Politics & Community
5 Mar 2013
We live in troubled times. Worldwide poverty, environmental degradation, widespread terrorism: the problems are massive and potentially catastrophic. As we face these global crises, is it possible to react with hope rather than despair? Is disaster inevitable and beyond our control, or Is it possible to get under the surface of these issues and begin to see new possibilities for our world?
Hope in troubles times (2007) was written by Dutch professor and former MP Bob Goudzwaard, Canada-based writer and social worker Mark Vander Vennen, and US-based professor David Van Heemst. The bulk of the content comes from Goudzwaard, building on his 1984 book, Idols of our time. The main text (205 pages) is accessible to the general reader, while the notes (35 pages) make it suitable for academic readers too.
The authors' contention in the book is that we find ourselves in the grip of powerful modern ideologies. These ideologies first latch onto a worthy goal (such as prosperity in the face of extreme injustice and poverty, or security in the face of potential attack), then propose a means by which that goal can be reached (such as the operation of free markets, or weapons technology), and then seek to reshape the whole of reality in the service of those means. The means then function something like a traditional idol: we create something, we entrust ourselves to it, and then we find it seems to have a life of its own, demanding greater and greater sacrifices while the good things that the idol promised become more and more elusive.
[V]enerating a certain force or type of knowledge as something that by definition brings prosperity or security implies that in specific circumstances we may be prepared to place our lives under the control of such a power, a power that would not exist without our efforts. At the heart of that transfer of control may be a need for certainty, an urge to feel as though there is a power greater than us that can regulate our lives. It may be born out of fear that we have little or no control over our world. And for some today, following the dictates of the market, technology, or the state may offer that sense of security. But then the ultimate irony, the role reversal characteristic of idol worship, has been achieved: what we ourselves have created ends up controlling us. The instruments must be obeyed, even if they require sacrifices—such as damage to health, deterioration of the environment, the loss of privacy, the threat of unemployment, or the perilous undermining of peace. In principle, every ideology is able to summon its own tools or instruments, either forces or institutions, whose exacting demands elude scrutiny and critique (p.43-44).
Three contemporary ideologies dominate the book:
- Identity. When a group of people have their identity threatened, an ideology can emerge in which the preservation of their identity becomes an absolute end. Violence is employed to secure that end, but violence can become an idol, and there is soon no limit to the amount of violence that can be legitimately used in service of the goal. Examples of this ideology in practice are apartheid, Islamism, terrorism, most conflicts in the world today, and the Israel/Palestine conflict, in which "both sides adhere to a very similar ideology: the preservation of a people's identity and their threatened land" (p.79).
- Material progress and prosperity. In the face of widespread hardship, the operation of the free market is trusted as the saviour from poverty. This can become an idol.
[W]e live, to a greater or lesser extent, in the grip of a powerful, largely Western ideology: the ideology of a restless commitment to unlimited material progress and prosperity (p.93).
Obsessed by an end (rising material prosperity), we have off-loaded our responsibility and allowed various forces, means, and powers in our society (such as untrammeled economic expansion) to become gods who dictate their wills to us (p.28).
In addition, a remarkable sense of fear radiates from these [financial] markets, fear of what they might do to us. The predominant question today is, How do we behave as a corporation or as a nation so that our actions become acceptable in the eyes of the financial markets? The question in and of itself suggests that money and financial markets have taken on a life of their own: a feature of idolatry (p.97).
A remarkable table (p.158) shows how a blind adherence to this "market fundamentalism" has led to a host of undesirable outcomes, as a consequence of an obsession with those sectors of the economy that can increase in efficiency at the expense of those sectors of the economy that are "characterized by virtually fixed levels of productivity" (p.90). So the operation of the free market mechanism has led directly to "unemployment, environmental problems, stress … Increasing need for care; increasing inability to pay … Loss of home markets, increase of poverty" (p.158), and yet the only solution that seems available (particularly to the Coalition government in the UK!) is to sacrifice more and more to the free markets, in the hope that they will give us that prosperity that we long for.
- Guaranteed security. Following the Second World War, it was clear that there was a great need for security. Military power was trusted as the "idol" to give us security. And—particularly in the USA—this has been taken to extremes. The only answer to threats to security is to accumulate more and more weapons. The weapons end up controlling us.
The means take control. The strategy no longer holds the weapons in check. Instead, the progress of weapons technology determines the strategy (p.110).
Even when the accumulation of weapons ends up destroying the very freedom it was supposed to deliver, the answer is still to accumulate more weapons.
Absolute freedom requires absolute force to accomplish, secure, and guarantee that freedom. The end (freedom at all costs) justifies every possible means, including unprecedented force (such as unlimited military power, a profound curtailment of civil liberties, and the violation of international law). The requirements of that force gradually diminish, curtail, and ultimately destroy freedom (p.120).
The outcome is truly hideous.
"The subject matter of this book is hardly uplifting" (p.169), particularly when these ideologies are exacerbated by globalisation, or when they are seen to reinforce each other (as in the global arms trade) or to collide with each other (as in 9/11). What room is there for hope?
Perhaps the greatest opening for hope is simply the unmasking of the idols of our age. They are not autonomous powers beyond our control. We have put them in place, and it is within our power to dethrone them.
[T]he so-called end of our history is by no means in inescapable fate. Today's general feeling of insecurity is actually not a sign that the powers now dominating us are beyond our control. On the contrary, it is a sign that we have abdicated our human responsibility (p.170).
Drawing richly on biblical insights, the authors then sketch out some steps that could be taken towards "widening ways of economy, justice, and peace". They are optimistic that by "turning away from today's steps of despair" (p.178) and by taking even small steps towards hope, it would be possible to counter "today's ominous, devastating spirals of terror" (p.157) and to "launch an upward-moving spiral, one that lifts us from the depths that threaten to engulf us" (p.188).
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in his foreword to the book,
If apartheid can fall in South Africa, then ideologies of identity, materialism, and security can end too. God is dreaming of a world where all people, black and white, rich and poor, clever and not so clever, are drawn into one family, a world where all of us participate as agents in God's inexorable transfiguration of evil into good. How can we lose? (p.11)
22 Feb 2013
The Green Party is celebrating its 40th birthday this weekend in Nottingham at its party conference. I'll be there (from tomorrow). It will be my first ever political party conference, so I'm quite excited. Here are some of the things I'm hoping to get out of it…
- I've been in the Green Party for almost 18 months, but I still don't feel I really know how the party actually works. I'm looking forward to learning more about that.
- I might even get to vote on things that might even make a difference to what the Green Party does in the future!
- I'm looking forward to meeting other people in the Green Party and learning what makes them tick. I'm sure there will be plenty of fascinating people there.
- I'd like to learn more about how the party sits with respect to Christian faith. On the one hand, green politics seems to fit very comfortably with Christian faith, not least in its care for the world in which we live (and here and here and here). But, on the other hand, the Green Party seems quite anti-Christian on various issues (such as abortion [and here] and a view of human identity that has nothing to do with biological gender, hence the party's strong views on same-sex marriage). It's probably not possible to answer the question of what the party as a whole thinks of Christian faith. But I'd at least like to hear a few individual perspectives, to see if there is anything approaching a general consensus, and to figure out which issues are influenced by this. I'd certainly love to see the party making a more conscious effort to appeal to people of various faiths.
- I'm sure there will be quite a buzz at the conference, and I'd like to pick up some enthusiasm!
- Finally, I've given in to pressure from the surrounding culture, and I now have a (second-hand) "smart" phone. So I'm looking forward to feeling cool by tweeting from my gadget during the conference sessions and adding a few pence (and only a few pence!) to my mobile bill with The Phone Co-op.
Maybe see you there!
6 Feb 2013
Would you like a punch?
"Punch" is an example of a word with more than one meaning. It might look like this in a dictionary—and you'd better be clear which I mean before you answer!
punch n. 1 a hit or a strike with a fist. 2 a device for punching holes. 3 a drink, generally warm, fruity and alcoholic.
"Marriage" is also a word with more than one meaning. That has been the case for a long time, but until recently it hasn't been important to distinguish between the two. Here's how it might look in a dictionary:
marriage n. 1 the voluntary sexual and public social union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. 2 an honour bestowed by the state on certain relationships.
Until recently, it has been possible to use these definitions more or less interchangeably. The state would bestow the honour of "marriage" only on relationships that were "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others", and you would never meet anyone who seriously expected to be treated as married who hadn't received the honour of "marriage" from the state. "Marriage" as a union and "marriage" as an honour given by the state overlapped perfectly.
In fact, so close have the two definitions been, that probably most people think of "marriage" as having but one definition: an honour bestowed by the state on certain relationships.
But now those who hold to this double definition of marriage need to be careful to make it clear which definition they are using.
- When a church says they are running a marriage preparation course, they need to be clear that they are preparing couples to enter a union of one man and one woman (definition 1). They are not preparing the couples to receive an honour from the state (definition 2).
- When a church has a marriage service, they need to make it clear whether they are recognising the union of a man and a woman, or whether they are acting as agents of the state in bestowing on two people the state honour of being "married". Or, indeed, if they are doing both, and if so, how the two are connected. (It might be better to make a clear distinction between the two by having two separate ceremonies, as Jonathan Chaplin suggests.)
- When a Christian school-teacher is required to promote the value of marriage, he or she needs to be clear that they are required to promote the value of the legal institution of "marriage" (definition 2): the legal benefits that accompany the honour of being "married" in the eyes of the state. They are not (it seems) required to promote a particular kind of relationship, but merely the benefits of having that relationship legally recognised.
- When we use language such as "redefining marriage" or "introducing same-sex marriage", we need to be very, very clear that we are talking about marriage as an honour bestowed by the state (definition 2).
I'm convinced that most of the kerfuffle about the issue of same-sex marriage is caused by failure to distinguish between these two meanings of the word "marriage". Once we start being clear about the distinction, it might be possible to approach the issue with some sense of perspective.
We might even be able to stop (metaphorically) punching each other, and manage to "live at peace with everyone" (Rom 12:18, NIV).
31 Dec 2012
The second half of Derek Wall's The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics (part 1) deals with the policies and practice of green politics.
Chapter 4 looks at green approaches to economics. Greens reject the dominant obsession with economic growth: "Greens believe that ever-increasing consumption is neither possible nor desirable" (p.67). This doesn't mean they are opposed to prosperity. As an obvious example, "If goods last longer, because we don't need to replace them as often, it certainly reduces economic growth but it does not affect our prosperity" (p.73). Noteworthy in green economics is the emphasis on the commons and on social sharing. This is an alternative view of ownership to the traditional views of private ownership or state ownership. Examples include co-operatives, mutuals, car sharing schemes and open-source software.
Chapter 5 gives a sweeping survey of green policies for all sorts of areas: energy, transport, waste, agriculture, animal welfare, social justice, housing, healthcare, democracy, warfare and development. A helpful taster of how green political principles work themselves out in particular contexts.
Chapter 6 looks at the practice of green politics: how, practically, can green policies be implemented? Various approaches are needed, none of which is the answer in isolation, but all of which are valuable. So, in addition to traditional political activity, the green movement is also driven by direct action, personal lifestyle changes, green approaches to business, green trade unions and a complete transformation of our beliefs and values. On this last point, "The deep politics behind both our voting decisions and the assumptions of planners and policy-makers is based on fundamental and often unconscious beliefs about our relationship to the rest of nature and to each other" (p.120).
In other words, the "green" vision for society is dependent on a deep change of heart.
29 Dec 2012
Halfway through reading the second of my Christmas present books, The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics, by Derek Wall (2010).
Derek Wall is an economics lecturer and writer (and blogger and tweeter) and a prominent member of the Green Party. His book gives a brief introduction to green politics. So far it's packed with detail but still very readable.
Chapter 1 looks at the history of the global green political movement. Wall identifies four pillars of green politics:
- Ecology: "Green politics is first and foremost the politics of ecology; a campaign to preserve the planet from corporate greed, so we can act as good ancestors to future generations" (p.12).
- Social justice: "Greens argue that environmental protection should not come at the expense of the poor or lead to inequality" (p.13).
- Grassroots democracy: distinguishing "greens from many traditional socialists who have often promoted centralized governance of societies" (p.13).
- Nonviolence: "Green parties evolved partly out of the peace movement and oppose war, the arms trade and solutions based on violence" (p.13).
All of which seem eminently sensible to me.
Chapter 2 looks at the ecological crisis. Safe to say there is one. Green politics could exist without an ecological crisis, but the crisis has led to huge growth in the movement in recent decades.
Chapter 3 looks at the philosophy of the green party. Summarising it in my own words...
- Green politics is based on the belief that everything matters. All people matter, and they all have valuable contributions to make to the ordering of society. Non-human life matters. The world matters. The ecosystem matters. "While other political ideologies have generally viewed nature as a quarry—something to be dug up and exploited for short-term gain—greens put the environment at the center of their concerns" (p.47).
- Green politics is based on the belief that everything is interconnected. Green politics is thus holistic politics. It stands in opposition to all kinds of reductionism. Human society and the non-human world are deeply interconnected.
These principles resonate very strongly with me as a Christian. All things have been made by God, all things hold together in Christ, and all things are being renewed by the Spirit. Everything matters, and everything is interconnected. (Note that I'm standing very consciously against a spiritual reductionism, which sees human souls as being the only things that really matter in the present created order.)
The rest of the book looks at some more practical implications of all this... Stay tuned!
14 Dec 2012
This guy's a legend. And this film is awesome. Seriously! The Reverend Billy is on a mission to save Christmas from ... the shopocalypse!
Pack the malls with folks with money
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Tis the season to be dummies
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Squeeze our fat in Gap apparel
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Buy some junk for cousin Carol
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Joy to the world! In the form of goods!
Consume! Consume! Consume!
Bright plastic this and thats!??
For screaming little brats!
Take the SUV to the mall!
Take the SUV to the mall!
And buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy it all.
What would Jesus buy? Featuring the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir!
26 Oct 2012
Natalie Bennett has been the leader of the Green Party for around 52 days. She's travelling around a lot, and visited York on Wednesday. I managed to catch her that evening, when she gave a talk at York University.
I'm not planning on writing a summary of the talk. But, as an alternative, here's a short video about Natalie Bennett...
12 Oct 2012
I've never been a particularly frequent flyer, but I've been trying in recent years to keep my air miles low, mainly for environmental reasons. So, with the help of the magnificent Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com), I'm just back from Madrid by train. It was a journey of around 1300 miles, in three legs: Madrid to Paris (overnight 1812-0903 CET), Paris to London (1107 CET-1230 BST), then London to York (1308-1531). Total cost was around £230, but it would have been closer to £150 if I'd booked the Madrid-to-Paris leg a bit earlier. Meticulous details for prospective travellers are on seat61.com.
So what was it like? The first 90 minutes or so after leaving Madrid were truly stunning. Madrid is famously the highest capital city in Europe (if we forget about Andorra la Vella, which isn't hard), and the train passes through the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range just north of Madrid. After that, it got a bit dark, the landscape became less interesting, and the train picked up speed. I have to admit it wasn't the best night's sleep. Not because I was in a four-bed cabin, but because (as the chap on the bed opposite described it) the train ride was at times like being on a roller coaster or in a tumble drier. It wasn't that bad, honestly, but I don't sleep particularly well on trains.
The rest of the journey was absolutely fine and uneventful, and even gave me opportunity to get some work done.
2 Aug 2012
The Green Party—of which I am a member—has a clear commitment to equality. It's a commitment that resonates with me as a Christian. But what does "equality" mean in practice?
The "hot potato" of the year is the issue of same-sex marriage: whether, in the interests of equality, the definition of the word "marriage" in law should be changed so that it can include couples of the same sex. Does the Green Party's commitment to equality entail a commitment to same-sex marriage?
This question is being put to the test at the moment in Brighton and Hove. My good friend Christina Summers is a Green Party councillor there. Now, city councillors usually concern themselves with the administration of the city council. But sometimes, apparently, they decide to vote on things that are completely unrelated to this. So it was on 19 July that the councillors voted on whether they supported the Government's proposals on same-sex marriage. To be honest, I can only think that the councillors decided to vote on this issue in order to make themselves look good (but do correct me in the comments if there was a real reason). But it seems to have backfired for the Green Party, as Cllr Summers voted against the motion as a matter of conscience, much to the disappointment of many within the party. Has she shown that she is opposed to a core principle of the Green Party? Should she be expelled from the Party? In fact, is traditional Christian belief fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of the Green Party?
I think not.
As I've just commented elsewhere, I think we need to distinguish between sameness and equality.
It is possible to believe that men can be distinguished from women, but that they should be treated equally, except in those few cases where the difference between a man and a woman is a relevant difference. It is not a denial of equality to use the word “man” to refer only to half of the human race.
It is possible to believe that heterosexual attraction is distinguishable from homosexual attraction, but still to believe that those who have the former should be treated the same as those who have the latter (or both), except in those few cases where the distinction is relevant. It is not a denial of equality to use the word “gay” to refer only to those who experience homosexual attraction.
It is possible to believe that an opposite-sex, enduring, exclusive, sexual partnership is distinguishable from a same-sex, enduring, exclusive, sexual partnership, and to use words to make that distinction. It is not a denial of equality to say that the word used historically for one of those kinds of partnership (“marriage”) should continue to be used in the way it has commonly been used.
What may be a denial of equality is if the law treats people differently in a way that is not justified by the difference in reality. It is contrary to equality if a man is denied an office job simply because he is a man. Or if a life-partner is denied access to her partner’s hospital bed simply because her life-partner happens to be a woman. Or the argument could be made (and I would tentatively make it myself) that whether an enduring (etc.) partnership is between people of the same sex or between people of opposite sex is not a relevant distinction for anything that the state needs to concern itself about, and therefore that the word “marriage” could safely be removed from law altogether. (I commend this proposal for the consideration of a party that isn’t afraid to be radical!)
But simply using a word like “man”, “gay” or “marriage” to refer to something and not to something else is not a contradiction of equality. It’s just using words in the way words are used—to make distinctions between things.
According to its Philosophical Basis, "The Green Party values the diversity of ways in which people relate to each other and the natural environment." But does it really value this diversity if it insists that two different things should not only be treated equally, but also demands that they should be declared to be the same?
We need to understand that it is possible to stand for equality without denying the existence of real diversity.
31 Jul 2012
I've been watching some, erm, stuff from The Story of Stuff Project. It's about our patterns of production and consumption, and how they are all messed up. Here's the original movie from 2007, The Story of Stuff, which claims to be "one of the most watched environmental-themed online movies of all time". You can help that to remain the case by watching it now...
30 Jul 2012
"Consumerism was a way of giving people the illusion of control, while allowing a responsible elite to continue managing society."
Part 4 of Adam Curtis's documentary, The Century of The Self (part 1), chronicles how this consumerist mentality moved beyond the world of consumer goods to engulf democracy itself, first through the free-market politics of Reagan and Thatcher, and then through the focus-group politics of Clinton and Blair.
It makes a disturbing amount of sense. Voters now are individuals who simply follow their instinctive desires, and the role of politicians is to give us policies that enable those desires to be satisfied.
The documentary dates from 2002. I wonder what Curtis would make of the last ten years?
6 Jul 2012
Why did women start to smoke? Why did people start buying lots of stuff they didn't actually need? What led to the Wall Street Crash? What led to Hitler's anti-democratic ideas? Where did the idea come from that capitalism and democracy cannot be separated?
A major part of the answer to those questions is: Edward Bernays (1891-1995).
He realised that people's inner desires could be used to make them do pretty much anything, if they were led to believe that performing that action might satisfy those longings. So, by a powerful PR stunt, smoking became seen as a "torch of freedom" for women, for example. These ideas about people's inner longings came from his uncle, Sigmund Freud (whom Bernays made famous).
26 Jun 2012
The basic message: globalisation bad, localisation good.
The first part of that was powerful and convincing: global consumerism—in which the global corporations are king, and in which endless growth in GDP is the goal—is really messing everything up.
The second part of the message was equally explicit but much less convincing: that if we embrace localisation, we will enter a state of perpetual bliss. That's just madness. Now, I'm definitely very much in favour of localisation, but the problem with the human condition is much, much deeper, and changing our patterns of production and consumption won't resolve it. So let's pursue localisation, and embrace it for the good thing it is, but let's not make an idol of it.
Anyway, here's the trailer:
23 Apr 2012
I'm glad that there is such a thing as a Christian response to climate change, but it needs to be much greater in order to help the huge number of people who are already suffering the consequences of our past and current actions.
5 Mar 2012
If you've signed the Coalition For Marriage (C4M) petition, or the Coalition For Equal Marriage (C4EM) petition, or indeed both or neither (and I think that includes at least one if not both of you), then you may well be interested in the Keep politics out of marriage page on Facebook. "Why?" you may be wondering. Here's the description:
Same-sex marriage: is there a way forward?
Two campaigns have recently been launched in the UK, the "Coalition For Marriage" (http://c4m.org.uk/) and the "Coalition For Equal Marriage" (http://c4em.org.uk/), both arguing that the legal definition of "marriage" should not conflict with their deeply held beliefs about marriage.
Is there a way forward, which would allow people to live out their sincere beliefs, and not find themselves at odds with the state or fighting with each other?
We think there is.
Simply this: remove the word "marriage" from UK law altogether.
Couples would be able to register a civil union, and it would be up to individuals whether or not they want to refer to that union as "marriage". Politicians and state officials would no longer have the power to override your convictions and tell you who is, or is not, married.
Keep politics out of marriage: get "marriage" out of the hands of politicians.
6 Jan 2012
Ideas can stick around for a long time.
I've been watching some lectures on political philosophy: Justice, with Michael Sandel. The episode below is about John Locke (1632-1704), and his very influential idea of people's inalienable rights to life, liberty and (bizarrely) property, ideas which were (coincidentally) formulated around the time that Europeans were colonising North America, and claiming its land as their own.
It seems that these quirky ideas about private property are still in vogue today, particularly among some (not all) who take the label "libertarian", and that there is a connection between holding these views and denying climate change. At least, that's what George Monbiot and Matt Bruenig say.
Conclusion: philosophy really matters.
28 Dec 2011
In case you hadn't noticed, our economy is in a bit of a pickle. And our economy is also built around charging interest on loans of money.
The Old Testament included a ban on lending at interest. Instead, a person's capital could be used by others as part of a profit-sharing agreement, or through a rental or hire agreement.
Way back in 1993, economist Paul Mills published a paper on this biblical prohibition of interest. The paper focuses on the bad consequences of an economy based on lending money at interest, as follows:
- It is unjust and destabilising. Unjust, because the lender gets no reward for lending to a successful business and (generally) suffers no harm from lending to an unsuccessful business. And destabilising, because lending at interest encourages further borrowing and investment during a growth period and places high burdens (causing bankruptcies) when profits are low.
- It encourages the allocation of finance to the safest borrowers (e.g., large firms and wealthy individuals) rather than to the most productive borrowers. This is a consequence of the first point.
- It encourages financial speculation in assets and property. "When the price of an asset in relatively fixed supply begins to rise, buyers borrow to purchase more of it," and I think we know what happens next.
- It leads to an inherently unstable banking system. Banks can guarantee the savings they hold only through the possibility of government bailouts.
- It encourages a "short-termist" investment strategy. "[T]he pervasive influence of interest tends to bias business investment towards quick-return, short-term projects even though longer-term, more risky ones may offer greater benefits in the long run."
- It concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. "Interest automatically acts to transfer wealth from net borrowers to net lenders. Not surprisingly, the former tend to be the less well-off and the latter tend to be the richer members of society."
- It leads to a rapid flow of financial capital across regions and countries.
The question now is: how can ordinary members of society support a shift away from an interest-based (and debt-based) economy? Probably there are some answers out there...
4 Oct 2011
A moment's thought may have led you to think that speaking of the markets doing this or that is just shorthand for speaking of people choosing to buy or sell things. So "a downturn in the markets" or "market collapse" would mean that people are choosing to act in ways that have direct and often predictable consequences for other people.
But no! If you thought that, you were thoroughly mistaken. The markets (rather, the Markets) are self-governing and inflict themselves on us in often capricious ways. And lo, we have sinned against the Markets and must repent.
So here I offer a prayer of confession that we can recite to the Markets.*
Almighty and most merciful Markets,
We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sources of woollen garments,
We have followed too little the devices and desires of our own hearts,
We have offended against thy materialist laws,
We have left unborrowed those things which we ought to have borrowed,
And we have bought only those things which we needed to buy,
And there is no debt in us;
But thou, O Sovereign, have mercy upon us, miserable consumers;
Spare thou them, O Gold, which confess their defaults,
Restore thou them that are penniless,
According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Henry, our Ford:
And grow, O most merciful Markets, for our sake,
That we may hereafter live a greedy, irresponsible and profligate life,
To the increase of our eternal prosperity.
14 Sep 2011
As part of a very gradual process of repentance, I've decided to cut down on how much meat I eat. The Guardian had an article a few days ago asking Is it time we all gave up meat? and this contained a link to a document on reducing meat consumption from Compassion in world farming. But, in brief, I think we in the West ought to cut down significantly on meat consumption for these reasons:
- High meat consumption is bad news for the world's poor. People in developing countries are starving to death while their fields are being used to grow food for our livestock. Considering the amount of protein for human consumption per acre of farmland, it is a remarkably inefficient use of land first to grow food for animals, and then to eat the animals. If we didn't need so much land in developing countries to feed our cows, the people there might be able to use it to grow food for themselves.
- High meat consumption requires unnaturally cruel farming of animals. I don't want to get too sentimental or soppy about this, but if I had any animals I would never want them to be treated the way they are treated in factory farming. So I don't want my money to be used to pay other people to treat animals in that way either.
- Cows smell. And this contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
To that could be added the fact that we don't need to eat meat at all in order to have a nutritious diet, that too much meat is not good for you, and that eating less meat saves money.
13 Sep 2011
Yesterday I joined the Green Party. I said a bit about my journey from political indifference to to political ... difference (?). Today I want to say a bit more about why I chose the Green Party.
There are Christians in all the major parties (see the resources at SUSA). I see this as a good thing, and I can see many positive features in the other parties. But for me, the core values of the Green Party resonated particularly strongly with my Christian beliefs, as I'll show below.
But first, here are a couple of other Christians who explain their own involvement in the Green Party:
- Stephen Gray has a post on why he joined the Green Party. It's a very good post so go and read it now. Welcome back.
- Andrew Basden describes his own spiritual journey into Green things, and has written plenty about the topic.
In what remains, I'll quote the core values of the Green Party in full, interspersed with my comments.
Our core values
Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics guided by these core principles:
1. Humankind depends on the diversity of the natural world for its existence. We do not believe that other species are expendable.
Absolutely. But Christianity takes this even further: part of the purpose of humanity is to care for the natural world.
2. The Earth's physical resources are finite. We threaten our future if we try to live beyond those means, so we must build a sustainable society that guarantees our long-term future.
3. Every person, in this and future generations, should be entitled to basic material security as of right.
4. Our actions should take account of the well-being of other nations, other species, and future generations. We should not pursue our well-being to the detriment of theirs.
These chime very strongly with the central Christian value of love for one's neighbour. And this is something that is not limited to the people living next door: my actions have direct effects on the other side of the world, and for generations to come.
My only quibble with point 4 is that it reads as though we should not pursue our well-being to the detriment of the well-being of other species, which could lead to some extreme interpretations (it might well be detrimental to the well-being of the ant species if we destroy one of their nests to improve access to a hospital, for example).
5. A healthy society is based on voluntary co-operation between empowered individuals in a democratic society, free from discrimination whether based on race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice.
This point sounds very nice, but it's difficult to know exactly what it is saying. I would say that democracy is my preferred means for a state's politicians to be selected, that it is nice when people get on with each other, and that the law should ensure that—except when it is directly justifiable—people are not treated detrimentally because of any characteristic (or prejudice!) they may possess.
6. We emphasise democratic participation and accountability by ensuring that decisions are taken at the closest practical level to those affected by them.
Believing in the importance of meaningful relationships (flowing ultimately from the relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), I very much agree with this.
7. We look for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of minorities and future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements.
Seeing mass-armament as one of the greatest evils on the planet (and the pernicious arms trade at the heart of that), I'm in strong agreement with this.
8. The success of a society cannot be measured by narrow economic indicators, but should take account of factors affecting the quality of life for all people: personal freedom, social equity, health, happiness and human fulfilment.
As above, on relationships.
9. Electoral politics is not the only way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods to help effect change, providing those methods do not conflict with our other core principles.
This is a very important point. I see a political party as an engine for change in society, focusing on, but not limited to, the work of elected politicians. The state is but one part of society, and there are many, many things that do not fall within the remit of the state. However, a political party can have a coherent vision for society, encompassing what the state should do (in terms of making laws and enforcing justice) and what individuals should do (in their economic activity, for example). How this works in practice, I'm not yet sure.
10. The Green Party puts changes in both values and lifestyles at the heart of the radical green agenda.
As above, I strongly agree with this: the green agenda cannot (and absolutely should not) be enacted by a green dictatorship, however democratically elected. You and I need to be the driving force, and Christianity strongly emphasises the need for a deep change of heart and attitudes.