There are times when responses to what I post don’t surprise me, and times when they do, and the response by Alys to my last one fits into both categories.
I remain unsure why an admiration for Pope Francis on issues of catholic social teaching should mean I should cross the Tiber. My own Church has a long and laudable history in the same sphere. Not only is there no economic dogma in the Bible, there is also nothing in what it has to say about the poor and marginalised to suggest that a free market in modern terms was the sole answer, still less that an individualised approach to these these things is to be preferred. How we are to help the poor and marginalised is a moot point, and any economic system which does so is to be commended, but none of them can work for Christ unless it is informed by him.
The Incarnation is essentially a message of hope. In becoming Incarnate, the Eternal Word who was with God and was God in the beginning, showed the concern He has for what He created and whom He created. What follows from that, certainly for a man like Temple, is certainly not socialism. After all, as he wrote in Christianity and the Social Order:
A statesman who supposes that a mass of citizens can be governed without appeal to their self-interest is living in a dreamland and is a public menace. The art of government in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands.
In short, he believed what St. James wrote about true faith producing good works.
Temple may have flirted with it, but he was no collectivist. One of his three principles was the importance of ‘freedom’. This was why he was so passionate about education. Ignorance prevented men from reasoning as God wanted; ignorance was not freedom, it was bondage. In his early life he had flirted with collectivism as a way of ensuring that men and women realised they had responsibilities as well as rights, but by the late 1930s he had moved to the position just described. He opposed both fascism and communism, writing that: ‘Man has a status which is independent of nay earthly society and has a higher dignity than any state can confer.’
Nonetheless, mankind is not a solitary beast, and society existed in part to enable men and women to supply needs they could not fulfil themselves. The State was necessary, but people did not relate to it the way they did to their church, their football club, their trade union or their school. What Edmund Burke called the “little batallions” were critical to a healthy society and freedom – hence Temple’s second guiding principle, ‘Fellowship.’ That led directly to his third principle – ‘Service.’ If man did not live by bread alone, he did not live for himself alone – the very word ‘church’ derived from the Greek ‘ekklesia’ which meant a gathering; literally, you could not be a Christian by yourself. Nor could you live the life God meant if you focussed solely upon your own needs and wants. That was not a call to be a ‘do gooder’. Temple recognised the call family and fellowship made, but stressed the need to serve those needs in a way which did not damage those of others.
If we set before ourselves, or there is set before us, a creed of ‘enrichissez vous’ in which we find our highest satisfaction in piling up riches and consuming, then Our Lord is quite clear that this is a foolish aim – ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:’ [Luke 12:20] And yet, as a society, does the modern West have any higher aim to set before us? The sop of ‘trickle down’ economics is just that, and given the lack of social mobility in the last decade or so, there is little sign even of that.
Christ’s charge to us is a moral, not a political of economic one, and a political or economic system which is not charged with them may deliver many things, but those things will not be of Christ, but of the ruler of this world. Love your neighbour as yourself; love the stranger within your gate; feed the poor; care for all; let those who have share with those who have not, heal the sick in mind and body. Do these things because we are all children of the One God and are redeemed by Christ if we will follow him, regardless of colour or class.
As that great and good man, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (RIP) wrote in his last book:
Societal freedom cannot be sustained by market economics and liberal democratic politics alone. It needs a third element: morality, a concern for the welfare of others, an active commitment to justice and compassion, a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for all-of-us-together. It is about ‘Us’, not ‘Me’; about ‘We’, not ‘I’.
If we focus on the ‘I’ and lose the ‘We’, if we act of self-interest without a commitment to the common good, if we focus on self-esteem and lose our care for others, we will lose much else. (Jonathan Sacks, Morality 2020, p. 1).
In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, someone or something needs to speak for something wider then the self – for freedom, for sure, but also for fellowship and service. Here the Church shows it is ‘of England’ by continuing to do just that. Nearly half our churches ‘are running organised activities to tackle social isolation through programmes such as youth groups, parent-toddler groups or lunch clubs.’ Two third of our churches are involved in running foodbanks, the need for which is growing exponentially. As Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, has said: “social action is deeply embedded into the mission of the Church of England.”
Do you read any of this in the press, or see it on television or hear it on the radio? No, of course, not, but the Church is there all the same, doing the work which the Word Incarnate wants. Socialism? No, it is Christianity doing what it has done from the time of Christ. Getting on with building the kingdom, brick by brick, sometimes with precious little straw.