New Archbishop, same nonsense
It seems churlish to criticise our new Archbishop of Canterbury so early in his tenure. However, the initial signs aren’t good.
First, much to the delight of Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes writing for The Guardian, he appointed a woman, the Rev Jo Bailey Wells, Chaplain of Canterbury.
Dr Freefall says this is good news because the appointee is highly experienced and qualified. But this point is irrelevant to the argument. In fact, before the Church developed an irresistible urge to play lickspittle to every newfangled secular perversion, there would not have been an argument.
According to the ecclesiastical tradition established over two millennia, the Rev Jo isn’t fit for the job, or indeed to be a priest, not because there’s something wrong with her sterling intellect or administrative nous, but simply because she’s a woman.
One may take either side in this argument, but this is what the argument is. Of course, it’s silly to expect intellectual rigour from someone as fanatically ideological as Dr Freefall. But her conclusion seems to be accurate: ‘Justin Welby has already signalled his faith in women’s ministry.’ Indeed he has. Whether such faith comes at a cost to the more important one remains to be seen.
Now he has also ‘signalled his faith’ in joining, on the left side of the divide, purely secular debates. Specifically, the Archbishop came out against the government’s plans to cap rises in working-age benefits and some tax credits to 1% for three years.
Not to cut benefits, God forbid. Not even to cap all of them. Just to slow down, by an almost imperceptible amount, the growth of our ruinous welfare state. This, according to the Archbishop, is wrong, and shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper thinks he’s ‘absolutely right’ because the plans are ‘immoral’.
Having Mrs Ball (‘Ms Cooper’ to you) pontificate on morality is a bit like Chris Huhne acting as marriage counsellor. However, her support for any proposition whatsoever ipso facto proves it’s spurious, so she does have a useful role to play in politics.
However, Archbishop Justin doesn’t need Mrs Ball’s support. He can do self-refutation with the best of them.
According to the Archbishop, ‘civilised society’ has a duty to support the vulnerable. That’s God own truth. Where he makes his first mistake is in confusing society with the state. This is characteristic of someone who has neither studied such subjects in any depth nor thought them through properly.
Society and state were indeed coextensive in the Hellenic world, particularly in Athens. The polis was what the Romans later called res publica, public affair. Every citizen had a direct involvement in state affairs, and it was through such involvement that people expressed their innermost aspirations.
By privatising the spirit, Christianity separated society from the state. In fact the two are often, and these days invariably, in conflict – something that was unthinkable in Hellenic antiquity.
So yes, ‘civilised society’ should look after those who can’t look after themselves. But a society where this function is assumed by the state, which in the process vastly increases its own power to destroy said society, is no longer civilised. It’s barbaric.
A man giving money to a beggar helps him, while contributing to his own salvation. The same man giving money to the state that then beggars society for its own sake contributes to social, moral and economic decrepitude.
Looking after the vulnerable is a fundamental Christian duty. But no moral duty requires the mediation of the state to be discharged. For centuries the helpless were helped effectively by hospices, alms houses, hospitals and orphanages run either by religious or secular charities. The best the state can do here is not to get in the way, which our state does with enviable consistency.
Moreover, under no circumstances can most recipients of the state’s largesse be regarded as truly needy. Able-bodied youngsters must work to support themselves, and if the Archbishop is unsure about this, he should glance into the book that ought to carry more weight than the latest Labour manifesto or even a Guardian feature. ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat,’ it says (2 Thessalonians 3: 10).
A system that makes it more beneficial to stay on welfare than to seek work isn’t just economically disastrous – it’s profoundly immoral. One would think this would be basic to a prelate, especially one with much-touted experience in business. Apparently not.
Incidentally, I take exception to the view that such experience is a sine qua non for either clergymen or politicians. For example, our present PM’s detractors put some of his manifest unfitness for the job down to his never having held any job outside politics. This, I’d suggest, is the least of his problems. Anyway, how much business experience did William Pitt have? Edmund Burke? Benjamin Disraeli? Such a lacuna didn’t prevent them from becoming fairly useful statesmen.
Neither were Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Richard Hooker or John Henry Newman held back by their lack of prior experience in the commodities market. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that such experience isn’t essential to becoming a great minister of either God or government. Its absence, if at all relevant, can be made up for by an outstanding mind, character and courage.
The absence of such qualities, however, can’t be compensated by a prior business career. In fact such a career is more likely to do harm, if only by reducing the amount of time devoted to the man’s life work.
Our politicians manifestly lack essential qualities, regardless of whether or not they have done other things before getting into Parliament. So, if his first steps are any indication, does our new Archbishop. The good thing is that he has plenty of time to prove me wrong.