The irony will not be lost on many people: a Body of people who claim to be the disciples of a master who drove the money-changers out of the Temple now find themselves in danger of driving out those who would question our modern-day money-handlers from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is a great sadness that someone with the ability and insight of Giles Frazer has now been lost to the Church as a voice in this debate, and equally sad that we have also, seemingly, lost an opportunity to side with those who are asking us to pause and consider whether we have, indeed, got our economic system right: a system which has become ‘profit for profit’s sake’ and with, apparently, no brakes at all that can be put on the multi-national, globalised companies, including the banks, that now run the world in every meaningful sense as national governments tinker around the edges of power. Unelected and seemingly unaccountable, they continue to persuade us that making money is the only goal in a sane society and that we will all benefit from the ‘trickle down’. Well, here we are with massive unemployment, the erosion of social support infrastructure, the increased marginalisation of the most poor and deprived in our society and the degradation of much-needed charity provision ( I am still stinging from the loss of Lincoln MIND, which has recently closed its doors because of lack of available grant funding, taking with it a valuable service to some of the most challenged and vulnerable people in our local society). Surely, we have the right to question an economic system which does all this, especially when those who created this crisis are rumoured to enjoy ever bigger bonuses?
In a recent Radio 4 series on ‘Capitalism’ its presenter, Michael Portillo (himself an enthusiastic capitalist) had to acknowledge that poverty and monetarism went hand in hand: the one a necessary consequence of the other. Yes, poverty levels differ as economies rise and fall, but if you support Capitalism as a system, then ‘the poor are with us always’. The programme was a public acknowledgement that Capitalism is now at least under the microscope as an economic system and also a nod to the fact that things can be done differently. In times past, stringencies and austerity have largely been accepted by the vast majority of people who suffer most because of cut-backs and redundancies: I bring to mind the sycophantic labourer in the old comedy programme ‘Brass’ saying to the mill owner ‘you are a saint in human form, Mr Hardaker’ as every manner of insult and oppression was visited upon him by his boss. It seems that some people will no longer accept that there should be such a disparity between rich and poor, with statistics telling us that, worldwide, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. It also appears that there are those, some of whom are camped in the steps of St Paul’s, who do not believe that the pursuit of profit and gain is the highest calling of humanity and pose the possibility that it may be possible to have a just, equitable society if we are prepared to look at things in a different way. And here’s the rub, for the guardians of the Cathedral follow someone who constantly challenged us to look at things from a different angle and not to accept that the status quo was necessarily good or, indeed, how things ought to be. The is the one who said ‘sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’ and ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’: all the time questioning the, too readily, accepted totems we erect for ourselves. In looking kindly upon and working alongside those who are asking us to look at Capitalism from a different angle, the Church would be being true to its great Teacher.