A year or two ago I was reading the Economist on a flight from somewhere I can’t remember to somewhere else I can’t remember when an advert grabbed my attention. It was by Barclays Bank and depicted a blonde on a white horse riding off into the sunset away from the reader. The caption underneath read: ‘It’s being able to tell the world to get lost.’ Underneath in blue were the words: ‘Wealth. What’s it to you?’ This advert featured in loads of sermons thereafter as an example of a culture that was finally exposing itself unashamedly in all its sad individualism.
I recalled this today because Barclays announced today that it was cutting 2,100 jobs globally of which over 500 would be from its Wealth business. I am sorry for those whose lives will be disrupted by this, but any business that can brazenly advertise itself as in that series of adverts has lost its way.
The drive for personal wealth and security that has characterised the consumerist society has been rooted in an individualism that idolises the self at the expense of society. Now, I was a student of the Soviet Union and am no stranger to Marxism-Leninism and its appalling corruptions of the human being. Yes, I understand that the individualism that values every individual person and refuses simply to subsume the individual into the mass is vital and noble and indispensible. But the individualism that reduces other people to commodities or obstacles is corrupt. My own fulfilment or security (financial or otherwise) is not the ultimate good.
What really upsets me about this sort of culture is that it runs counter to the ethic of Jesus according to which we are called to lay down our life in order that the world might see who God is and what God is like – the God who lays down his own life for the sake of the world. The Gospel pleads that we find ourselves in serving other people and is rooted in a God who in Jesus of Nazareth opts into the world and does not (as in the advert) run away from it. Presumably, Christians are to be christ-ian and opt into the world, rejecting the sort of Barclays fantasy that thinks one’s own security can be ensured in isolation from that of others.
That remains (by extrapolation) my fear not just for individual people, but also individual states. Wherever one stands in relation to the Israel-Gaza crisis, at a pragmatic level it is hard to see how this obscenity will perpetuate anything other than insecurity for Israel. A short-term war will feed the hatred and guarantee the thirst for revenge for generations to come.
Which I guess puts job losses at Barclays into perspective.