Friday, 4 May 2012

The morality of money

I've blogged before about the issue of money, and how our behaviour regarding money is in some ways a much more pressing christian and biblical issue than many of the other things we waste our time squabbling about. Wealth and greed got a pretty bad press in the gospels and Jesus himself seemed to live a pretty hand to mouth life and advised us all to have no care for the morrow - which one might retort is fine for someone who can turn water into wine and feed five thousand out of a few loaves and fishes :) Speaking of living hand to mouth, I was rather intrigued by the post Living without money from the Life and Faith blog. A quick google soon revealed that we have our own British versions of Daniel Suelo (see below), there are a surprising amount of people who live without money. I suppose most of them are called "homeless", "tramps" or "down and outs" or "travellers" and attract pity or contempt in varying degrees. I wonder is it just when it is a presented as a radical statement that  the whole thing takes on a different perspective and we become rather reverential?

I am offering the experiences or experiment recounted above as interesting. I think they speak to our deepest fears about our basic survival and how our needs might be met. I am not sure that otherwise it says anything that worthwhile, nor that it is particularly laudable. It would not be realistic for most of us to opt out of society this way and, in any case, I cannot see that scavenging from supermarket skips is living independently from society (although I do deplore our stupid wasteful culture of must have, throwaway and best before dates.)
Most of us are living with less security in terms of jobs and finances than we have ever faced before. There is anxiety about how best to create economic recovery and anger about austerity measures as evidenced by the trouncing of the Coalition in the local elections (unless the anger is all about gay marriage as Anglican Mainstream seem to believe...) I am not sure that Labour should be celebrating their gains across the country because it doesn't seem that they have done that much to offer any viable alternatives and only one in three actually voted. Apathy, fear and anger , no real choice and no convincing solutions- it is a potentially disastrous combination.
I have been speaking all week to people who are worried, fearful and angry about their circumstances and the future. There has been some hopelessness as well. I wonder what message the Jesus who lived hand to mouth brings to our present political, social and economic climate? Well, I don't think that we are suppose to live in a caravan and forage from skips, but we are perhaps to remember to trust in God and to have other things at the centre of our lives than our personal security, hard as that may be. The most important message though is for those who do still have - a message not to hang on to every scrap but rather to give generously to others. The early church did this, we are told in Acts that:
         "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."
If none of us had money as a central concern in our lives and if we were all prepared to share with each other, money and lack of it would not be a problem.

6 comments:

  1. There has been a distinct move to the Right in much Christian thinking, particularly that of a conservative hue; many well known Christian blogs possess a discourse that would be seen as reactionary and out of step twenty-five years ago – even among Evangelicals. Indeed some have unbridled respect of Thatcher and her administration’s moral conservatism. This is ironic, given how many of Thatcher’s henchmen were caught with their trousers down and/or their snouts in the trough. It should also be remembered that it was Thatcher’s administrations that forced through Sunday trading, increased government borrowing and enacted financial policies which paved the way for the recession of the early 90s and the Crash of 2008. Unbridled greed, wanton materialism, individualism, selfishness and a government sanctioned increasing gap between the rich and poor are some of the enduring legacies of Thatcher’s tenure – legacies Blair was content to continue and for which we are paying the cost at present. I am not a fan of Left Wing politics myself; I believe they foster inertia and a dependence culture. However the blatant self-interest of some of the New Right is (as has been proved) a recipe for a social, moral and economic disaster.

    I was invited to some discussion at Parliament last year (‘Is the church addicted to the Welfare State?’) where various speakers voiced their view on the role of the welfare state and the Church’s relationship with it. The event demonstrated that there is both a shift to the Right in some (often influential) Christian circles; but also an abdication of responsibility. Social problems are the result of an individual’s choice and government policy. This is a marked departure from the notion of ‘loving thy neighbour as thyself’; it is rather a case of finger pointing and apportioning blame. It is in short, self-interest at its most pernicious. There is a concerted desire to see the redistribution of wealth and provision of services via taxation as ‘immoral’. The real issue is that these same Christians don’t want to part with their pennies or are jealous that others get services or benefits and so by portraying government as immoral and/or un-Christian they transpose their self-interest into a moral issue, when I suspect they don’t get quite so hot under the collar about other moral issues a little closer to home (banking, financial management and how to get the best from your tax return?). I am not unsympathetic to a reform of the benefits’ system, but I think here the real issue is that of electoral mandate – i.e. the right of an essentially secular state to spend the money of those who see themselves as the ‘moral’ minority. Moreover there is more than a dash of chagrin that Christianity no longer has the social power it once did. The present moral crusades of AM, CI et el may appear to be battles to expose the flaws of liberalism, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, the rights of other religions in the UK (not least Islam): but in reality they are a case of shouting louder and louder because so few listen or are interested in their cries for attention.

    I am afraid an issue such as the use of wealth is likely to be of little interest to many of our present gaggle of moral crusaders. Indeed you would be hard pressed to find any posts or articles on many of Right Wing Christian blogs that tackle such pressing topic. It is a little too near to home… The best plan is to gun for the easy targets and play on ancient prejudices and hope this passes for a semblance of morality and evidence of a Christian lifestyle.

    Peter

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  2. P.S.: “I suppose most of them are called "homeless", "tramps" or "down and outs" or "travellers" and attract pity or contempt in varying degrees.”

    Few of these are without money! Your average beggar in the West End of London can ‘earn’ up to £400 a day. I once placed an old girl who used to beg around Victoria Street and Westminster Cathedral in a residential home when she was too old to stay in the hostel where she lived. I presumed it would be a simple fact of placing her and claiming income support to augment the council’s contribution. However, I found she had £33,000 in a building society account – the fruit of begging. Even if you sleep rough you can claim ‘sleeping out’ allowance.

    When at the monastery people used to marvel at the simple life we led. In those days the community was quite poor. Now, although outwardly (what the public see) the community still seems rather poor, it has over a £1 million at the bank and sits on land worth much, much more. I don’t begrudge the community having considerable wealth, but I don’t think it has helped the community’s vocation.

    Some Christian communities are very careful to not to amass considerable funds at the bank. I think the Bruderhof clear their bank account at the end of every financial year – giving the surplus to charity. One Anglican women’s community I know of has £12million at the bank and property valued at £8 million and there are only 20 sisters! I think it is fair to note it seems to be when communities are poor that they grow and when they are rich they atrophy and die.

    It is certain many people and organisations make good use of their wealth, but I think great care is needed; money is very subtle in how it gains a grip in our lives.

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  3. Interesting! I'd forgotten about how you told me about the amounts of money people can make begging. I wonder if that is more the case in London than in more deprived areas though? My dad used to tell a story of an old woman who lived in the village we lived in when I was in my teens, very eccentric and everyone called her "rag-bag Annie" as she lived in a dilapidated house and looked like a tramp. When she died, the rumour mill claimed she had amassed a quarter of a million in her savings account- from when she had worked (years ago) and from her pension which she barely touched! I am convinced each of us is secretly afraid we may end up destitute and without a penny (or maybe it's just me:)) Money inspires greed but also fear in us. It reminds me of that, "not enough to go round" poem I posted a while back.

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  4. I think was is worrying is how the Tory losses in the local elections is being seen by some Right Wing commentators - not to mention Christian bloggers – as rooted in the present government proposals on same-sex marriage. I think this demonstrates just how far some of our political and/or Christian friends have strayed! Throughout the 80s and in the late 90s we had economic policies that fostered individualism and materialism. What you wear, what you drive, the kind of house you own etc. have been blatant status symbols but also symbols of individual worth. As I’ve said elsewhere, a good portion of the blame for the strain on the modern family can fall at the feet of the economic policies of Mr Lawson and Mr Brown; yet have we seen petitions, have we seen yards of vitriolic blog posts on such topics? No – because it is easier to say family life is eroded by ‘the gays’ – and now the Tories lost the election because of ‘The Gays’ than something a little more challenging which could impact on the lives of the majority, rather than a convenient minority!

    This is dangerous stuff – it is looking for easy scapegoats and fostering a blame culture. For one, the Tories never won the last General Election – so it is doubtful they would surge ahead in the polls; particularly when nearly all mid-term local elections favour the opposition rather than the ruling party (or in this case, parties). What is more frightening is that some of our more extreme Tory politicians seem hell bent on seeking a suitable minority (or policy pertaining to a minority) on which to blame their defeat. It is an ancient device used by the politically endangered to choose a minority to blame for their woes (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Communists, Fascists have all fulfilled such a role – and used others to fulfil that role when they are the dominant faction). There are also a number of Christian bloggers who likewise are claiming the Tory defeat – or the lack of attractiveness of the Tories – is because of the plan to legalise SSM.

    All this demonstrates is just how far out of touch many of our Tory and Christian brethren are, if they think your average British voter is worried about something so inconsequential. People are losing their homes, their jobs and seeing the family finances squeezed; many teenagers are unemployed. Life for many outside of the South East is pretty grim – but according to some of our Tory and Christian Right chums it is all the fault of the Gays – or at least David Cameron for thinking up SSM.

    This may seem far removed from the issue of wealth – but I don’t think it is. I think this penchant vocal, usually Right of Centre, Christians have for seeing morality as something solely rooted in what people do with their wing-wangs and foofahs, demonstrates how many conservative Christians have lost their way. I think it is curious that in Matt 25, in the parable of the Sheep and Goats, when the King rebukes the ‘goats’ for their failings, he doesn’t make mention of sexual failings; rather it for failing meet the material needs of those less fortunate than the ‘goats’ are condemned.

    The morality of money, wealth and its use is a central topic of the Gospels, yet you’d be hard pressed to find one post or article on the internet sites of LifeSiteNews, Anglican Mainstream, the Christian Institute, Catholic Voices – or the personal sites of supposedly ‘orthodox’ or conservative Christians. But blogging or reporting on topics such as the use or morality of wealth and money are not popular – they challenge people, they can seem a bit preachy. Which I think perhaps best explains why there is the top heavy obsession with things gay on many of these sites.

    Thankfully most people – excepting a few fruitcakes and reactionary bigots who probably have more sexual hang-ups than Freud’s Waiting Room – see such sites as vitriolic bile; what is dangerous is when this scapegoating and ‘easy’ blame morality enters politics. Then it’s time to worry...

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  5. I agree and I don't generally see that sort of easy blame morality in politics (or at least it is more aimed at immigrants than gay people!) It does amaze me that so many of these right wing sites are silent on the subject of giving all your money to the poor. Scapegoating others and the prosperity gospel seems to win hands down every time. I wonder why...:)!

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  6. Yes, it is rather strange that many of the cases portrayed as persecution of Christians focus on issues of sexuality - esp. Lev 18:22. Yet these 'orthodox' Bible believing Christians seem curiously ignorant of Jesus' exhortations to 'turn the other cheek', 'rejoice in persecution' or if sued for their shirts, offer their tunics as well (a bit of Matthew Mr & Mrs Bull of Cornwall seem oblivious to!). Why our conservative brethren seem so keen to uphold the bits of Scripture that condemn others while ignoring those verses that would have a personal cost is hard to say. I suppose it could be argued that they do incur personal cost because of the stress of litigation and social censure they receive - but I would suggest these costs are outwieghed by the attractions of cheap celebrity, publicised martyrdom and the chance of a fat compensation cheque! (Not to mention claiming the moral high-because simply because you are not what they be...)

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