Friday, 10 June 2011

चुर्च एंड State

The title is "Church and State."

When Prince Charles came to enhance the independence celebrations in Papua New Guinea in 1975 the lesson he read at the official service was from Romans Chapter 13 (The powers that be are ordained by God.) When Prince Phillip read the lesson a this year's Maundy service it was all about looking after the poor.

The Church therefore fulfils this dual role of adding to the legitimacy of the government (and therefore acting as an instrument of social control) whilst at the same time reminding the government of the limits to its authority and its responsibility towards the weaker members of society.

Rowan Williams is therefore fulfilling the church's historic role in challenging the governments' systematic attack on the welfare state, for which, as he says, no-one voted, and in such a hasty manner that there is time neither for proper thought nor public discussion.

However, I find the Archbishop's language as aggressive and unhelpful as is much parliamentary debate. He writes of "anger" and "plain fear." True, a minority may be angry and fearful, but the vast majority seem to be either supportive (those who welcome what Williams rightly describes as "the quiet resurgence of the seductive language of 'deserving. and 'undeserving' poor"), indifferent or resigned.

Combative language, and the hysterical jeering of "U turn" when the government does have a re-think, do not encourage the public to engage positively with the political process. Rather it is a turn off: it remains "old politics" rather than the "new politics" we were promised.

Politicians, the Archbishop and the media would do well to bear in mind item 17 of the Quakers' "Advices and Queries":

Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticisms and provocative language. Do no allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. I agree with most of what you say. However, I have always thought that many religious leaders tend to treat sins differently; from what I know, there is no scriptural basis to say that God views any sins as being worse than any other (except I believe, for taking the name of the holy spirit in vain). However, it has been my experience that sin of a sexual nature (adultery, premarital relations, homosexuality) for example tends to get singled out for far more debate, castigation and attention that many others.

    On that line of thinking, is it not a concern that the Archbishop addresses poverty (as he rightly should) and questions of democracy (which he is entitled to) but doesn't seem to say much about, let's say, sloth or gluttony?

    I don't recall hearing Rowan Williams to intervene and tell people who've eaten themselves to huge sizes that they are sinning and ought to stop burdening fellow taxpayers through the various accomodations that need to be made; neither do I recall him reminding many of those permanently unemployed about the dangers of sloth - or have we decided as a society that some sins (pride, lust, greed for example) are okay to discuss, but it's politically incorrect to have a go at people for others (sloth, gluttony and the politics of envy)?

    Food for thought.

  2. Oh, whilst we're on the topic of Romans 13 - doesn't verse 8 say "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another"? I note that the Archbishop hasn't had much to say about that when discussing the cuts, and the morality of supporting excessively bloated bureaucracies we can't afford by borrowing ever more money and servicing the interest on that money.

  3. Good strong stuff, Chris: the Tories don't know what they're missing.

    On sexual versus other "sins" the sexual ones, and comments on them, certainly gain more publicity and it is probably true that religion has been used historically as a means of social control in the domestic field. Incidentally there's not much in the Bible about monogamy. Bishops are expected to be "the husband of one wife" but polygamy was normal in Judaism, and Jesus does not question this. Adultery has, of course been off-limits from the earliest time.

    The "seven deadly" sins do not actually appear as such in the Bible (though the five cardinal virtues do) but I'm quite sure that Williams et al bang on ad nausium about seeking satisfaction via consumerism rather than brotherly and sisterly love. That won't get reported because it doesn't sell papers, or otherwise oil the wheels of capitalism.

    You're quite right about the warnings against persistent debt but, post Keynes, we know that what are sensible rules for households are not necessarily sensible for governments. I fully agree that the debt-fuelled private spending spree of the past 30 years, made possible by Mrs Thatcher's deregulation of the financial markets, has been a gross error, but when private demand fails than Keynes showed that the government can help avoid unemployment and the consequent poverty by running a public deficit. Keynes assumed that the deficit would be paid back in the "good years", which is, in fact, what the Labour government was doing before the crash caused by excessive lending by the banks.