Wednesday 19 October 2011

Understanding the times

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a growing discontent concerning the gap between rich and poor. The average person’s pay decreases in real terms. Hard working people are struggling to make ends meet. Thousands – proabably millions – have to live beyond their means to survive. The super-rich get super-richer. Government debt sets the example for others on debt. The banks aren’t likely to change overnight, because they thrive on the debt of the people. The flood of debt gets deeper for many in the middle classes. But the spring tide is coming in and we can’t keep making our stilts longer forever.

Knowing what to do about it is difficult. There are no easy answers. Nobody is prepared to write off the debts of millions of people. Changing the heart of a society is called revolution, and nobody really has a viable alternative at the moment: The 1980s showed us that Socialism doesn’t work (it breeds selfishness); the new news is that capitalism isn’t doing too well either (it promotes greed).

There are snippets of sunlight. Take a hard sober look at Scandinavian countries, which have the lowest disparity between rich and poor (aided by their tax system as well as their culture), and they also have lower rates of clinical depression than most other developed nations (according to Dr James’ book “Affluenza”). What is it about their cultures that works? Norwegian companies tend to be quite family friendly, and they work. Denmark has given us Lego. “Sweden-upon-Thames” (Ikea) is highly succesful.

But this isn’t the full solution. It is not the nature of our political system, or the policy of the banks, that needs to change. A deeper, more profound change needs to happen. The business opportunities available in the free market are a good thing. But it is how we approach them that requires careful consideration. The problem isn’t just in the boardroom or Whitehall. It needs to be addressed at all levels: government, CEO, middle management, the workface, schools, families, social groups, you and me.  Selfish ambition is the work ethic of our society, which has created the situation we are in today. Selfish ambition has to change to an ethic that favours society over self. Not socialism – for we have seen that socialism promotes selfish greed – but a return to respect for our peers, looking out for those around us, honouring our parents. You can be a capitalist and still have a heart for those around you.

History shows us that there is a power for change that can transform our society. It is the power on which our nation’s greatness was built, the power that drove the Great age of Queen Victoria. The solution won’t be easy, and it might not be popular. And it won’t work if those preaching it aren’t prepared to sign up to it. The problem is that, basically, we are all selfish, and without superhuman help we can’t get away from that fact. The solution, fortunately, is that superhuman - divine - help has come. God dealt with the problem of our selfishness. The answer, curiously, is in the book of the land on which the London protest camp is situated, and the book which this year celebrates 400 years of publication in the language of the people of London – namely the Book that tells the story of Jesus. Jesus’ controversial, counter-cultural message is simple: “I have come to give you life in all its fullness, Just let me be the boss of your life. Oh and by the way, I love you to bits”.

The message is contained in our traditional teaching. Columnists after the summer riots called for a return to the stuff they teach in Sunday School. The ten commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’s sermon on the mount. Pray every day. Do good deeds. Give 10% of your income away. If there is any hope for our society, you have to start to transform yourself first, and lead by example. You don’t have to read King James English, and you don’t need to wait for someone else to teach you this stuff: translations in modern English (e.g. “New Living Translation”, “The Message”) are available in bookshops and to download onto your phone.

No government can legislate the depth of change that we need in our country. It has to start with the individual – and that means me and you. We need to return to those traditional values on which Great Victorian Britain was built; values that have a historical track-record of building a strong society. It won’t be easy, it might not be popular, but the solution is within the hands of the people. If the 99% aren’t prepared to start making this change, are the 1% really going to follow?

Does it work? The history of Britain, the history of the USA, the history of other nations shows that it does. When the people turned to God, their nation prospered. When they turned away from God, it failed. No matter how uncomfortable we are with the concept of God, this is evidence that cannot be ignored, especially at a crucial time like today.