Championing the Truth

I’ve written before about what I called the Belief Police. See last post here. You may want to reference it after reading the following.

So . . .

Poor Sarah Champion, Labour MP. She felt the need to resign from the shadow cabinet after writing an article in the Sun in which she described rape gangs in the following way:

“Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

Her crime? It’s not just Pakistani men. It’s also men from Iraq, Bangladesh and Iran, plus other Central Asian countries. Apparently, the article also included the line: “These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.”

What is the offence here? That she mentioned ONLY Pakistanis in that first quote? That what she described is false? That she mentioned race at all? I draw the following conclusion regarding our Belief Police:

A person’s race CANNOT be mentioned when talking about that person’s illegal or offensive behaviour. To draw a connection between a person’s ethnic origin and their crime is verboten.

Curiously, the BBC does use this phrase, ‘gangs composed mostly of men of Pakistani origin,’ but I guess Champion was missing that word , ‘mostly.’ Her slight mistake in not mentioning the other countries has lead her to believe she must resign.

So, let’s be absolutely clear about this. “Britain does have a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”. And Iraqi men etc. That’s not really an opinion, it’s a fact. Go do some reading on what’s happening and has happened around the U.K. The common denominator, I’m afraid, and Champion knew better than to go here, is that these are Muslim men. Sharp intake of breath.

If a society cannot write and speak truth, even when treading on the sensitive territory of race and religion, then it is slowly becoming a less open, less democratic and free society. We must be able to speak the truth, even if the truth offends those who patrol our ‘free speech.’

Why can’t Champion reply, ‘Sorry, I meant to mention other Central Asian countries. And strictly speaking, I’m not wrong. Pakistan is among those countries. What’s your problem? I’m just speaking the truth. This country has a problem. A BIG problem.’ I wish she were able to respond like this, but apparently in our current climate, she cannot. She felt the need to resign.

All truth is God’s truth, wrote Augustine, or some form of that quote. Truth about the Crusades, truth about slavery, truth about Pakistani men, mostly, who run rape gangs. To quote a cliché, the first casualty of war is the truth. Feels a bit like that right now.

 

 

 

 

 

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SHORT AND SWEET – 12

Authority.

I have a love/hate relationship with this word. Instinctively I dislike it intensely. I misbehaved at school. Rather a lot. I couldn’t stand being told what to do. I wasn’t disrespectful, but I lived in my own world and authority figures cramped my style.

And yet, the collapse of authority in our society has been a catastrophe. Along with the loss of authority is the loss of deference. Everyone is open to abuse. Even the queen of England is taunted at times. It’s soul-destroying.

We so love democracy that we erroneously believe that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. It isn’t. We may all have opinions but we should respect those who simply know more than we do. Sorry if you thought that simply having an opinion was sufficient to challenge the truly wise in our world.

So I resist authority while simultaneously acknowledging how important it is. It is good to submit to and learn from wise teachers. It is right that we see our own deficiencies, our own ignorance, so that we can grow. Authority figures help us do this.

And of course, most important of all, each day I bow before the Ultimate Authority Figure. I willingly and without resistance, seek to follow the only authority figure who completely warrants my worship and devotion.

Just need to control that ‘naughty boy’ inside, who doesn’t want to do what he’s told!

Have a great day.

SHORT AND SWEET

Short and sweet. A post every day of the working week.

200 words or less. A minute of your time. Enjoy.

So, why is it that if you mention Hitler, you always lose the argument? It’s true isn’t it? And it happened last week. Boris – gotta love a great entertainer.

He was vilified immediately. Why? Because Hitler is a non-starter in an argument. Why? It’s because in our culture we respond primarily with our emotions and not our judgement. We’re all heart and no head. Second, we’re really into ‘being offended.’ Hitler ticks both boxes. I’m offended by your suggestion that there is any similarity between the Bad Guy and me or my position. Second, my emotional response trumps whatever argument you were making.

Did Boris have a point? Who cares? We’re all so offended, it’s got lost.

So, when you’re tempted to mention Hitler, remember Basil Fawlty. ‘Don’t mention the war. I did once but I think I got away with it.’ He may have, but you won’t. Your argument will be lost.

 

Notes for Voters

May 7. It’s coming and don’t we know it here in the U.K.

Wall-to-wall TV coverage. Baby kissing. Politicians in shiny suits promising us the earth. Pundits commenting endlessly.

That’s right. The General Election. The Big One.

Allow me to quote Eddie Izzard on his reading habits. ‘Some people are widely read. I’m not. I’m thinly read.’ And in the same way, I do not hold strong political views (widely read), but rather weak ones (thinly read).

But views on how morality relates to politics? Well, that’s something else altogether. So, here is my appeal to voters who cheer loudly for their teams. You know who you are.

To Labour and generally Left-leaning sympathizers:

First, if you lean Left because you genuinely care for the less fortunate, then I resonate with your motives. Nothing wrong with caring for the poor and holding political views which you think will bring about greater support for those less fortunate. If we were pure enough to think only of others, perhaps the Left would win my heart. Sadly it doesn’t.

Here’s why.

My biggest objection to the Left has to do with the emphasis on re-distribution. I understand that budgets must be set. Got that. But the concept of re-distribution contains two ideas which I think are flawed. First is the idea that it is the role of government to correct the inequities of human society. In its extreme form, this leads to communism. That’s a bad idea.

I suppose we all have to have faith in something. I, for one, don’t trust the state. Second, the urge to re-distribute sets one group against another, based on nothing but pure envy and perceived injustice. It leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. I’ve written about that here.

So, what’s the premise? Life’s not fair and it’s the job of the state to make it ‘fairer.’ For fairer, read ‘take from one group and give to another.’ But pointing at the rich and attributing immorality to them due to their wealth is just plain wrong. From a purely pragmatic point of view, it is also unwise to overtax the rich for the simple reason that the wealthy know better than anyone how to avoid tax. Sure, you can implement a 50% tax rate, but just watch. The actual take will go down.

In addition, let’s be clear about this one salient fact: The state has no money of its own. None. (Yes, it has assets but you can’t just sell off the assets) In fact, if anything it owes vast amounts of wealth it has borrowed on your behalf. It is hugely in debt. You and I are hugely in debt. And perhaps of more concern, our children are saddled with huge debts.

Politics is largely about sharing out the pie. But whose pie is it?

Let me introduce Colin. He’s a well-paid executive. He earns seven figures. Forget where he came from, that’s his wage. He has benefited from a good education and he has worked hard. Very hard. He is in the top 1% of the population which contributes 25% of the tax revenue. But it is not the state which supports people. It is a whole bunch of Colin’s and his like who disproportionately support the less fortunate.

Did you know that Colin pays for several nurses, teachers and a fair amount of school maintenance? Yes, he does. He earned his money and now he pays his taxes. The state doesn’t pay the teachers or nurses. You can only pay people if you have money and the state doesn’t have money. It has Colin’s money. And yours and mine. Colin supports others through his taxes, let’s be clear about that. Do the schools and teachers send him a thank you letter for his giving? No, they don’t. How could they? The donor and the recipient have no connection. And that’s bad.

One final comment. Political rhetoric which uses language like ‘the government is attacking the teaching profession’ is truly unsavoury. Let’s be honest about this. If it gains power, Labour must also tackle the deficit. When they make difficult spending decisions, will they be ‘attacking nurses and teachers?’ No. ‘Making difficult spending decisions’ does not mean ‘an attack’ and calling it that is unhelpful and unpleasant. Sadly, it’s one of the costs of living in a democracy.

To Right-Wing sympathizers:

Stop bashing immigrants. It’s unseemly, ungodly and like the Left’s rich-vs-poor, it sets one group against another. Historically, anti-semitism used to arise in countries which were unsure about their identities, were economically depressed and were looking for a scapegoat. I’m sorry but it doesn’t matter if the U.K. has lost its core identity and we’re taking time to emerge from recession, it’s wrong to attack a group within your midst. The Hebrews had dozens of laws designed to promote kindness towards the foreigner. Christians are called to reach out to the marginalized and you don’t get much more marginalized than being a poor immigrant. So, stop it with the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

You sound selfish.

In fact, that’s often your main problem. You worship the wrong God. Money can’t save you. The market can’t save you. And no, there is no level playing field. The strong manipulate the rules for their own advantage and we seem powerless to stop it. It’s a tragedy that global finance nowadays is more powerful than governments, but there it is. I don’t have a solution.

Most of us are but little people with limited resources. Go stand with a placard somewhere if you think that will help. At minimum, pay your taxes and stop using expensive accountants to help you avoid your obligations. If you manage to avoid tax, then use what you save to give to others. Please.

What we need are compassionate philanthropists, who support those in need. I know you pay your taxes. Thank you. But we need you to do more. If you’re wealthy, how much more could you give to charity? If you’re not, then remember that the desire to keep as much for yourself is thoroughly condemned in the Bible. God calls for compassion to reflect his nature. And that means your pocket. Yes, it does. And your time.

You may have worked it out by now. I lean slightly to the right, if truth be told. But you know, there’s a sentence in there which reflects my views most clearly. ‘The market can’t save you.’ And nor can politics. And perhaps most of all, the state. That’s probably why I don’t respond well to those on the Left. I don’t like envy (I don’t like it in myself) and I don’t think that the state is there to solve our problems.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t run a democracy. He runs a kingdom. He’s not particularly interested in whether we would vote for him. It’s his way or the highway and yet, what an invitation! To join him in reaching the world with his love.

It is people who have compassion.

Not governments. They just spend our money.

But I don’t put my faith in governments. I certainly don’t expect them to solve my problems.

I have a God in whom I trust.

He doesn’t need my vote, though I would give it to him a million times over.

© Richard Collins 2015

Bravehearts, Weak Minds

Independence for Scotland. Yes, I like that. Independence. Dependent on no one but ourselves. Just listen to the language. Vote YES. Positive. Bold. Assertive. It’s a vote in favour of something. We’re not against things, we’re stepping out boldly FOR something. Why is the NO campaign so negative? You guys keep running down the country. Ooh, you’re so fearful, you’ll vote NO. And what’s worse, you’re just puppets for those Westminster bosses who tell us what to do. So your campaign is all about fear and negativity; it lacks any kind of courage. Come on! Take the bull by the horns. Vote YES. We’ve heard the slogan from across the Pond. Yes we can! Yes, Scotland can too. Be positive! Vote YES.

Make no mistake. That’s how the campaign is presented by the YES campaign. And language matters. It matters profoundly. Who wouldn’t want to be positive? Who wouldn’t want to assert the will to command one’s own destiny? During a debate on Scottish independence, the Deputy First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, played one card and she played it again and again. In answer to the charge – and there were many – ‘what about the dangers of this and that (name your issue)’ she simply ignored the details and replied: “Don’t be brow-beaten by Westminster politicians. Stand up for yourself! Don’t let them tell you what to do!” The similarity with a stroppy teenager was impossible to miss. “Don’t tell me what to do!”

But surely this characterization makes it look like you’re voting on a particular ‘approach to life.’ Voting YES becomes ‘let’s be positive’ or ‘let’s be assertive’ while voting NO is simply ‘I’m scared so I’ll cling to the English.’ Is that what the vote is about? Psychological optimism?

Obviously not.

One thing I’ve noticed about this campaign is the rather surprising approach to two words associated normally with religion: agnosticism and faith.

First agnosticism. Agnosticism is one of the main planks of the NO campaign. ‘Fellow Scots, the reality is we just don’t know. We don’t know what might happen. It’s unknown. Oh and by the way, what we do know is unnerving enough and should make us think twice before changing the status quo.’

The Scots have been given all kinds of unsettling pieces of information in the past few weeks. The supermarkets have announced that prices will probably go up. The oil companies have told us that the oil will not last as long as hoped. The EU has given a warning that joining the EU could take five years and even then, taking the Euro as the currency might be required as part of the deal. Scotland wants to share the pound? May not happen. As for the funding of the universities – the jewels in the Scottish crown – when you run the numbers, it looks unlikely that they will receive as much money as they currently do as part of the U.K.

There have been enough pieces of information to make me shudder. And I’m not even Scottish. Yet, the agnosticism card hasn’t played well at all. The fearful future card is negative and what do you know!? Millions of Scots are favouring the Faith card. Faith in what or whom? Well, as it happens, the one card which is pitched in movie plots all the time . . . Faith in Yourself. Believe in yourself, Scotland. Like the girl in Frozen. Like Simba and well, name your movie hero. Self-belief and self-worth are closely tied together and if you listen to the YES campaign, it’s impossible not to hear the sub-text. Voting NO is terrible because it implies that you have no self-belief. You don’t really believe in yourself and by extension, Scotland. What kind of approach to life is that?!

I’m all for a positive approach to life, but this is clearly NOT what this vote is about. It’s not enough to play the ‘I have faith in Me, Us, Scotland’ card. And that’s because the vote is not simply about taking hold of a new future. It’s also about letting go of a different future. Inside the union. With all the rights, benefits and privileges which that holds. If Scotland lets go of the union, it may well find that it quickly regrets its decision. And there are no morning-after pills for Referendum Regret.

Before voting YES, I pray that the Scots make two lists. On one side, ‘What we receive.’ On the other side ‘What we lose.’ And then I hope they think clearly before voting for something which might cause great damage to both countries, Scotland and the U.K. Oh, not immediately. Probably five, ten years down the road.

I didn’t think I would ever write this but . . . having faith isn’t enough. It isn’t. Not in this case.

I’m all for faith. Of course I am. But it makes a big difference in whom you place your faith. The Scots may vote YES, they may well place their faith in themselves. After all, the idea of God in Scotland is declining. Not as quickly as in England, but yes, it’s declining. So they seek a different entity in which to place their faith.

Do we, as humans, have an insatiable desire to place our faith in someone or something? It’s a good question. And if God is absent, what better candidate than ourselves? Just listen to the juggernaut of self-belief: YES we can. Have faith. Because whatever the agnostics may say, with faith in ourselves, we can succeed.

The relentless optimism of the YES campaign is hard to counter.

It may just split my country in two.

© Richard Collins 2014

RIP Nelson Mandela – Reflections on a life

Nelson Mandela is dead. RIP Tata Madiba, a great man.

It’s hard today even imagining the world as it was back in the 1980s and before, when apartheid was the hot topic on university campuses. In the car on the way to school this morning, my daughter asked ‘what’s apartheid?’ reminding me of my age (not a good topic!) as well as the huge change which has occurred since those years. Much associated with the work of Nelson Mandela. At Exeter where I attended, our student union voted to boycott Barclays Bank because of its connections to South Africa. As a result, the Barclays branch on campus was closed, the space given to a different business. I also remember singing with gusto the song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Specials. It contains the lyric, ’21 years of captivity, are you so blind that you cannot see?’ As it turned out, it was a full 27 years before Mandela was released from Robben Island. Yes, he was guilty of sabotage, helping to destroy some of South Africa’s infrastructure as part of the struggle. I remember a close relative of mine who described him back then as ‘a terrorist.’ His actions raise the intriguing moral dilemma, ‘when is it justifiable to act violently for a just cause?’ There would be few today who would begrudge him some justification in the light of what we now know about the policies of that apartheid state. I remember also attending a play in those days simply called ‘Biko.’ It followed the arrest, imprisonment and beating of Steve Biko, a fellow activist with Mandela, who faced injustice and eventually death at the hands of racist thugs in a Port Elizabeth cell. In South Africa, they called them policemen. The words of Jimmy Kruger, the then-minister of police are chilling to read even today: I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr. Biko. It leaves me cold (Dit laat my koud). I can say nothing to you … Any person who dies … I shall also be sorry if I die.

And what about the day that Nelson Mandela was released? Blanket news coverage of the kind that only occurs with a royal birth, death or major disaster. He emerged heroic and determined to live well for his country. And of course, that is what marked him out as a great man. He did indeed face injustice with grace and dignity, but it was his actions after his release which set him apart from other world leaders. It is the reason why he is revered the world over as a modern day saint. What did he do? Teach, preach forgiveness. Work for reconciliation. This is a path which Christians recognize and which resonates deep in our souls. Reconciliation is a major theme not simply in our lives but in the Bible, a book about the means by which God becomes reconciled to man. I have found it more than a little curious listening to the news presenters this morning talking about reconciliation. They recognize it as a wonderful thing, but for the life of them, they don’t really understand it. You can hear it in their voices. The world as a whole doesn’t operate in such a way. The capacity to forgive an oppressor is seen mostly clearly, of course, in the Lord’s passion. His words, which resound through the centuries, are still with us, faithfully recorded by the gospel writers. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. Even as he suffered for us, he possessed the ability to reach out to those whose only thought was evil and cursing. Mandela, in our time, followed a similar path and for that we are grateful. He reminds us of our God.

These past few months, we have also been celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, a similar historical figure to Nelson Mandela. His letters from Birmingham jail have been variously discussed and debated. He too charted a course of reconciliation, yet was denied the opportunity to see out the mature fruits of his work. The struggle against injustice achieves a very great and noble goal. It reminds us that in our time of post-modern wishy-washy ‘whatever you think is right for you is right for you’ thinking, that there exists good and evil. Right and wrong. No, it is not context which defines good and evil. It is absolute whether it fits your ‘don’t want to offend anyone’ philosophy or not. In South Africa, there was no room for relativistic nonsense. The stories of Mandela and King are stories, quite frankly, about the triumph of good over evil. No, I don’t mean that these leaders were perfect, I mean that their cause was right and good. It is right that black and white should be treated equally, for human beings are created by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The American Constitution is right. We did not invent this. It is discovered by us; it comes from God. It is also wrong to oppress an entire racial group on the basis of skin colour. That is categorically wrong and if you disagree, then while you are entitled to your opinion, you happen to be mistaken. Profoundly mistaken. White oppression is wrong. We feel it. We know it. It is discovered intuitively. We love to see good triumph over evil and we cannot stop telling stories about it. It is in our movies, in our books, on TV. It is everywhere. It is the longing of our hearts. And it’s not a surprise, since our longings are derived from the greatest story of them all, the triumph of good over evil by our God. This is why Mandela’s story stirs not simply Christians, but all men and women. We all know inside that when good triumphs over evil, we are witnessing a story which echoes our heart’s desire.

Mandela’s legacy is rich but there is one final comment worth making. In spite of all the good will in the world, he was unable to solve South Africa’s woes. South Africa is still awash with injustice and poverty. He could lead his nation but he certainly could not save it. He could inspire it, but he could not change the human heart. His family, who surrounded him at his death, were already engaged in bickering over his legacy, even before he had passed away. He could not change the hearts of his nearest and dearest and he certainly could not prevent the infighting which has dogged the ANC since his retirement. His country still suffers. It still needs saving, as we all do. Human beings, even inspirational ones like Nelson Mandela, can only highlight our desperate need for a Saviour. We cannot save ourselves. We long for a day when all racial hatred is ended, when peace and reconciliation are not simply assigned to a commission, but reign in the hearts and minds of all humankind. So his deficits, his inability to effect change in the way he would have wished, is a signpost to a greater truth, a truer hope. That no human being can save us. Mandela was a great man, a super . . . man; but he was no Superman. We need a bigger man, a greater man than him. At Christmas, we remember him as the baby in the manger. Immanuel. God with us, our Saviour, who has the power to change human hearts and bring about true and lasting reconciliation. And one day, he will bring about the full restoration of his beautiful creation, when good will finally triumph over evil, and there will be no more torture cells in South Africa and no more whips in cotton fields, when tears will run no more and the agony of our world will be a distant memory.

If it is a memory at all.

We celebrate that Hope this Christmas.

Equality – Part Two

Equality. What’s not to like? After all, it’s at the heart of Western democracy. Equal rights for men and women. No tolerance of racism. One person, one vote. We ALL have a say. Hence the cacophony in the blogosphere, Twitterverse and on Facebook and in every coffee bar and meeting place in the Western world. Oh my goodness, we all think our opinion should be heard.  We matter. Yeah!

Because we’re all equal.

Yes, we are. I’m not sure how atheists ground equality but I know how Christians arrive at this conclusion. We’re all made in the image of God. It’s the imago dei which provides the foundation for human rights and for human dignity. In fact, it is the Judeo-Christian belief in the imago dei which led to the transformation of Western society. William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftsbury are just two names one could cite as 19C human rights campaigners, who called on government to acknowledge human value based on the imago dei.

So far, so good.

But now let’s question this assumption. To what extent are we really equal? What makes me like you? I heard a philosophy professor once give an amusing answer to this question. He’d asked his daughter what made her the same as others. Her answer? We all have belly buttons. Nice one. You see, I think politicians are often employing a deft handling trick with our vocabulary. From equality to sameness in one easy move. See? You didn’t even notice. Speaking of sameness, I’m reminded of this extract from the great comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. This is a section from his stand-up comedy, Clothes:

Any time you see a movie or a TV show where there’s people from the future – or another planet – they’re all wearing the same outfit. I think the decision just gets made. All right, everyone, from now on, it’s just going to be the one-piece silver suit with the V-stripe and the boots. That’s the outfit. We’re visiting other planets, we wanna look like a team. The individuality thing is over.

The individuality thing is over. For some politicians, I almost think that’s what they’re suggesting. Enough with variety. We’re equal amounts to ‘being the same.’ And because we’re really the same, or should be, we should all own the same amount. Equality of intrinsic value equates to the virtue of flattening out society. If you’re down, the state should lift you up. If you’re up, the state should flatten you down. Why? Apparently in the name of combating the legacy of historical injustices. More on that in a moment.

First, a comment on sameness. We’re not the same. We’re different. We come in infinite shapes and sizes. We’re black, white, brown, big, small, fat, thin. We sport tattoos, big hair, sideburns, flowery shirts with big collars, no collars. We wear no clothes, lots of clothes, speak different languages, do different jobs, enjoy different kinds of food, hate football, love cooking, wear goatees, throw javelins, are kind and unkind, cruel and compassionate. And it is our difference which, to a large extent, produces our inequality. Of course, there are many other forces in the mix – our freedom and our fallenness, to name just two – but let’s be clear.  Variety emerges naturally. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

Think about it this way. In the parable of the talents, each man is given a different amount. They invest it differently and each gains a different return. In the same way, if I were to give ten different people the same amount of money and I told each one to invest wisely, what would happen? They would earn ten different amounts of return. Some would fritter it away, some would get some bad luck. Some would work hard, but being rather dense, wouldn’t know how to invest wisely. And still others would reap the benefits of their wisdom, savvy instincts and maybe some good old-fashioned luck and earn a goodly amount of cash. The vagaries of life along with our differences produce these inequalities.

However, for politicians, the issue isn’t whether people in a society could ever become perfectly equal. That is obviously never going to happen, notwithstanding the doomed supposed attempts to equalize things in Soviet Russia and other failed state experiments. The issue is how you see the role of the state. Is it there to combat the legacy of historical injustices? Eg. privilege. In other words, is it there to shore up one class over another or tear one class down in favour of another? Hmm. Well, I don’t like the idea of class warfare of any kind, whether inspired by left or right. I do, however, wish for the government to run the country competently. And I think ultimately it comes down to how you answer this question: Should you design your system based on the brutal reality of what we’re like as humans, or base it on what we should be?  I’m sure you remember the most well-known quote from Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

Ooh. We recoil. And rightly so. Greed isn’t good and every Christian knows it. But hold on. What’s he saying? He’s saying that humankind is selfish and greedy and that’s good because it drives economic growth. Hmm. Well, it’s hard not to agree with the last part. What drives economic growth? Fortunately not just greed. In fact, it’s competition. And aspiration. The human being is inherently competitive. The human being desires to be able to ‘get ahead’ and succeed, not to mention provide for his/her family. Capitalism, for all its flaws, has generated astonishing economic growth simply by enabling human beings to ‘compete’ within a system governed by the rule of law. The reality is that capitalism liberates human potential better than its competitors. Is it perfect? Not at all. But it’s the best we’ve come up with so far. Yet it comes with an underside which most economists have recognized: sadly, it leads to the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer.

It leads to inequality. And that’s bad. Not good.

What? You want me to advocate the overthrow of the capitalist system? Sorry. That’s a little beyond me. So, what’s the solution? Well, let’s get down to brass tacks. You don’t have to agree with me, but if you’re running the country, here’s my ten cents to help you along.

1. Tax policy should encourage enterprise and not discourage it. Starting and running a business shouldn’t be mired in red tape and heavy tax burdens.

2. Tax policy should promote socially beneficial institutions like the family. It’s bad for people to co-habit because the ‘system’ rewards them for it.

3. The wealthy should pay proportionately more than the poor because they can afford it, not for the sake of equality. But not too much, because that simply stifles enterprise and crushes aspiration. As most governments know, there is a balance to be struck. Please strike it without giving us all the slogans and rhetoric. A vain hope, I know.

4. Corporations and rich people who use their wealth to ‘rig the system,’ avoid tax and generally act badly should be prosecuted. Publish the names of companies who ‘avoid tax’ and those companies who use their financial muscle to eliminate fair competition. In short, strive to make the system as ‘fair’ as is humanly possible. ‘Being wealthy’ is no defence against what amounts to morally corrupt and criminal behaviour.

4. The reason for the welfare system is not to tackle inequality. The reason for the welfare system is to ensure social cohesion. It’s not good in a society with family breakdown to end up with lots of people who have no hope. It’s also a bad idea to have lots of destitute people who can’t support themselves.

5. Entitlement is not good. For anyone. Working is always better than living on welfare and many Western governments are beginning to acknowledge this. Here’s a clue as to why entitlement is bad. When you’re given something, you should be able to say ‘thank you.’ But whoever said ‘thank you’ to a system? Hence, welfare recipients start to see their handout not as a gift, but as an entitlement, which crushes gratitude.

6. Don’t encourage envy in voters (see last post).

And finally, some advice for us voters:

  1. Live selflessly. Use your wealth to help people. In the U.K., if you donate to a charity, the charity is able to claim the tax you have already paid. Say, 25%. This is the wrong way to do it. Given that we’re selfish, fallen people, giving us an incentive to give to charity is much more enlightened. In the U.S.A., if you give to charity, you receive a tax deduction, which encourages charitable giving. Big time. We should do that here in the U.K. Currently, if you’re a basic rate tax payer – most of the people I know, I’m guessing – then you derive no benefit from your charitable giving.
  1. If you want to be an ‘activist,’ then choose a cause which unquestionably promotes the good.  Here are some: Oppose Human Trafficking. Campaign to get rid of Third World Debt. Advocate for clean water in developing countries. Go there and build a well. Support a child in Africa. Foster/adopt a child. Teach a child to read. Give to a food bank. Volunteer. Every one of these is a fight for equality, because helping those in need raises people up. No government necessary. And that’s a good thing.
  1. Stop looking for the government to solve society’s ills and go and do one of the above.

In short, live a compassionate life. Hey, in the end it’s got to be better to help your neighbour than spend lots of time petitioning the government to help your neighbour. This evening, you could wash his/her car, lend a hand with the gardening or just chat over the fence and show some love. Or you could hand out leaflets which criticize some public servants of a different political persuasion because ‘they’re not doing enough.’

Whoa. Look at the time. Sorry. Gotta run. I’m late for a party. I’m sure you can guess what I’m wearing. Yup. The one-piece silver suit with the V-stripe and the boots.

Bye for now.

+ If you liked this article, please share, link, re-blog or tweet like a bird. Thanks so much.

Equality – Part One

I don’t really believe in equality. There. I’ve said it. Actually, I needed a first line to grab your attention. Still reading?

Okay. So Equality. After moving to the U.K. from California in 2007, I noticed very quickly how important this word is in British political and public speech. It’s everywhere. It’s revered. It’s almost god-like in its capacity to produce secular genuflecting. In political parlance, Equality is closely related to one of the other favourites: Fairness. The Liberal Democrats absolutely adore that word. It’s rare to hear Nick Clegg, their leader, fail to use it – normally several times – in an interview. It fills his every political thought, I’m sure. Perhaps because, well, how can anyone be against Fairness? It’s a winner. Which little kid in each of us doesn’t remember some childhood memory when we didn’t get what we wanted? When life simply wasn’t FAIR! So good on you, Mr. Clegg, for enticing us with the promise of Fairness.

And Equality.

Because they’re related, aren’t they? At least they are in the political language of our time. How can it be fair that some people have more than others? That’s not fair. We need to take from some and give to others. Whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute. Before we become mired in Robin Hood politics, and Labour readers switch off while Conservatives begin to rant rather unhelpfully, I’d like to highlight my primary response to this issue. I believe our obsession with equality and fairness leads to what can only be described as the politics of envy. And that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing. Here’s a quote from Suzy Stride, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Harlow in Christianity magazine.

We know where some kids are going to end up (even) when they’re in their mother’s womb, and it’s just not fair. I believe we need a government that levels the playing field.

This is classic Labour reasoning. There’s inequality in society. The state should intervene and ‘level the playing field.’ There is so much to be said in response to such reasoning, but in order to encourage you to come back later this week, I will address the role of the state in a later post. Keep reading my blog and you’ll soon find plenty with which to disagree!

Right now, I’d like to voice my concerns about the kind of politics we’re encouraging by talk of ‘levelling the playing field.’ Because the politics of envy is everywhere. Last night, Labour’s leader, Ed Milliband, in his keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference, contrasted himself with the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Cameron, he said, is the one who sides with the wealthy while I will repeal the Bedroom Tax*. That’s a paraphrase. And it is classic politics of envy.

Shame on our politicians for doing this. In the Bible, envy is unequivocally condemned. God even included a prohibition on it in the Ten Commandments. It’s that last one, which we tend to forget. Do not covet. Covet: such an old-fashioned word, isn’t it? Try envy. Wishing you had something which doesn’t belong to you.

Before you think this is a right-wing rant, let me make clear right now that this post has nothing to do with party politics. Politics involves some measure of ‘slicing up the pie’ and talk of Fairness and Equality is bound to come into the picture. Along with Responsibility, Freedom, Economic Growth and the Common Good. Right now, however, I’m much more interested in the way that our politic language damages us morally. Or at least, evokes responses which can be potentially damaging to our character development. Think of your consumption of politics the way you think of hearing a sermon. Political speeches and sermons are designed to elicit a response. So what happens when you listen to a politician encouraging you to envy other people?

First, it drains you of your joy. It causes you to keep looking at your glass and seeing it as half empty. Stop looking at all that lovely liquid you do have and keep reminding yourself that your glass isn’t as full as the glass belonging to other people. Mr. Voter, let me remind you of how much you don’t have and what the government isn’t doing for you.

Closely related to this is that it radically undermines one of the key Christian virtues: gratitude. Gratitude is an essential quality exhibited by the mature Christian. The capacity to praise God in the face of hardship is recognized by all the great Christian writers as a highly sought-after virtue. However, it is extremely difficult to thank God for all that he has provided while at the same time feeling aggrieved that others have more than you. Just try it. Furthermore, the politics of envy has the potential of misleading you into thinking that material goods will satisfy you. If only you had a little more. If only . . .

There is one final point. It’s one which the people of Israel failed to learn throughout most of the Old Testament. They were terrified of Assyria. They trembled before Babylon. And they turned to Egypt! How could they? Because when things are bad, whom can you trust? Seriously. To whom do you turn when you’re in trouble? You turn to God. You trust him. The most egregious sin of the politics of envy might be that it sets up the state as a rival to God. Who’s going to save you? Who will you trust?

There are some who cite the reasons I’ve given above as sufficiently damaging to the spiritual life that Christians should be warned against engaging in politics. They divide flesh and spirit and argue that we should disengage from political life. I don’t agree. I applaud those who enter into the blood sport of politics, believing that they serve the cause of Christ in an arena which needs saltiness and light just as every area of life does. I’m also aware that running the country is a fiendishly difficult thing to do. I know I couldn’t do it. So, if you enjoy politics and perhaps are even a politician of some kind, be my guest. Be blessed in what you do.

But please don’t encourage envy in your voters. You wouldn’t advise people to murder, or commit adultery or take part in the occasional bit of robbery.

That would be a bad move. A very bad move.

+Next time . . . I will actually address the issue of equality!

*For my American readers, google Bedroom Tax U.K. and something helpful should come up.