In my last six blogs, I’ve tried to present some elements of what I have called OIKOS theology, that is, a way of thinking about God as a house for creatures, and about human beings as, potentially, a household of God. New readers might take a look at these blogs before reading this one. I have suggested three disciplines appropriate to dwelling in or being God’s house, all of which contain the English form of the Greek oikos( Greek for house): ecumenism, ecology and economy, a modern version of faith, hope and love.
This blog takes a critical look at the UK Government’s budget, which was unveiled this week.
It is not an ecumenical budget. Its language and philosophy ignores the major problems of the planet, but expresses the narrow interest of the UK; and not even of the whole of the UK, but mainly its financial sector and the kind of businesses which are opposed to any in rise in taxation. Its analysis fails to challenge the “little England” culture of Brexit enthusiasts, and looks to a sunny future where Britannia rules the waves again, and all our butter comes from New Zealand. It has little to do with global warming or with the already massive problems caused by climate change, including the huge loss of habitat and the consequent movement of refugees into Europe. It expresses a sectarian ideology which defends the interest of the wealthiest in society while categorising anyone who does not want to work for inadequate wages as lazy or addicted to benefits. Can this be the language of one household of humanity or even one household of UK citizens? Only if we think of a Victorian country house, where the family occupy most of the property and the lower orders are segregated downstairs, except when needed.
Because this budget puts no trust in anything more than markets, it rests on fantasy rather than faith, prejudice rather than fact.
It is not an ecological budget. By that word I am not just referring to its lack of attention to global warming but also to its lack of interest in the landmass of the UK as a house for the living beings who maintain the health of our soil or the fertility of our trees or the purity of our air. Nor does it make the polluter pay: the oil companies and the automobile manufacturers are treated as honoured guests rather than as the vandals they are. The development of alternative sources of energy and the infrastructure required for their use, is left to private companies, rather than funded by government as present job creation and future prosperity.
Above all, it betrays no understanding of either natural or societal ecosystems, of how the lives of creatures and human beings intertwine with their fellows and with each other. It does not appreciate how communities of insects and human beings struggle against the different kinds of pollution that affllict them; of how bacteria at their level and poor people at theirs share their survival wisdom. It has no inkling of the courage demonstrated by a single mother with three kids, nor of her triumph if she gets to the end of a week without more debt.
Because the budget has no sound knowledge of the lives for which it legislates, it fails to be ecological and offers no real hope.
Defenders of the budget might react to the above by arguing that after all its just a budget and is only meant to deal with the economy. But in my theology economy is management of the one household and its family, with equal concern for all. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard sets out the ideal that economy means “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” All should have the dignity of contributing creatively to the common wealth, all should receive enough from it to live well.
Obviously the budget is not based on that sort of economy, but rather on a narrow neo -liberal capitalist economy which makes paramount the interests of the possessors of material wealth in any of its forms, and attends minimally or not at all to the abilities or needs of the poor. I emphasise abilities, as well as needs, since the poorer people of our society have abilities and skills which they want to use in work that gives them a fair reward. The whole disgraceful farce of Universal Benefit began with the warped perception of a politician who thought poverty was moral degeneracy rather than injustice, and it has continued in character with the supposition that the poorest people in the land can easily wait six weeks for the benefit to arrive. The budget made some tiny administrative improvements to this system but it remains an example of how welfare provision reveals the bias of the legislator.
Another, less obvious bias of the budget is the way it ignores the true wealth of society, namely the shared life of families, communities, associations and workplaces, where rich humanity is given and received. The material wealth of individuals and society has its real value in enabling these precious interactions. Christians believe in what the early church called the “economy” of God in which the generous creator gave life to all; and when it was impoverished by human evil, became poor in Jesus so that many could become rich in goodness. A good budget would plan for a just and balanced material economy as the basis of a fruitful life for all its citizens. This one does not do so, but in fact disables its poorer citizens by failing to fund adequately the public services on which they rely.
The economy of God’s house is love for all; this budget is loving to some; indifferent to many.