In the long term, it will be disastrous if we were actually isolated from the rest of Europe, economically and in terms of international relations... We are part of Europe, culturally and historically.”

We are, to coin a phrase, associated with Europe but not absorbed. Perhaps Bishop Christopher has forgotten his history, not least because ‘in the long term’ it was very much in Britain’s interest to be isolated from ‘the rest of Europe’. Our economic might and global influence came as a direct consequence of the Reformation: it was the Protestant faith and a Reformed Church which permitted England to run her affairs, without recourse to Rome. Thomas Cromwell drafted the fairly decisive Statute of Appeals which established this: ‘An Act that the appeals in such cases as have been used to be pursued to the See of Rome shall not be from henceforth had nor used but within this realm’.

We are certainly ‘part of Europe, culturally and historically’, and yet we are apart. The Bishop’s Supreme Governor wears the Crown, and Parliament governs in her name. Of course, by virtue of her EU citizenship, she is subject to foreign courts and so no longer sovereign. But what Parliament can give away, it can reassert.

The Bishop said that the European struc¬tures had been ‘created for peace’ after the ‘major wars in the 20th century’. He acknowledged: “The structures need reform and accountability, but you don’t do that by stepping out; you do that by keeping in step with Europe.”

O dear. There is something spiritually, economically and politically naive about this ‘keeping in step with Europe’. It is as though Europe is the way, the truth and the life: all things were made by it, and without it was not anything made which was made.

Both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are pathologically predisposed to bouts of Europhilia, sometimes verging on Eurotica. They’ve got Europe Panels, Europe spokesmen and Bishops’ Conferences, all ostensibly concerned with the ‘Soul of Europe’ to ‘encourage the religious communities to present projects meetings, seminars social activities...; to contribute to the recognition and understanding of the ethical and spiritual dimension of European unification and Politics’.

Daniel Hannan MEP observed a few years ago:
As regular readers of this blog will know, one of my own recurrent themes is that the EU always pits the top brass against the Poor Bloody Infantry. This is true of the CBI, the TUC, the NFU, most political parties and, for that matter, most churches. I'll never forget walking past my local parish church in 1992 and seeing, among the prayers being posted, one for "the Maastricht Treaty and peace in Europe".
It is time for lay members of both churches to object to this obsessive europhiliac nonsense. Britain is not ‘isolated’: it would not be ‘disastrous’ if we were to leave the EU altogether. It is not for the Shepherds of the Church to instil fear into their flocks. And neither is it their task to help re-create the Empire of Charlemagne.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel is dead

It is reported that the first post-Communist president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, has died at the age of 75. He and his colleagues in ‘Charter 77’ pointed the way to freedom and brought Czechoslovakia to its rightful place as one of the free and democratic nations of Europe. With Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, he helped to usher in a new era of human rights and freedom in Eastern Europe and throughout the Soviet Union. It was, as the Great Lady said, a campaign conducted against tremendous, sometimes overwhelming odds; it demanded courage and conviction of the highest order.

His Grace was fortunate enough to meet this great man in 1990. We talked of much, but the enduring impression has been of the man’s faith and his politico-philosophical conviction. There was an excellent article a year ago in The Catholic Herald on Mr Havel’s address to a conference in Prague entitled ‘The world we want to live in’. It dealt with ‘different spheres from politics, economics, sociology and political philosophy to aesthetics and religion’.

At the opening of the conference Mr Havel, an acclaimed playwright and essayist, gave a speech in which he deplored the global society, describing it as the 'first atheistic civilisation'. This society, he said, preferred short term profit over long term profit, but its most dangerous aspect was its pride.

He described the pride as: 'The pride of someone who is driven by the very logic of his wealth to stop respecting the contribution of nature and our forebears, to stop respecting it on principle and respect it only as a further potential source of profit.' Mr Havel continued:
I sense behind all of this not only a globally spreading short-sightedness, but also the swollen self-consciousness of this civilisation, whose basic attributes include the supercilious idea that we know everything and what we don’t yet know we’ll soon find out, because we know how to go about it. We are convinced that this supposed omniscience of ours which proclaims the staggering progress of science and technology and rational knowledge in general, permits us to serve anything that is demonstrably useful, or that is simply a source of measurable profit, anything that induces growth and more growth and still more growth, including the growth of agglomerations.

But with the cult of measurable profit, proven progress and visible usefulness there disappears respect for mystery and along with it humble reverence for everything we shall never measure and know, not to mention the vexed question of the infinite and eternal, which were until recently the most important horizons of our actions.

We have totally forgotten what all previous civilisations knew: that nothing is self-evident.
The former president described the current financial and economic crisis as a very edifying sign to the contemporary world and a call to humilty:
Most economists relied directly or indirectly on the idea that the world, including human conduct, is more or less understandable, scientifically describable and hence predictable. Market economics and its entire legal framework counted on our knowing who man is and what aims he pursues, what was the logic behind the actions of banks or firms, what the shareholding public does and what one may expect from some particular individual or community.

And all of a sudden none of that applied. Irrationality leered at us from all the stock-exchange screens. And even the most fundamentalist economists, who – having intimate access to the truth – were convinced with unshakeable assurance that the invisible hand of the market knew what it was doing, had suddenly to admit that they had been taken by surprise.

I hope and trust that the elites of today’s world will realise what this signal is telling us.

In fact it is nothing extraordinary, nothing that a perceptive person did not know long ago. It is a warning against the disproportionate self-assurance and pride of modern civilisation. Human behaviour is not totally explicable as many inventors of economic theories and concepts believe; and the behaviour of firms or institutions or entire communities is even less so.
This call to humility, he said, was: 'A small and inconspicuous challenge for us not to take everything automatically for granted. Strange things are happening and will happen. Not to bring oneself to admit it is the path to hell. Strangeness, unnaturalness, mystery, inconceivability have been shifted out the world of serious thought into the dubious closets of suspicious people. Until they are released and allowed to return to our minds things will not go well.' He continued:
Wonder at the non-self-evidence of everything that creates our world is, after all, the first impulse to the question: what purpose does it all have? Why does it all exist? Why does anything exist at all? We don’t know and we will never find it out. It is quite possible that everything is here in order for us to have something to wonder at. And that we are here simply so that there is someone to wonder. But what is the point of having someone wonder at something? And what alternative is there to being? After all if there were nothing, there would also be no one to observe it. And if there were no one to observe it, then the big question is whether non-being would be at all possible.

Perhaps someone, just a few hundred light years away from our planet, is looking at us through a perfect telescope. What do they see? They see the Thirty Years War. For that reason alone it holds true that everything is here all the time, that nothing that has happened can unhappen, and that with our every word or movement we are making the cosmos different – forever – from what it was before.

In all events, I am certain that our civilisation is heading for catastrophe unless present-day humankind comes to its senses. And it can only come to its senses if it grapples with its short-sightedness, its stupid conviction of its omniscience and its swollen pride, which have been so deeply anchored in its thinking and actions.
Amen and amen.

There have been throughout millennia numerous religious movements which prophesy the imminent destruction of the present order and the establishment of a new one, usually reversing the relative status of the oppressed and the oppressor. Vaclav Havel lived through such an oppression: he saw in a revolution and arose to lead his people to a promised land. He was a political visionary, a symbol of all that is finest in the human spirit, and we mourn his passing. God rest his soul.

Eric Pickles keeps Christ in Christmas

Here is the utterly godless and manifestly egocentric Christmas card of Speaker Bercow, which appears to suggest that, far from being embarrassed by or ashamed of his wife's appearance on 'Big Brother', he saw it rather as an opportunity to augment his personal profile (and so diminish his status):


Here is the rather strange Christmas card of the Prime Minister. Patriotic? Certainly. But who are these random children? What relationship are they to Mr and Mrs Cameron? Are they props, simply to avoid the exploitation of their own children? What has any of this to do with the birth of the Son of God?


Here we have the Christmas card of the Home Secretary. It is as inane, bland and PC as Theresa May herself. It appears to feature a spinning tree. Perhaps someone should tell her that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are not offended by Christmas: the Home office may freely celebrate the nation's indigenous culture and festivals:


And finally, we come to the Christmas card of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He has ridden to the defence of Christmas numerous times over past years. His card even features a church with a cross upon it. What a relief that there is someone in government who is not ashamed to keep the Christ in Christmas:

Friday, December 16, 2011

David Cameron on the King James Bible

Today, at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, the Prime Minister did God. He delivered this sermon on the importance of Christianity and of the King James Bible in particular (His Grace will forgive the lower case 'p' in 'Protestants'):

It's great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.

I know there are some who will question why I am giving this speech.

And if they happen to know that I'm setting out my views today in a former home of the current Archbishop of Canterbury...

...and in front of many great theologians and church leaders...

...they really will think I have entered the lions' den.

But I am proud to stand here and celebrate the achievements of the King James Bible.

Not as some great Christian on a mission to convert the world.

But because, as Prime Minister, it is right to recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country's greatest achievements.

The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.

And with 3 Bibles sold or given away every second...

...a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future.

In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.

I am a committed - but I have to say vaguely practising - Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith...

...but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.


But what I do believe is this.

The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history.

And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.

Why?

Put simply, three reasons.

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage...

....from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art.

We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

And it is right that we should acknowledge this - particularly in this anniversary year.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy...

...from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects...

...the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history, and it remains so today.

Third, we are a Christian country.

And we should not be afraid to say so.


Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong.

I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion.

And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.

But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.

You can't fight something with nothing.

Because if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.


Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, language and culture.

Powerful language is incredibly evocative.

It crystallises profound, sometimes complex, thoughts and suggests a depth of meaning far beyond the words on the page...

...giving us something to share, to cherish, to celebrate.

Part of the glue that can help to bind us together.

Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language...

...creating arresting phrases that move, challenge and inspire.

One of my favourites is the line "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective.

The key word is darkly - profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning.

I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations.

The New International Version says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror"

The Good News Bible: "What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror"

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don't quite have the same magic and meaning.

Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud.

And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation.

It has also contributed immensely to the spread of spoken English around the world.

Indeed, the language of the King James Bible is very much alive today.

I've already mentioned the lions' den.

Just think about some of the other things we all say.

Phrases like strength to strength...

...how the mighty are fallen...

...the skin of my teeth...

...the salt of the earth.

... nothing new under the sun.

According to one recent study there are 257 of these phrases and idioms that come from the Bible.

These phrases are all around us...

...from court cases to TV sitcoms...

...and from recipe books to pop music lyrics.

Of course, there is a healthy debate about the extent to which it was the King James version that originated the many phrases in our language today.

And it's right to recognise the impact of earlier versions like Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, the Bishops and Geneva Bibles too.

The King James Bible does exactly that...

...setting out with the stated aim of making a good translation better, or out of many good ones, to make "one principall good one"

But what is clear is that the King James version gave the Bible's many expressions a much more widespread public presence.

Much of that dissemination has come through our literature, through the great speeches we remember and the art and music we still enjoy today.

From Milton to Morrison...

...and Coleridge to Cormac McCarthy...

...the Bible supports the plot, context, language and sometimes even the characters in some of our greatest literature.

Tennyson makes over 400 Biblical references in his poems.

...and makes allusions to 42 different books of the Bible.

The Bible has infused some of the greatest speeches...

...from Martin Luther King's dream that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled and that one day "every valley shall be exalted...

...to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address which employed not just Biblical words but cadence and rhythms borrowed from the King James Bible as well.

When Lincoln said that his forefathers "brought forth" a new nation, he was imitating the way in which the Bible announced the birth of Jesus.

The Bible also runs through our art.

From Giotto to El Greco...

...and Michelangelo to Stanley Spencer.

The paintings in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire are some of my favourite works of art.

Those who died in Salonika rising to heaven is religious art in the modern age and, in my view, as powerful as some of what has come before.

And the Bible runs through our music too.

From the great oratorios like J S Bach's Matthew and John Passions and Handel's Messiah...

...to the wealth of music written across the ages for mass and evensong in great cathedrals like this one.

The Biblical settings of composers from Tallis to Taverner are regularly celebrated here in this great cathedral...

...and will sustain our great British tradition of choral music for generations to come.

It's impossible to do justice in a short speech to the full scale of the cultural impact of the King James Bible.

But what is clear is that four hundred years on, this book is still absolutely pivotal to our language and culture.

And that's one very good reason for us all to recognise it today.

A second reason is this.

Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised.

The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God...

....and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order.

Jesus said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy.


The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power.

And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality.

In the ancient world this equity was inconceivable.

In Athens for example, full and equal rights were the preserve of adult, free born men.

But when each and every individual is related to a power above all of us...

...and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God...

...we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights...

...a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery...

...and the emancipation of women - even if not every church has always got the point!

Crucially the translation of the Bible into English made all this accessible to many who had previously been unable to comprehend the Latin versions.

And this created an unrelenting desire for change.

The Putney debates in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1647 saw the first call for One Man, One vote...

...and the demand that authority be invested in the House of Commons rather than the King.

Reading the Bible in English gave people equality with each other through God.

And this led them to seek equality with each other through government.


In a similar way, the Bible provides a defining influence on the formation of the first welfare state.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done "unto one of the least of these my brethren"...

... they have done unto him.

Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter...

...so today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action.

Organisations like the Church Urban Fund which has supported over 5,000 faith based projects in England's poorest communities...

...including the Near Neighbours Programme which Eric Pickles helped to launch last month.

And St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London's Bishopsgate...

...a building once destroyed by an IRA bomb...

...but now a centre where people divided by conflict, culture or religion can meet and listen to each other's perspective.

In total, there are almost 30 thousand faith based charities in this country...

...not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches....

...and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society.

And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises - like the famine in Horn of Africa - again you can count on faith-based organisations...

...like Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid...

...to be at the forefront of the action to save lives.

So it's right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics.

...and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.

People often say that politicians shouldn't "do God."

If by that they mean we shouldn't try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party...

...they could not be more right.

But we shouldn't let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country...

...and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue.

But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three quarters...

...and is forecast to continue rising.

For example, it is now thought there are at least 65 million protestants in China and 12 million Catholics - more Christians than there are members of the communist party.

Official numbers indicate China has about 20 million Muslims - almost as many as in Saudi Arabia - and nearly twice as many as in the whole of the EU.

And by 2050, some people think China could well be both the world's biggest Christian nation and its biggest Muslim one too.

Here in Britain we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope's visit last year...

...this year's Royal Wedding...

...or of course the festival of Christmas next week, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.

The key point is this.

Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.

And that brings me to my third point.

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.

Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, "we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible."

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love...

...pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities...

...these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values.

And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.

But they are also values that speak to us all - to people of every faith and none.

And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.

Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality.

They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths.

And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour.

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.


And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people...

...what we stand for...

...and the kind of society we want to build.

First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths...

...simply don't understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.

Why?

Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others...

...fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality...

...or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.


Let's be clear.

Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality.

There are Christians who don't live by a moral code.

And there are atheists and agnostics who do.

But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.

And whether inspired by faith or not - that direction, that moral code, matters.

Whether you look at the riots last summer...

...the financial crash and the expenses scandal...

...or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world...

...one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality...

...has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.

The absence of any real accountability, or moral code...

...allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.

And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values...

... has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper...

...in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.

Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.

"Live and let live" has too often become "do what you please".

Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles.

To be confident in saying something is wrong...

...is not a sign of weakness, it's a strength.

But we can't fight something with nothing.

As I've said if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we've got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations.

The same is true of religious extremism.

As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope:

"...in reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning."

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone.

It stands neutral between different values.

But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

We need to stand up for these values.

To have the confidence to say to people - this is what defines us as a society...

...and that to belong here is to believe in these things.

I believe the church - and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain - have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.

So I don't think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don't object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.


Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn't agree with something he's right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn't be surprised when I respond.

Also it's legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities.

But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.

The future of our country is at a pivotal moment.

The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country...

...and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Royal Holloway College holds Islamic Christmas Carol Service

One grim finding for Anglicans in the new British Social Attitudes survey is how few find religion after not being born into it. So says the ‘concerned’ Nick Spencer in The Guardian.

But even grimmer for Anglicans are ‘inclusive’ Christmas carols services – you know, the sort that bend over backwards to be all things to all people in order that by any means possible none may be offended. In fact, it is these sort of gospel-lite and theology-free services which are largely responsible for people not finding Christ – even at Christmas.

Royal Holloway College, in the University of London, held its Christmas carol service in its own College Chapel, presided over jointly by the College's Chaplain – an Anglican vicar, the Rev'd Cate Irvine, and a Roman Catholic chaplain from the local church, Fr Vladimir Nikiforov.

And what did the assembled festive throng hear? The prophecy of of Isaiah? 'For unto us a child is born...'? The Gospel of Luke? 'There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus...'? A reading from Micah, perhaps? 'But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler in Israel'?

No, none of the above. Instead, they got the Qur'an:
Behold! the angels said "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus the son of Mary held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.

"He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity and he shall be of the company of the righteous."

She said: "O my Lord! how shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth; when He hath decreed a plan He but saith to it 'Be' and it is!

"And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom the Law and the Gospel.

"And (appoint him) an Apostle to the Children of Israel with this message: I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I make for you out of clay as it were the figure of a bird and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave; and I heal those born blind and the lepers and I quicken the dead by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe.

"I have come to you to attest the Law which was before me and to make lawful to you part of what was before forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah and obey me.

"It is Allah who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a way that is straight." (Qur'an 3:45-51)
Fantastic, eh? Perhaps we should be grateful that the Rev’d Cate and Fr Vladimir didn’t select this reading:
That they rejected faith: that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge.
That they said in boast "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of Allah"; but they killed him not nor crucified him but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow for of a surety they killed him not. (Qur'an 4:156-158)
Perhaps they’re saving that for Easter.

The other readings were extracts of 'secular' poetry, including Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’ (which was the least egregious). The beginning of St John's Gospel was, mercifully, still in place as the final reading, but it was erroneously printed as ‘1 John’ – a totally different book altogether.

Royal Holloway College has been in the news recently for downgrading its Classics department. Perhaps Professor Paul Layzell, the College's Principal, and Professor Geoff Ward, the Vice-Principal responsible for the Chapel, ought to find other means of economising. When you compromise on the intellectual, political, and imaginative foundations of Western culture, you create a spiritual vacuum which needs to be filled. The people cry out for meat, and all they can get is the milk of dumbed-down Anglicanism followed by a mouthful of Islam.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sarkozy: Cameron is 'an obstinate kid'

So, the President of the Republic of France has resorted to hurling insults at the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Nicolas Sarkozy has accused David Cameron of behaving like 'an obstinate kid' during last week's European Council meeting.

An obstinate kid?

No10 has apparently refused to comment on President Sarkozy's remarks directly. His Grace has no such scruples:

DUP motion attracts Commons majority

It is a curious anomaly of the UK devolution settlement that when the British Prime Minister attends a meeting of the European Council, he does so on behalf of the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but is not constitutionally obliged to consult with any of them. Foreign policy is not, of course, a devolved competence. Yet it is a further anomaly that EU matters continue to fall under the aegis of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when they are concerned neither with matters foreign nor those affecting the Commonwealth. Indeed, since the EU has entered us, is at work within us, and we are consubstantial with it, EU policy is now manifestly domestic policy, and so ought more properly to fall under the aegis of the Home Secretary. Then, at least, the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might be able to veto whatever IGC veto or summit ‘effective veto’ the Prime Minister chooses to wield.

Yet even then, it is not likely that the constituent nations of the United Kingdom will be united. In Scotland, Alex Salmond MSP (SNP) has made it known that the Prime Minister made a ‘blundering’ decision. In Wales, Carwyn Jones AM (Labour) says David Cameron has left the principality ‘sidelined’ in Europe. But in Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson MLA (DUP) is praising Mr Cameron to the skies. So ecstatic are these proud Prods that yesterday they introduced a motion praising the Prime Minister for his recent stance. The motion ‘commends the Prime Minister on his refusal at the European Council to sign up to a treaty without safeguards for the United Kingdom’. The wording also states that the use of a veto is a ‘a vital means of defending the national interests of the UK’.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds led the debate (Mr Robinson being no longer an MP), and explained that Britain’s ‘relationship with the EU’ (His Grace is increasingly irritated by that phrase) needs further assessment. Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme on Monday, Mr Dodds said: "Now we have a situation where, for instance, the Irish Republic has been told, you are only going to borrow so much and you might have to do away with your corporation tax. I don't think in the long run that kind of approach, one-size-fits-all in Europe, is going to actually lead to the kind of growth economically that all countries need in order to make their economies prosperous and work well."

He’s not wrong there.

Mr Dodds' parliamentary colleagues queued to speak in the three-hour debate, and they were unanimous in their adulation of the Prime Minister. Jim Shannon raised the plight of the County Down fishing industry; David Simpson mentioned the agri-food sector; Willie McCrea said the Prime Minister 'did what was right and that is not always easy'. Jeffrey Donaldson aluded to the Empire of Charlemagne, observing a 'bandwagon driven by Germany and France to take us to a European super-state'.

Responding for the Government, the Europe Minister David Lidington welcomed the DUP's kind comments. Henry Bellingham returned the kindness, describing the DUP as 'true allies' who were 'consistent and reliable'. (His Grace won't say he told you so...).

But we've come to a sorry pass when the leadership of the DUP is lauding the Prime Minister while the leadership of the Liberal Democrats – the Coalition partners – are absenting themselves from the Chamber and/or voting against a motion commending the Prime Minister for defending the national interest.

One wonders what clout we will have in the EU when it is no longer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom attending European Council meetings, but the disparate and divided representatives from London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. United we stand.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What precisely is David Cameron’s EU strategy?

This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone:

The events of the last few days demonstrate precisely why predictions have no place in politics. As Cameron departed for Brussels on Thursday the script was ostensibly written; despite promising a resolute defence of British interests there was little to suggest that the Prime Minister intended to act any differently to his recent predecessors. Indeed, he had conspicuously refused to even use the word ‘repatriation’ at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – his focus was instead on the imperative need to tackle the euro-zone crisis and to prevent a collapse that would be profoundly damaging not only to our neighbours but to Britain too. The stage was set for a Chamberlain moment – nothing but submission was expected from a prime minister bound by coalition and up against overwhelming diplomatic pressure. And yet by the time he arrived back in the UK the comparisons were, instead, firmly with Thatcher. In the face of the Franco-German alliance’s refusal to allow the United Kingdom exemption from financial services regulation that would negatively impact the City Cameron did what few leaders have dared in recent decades: he stood up to Brussels.

On the continent the reaction to British defiance was as immediate as it was contemptuous. One French diplomat asserted that Britain’s stance is, mutatis mutandis, like a man who goes to a wife-swapping party without bringing his wife, whilst another said that it was a ‘blessing’ that would enable the other 26 member states to move more quickly with implementing financial reforms. This, of course, reflects the view of Sarkozy, for whom the exclusion of Britain ‘is a famous political victory’. President Nicolas Sarkozy had long favoured the creation of a smaller, ‘core’ euro-zone, ‘without the awkward British...that generally pursue more liberal, market-oriented policies’. Unhindered by the chronic recalcitrance of Britain, France and Germany are free to push ahead with the two-speed Europe they have long sought. For her part, Merkel expressed the opinion that Britain ‘was (n)ever with us at the table’ – 20 years to the day after negotiating an opt-out from monetary union at Maastricht, the British were once again seeking special treatment rather than moving forward with other member states towards ‘ever closer union’. There was initially talk of Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic joining Britain in rebuffing the proposed amendments to the Lisbon Treaty – and they may still do so after consulting their respective national parliaments. However, for now, the United Kingdom stands alone.

While the European reaction was immediate, it is only now that the domestic fallout from Cameron’s ‘veto’ is beginning to unravel. Having initially enjoyed nearly unanimous support in both the media and Westminster (save for the ubiquitous Miliband who, in typical fashion, offered plenty of disapproval but no credible alternative) opinion has become fractured, and nowhere more so than at the heart of the Coalition. Nick Clegg’s initial praise for the Prime Minister’s ‘modest and reasonable’ demands has long since been cast aside: the Deputy Prime Minister has instead chosen to placate the dissatisfaction that courses through his own party by vocalising his deep dissatisfaction at the events of the summit. Britain’s refusal to play the diplomatic game, he avers, will harm British interests in the long run by leading to ‘isolation’ and ‘marginalisation’. To some extent Clegg’s change of tune is unsurprising: the latest Populus poll indicates that 51% of Lib Dems are unhappy with Cameron’s decision, while figures such as Cable and Ashdown are incensed at the way in which the Prime Minister handled the summit.

But the LibDems’ discontent should not overly trouble Cameron: for all Cable’s bluster there is little chance of him stepping down as Business Secretary, and with the party struggling to reach double figures in polling, they are acutely aware that an outright Coalition split would be tantamount to political suicide. Despite not even turning up to the Commons for yesterday’s EU statement, later saying that his presence would have caused an unnecessary distraction (something his noticeable absence did quite satisfactorily), Clegg has insisted that the Coalition is ‘here to stay’, a sentiment reiterated by Danny Alexander. The Coalition’s junior partner may bemoan the Conservatives’ European policy and even attempt to thwart it in the coming months, but there is no risk of disintegration. What is far more significant for Cameron is that he has succeeded in uniting his party over what is easily its most divisive issue and won over vast swathes of the mainstream media.

What should worry him, however, is the pressing need to decide where to go next.

Amidst the back-slapping and optimism within the Conservative Party, Cameron’s MPs remain acutely aware that in ‘effectively’ utilising his veto in Brussels, the Prime Minister actually did far less than he had previously promised he would do. In requesting immunity from the proposed financial services tax and other fiscal measures Cameron sought only to maintain the status quo: there was no talk of repatriation and no spectre of renegotiation, two issues that punctuated Cameron’s rhetoric throughout the run-up to the general election last year. That the Prime Minister’s ‘effective veto’ is such big news owes not to his fulfilment of any manifesto pledge or ‘cast-iron guarantee’ but to the fact that previous prime ministers did not dare to stand up to the EU in such a forthright manner. Cameron’s decision was, for this reason, rather gutsy – in the face of overwhelming diplomatic pressure he placed integrity before complicity in a way that few heads of nation states have previously dared – but it was not analogous to Britain setting out its desire to renegotiate its terms of membership.

The frustration at Cameron’s unwillingness to hold a referendum and his refusal to back up talk of repatriation with substantive action may have been assuaged for now, but failure to maintain momentum will cause the same dissatisfaction exhibited at the recent Commons referendum motion debate to percolate through once more. Cameron made it clear in yesterday’s House of Commons statement that he wishes to see Britain remain ‘a full, committed and influential member of the EU’. But with referendum calls from Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson, in addition to a sizeable minority of backbenchers, it will not be long before the Prime Minister is forced to articulate his precise vision and the extent of this commitment. For, at present, so much is still uncertain – will there be a referendum? A renegotiation? Will the Prime Minister maintain his opposition to the Euro-26 making use of the EU’s institutions to impose their new fiscal measures?

A prosaic and indistinct commitment to returning powers at some point in the future will not satisfy those who view last week’s actions as representing, at best, the start of something seismic, and at worst an ample opportunity for Britain to at least begin to renegotiate its relationship with the EU.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lord Sacks: "Has Europe Lost its Soul?"

Every so often a sermon or lecture is delivered which merits being published in its entirety. In truth, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks delivers them all too frequently, but the pithy brevity of the blog is hardly the optimum medium for dissemination. This one, on the question of 'Has Europe Lost its Soul?' was delivered today at The Pontifical Gregorian University. It is replete with wisdom and insight (for those who don't have the time to read it, His Grace highlights some salient points). Lord Sacks' grasp of history, theology, philosophy, politics and economics is profound. His address is to the Roman Catholic Church, and his appeal is to their partnership. Yet in talking of the market and capitalism, he ignores the fact that the EU was founded upon (and is steeped in) Roman Catholic Social Doctrine which is not quite synonymous with 'markets with morals'. He said:

As the political leaders of Europe come together to try to save the euro, and with it the very project of European Union, I believe the time has come for religious leaders to do likewise, and I want to explain why.

What I hope to show in this lecture, is first, the religious roots of the market economy and of democratic capitalism. They were produced by a culture saturated in the values of the Judaeo-Christian heritage, and market economics was originally intended to advance those values.

Second, the market never reaches stable equilibrium. Instead the market itself tends to undermine the very values that gave rise to it in the first place through the process of “creative destruction.”

Third, the future health of Europe, politically, economically and culturally, has a spiritual dimension. Lose that and we will lose much else besides. To paraphrase a famous Christian text: what will it profit Europe if it gains the whole world yet loses its soul? Europe is in danger of losing its soul.

I want to preface my remarks by thanking His Eminence Cardinal Koch for not only inviting me to deliver this lecture, but being so graciously helpful throughout my trip and private audience with His Holiness.

I want to thank Father Francois-Xavier Dumortier, Rector of the Gregorian University for his kind words of introduction as well as Father Philipp Renczes of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies and Dr. Ed Kessler of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge for hosting this lecture and for all their support in arranging this visit. These two institutions represent the best of European thought, wisdom and spirituality. Through collaborative work, my hope is that these two institutions will help build a European platform to showcase and apply the resources that this continent with its rich heritage has to offer to build a better future for the world.

I am also honoured to see a number of Ambassadors and many other distinguished guests join us here this evening; I thank you all very much for coming.

I want to begin by saying a word about the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish people.

The history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews was not always a happy or an easy one. Too often it was written in tears. Yet something extraordinary happened just over half a century ago, when on 13 June 1960 the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac had an audience with Pope John XXIII and presented him with a dossier of materials he had been gathering on the history of Christian antisemitism. That set in motion the long journey to Vatican II and Nostra Aetate, as a result of which, today, Jews and Catholics meet not as enemies, nor as strangers, but as cherished and respected friends.

That is one of the most dramatic transformations in the religious history of humankind and lit a beacon of hope, not just for us but for the world. It was a victory for the God of love and forgiveness, who created us in love and forgiveness, asking us to love and forgive others.

I hope that this visit, this morning's audience with His Holiness, and this lecture might in some small way mark the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship. For half a century Jews and Christians have focused on the way of dialogue that I call face-to-face. The time has come to move on to a new phase, the way of partnership that I call side-by-side.

For the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians in general, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and the increasingly, even aggressively secularising forces at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith.

If Europe loses the Judaeo-Christian heritage that gave it its historic identity and its greatest achievements in literature, art, music, education, politics, and as we will see, economics, it will lose its identity and its greatness, not immediately, but before this century reaches its end.

When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. For the sake of our children, and their children not yet born, we – Jews and Christians, side-by-side – must renew our faith and its prophetic voice. We must help Europe recover its soul.

***

That is by way of introduction. Let me begin with a striking passage from Niall Ferguson's recent book, Civilisation. In it he tells of how the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was given the task of discovering how the West, having lagged behind China for centuries, eventually overtook it and established itself in a position of world pre-eminence. At first, said the scholar, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we concluded it was because you had the best political system. Then we realised it was your economic system. "But in the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.

The Chinese scholar was right. The same line of reasoning was followed by the Harvard economic historian, David Landes, in his magisterial The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. He too pointed out that China was technologically far in advance of the West until the 15th century. The Chinese had invented the wheelbarrow, the compass, paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, spinning machines for weaving textiles and blast furnaces for producing iron. Yet they never developed a market economy, the rise of science, an industrial revolution or sustained economic growth. Landes too concludes that it was the Judeo-Christian heritage that the West had and China lacked.

Admittedly the phrase “Judeo-Christian tradition” is a recent coinage and one that elides significant differences between the two religions and the various strands within each. Different scholars have taken diverse tracks in tracing the economic history of the West. Max Weber famously spoke about The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, with special emphasis on Calvinism. Michael Novak has written eloquently about the Catholic ethic. Rodney Stark has pointed out how the financial instruments that made capitalism possible were developed in the fourteenth century banks in pre-Reformation Florence, Pisa, Genoa and Venice.

Those who emphasised the Jewish contribution, from Karl Marx to Werner Sombart, tended to do so in a spirit of criticism. Nonetheless it cannot be pure coincidence that Jews, numbering less than a fifth of a per cent of the population of the world, have won more than 30 per cent of Nobel Prizes in economics and include such contributions as John von Neumann’s invention of Games Theory, Milton Friedman’s monetary economics, Joseph Stiglitz’ development economics, and Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s behavioural economics and the less-than-fully-rational way in which we make market choices. The biblical Joseph may have been the world’s first economist, having discovered the theory of trade cycles – seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. The financial state of Europe would be better today if people knew their Bible.

There is, though, enough common ground to speak, at least here, of shared values. First there is the deep biblical respect for the dignity of the human individual, regardless of colour, creed or class, created in the image and likeness of God. The market gives more freedom and dignity to human choice than any other economic system.

Second is the biblical respect for property rights, as against the idea prevalent in the ancient world that rulers were entitled to treat property of the tribe or nation as their own. By contrast, when Moses finds his leadership challenged by the Israelites during the Korach rebellion, he says about his relation to the people, “I have not taken one ass from them nor have I wronged any one of them.” The great assault of slavery against human dignity is that it deprives me of the ownership of the wealth I create.

Then there is the biblical respect for labour. God tells Noah that he will be saved from the flood, but it is Noah who has to build the ark. The verse “Six days shall you labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” means that we serve God through work as well as rest.

Job creation, in Judaism, is the highest form of charity because it gives people the dignity of not depending on charity. “Flay carcasses in the market-place,” said the third century teacher Rav, “and do not say: I am a priest and a great man and it is beneath my dignity”.

Equally important is Judaism’s positive attitude to the creation of wealth. The world is God’s creation; therefore it is good, and prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. Asceticism and self-denial have little place in Jewish spirituality. By our labour and inventiveness we become, in the rabbinic phrase, “partners with God in the work of creation”.

Above all, from a Jewish perspective, the most important thing about the market economy is that it allows us to alleviate poverty. Judaism refused to romanticize poverty. It is not, in Judaism, a blessed condition. It is, the rabbis said, “a kind of death” and “worse than fifty plagues”. At the other end of the spectrum they believed that with wealth comes responsibility. Richesse oblige. Successful businessmen (and women) were expected to set an example of philanthropy and to take on positions of communal leadership. Conspicuous consumption was frowned upon, and periodically banned through local “sumptuary laws”. Wealth is a Divine blessing, and therefore it carries with it an obligation to use it for the benefit of the community as a whole.

The rabbis favoured markets and competition because they generate wealth, lower prices, increase choice, reduced absolute levels of poverty, and extend humanity’s control over the environment, narrowing the extent to which we are the passive victims of circumstance and fate. Competition releases energy and creativity and serves the general good.

***

So the market economy and modern capitalism emerged in Judeo-Christian Europe and not in other cultures like China that were more advanced in other ways. The religious ethic was one of the driving forces of this once new form of wealth creation.

Equally however, this same ethic taught the limits of capitalism. It might be the best means we know of for generating wealth, but it is not a perfect system for distributing wealth. Some gain far more than others, and with wealth comes power over others. Unequal distribution means that some are condemned to poverty. And poverty is not just a physical disaster for those without the means to sustain themselves. It is a psychological disaster. Poverty humiliates. It can also force the poor into a cycle of dependence. They may be forced to borrow. They might in biblical times be forced to sell themselves into slavery.

The Hebrew Bible refuses to see as an inexorable law of nature, a Darwinian struggle in which, in Thucydides’ words, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” That is the ethics of ancient Greece not the ethics of ancient Israel.

And so we find in the bible an entire structure of welfare legislation: the corner of the field, the forgotten sheaves, and other parts of the harvest, left for the poor, together with the tithe on certain years; the sabbatical year in which all produce is available for everyone, debts cancelled and slaves set free; and the jubilee year in which ancestral land returned to its original owners.

This is a highly sophisticated system, aimed at two things: first that the poor should have means of a livelihood, and second that there should be, every seven and fifty years, periodic redistributions to correct the inequalities of the market and establish a level playing field. And what was done in biblical times in a largely agricultural economy was done in post-biblical times through a vast extension of the tzedakah, the word we usually translate as charity, though it also means justice.

Every Jewish community in the Middle Ages had an elaborate system of tzedakah that amounted to nothing less than a mini-welfare state. There was a chevra, a fellowship, gathering and distributing funds for every conceivable purpose: for poor brides, for the sick, for education, for burial, so that no one was deprived of the means of a dignified existence. What made this structure remarkable, indeed unique, was not only that it was the first of its kind, the precursor of the modern welfare state, but also that it was entirely voluntary, the collective decision of a community with no governmental power and often no legal rights.

In a recent and impressive study Harvard political philosopher Eric Nelson has shown that it was the Hebrew Bible, as read by the Christian Hebraists in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, that was the source of the idea that today we take for granted that it is part of the business of a society to engage in the redistribution of wealth through taxation to ensure the welfare of the poor. Such an idea could not be found in the Greek or Roman classics that inspired the Renaissance. The concept of welfare – distributive justice as opposed to legal or retributive justice – is Judaic in origin and flows ultimately from the same generative principle as the free market itself, the idea that every individual has dignity in the image of God and that it is our task to develop social structures that honour and enhance that dignity.

So not only is the market the outcome of a Judeo-Christian ethic. So too is a keen sense of the limits of the market and the need to supplement it with a system of welfare itself funded by the market.

***

However as the critics of capitalism pointed out, the market does not create a stable equilibrium. It engages in creative destruction, or as Daniel Bell put it, capitalism contains cultural contradictions. It tends to erode the moral foundations on which it was built. Specifically, as is manifest clear in contemporary Europe, it erodes the Judeo-Christian ethic that gave birth to it in the first place.

Instead of seeing the system as Adam Smith did, as a means of directing self- interest to the common good, it can become a means of empowering self-interest to the detriment of the common good. Instead of the market being framed by moral principles, it comes to substitute for moral principle. If you can buy it, negotiate it, earn it and afford it, then you are entitled to it – as the advertisers say – because you’re worth it. The market ceases to be merely a system and becomes an ideology in its own right.

The market gives us choices; so morality itself becomes just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire. The phenomenon that uniquely characterises the human person, the capacity to make second-order evaluations, not just to feel desire but also to ask whether this desire should be satisfied, becomes redundant. We find it increasingly hard to understand why there might be things we want to do, can afford to do and have a legal right to do, that none the less we should not do because they are unjust, or dishonourable, or disloyal, or demeaning. When Homo economicus displaces Homo sapiens, market fundamentalism rules.

There is a wise American saying: Never waste a crisis. And the current financial and economic crisis affords us a rare opportunity to pause and reflect on where we have been going and where it leads.

***

Let’s begin with the current crisis and what led to it. First the sheer complexity of the financial instruments involved in subprime mortgages and the securitization of risk, was so great that for many years their true nature eluded the regulatory authorities, who continued to give the firms involved Triple A ratings, despite the fact that as early as 2002 Warren Buffett described them as weapons of mass financial destruction. Governments, and sometimes even the bankers themselves, did not fully understand the risks involved nor the way in which failure in any part of the banking system could cause the entire system to collapse.

This was in clear contravention of the principles of transparency and accountability. The book of Exodus devotes astonishing space to a detailed set of accounts as to how every item donated to the building of the Tabernacle was spent, to establish the principle that those in charge of public funds must be transparently above suspicion.

Second, many people, especially in America but also in Europe, were encouraged to take out mortgages, often with low initial repayment rates, that they could not repay, and that those encouraging them should have known they could not repay except under the most optimistic and unlikely scenarios of continued low interest rates and continually rising house prices. This is forbidden in Jewish law under the biblical prohibition: “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

Third, the bankers themselves not only awarded themselves disproportionately high salaries but also, by providing themselves with “golden parachutes”, insulated themselves from the very risks to which they were exposing both their customers and their shareholders. Almost two thousand years ago the rabbis established a series of enactments precisely to avoid the possibility that someone could benefit from failure or dereliction of duty.

Fourth, no one who reads the Bible with its provisions for the remission of debts every seventh year could fail to understand how morally concerned it is to prevent the build up of indebtedness, of mortgaging freedom tomorrow for the sake of liberty today. The unprecedented levels of private and public debt in the West should have sent warning signals long ago that such a state of affairs was unsustainable in the long run. The Victorians knew what we have forgotten, that spending beyond your means is morally hazardous, however attractive it may be, and the system should not encourage it.

There are larger issues. There is the fundamental question of who can control the modern international corporation and to whom is it accountable. In medieval times, however much the owners of land abused those who worked for them, there was an organic connection between them. The landowner had some interest in the welfare of those who worked for him, for if they were well and reasonably happy, they worked reasonably well. Likewise in the nineteenth century, industrialists may have created appalling working conditions, but at least some enlightened employers, like Robert Owen or the Cadburys and Rowntrees, knew that satisfied employees produced good work. Their example, together with the great nineteenth century social reformers, eventually led to more humane working conditions.

To whom is an international corporation answerable? Often they do not employ workers. They outsource manufacturing to places far away. If wages rise in one place, they can, almost instantly, transfer production to somewhere else. If a tax regime in one country becomes burdensome, they can relocate to another. To whom, then, are they accountable? By whom are they controllable? For whom are they responsible? To which group of people other than shareholders do they owe loyalty? The extreme mobility, not only of capital but also of manufacturing and servicing, is in danger of creating institutions that have power without responsibility, as well as a social class, the global elite, that has no organic connection with any group except itself. As for moral responsibility, it seems that that too can be outsourced. It is someone else’s problem, not mine.

This has profound moral consequences. George Soros writes of how in his early years as an investment manager he had to spend immense time and energy proving his credentials, his character and integrity, before people would do business with him. Nowadays, he says, deals are transactional rather than personal. Instead of placing your faith in a person, you get lawyers to write safeguards into the contract. This is an historic shift from a trust economy to a risk economy. But trust is not a dispensable luxury. It is the very basis of our social life. Many scholars believe that capitalism had religious roots because people could trust other people who, feeling that they were answerable to God, could be relied on to be honest in business. A world without trust is a lonely and dangerous place.

It was precisely the breakdown of trust that caused the banking crisis in the first place. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the market is a shrine to materialism, forgetting that its keywords are deeply spiritual. “Credit” comes from the Latin “credo” meaning “I believe.” “Confidence” comes from the Latin meaning “shared faith.” “Trust” is a word that has deeply religious resonance. Try running a bank, a business or an economy in the absence of confidence and trust and you will know it can’t be done. In the end we do not put our faith in systems but in the people responsible for those systems, and without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail. And as it happens, the system did fail.

With this we come to perhaps the most profound truth of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic, based on justice, compassion and respect for human dignity, took moral restraint from “out there” to “in here.” Good conduct was not dependent on governments, laws, police, inspectorates, regulatory bodies, civil courts and legal penalties. It was dependent on the still, small voice of God within the human heart. It became part of character, virtue and an internalised sense of obligation. Jews and Christians devoted immense energies to training the young in the ways of goodness and righteousness. A moral vision, a clear sense of right and wrong, was present in the stories they told, the texts they read, the rituals they performed, the prayers they said and the standards the community expected of its members.

If you were Jewish, you knew what it felt like to be a slave in Egypt, eating the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery. You knew what it felt like to be homeless for forty years as you wandered through the desert. You knew the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” You had social justice engraved in your neural pathways. When I asked the developmental economist Jeffrey Sachs what motivated him in his work, he replied immediately, tikkun olam, the Jewish imperative to heal a fractured world. Christians did likewise. They did not need regulatory bodies to ensure that they worked for the common good. They knew they were morally responsible, even if they were not legally liable, for the consequences of their decisions for the lives of others.

Economists call this social capital, but it is not a given of the human condition. Societies where self-interest trumps the common good eventually disintegrate. That is why societies at the peak of affluence have usually already begun on the downward slope to decline. The fourteenth century Islamic thinker Ibn Khaldun argued that when a civilization becomes great, its elites get used to luxury and comfort, and the people as a whole lose their asabiyah, their social solidarity. Giambattista Vico described a similar cycle: “People first sense what is necessary, then consider what is useful, next attend to comfort, later delight in pleasures, soon grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad squandering their estates.”

This was said first and most powerfully by Moses long ago. The theme of his great speeches in the book of Deuteronomy is that it is not hardship that is the real trial, but affluence. Affluence makes you complacent. You no longer have the moral and mental energy to make the sacrifices necessary for the defence of freedom. Inequalities grow. The rich become self-indulgent. The poor feel excluded. There are social divisions, resentments, injustices. Society no longer coheres. People do not feel bound to one another by a bond of collective responsibility. Individualism prevails. Trust declines. Social capital wanes. When that happens, you will be defeated.

Those who believe that liberal democracy and the free market can be defended by the force of law and regulation alone, without an internalised sense of duty and morality, are tragically mistaken.

***

At the most basic level, the consumer society is sapping our moral strength. It has produced a society obsessed with money: salaries, bonuses, the cost of houses, and expensive luxuries we could live without. When money rules, we remember the price of things and forget the value of things, and that is dangerous.

The financial crisis was caused, at least in part, by banks and mortgage brokers lending people so much money at such low interest rates to buy houses, that house prices rose rapidly until investing in a house seemed the best you could make. More people borrowed more money and house prices rose yet higher, until everyone felt that they were richer. But in real terms we weren't. Ignoring values and concentrating on price, we mortgaged our future to feed a fantasy. Like other historic bubbles, it was a moment of collective madness, of the essentially magical belief that there can be gains without losses; forgetting that the larger the gain, the bigger the risk, and that the price is often paid by those who can least afford it.

In general, the build-up of personal debt happened because the consumer society encouraged people to borrow money they didn’t have, to buy things they didn’t need, to achieve a happiness that wouldn’t last. The sages of the ancient world said: Who is rich? One who rejoices in what he has. The consumer society says the opposite. Who is rich? One who can buy what he does not yet have. Relentlessly focussing on what we lack and what others have, it encourages feelings of inadequacy that we assuage by buying a product to make us happy, which it does until the day after, when the next best thing comes along and makes us feel inadequate all over again.

It is no accident that despite the fact that until recently we were affluent beyond the dreams of previous generations, we were not measurably happier. We turned children into mini-consumers, giving them mobile phones instead of our time. The result, in Britain, is a generation of children more unhappy, more prone to depression, stress, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse than they were fifty years ago. The consumer society turns out to be a highly efficient system for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.

It goes deeper still. We know – it has been measured in many experiments – that children with strong impulse control grow to be better adjusted, more dependable, achieve higher grades in school and college and have more success in their careers than others. Success depends on the ability to delay gratification, which is precisely what a consumerist culture undermines. At every stage, the emphasis is on the instant gratification of instinct. In the words of the pop group Queen, “I want it all and I want it now.” A whole culture is being infantilised.

My late father, coming to Britain at the age of six fleeing persecution in Poland, knew poverty and lived it. But he and his contemporaries had a rich cultural, communal and spiritual life. He enjoyed classical music and the great painters. He loved synagogue and his faith as a Jew. The Jewish communities of the East End, like some Asian sub-communities today, had strong families, supportive networks, and high aspirations, if not for themselves then for their children. Of the gifts of the spirit they had an embarrass de richesse. Can we really say that the world of brands and status symbols, of what you own rather than what you are, is better? What of the future if we really are fated to years of recession? What will that mean for a culture where happiness is defined by material possessions? It will mean the maximum of disappointment with the minimum of consolation. Whether our social structures are strong enough to survive this is wholly open to doubt.

***

A good society has its own ecology which depends on multiple sources of meaning, each with its own integrity. I want to draw attention briefly to five features of Judaism, largely shared by Christianity, whose role over the centuries has been to preserve a space uninvaded by the market ethic.

The first is the Sabbath, the boundary Judaism draws around economic activity. The Sabbath is the day we focus on the things that have value but not a price, when we neither work nor employ others to do our work, when we neither buy nor sell, in which all manipulation of nature for creative ends is forbidden and all hierarchies of power or wealth are suspended.

It is the still point in the turning world, when we renew our attachment to family and community, living the truth that the world is not wholly ours to bend to our will but something given to us in trust to conserve for future generations, and in which the inequalities of a market economy are counterbalanced by a world in which money does not count, in which we are all equal citizens. The Jewish writer Achad Ha-am said that more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews. It is the one day in seven when we stop making a living and instead simply live.

The second: marriage and the family. Judaism is one of the great familial traditions. Many of its supreme religious moments take place in the home between husband and wife, parents and children. Marriage is where love and loyalty combine to bring new life into the world. If Jews have survived tragedy, found happiness, and contributed more than their share to the human heritage, I suspect it is because of the sanctity with which they endowed marriage and the way they regarded parenthood as their most sacred task.

Third: education. Since the days of Moses Jews have predicated their very survival on education. They were the first civilization to construct, two thousand years ago, a universal compulsory education, communally funded, to ensure that everyone had access to knowledge. They even said that study is holier than prayer. Jews are the people whose heroes are teachers, whose citadels are schools and whose passion is the life of the mind. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, once said that he came from one of those Russian-Jewish families where they expected even the plumber to have a PhD. Jews did not leave education to the vagaries of the market. They made the market serve the cause of education.

Fourth: the concept of property itself. Deeply embedded in the Jewish mind is the idea that we do not ultimately own what we possess. Everything belongs to God, and what we have, we hold in trust. There are conditions to that trust. As the great Victorian philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore put it, “We are worth what we are willing to share with others”. Hence the long tradition of Jewish philanthropy that explains how Judaism encouraged the creation of wealth without giving rise to class resentments.

Finally, there is the Jewish tradition of law itself. It was William Rees-Mogg who first drew attention to a connection between Jewish law and economics I had never thought of before. In a book he wrote about inflation, The Reigning Error, he said that inflation – like high levels of debt – is a disease of inordinacy. It happens because of a failure to understand that energy, to be channelled, needs restraints. It was the constant discipline of law, he says, that provided the boundaries within which Jewish creativity could flow. It taught Jews self-restraint, and it is the failure of societies to practice self-restraint that leads to inflation or unsustainable debt.

So the Sabbath, the family, the educational system, the concept of ownership as trusteeship, and the discipline of religious law, were not constructed on the basis of economic calculation. To the contrary, they were ways in which Judaism in effect said to the market: thus far and no further. There are realms in which you may not intrude.

The concept of the holy is precisely the domain in which the worth of things is not judged by their market price or economic value. This fundamental insight of Judaism and Christianity is all the more striking given their respect for the market. Their strength is that they resisted the temptation to believe that the market governs the totality of our lives, when it fact it governs only a limited part of it, that which concerns goods subject to production and exchange. There are things fundamental to being human that we do not produce; instead we receive from those who came before us and from God Himself. And there are things which we may not exchange, however high the price.

When everything that matters can be bought and sold, when commitments can be broken because they are no longer to our advantage, when shopping becomes salvation and advertising slogans our litany, when our worth is measured by how much we earn and spend, then the market is destroying the very virtues on which in the long run it depends. That is the danger that advanced economies now face. At such times the voice of our great religious traditions needs to be heard, warning us of the gods that devour their own children, and of the ruins of once-great buildings that stand today as relics of civilisations that once seemed invincible.

***

I have argued that the market economy originated in Europe in the fertile environment of Judeo-Christian values sympathetic to hard work, industry, frugality, diligence, patience, discipline, and a sense of duty and obligation. Capitalism was seen by its early proponents as a profoundly moral enterprise. It generated wealth, softened manners, tamed unruly passions, and diminished the threat of war. Two adjacent nations could either fight or trade. From fight both lost. From trade both gained.

The market’s “invisible hand” turned the pursuit of self interest into the wealth of nations, and intellectual property fuelled the fires of invention. Capitalism has enhanced human dignity, leaving us with more choices and a longer-life expectancy than any generation of those who came before us.

But there is no such thing as a stable equilibrium in human affairs. There is a natural tendency for institutions in the ascendancy to invade territories not rightly or fully their own, with disastrous consequences. In religious ages, the culprit was usually religion. At times it sought political power and became an enemy of liberty. At other times it sought to control the dissemination of ideas and thus became an enemy of the unfettered collaborative pursuit of truth.

Today, in a Europe more secular than it has been since the last days of pre-Christian Rome, the culprits are an aggressive scientific atheism tone deaf to the music of faith; a reductive materialism blind to the power of the human spirit; global corporations uncontrollable by and sometimes more powerful than national governments; forms of finance so complex as to surpass the understanding of bodies charged with their regulation; a consumer-driven economy that is shrivelling the imaginative horizons of our children; and a fraying of all the social bonds, from family to community, that once brought comfort and a redemption of solitude, to be replaced by virtual networks mediated by smartphone, whose result is to leave us “alone together.”

What can we do, we who, because we have faith in God, have faith in God’s faith in humankind? There is a significant phrase that Pope Benedict XVI has often used: creative minority. If there is one thing Jews know how to be it is a creative minority. So my proposal is that Jews and Catholics should seek to be creative minorities together. A duet is more powerful than a solo. Renouncing any aspiration for power, we should seek to encourage the single most neglected source of energy in a consumer-driven, profit-maximising society, namely the power of altruism.

We should enlist business leaders to help us teach that markets need morals; that without a strong ethic, there may be short term success but no long term viability; and that conscience is not for wimps, it is the basis of trust and confidence on which business, financial institutions and the economy as a whole depend.

We should use this moment of recession to restore to their rightful place in society the things that have value but not a price: marriage, the family, home, dedicated time between parents and children, the face-to-face friendships that make up community, the celebration of what we have not the restless pursuit of what we don’t, a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving, and a willingness to share some of God’s blessings with those who have less. These are the true sources of lasting happiness and have been empirically proved to be so.

We should seek to recover the alternative world created by the Sabbath, one day in seven in which we set limits to the power of the market to enslave us with its siren song, and instead give our relationships the chance to mature and our souls the pure air they need to breathe. We should challenge the relativism that tells us there is no right or wrong, when every instinct of our mind knows it is not so, and is a mere excuse to allow us to indulge in what we believe we can get away with. A world without values quickly becomes a world without value.

Economic superpowers have a short shelf-life: Spain in the fifteenth century, Venice in the sixteenth, Holland in the seventeenth, France in the eighteenth, Britain in the nineteenth, America in the twentieth. Meanwhile Christianity has survived for two thousand years, and Judaism for twice as long as that. The Judeo-Christian heritage is the only system known to me capable of defeating the law of entropy that says all systems lose energy over time.

Stabilising the Euro is one thing, healing the culture that surrounds it is another. A world in which material values are everything and spiritual values nothing is neither a stable state nor a good society. The time has come for us to recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God. When Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies. But first it must remember: humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind.
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