Post Budget

My last blog focused on the way in which politics has become dominated by a belief in money instead of people, from the perspective of Labour and the Unions.

Rather than writing a further post reflecting on how this is also – and even more so – the focus of Conservative policies, may I simply refer people to Fr Ed’s blog post of today following the Budget?

If Catholics everywhere took the Church’s social teaching seriously, and started engaging with politicians about it – and engaging in a lot of prayer! – we might just start to turn this thing round!

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Unite and Labour

I’m a member of the Unite union.  Recently I received an email from them, signed by Len McCluskey, saying:

Unitelogo“It’s important for me to hear the views of our members, including on our political direction.  As you may know Unite is affiliated to the Labour Party and we will be calling to let you know how you can become more involved in the Party”

Here’s my reply. 

You want to know the views of your members, including views on the political direction of Unite, and you’d like to let me know let you know how I can become more involved in the Labour Party.

You know what, Len? I’m not involved in the Labour party for a reason. I’m not involved in any party, as a matter of fact – though I was once – and in every case it’s for the same reason.

They don’t care about people, as people. They’ve sold out to the view of humanity as seen by a theoretical economist – they see people as units of producton and/or consumption. All that matters is economic growth, balancing the budgets, how many billions are spent on this or that.

Listen to the way words are used. It only takes a few examples.

Childcare doesn’t mean caring for children – it means paying money to have them cared for by someone else, so that the mother can be an economically productive unit again as quickly as possible after (inconveniently for the employer) taking a break to produce a child.

Education doesn’t mean educating the whole person – it’s about training a workforce; meeting arbitrary targets to make people fit the model an employer will want.

Work doesn’t mean the fulfillment of a basic human urge to create: it means a tick on the ’employment’ box, and for many people a state not far removed from slavery, since they haven’t much choice about their work, and they need every penny of their meagre wages to live, so they can’t exercise any real freedom to walk away. The idea of creative, fulfilling work which will support a family is a vanishing dream.

And what is produced, much of the time, is either in the fantasy world of invisible products, or is low-quality, immediately obsolescent stuff which will need replacing soon, to keep the money going round.

No, that’s not the sort of politics I want – and nor is it the sort of politics very many people want. We’re tired of the wordplay and the manipulation. We’re fed up with being financial playthings: consumers instead of citizens.

If you can turn the Labour Party into a party which re-develops a real care for human dignity; which protects human life from conception to natural death; which allows us to work, paid or unpaid, in creative and satisfying ways; which sees a real value in the natural family which is the true basis of society, and supports it without mealy-mouthed reservation; which can reflect and strengthen the social values of our British history, and which will refrain from selling our souls – well, then you’ll have a winning formula, and I’ll be in.

But right now, the Labour Party just doesn’t cut it. Yes, it’s got some good policies; good enough for me to have voted for it in May. ( I did consider the Greens, but there is some really nasty authoritarianism just under the surface there).  But as yet, Labour doesn’t really stand for true human dignity; it accepts far too much of the vacuous drift towards individualism, consumerism and materialism. It sees the true value of human life, love and society as an optional extra; mildly embarrasing and awkward aspects of the economic commodity called people.

If the Union’s direction is towards the current sort of Labour Party – still basically Blairite, impersonal, materialist, supporting killing the unborn and leaning towards killing the infirm –  then it’s the wrong direction.

If the Union’s direction is towards a genuine respect for human life and its innate dignity, for the value of work as the outpouring of human creativity, for the common good across all people, regardless of age, sex or economic output, recognising that people differ and have different needs, talents and roles in a truly healthy society, then it’s on the right lines.    I wish I could say the published policies and the campaigns Unite has supported gave me any indication that this direction was a reality.

Pressing the Point

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I see that “almost 500 priests in Britain have signed a letter urging those attending this year’s family synod to issue a “clear and firm proclamation” upholding Church teaching on marriage“.  Pleasingly, one of these priests is my own Parish Priest, and there are several other very recognisable and reputable names.

I also see that Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that “Priests should not conduct a debate about the October Family Synod through the press“.

He made this point in a press release.

Ho hum….

My bags are packed…

English: Totius Orbis Cogniti Universalis Desc...

English: Totius Orbis Cogniti Universalis Descriptio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

..and I’m ready to go.   Off tomorrow to Foreign Parts, and parts so foreign they block out a good deal of the Internet, so posting to WordPress is not going to be easy, if feasible at all.

This is the time to appreciate the Universalis app – all the readings and offices of the day on my tablet!  There are times not having a Real Book for this still seems somehow artificial – but then at one time, having a printed book instead of a hand-copied and illustrated Book of Hours probably felt equally odd.

Times change, but prayer remains the same.

Plash of Values

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions.

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A rabbi, a sheikh and a canon walk into an auditorium….

This evening saw the first Public Lecture organised by the Chaplaincy at Nottingham University, on the subject “Is there such a thing as British values – a religious perspective“.

The speakers were well qualified: Revd Canon Dr Nigel Rooms (Director of Ministry and Mission, Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham),  Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski (Senior Rabbi, University Jewish Chaplaincy) and Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra (Assistant General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain).

Three contributions, from three different faiths – and three engaging speakers, with different approaches; the Muslim who reflected on his experience as an immigrant, becoming English and British; the Jew, identifying the history of Judaism in developing values, and the centrality of the creation of mankind in the image of God as the basis of shared human vales, and the Christian wondering about the paleness of some British values – such as tolerance – alongside those of religion – such as love; and whether talk of values eliminated talk of virtues.  As I’ve said before, it is perhaps the role of the established Church to be the gentle critic of the nation.

Yet overall a remarkably common view: a gentleness but a strength; a sense of humanity – and a debate conducted amid the very British values under discussion.

It’s a pity the question the chairman clearly had up his sleeve in case questions dried up was not needed (he revealed it at the end): is there now a countering set of secular values at work in Britain?  For it is tempting, if the three Abrahamic religions can show such comforting unanimity, to ask whether these are not in fact universal values, rather than anything specifically British, or specifically religious.  Indeed, it is one of the frequent assertions of atheists: that there is no need for God in morality – that these things can all be simply human.

Coincidentally, I  had also noticed today an article in The Conversation: “Bankers have a moral compass, it just may not look like yours“.  In the absence of a core set of values and morals, people do in fact make up their own.  Our values are perhaps not as common as we may have thought…

Agnus

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The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, (1590-16...

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, (1590-1610; Oil on canvas; Uffizi). Abraham is holding the sacrificial knife. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first reading at Mass yesterday, from Genesis 22, was missing bits, as is often the case; and quite important bits.  It does slightly annoy me when the lectionary edits Scripture!

First, the section about the journey to the mountain is omitted.  But it contains this: as Abraham and Isaac leave the entourage and start towards the mountain, Isaac notices something missing.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.”

And again, verse 14 is missing:

So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

And at Mass we come to the mountain of the Lord, where the Lord will provide; and provide the lamb of sacrifice; his only Son, as Abraham was prepared to provide his only son.

Abraham was surrounded by the tribes with their gods; and desert gods tended to be vengeful, demanding sacrifice – even human sacrifice.  How different God turned out to be; not only leaving Isaac unharmed, but providing an alternative; not a vengeful god, but the God of mercy, love and self-giving.

And the rest of the story of the people of Abraham is the story of us ever so gradually coming to realise that.

Disconnections

So it was a good idea to try to post daily during Lent, and I’m not giving up – but..

This weekend I’m away, with little chance of any consistent Internet connection.   And at the end of next week, I’m going to a country which blocks access to WordPress, and will be there for a week.

So the ‘every day’ thing might need to become a little intermittent, unfortunately.  We’ll see what can be managed round all this.

 

Pondering what is right

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The Creation of Adam

Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord,
a spirit of always pondering on what is right
and of hastening to carry it out,
and, since without you we cannot exist,
may we be enabled to live according to your will.

Today’s collect seems to say so much.

Always pondering what is right; the contemplation of justice and reason.   The growing love of God.

Hastening to carry it out; not just knowing, but doing; and doing with alacrity, not with reluctance.

since without you we cannot exist: knowing, too, the reason for our existence, and  the sovereignty of God over our very being.

to live according to your will: which is surely the only reasonable response to that knowledge.

Simple, yet full of meaning; and profound.  And redolent of the Christian life; and of the life of Mary.

Proclaim15

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Proclaim15 logo

Proclaim15 is  “a significant evangelisation initiative… being launched to support, inspire and encourage new expressions of parish evangelisation. A project of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales“.

We had the first session in our parish this evening – quite well attended (certainly more than I’d expected).  And there was plenty of discussion to fill the hour and a half allocated to the meeting; and some ideas, and some momentum.

I was caught by the story of Danny, given in the discussion starter leaflet.  He describes going to Church weekly, despite it being a bit of a chore, until one day everything changed; he experienced the love of God; like someone had switched a light on.

What struck me about the story, though, was not so much the sudden change, the experience of God.  I think all those at the meeting had had that experience, in one form or another.   No, what struck me was the years of attending Church, in a vague hope, and as a chore.  Perhaps that was a greater faith than mine.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Rights of Election

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UK general election 2010

UK general election 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last week has have seen two documents issued about voting choices in the forthcoming May 2015 General Election in the UK.   The Bishops of the Church of England launched their document, “Who is my Neighbour” last Tuesday; today it’s been the turn of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, who have called theirs simply “The General Election 2015“.

They are both worth reading; they take different approaches, but they cover much common ground.   There are issues covered in one but not the other, yes; but that is not so much a sign of disagreement as of difference.  The difference of approach is, however, most marked in exactly whom they are addressing, and how they speak.

The Catholic Bishops address “All Catholics in England and Wales” – and they are addressed very much as voters.  Of course, that is the status of most of us; so that does make some sense.  The Church of England, on the other hand, whilst still apparently addressing an internal audience (“the People and Parishes of the Church of England”), is in fact addressing the political establishment as much as any voter.  It calls, not just for engagement with the electoral process and voting, but for changes to the way we do politics.

I’ll look at another time at more specifics of these documents: but my initial thoughts were in the direction not just of the issues the documents raise, but of the picture they project of the Churches in England and their respective people, and it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about this.

First: the Church of England remains clearly of the opinion that, as the Established church, it has the right to address the political establishment.  That is true, and if it ever cease to be true, the nature of the country will have changed, and almost certainly not for the better.

The Catholic Bishops make no such implicit claim.   Their document is addressed to voters; it does not apparently dare to address the politicians directly.  And that is a shame; for in so many ways – numbers of Sunday worshippers, global reach, history – the Catholic Church also has a right to seek a voice in the political square.

Second: the tone of the two documents differs substantially. The Church of England talks of concepts, priorities, needs and directions; it asks for a reform of the very basis of UK politics; it states issues upon which the Church takes a stand and why.  The Catholic Church provides a far shorter, much more simplistic, much more issues-and-tickbox approach; and sadly an approach which implies little confidence in its people to understand and apply concepts and principles in reaching their voting decision.

Unfortunately, Catholicism in the UK is hampered by a deep-seated sense of inferiority, of being the stranger in the gates; the immigrant rather than the citizen; the uneducated rather than the capable.  The reasons for that are historic, but it is surely time to overcome them, and to lay claim to the wealth of Catholic thought, social teaching and reasoned clarity on so many issues.  This is not a case of turning one’s back on the immigrant, the uneducated and the stranger, but of recognising that we have a responsibility to use the influence we have to help them in the most effective possible way.

The term ‘Catholic social teaching’ appears in only one of the documents.  Ironically, and perhaps symptomatically of this difference in approach and confidence, it’s not the Catholic one.