Saturday, 2 January 2010

Accounting for Everybody

Most of us like to think we believe that people matter more than things. Archbishop Rowan’s New Year message in 2009 challenged us to be more honest and consistent about this belief. Taking as his starting point the story of Laurence the Deacon, who told Roman authorities that the poor supported by the Church were its treasures, he asks
What would our life be like if we really believed that our wealth, our treasure, was our fellow human beings? Religious faith points to a God who takes most seriously, and values most extravagantly, the people who often look the least productive and successful — as if none of us could really be said to be doing well unless these people were secure. And as we look around in our own country as well as worldwide, this should trigger some hard questions...
This year’s takes a similar theme, and raises the stakes to a global scale: —
There are fewer and fewer problems in our world that are just local. Suffering and risk spread across boundaries, even that biggest of all boundaries between the rich and the poor. Crises don’t stop at national frontiers. That’s one thing terrorism, and environmental challenge and epidemic disease have taught us. We share the risks. The big question is “Can we share the hopes and create the possibilities?” Because it’s when we do share the hopes that we really see what it is to belong together as human beings, discovering our own humanity as we honour the human dignity of others...
The challenge to discover our own humanity as we honour the human dignity of others raises its own hard questions for a society in which the gap between rich and poor has, almost unbelievably, been widening these past thirty years. It calls to mind a report produced late last year by the New Economics FoundationA Bit Rich: calculating the real value to society of different professions. In the spirit of progressive economics, it’s available free as a .pdf.

The report examines the real value to society of six very different jobs. These professions come with big mythic perceptions and assumptions in the great game of Careers — City banker, nursery worker, advertising executive, hospital cleaner, tax accountant, waste recycling worker.
The result isn’t a simple game of goodies and baddies, but it does challenge the Great Golden Myth of eighties yuppiedom.

In its purest form, the GGM tells us that a tiny elite of pangalacticaly superior individuals create wealth for society, which largely consists of lumpen drones and wasters. Any silly nonsense that these self-designated “Wealth Creators” care to indulge is thus, ipso facto, OK. Fairness, like taxes, is strictly for the little people. And the lesson of the past year or so is that not only is life in the golden dome golden, but largely consequence-free as well. Nice work if you can get it.

NEF’s report does not call into question the right to private property, or fair reward for labours and risks, or differential remuneration. It does, however, suggest we push the envelope beyond considerations of the naked cash nexus in assessing the social and environmental costs and benefits of all jobs.

So how do we account human worth? How should we? It’s as much about what we notice and our methods as the conclusions we reach...


Chris Heseltine-James said...

I wonder if the Church affirms or encourages those within its structures to appreciate themselves enough to make significant changes as a corporate body.

Many of our churches place significant importance on people in positions of "worth", either consciously or subconsciously through the way work is highlighted in the Church itself i.e. the youth worker.. the evangelist.. the musician.

I think that as a result of consumerism and a mentality of consumer dependancy congregations may in some respects voluntarily disempower themselves, however I think we need to look at our own notions of discipleship and those we actively affirm. Perhaps we should be highlighting the work of the mother who opens her house to her children's friends as a "Ministry".

By placing greater value on the Christian everyday life that is lived by the many, perhaps we will feel more inspired to make the countercultural Gospel message a greater reality??

Adam Gonnerman said...

Thank you for sharing the video. I suspect it's one not usually available outside the U.K.

Among Christians human worth can be calculated by the value of the blood of Christ, shed for the redemption of lost humanity. Within the broader context of Judeo-Christianity we can refer to the image of God in which each person was made. Beyond that we simply have to resort to the ethic of reciprocity, a moral principle that seems fairly universal to our species.

The trouble is that it's always incredibly easy to talk about helping others and hold up lofty ideals. It's quite another thing to actually act, especially in cooperation with others unlike ourselves, to achieve the ends we seek.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm very much with you, Chris. When I was completing my thesis I went for a supervision full of guilt at being a chapter behind and Peter said "Actually you're doing much more the the future of the world by being a parent and giving that your best shot than by producing another DPhil..." Applying that logic to Church, it would be so good if we were all grown up enough about these things to affirm the specialness of particular ministries, designated and undesignated, without elitism and competitiveness. That's why I've always fought slightly shy of designating a member of the clergy as "The Minister..."

Adam, thanks for a very clear basis for affirming human worth in the way Rowan was recommending; and then for bringing in the human factor that screws things up half the time.

The political process is all we've got, but it brings its own paralysis — Copenhagen springs to mind.

In the end we just have to enact what we believe in for ourselves and get on with it in as self-aware, humble, open and generous way as we can. Perhaps that changes the world as much as anything else. be the change we want to see in the world...

Ernest said...

I was pondering on this for a day since I originally read it.

Surely the worth of an individual goes back to creation? God made us in his own image, therefore, in God's eyes, we are all of the same worth! Prince, Pauper, Rich, Poor, Man or Women.

In relative terms, our westerns society had developed from a Patriarchal led society, to one where in most places, each individual is valued for their own selves, good or bad, strong or weak.

This appears to have been undermined in the last twenty years or so, where the political lead has been to value individuals on the basis of their productivity, fame or beauty or celebrity.

Of course, in many cultures (and even in our own(, Patriarchy still leads and places gender at the centre of who can lead and who can follow, e.g. the issue of Gender in Womens Ministry within the Church.

I have long been in my previous working life and remain a champion of treating each person as an individual and valuing them equally and with fairness key to all that I do. This was before I came back to Christianity. But now I can see a firm basis in Christ's teaching for what I believed and practiced.

I am often bewildered when I hear voices calling for people to be treated differently on the basis of Gender, race, culture, religion, sexuality, for whatever reasons - as I fail to see any justification for such bias, apart from prejudice.

If God created us in his image - than we are all of equal value and there is no reasonable argument to be made for any other way of behaving.

Than perhaps I am just a being a little niave, expecting people to behave in this way - but as always I live in hope that "In time - all will be changed - all will be better".

Archbeship Anthony said...

I must say that I personally believe that people should challenge things that they are not totally happy about. It is because people do not challenge these things that they get up set and then up set others sometimes 'jumping at the person' who made the comment. On one occasion after I had been stopped by the police when riding home from visiting a friend late one Saturday Evening. The daughter of my colleague is a police officer, so I went to my colleague with my comment. I do not believe she intended to do this but she made me feel manipulated. I responded to her manipulations (sorry can not of anything more positive to call them) knowing what I would have done five years ago if I had been stopped for exactly the same thing. This lady now understands my point of view. If she had challenged me at the time, she would have not made me feel bitter and I would not have felt the need to retaliate in the middle of the night (by email). I was trying to use this experience, which I must say was mostly okay, to increase respect for the police from Society (including my own slightly dented) and also cause them less work in the longer term. I also believe that if there is no blame, there basically is no problem so no action can be taken. If there is a problem between two or more people, even those who are completely not at fault can still do something to make it better or help prevent the problem from occurring next time.

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