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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part Two: The Financial Crisis (1)


This is the second part of a two part response to a talk given by Brian Griffiths in Swansea, in March 2013. Griffiths' talk was called 'The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis.' The first part of my response, given in Llaneglwys in August 2013, concentrated on 'The Christian Faith' and was largely a discussion of two books by Griffiths - Morality and the Market-Place and The Creation of Wealth. They were published in the early 1980s before Griffiths joined the government as head of the Number 10 policy unit in 1985, but at a time when he was already being consulted by Margaret Thatcher on general economic policy, with particular reference to the financial services sector.

This was of course a time when the government was pursuing a policy of combatting inflation, mainly by refusing to support what were called 'lame duck' industries - industries that were reckoned to be unable to hold their own in a competitive world market without government support. One obvious consequence of this was a sharp rise in unemployment and one consequence of that was criticism of government policy from religious leaders, notably the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. In response, Griffiths, as a strong advocate of the policy of following the logic of capitalism, was anxious to show that this logic was compatible with Christian principles - or with what he calls 'the Judaeo-Christian religion', since part of his argument is that Jesus is taking knowledge of the Jewish Bible for granted, hence economic principles outlined in the Old Testament are still valid in the era of the New Testament. These, he argues, presuppose private property and private property, he argues, presupposes market values.

The job I had in Llaneglwys was to show that Jesus's teaching is not particularly favourable to capitalist enterprise - and indeed nor are the economic principles, such as they are, that are outlined in the Pentateuch. Of the two parts of my response, that was the easier. Griffiths had set himself a difficult task trying to prove the opposite and I don't think he made a particularly good job of it, though his argument was so much in the interests of so many people who like to think of themselves as being 'Christian,' that he has a huge literature supporting him.

But I wasn't trying to argue that either Jesus's teaching or the principles of the Pentateuch were particularly favourable to Socialism. I would be quite happy to recognise that someone who shared Griffith's economic views could have as good a right as myself to the title 'Christian'. My quarrel is with the idea that there is any necessary connection between these views and the principles of the Christian faith. What I wanted to show was that historically the Christian Church had taken Jesus's strictures on private property seriously - that for some 1200 years - the great period of Christianity between the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century and the Reformation of the sixteenth century - all the significant bodies that called themselves 'Christian' (with the possible exception of the Arians in the fourth century) took it for granted that Christianity, like Buddhism, is a monastic religion - indeed that monasticism, which entails a renunciation of personal wealth and of the concerns of 'the world' is the very foundation stone of the Christian religion.

This is not to suggest that Christianity requires everyone to become a monk. Nor that anyone who happens to be living in a monastery or a convent is necessarily better than anyone else. But, regardless of the reality of monastic life, a society that recognises the monastic ideal - the ideal of the Desert Fathers - as the highest form of human life is a society that is different from a society that regards the desert ideal as mere foolishness and waste. It is a Christian society. I shall not be returning to this in the course of the present essay but the reader should perhaps keep it in mind that the establishment of such a Christian society is the aim - the only aim - I am working towards in everything I try to do.

Tonight I want to look at the second issue raised in the title of Griffiths's talk - 'The Financial Crisis' - and I shall be treating it almost entirely in what we might call worldly terms - a practical logic that could be shared by anyone regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs.