Astana 3 003Progress has been made in the culture of this Congress – but not enough. These two days have heard calls from many parties for talk to be converted into action at every level. Yet the day ended with a stage-managed concluding ceremony and not one word of discussion about the Final Declaration. Now, the reason behind that is likely to be that the Secretariat (involving representatives of many of the faiths represented here) has worked on it and agreed it, so there is no need to argue about it all over again in a potentially unmanageable plenary session. I’ll come back to this.

Astana 3 004This morning there were two concurrent ‘group sessions’, one on ‘Dialogue and Cooperation’ and the other on ‘Moral and Spiritual Values, World Ethics’ (sic). The third, which was a plenary, addressed the theme ‘Solidarity, particularly in the Time of Crises’ (sic). I went to the first session on Dialogue and Cooperation’ and heard the usual list of platitudes. But there was also some serious stuff addressed.

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, went straight for critique, asserting that dialogue between religions is only a first step and runs the risk of the people involved having nice conversations and then going home unchanged. As a sponsor of the Alliance of Civilisations initiative (with Turkey), he was keen to illustrate the need for practical and grassroots engagement in a programme to develop an ‘agenda for cultural diversity’. He was impatient with mere talk and said so in unequivocal terms.

Astana 3 005Yet this was followed by speakers extolling the predictable virtues of dialogue. It occurred to me that several Muslim speakers wanted to claim Islam as a peaceful religion while ignoring the dark side of the faith. We heard that ‘India is a land of peace’ – on the day the UN is launching an investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and in which I reminded the assembly of the persecution of Christians in Orissa last year (and ongoing?). I intervened later in the discussion to ask for honesty as a fundamental basis for effective dialogue and to state that dishonesty about bad religion leads us into fantasy and a waste of time and words.

This did not go down well and one or two speakers cited (for example) the Orissa murders as ‘an aberration’ – without declaring when a series of ‘aberrations’ becomes a ‘norm’. Christians cannot be free in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Turkey, but this is not acknowledged by those who wish to pretend all is well everywhere. Freedom of religion in certain places might well be a noble aspiration, but it is often spoken of as if it were a reality now and that is simply not the case. (This position was helpfully and strongly reinforced in a later discussion by Jonathan Aitken who is here representing Christian Solidarity Worldwide.)

Astana 3 010But this leads meAstana 3 013 to a probably surprising conclusion. Had I not spent six years involved in this (often frustrating) process, I would not have been able to make this point clearly and unamibguously to this remarkable gathering without being considered rude, destructive or difficult. The value of this Congress is not primarily that it proves its worth in agreed statements, programmes or outcomes, but in (a) successfully bringing a group of difficult people together in one place and (b) creating the space in which relationships can grow to the point of trust allowing for frankness. This achievement should not be minimised and might even make the vast expense and rather controlling political culture justifiable.

Part of the problem with this Congress is that it is founded, driven and serviced by politicians, but for religious leaders who work on the preparatory Secretariat and do all the talking. This produces an inevitable tension that cnanot be easily resolved: the politicians want to deliver a good and efficient event while the religious leaders want to get to grips with argument – which, of course, might get out of hand and prove to be uncontrollable by those who need to deliver a smooth conference.

And although I am a bit sceptical of the content of certain speeches, there are some very good contributions, too. The Orthodox Leonid Kishkovsky (USA) made a disciplined and substantial short speech which should have moved the discussion on – but was followed by further prepared speeches. An American Muslim woman noted the lack of women around the table and called for this to be redressed in future. She was supported later by my Church of England colleague, Dr Jane Clements. Fr Christian Troll made a helpful distinction between the nature and language of religious and political leadership. The speaker who opened his speech with the words, ‘Let me tell you the history of Islam in China’ cheered me up enormously by not doing so and encapsulating it in a mere three or four minutes.

When I emerged from the hall I was confronted by French, German and Austrian television crews wanting interviews. The German began with something like: ‘So, all is well, the sun is shining on us all, there is nothing wrong between religions anywhere and everything in the world is lovely?’ I knocked that one on the head, but it was not hard to understand why this was the message he was hearing from many speakers.

So, what preliminary conclusions do I draw this evening?

1. The Congress has faults in culture and process and this causes some to feel they have been exploited for either (a) boosting Kazakhstan’s domestic and international image or (b) giving credence to the assertion that Islam is always and everywhere tolerant and unproblematic.

2. These faults are openly identified and discussed and will be addressed at the next meeting of the Secretariat, probably in November this year. That these can be openly articulated and not met with mere defensiveness demonstrates great progress in relationships, process/culture and political maturity – especially with the Kazakhs themselves.

3. The fact that this group of big-shot religious leaders come here, sit together (interspersed and not in ‘faith blocs’), speak freely and listen to (often uncomfortable) neighbours is not to be underestimated. There will be those who question why we pitch up to an event such as this – especially when it is such an effort to get here in the first place – on the grounds that some leaders are playing ‘window-dressing games’. My response is to ask if it would be better not to have this context in which hard questions can now be asked and some hard listening be done? Surely it is better that Sheikh Tantawi and Chief Rabbi Amar sit around the same table (when they don’t have to come) and listen  to each other, isn’t it? Or would we prefer to keep them apart where lack of relationship/proximity can only lead to enmity, generalised (dehumanising) categorisations of ‘the other’ and lack of public accountability for what they do and do not say?

4. The non-monotheistic faiths must feel a bit put out by the language of ‘creation’ and ‘creator’ – used even by the atheist Nazarbayev in several speeches. They have constantly looked for other language to be used in agreed statements, but the dominant language of this 2009 Congress betrayed assumptions about theism that, were I (for example) a Buddhist, I would find irritating and excluding. I wonder if they will stick with the process despite this.

5. Hospitality is a mark of the generosity of the Kingdom of God and the hospitality of the wonderful Kazakh people is remarkable. Furthermore, this is a country that is young, optimistic and involved in creating its future – a big contrast to the tired cynicism of the west where we just try to patch up our institutions and reinvent ourselves without any new or radical energy to create something new.

6. Relationships are now well established to the point where we can move on to substantial discussion of tough themes such as the persecution of religious minorities. That has got to be better than not having a forum in which such discussion is possible.

Other questions remain and will need to be discussed in due course. But, for now, this Congress has ended with a presidential blessing, wonderful Kazakh music in an outdoor amphitheatre, the release of doves and balloons into the sky and a reception to get us fed before bed. Tomorrow will bring a lie in (at last), lunch with the British Ambassador, an afternoon seeing Astana with friends and an evening meal with Lyazzat and her mother. The plane back to London Heathrow via Istanbul leaves at 2.30am…

Astana 3 008Astana 3 015Astana 3 014

Girly music in church? We’ve set a hare running here…

One of the things the Charismatic Movement did in the 1970s and ’80s was give expression to worship that engaged the emotions. This probably had more to do with style of music than mere lyrical content. But it opened some parts of the church up to more emotional songs and that was surely no bad thing. There must be a limit to how many times you can robustly tell God who he is in any one service – which is what a lot of traditional hymns involved us in doing. (I suspect we are telling God what he already knows anyway; so for whose benefit are we doing it? To prove our orthodoxy or otherwise? Discuss…)

As music has developed, however, it has been interesting to see what has longevity and what passes by quickly. Unfortunately, some nonsense has as great a shelf life as some good stuff. I am still not sure how Jesus is supposed to respond to our invitation to ‘fill your sheep’ – as one famous worship song has it: what with – sage and onion?

It is also surely too easy to see a vicious circle between the drift of worship music and what people are increasingly referring to as ‘the feminisation of the church’. Although there may be elements of connection and truth here, I suspect this is too easy a correlation. English blokes are not always the best at being fully rounded emotional beings; so, shaping a spirituality around their sometimes stunted emotional articulacy might not be the wisest of moves. To go back to what I said in my last post on this matter, we need in public worship a diet that feeds not only the whole individual, but the individual of different temperaments at different times of life – that takes the individual as part of a community on a journey that will not always feel the right one at that time.

In other words, ‘worship’ (which, we must remember, is primarily directed to and about God) should provide a vocabulary (for body, mind and spirit) that enables a massive variety of people in a particular community at a particular time in a particular social context to express the truth of their experience and their soul to God and each other.

John-BellThis is where I found the music of John Bell and the Iona Community‘s Wild Goose Worship (now ‘Resource’) Group revolutionary. Taking traditional (and, therefore, already known and loved) tunes, they put new words to them and opened up new expressions of worship. This meant starting where people really are and not pretending that worship starts where life is left behind. Rather than collude in the fantasy that has a worship leader announcing: ‘Let’s leave behind all the stuff of the week just gone – all the preoccupations, etc. – and focus our minds on God’, it encourages people precisely to bring to God their individual and communal experiences and NOT to forget or ignore them. That is why the singing of songs from the World Church (in their own languages) is so important: it helps us briefly enter into the experience of others who are not like us and learn to pray for them.

But two further points remain from comments on my last post. The first has to do with the ‘sacred/secular’ divide. The banality of some Christian worship music (both lyrically and musically), when set against the raw honesty and lyrical intelligence of some ‘secular’ music, is embarrassing.

leonard-cohenI contributed to a BBC Radio 2 documentary in November 2008 which was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah – before it was desecrated by Simon Cowell’s pets – and trying to work out why the song had been covered by so many people. What was the appeal of the song? One of the questions put to me was: ‘Hasn’t Cohen simply stolen the language of religion and applied it to sex and physical experience?’ My response? ‘No, Cohen has understood what many Christians have failed to grasp: that God is interested in the whole of life and not just the ‘spiritual’ bits. When Cohen, reaching deep into the contradictions of sex and love and loss, recalls fallen biblical characters (who are also, and despite this, seen as heroes in the Bible) sings of the ‘broken hallelujah’, he is accepting that we all come to God as messed up people.

But this leads me to the question put to me in an interview with Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times (4/5 April 2009) about the concern of many rock musicians with spirituality. Ludo questioned whether the rock gig now replaces the ‘church’ experience of corporate worship. I think my response can be summarised as: the rock gig might engage with spirituality (seen as the ‘existential reality and experience/questioning’) of the audience, but it is not ‘worship’ insofar as it is not directed towards an object of ultimate value. But it is an experience of corporate questioning, valuing, affirming and questioning – however contradictory.

rock gigMaybe the rock gig has become the closest some people get to ‘common worship’ because the churches have failed to provide the space in which genuine (and often inadequate or contradictory) expression of life, emotion, affirmation and questioning can take place without the leader putting you right before the end of verse 4 of the final song/hymn.

Wesley said that we learn our theology not from what we hear from the pulpit, but from what we sing. Put a good tune to rubbish and it will become popular – and it will soon have us believing rubbish as well as singing it. The ancient/modern debate in relation to worship is now redundant. The question that is pressing has more to do with whether we have clergy and other ‘worship leaders’ who understand what is going on in ‘services’ and are able to create the space in which people can find that the whole of life matters to God – and that, in expressing our individual and common experience, we find that we have been found by the God who is not surprised by what he sees and hears?

I was still ruminating on last week’s lecture to the Welsh Centre for International Affairs by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Ethics, Economics and Global Justice when I read of the indiscriminate murders of ten people in Alabama yesterday and fifteen people in Germany today. Added to that, I also had a long conversation with a friend in the City of London about the current financial crisis and the novel-but-incomprehensible notion of ‘quantitative easing’. And somehow there is a common theme to all three of these matters: alienation.

the-archbishop-of-canterbury1Back in September 2008 I took part in a discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s article in The Spectator the previous day rather mischievously headed Face it: Marx was Partly Right about Capitalism. In it he wrote this about the gap between those who enter into financial transactions and those who use the consequent debt as an asset to be traded elsewhere for profit that is necessarily disconnected from the person whose money it originally was: …’individuals find that their own personal financial decisions and calculations have nothing to do with what is happening to their resources, in a process for which a debt is simply someone else’s wholly disposable asset.’

He then goes on (and I will quote the whole paragraph) to drive the point home that the alienation of the transactee from the transaction can only lead to a fantasy world in which reality disappears behind the hubris of algorithms and greed: ‘Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about capital or the market almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called ‘the market’ to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem. We appeal to ‘business’ to acquire public responsibility and moral vision. And so we lose sight of the fact that the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons who have to make decisions about priorities — not a machine governed by inexorable laws.’

The Archbishop is referring to a system whereby ideas become assumed to be ‘things’ (the Market) and people become commodities subject to the impersonal and amoral powers of the reified abstract. In relation to the financial crisis his point is simply that the further you remove the ‘person’ from the ‘transaction’, the further you remove the moral agent from responsibility. Now read his lecture and you will see how he develops this in relation to ethics and the economy and the goal of global justice.

tim-kretschmerBut I think the same analysis is somehow pertinent to the murders in Germany this morning. We have no idea as yet why the 17 year old Tim Kretschmer decided to slaughter teenagers at his old school. Like those who have committed similar atrocities in Finland, the USA and elsewhere, we only get clues about what goes on in the mind of someone like this. But, clearly, something has driven this young man to believe that this world holds little value for him and that the lives of others are equally expendable.

The recent Good Childhood inquiry makes it clear that children become alienated from society and their own responsibility when (a) that is what they see adults living out and (b) when they perceive (unconsciously?) they have no stake in society or how it might develop and be shaped for the future. In other words, alienation from both engagement with and benefit from the world and society in which they live.

There isn’t space to develop this here, but I need to think further about the implications of this for both the economy (and our agency in shaping it) and for our children. This remains impossible without some reference to the reasons behind the establishment of those Old Testament ‘laws’ that offered boundaries for good mutual living and sharing – neither fantasising about the ‘ideal society’ nor romanticising the poverty around them, but always ensuring that the powerful should never forget that once they were slaves and everyone has a place in a healthy community in which value is attributed by something more satisfying than a fat bank balance.

luiz-felipe-scolariSchadenfreude is a terrible thing. But it is a little hard to resist when the mighty are brought low and the powerful lose their strength. Those of us who deplored the way Roman Abramovich was able to use his dodgy billions to buy Chelsea, price everyone else out of the market, win the Premiership and crow over the clubs lower down the table, have at least been able to watch the whole show begin to fall apart. Or, at least. to weaken.

Today saw the dismissal of Chelsea’s third manager in two years. It was ‘the Special One’, Jose Mourinho, who produced the champions who gloated about their money and strength and success. Avram Grant passed the time reasonably well. Then the Portuguese saviour arrived, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Seven months later and he’s gone. Chelsea are fourth and losing their gloss. Well, I am a Liverpool man and have had to endure a couple of decades of gloating from Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea fans after we graciously stood down from three decades of football dominance in England and Europe and let the little clubs have their chance.

I know I keep coming back to this, but it seems really important to have a proper perspective on ‘time’. As Mary’s Song, Magnificat, makes clear with uncompromising and worldly candour, the mighty will fall and what looks solid and permanent will one day collapse. Whether it be political and military empires, the global banking system or football clubs, the louder they shout and the harder it is to catch the sound of crumbling underneath the noise. Empires come and go, hubris leads to nemesis and the world can change in previously inconceivable ways.

Scolari might not be encouraged by this, but he is an actor in a play that provides a metaphor for the way the world is: the victim of people who have believed a myth and cannot bear to see the end of the fantasy they thought would be permanent. But life moves on and the mighty fall and the meek get raised up. The weak appear to be the strong ones and the fools turn out to be the wise ones.

I realise this is a bit of a leap, but this makes me reflect on the Church. It is always great to see ‘success’, but the edifice of ‘success’ (numbers, wealth, resources or noisiness) can seduce us into thinking that God must be on our side and approving/blessing all we think and believe and do. Yet history is littered with those who claim numbers and strength to validate their views over against those who differ – and, as time rolls on, are shown to have been wrong, unbiblical or to have found the right answer to the wrong question.

Surely the proper response to ‘success’ is that humility – rooted in the conviction that time will eat away at the powerful edifice – that knows its place and recognises that it might be wrong. One day I am going to write a book called ‘Towards a Confident Humility’ and work this one out in more detail. But, in the meantime, I’ll just wonder how many more managers Chelsea will go through in the next two or three years. And, of course, I’ll continue to hope that Liverpool doesn’t go the same way.

cormac-murphy-oconnor1Incidentally, I know I should be writing something sensible about the opening of the General Synod this afternoon and the speech by the soon-to-retire Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, but I am not on the Synod, was busy in London and have only read George Pitcher’s intelligent and concise reading of the speech. So, I’m left with Chelsea. And my schadenfreude. And, of course, the guilt this induces in me.

atheist-busI just picked this up from Bishop Alan’s blog – you can make up your own atheist slogan and see it on the side of a bus! Wonderful!

When Abba proclaimed that ‘it’s a rich man’s world’, they were simply repeating what has been complained about for thousands of year. The prophets of the Old Testament had less of a bias to the poor and more of a bias to telling the rich to use their wealth and power for the common good and the protection of the weak. The Psalmists constantly complained about the injustice of a world in which ‘the wicked prosper’ and the ‘godly’ just keep getting a bum deal. So, there’s nothing new in moaning about rich people running the world.

But it seems to me that it isn’t good enough simply to moan about the current recession and the global financial crisis, scapegoating ‘greedy bankers’ – even if they deserve it. It is all too easy to be wise after the event and there are loads of smug people slinging the dirt around at the moment.

Andreas Whittam-Smith brings some wisdom to the situation in today’s Independent ( The natural search for revenge (usually dressed up in the language of ‘accountability’) will get us nowhere and will solve nothing. But, as charity trustees in the UK would demand an inquiry into where the system had gone wrong with their charity, so ought the British Government establish an independent inquiry into how the world’s economic and financial systems were able to go so awry.

People like me will be able to offer a limited perspective. I have three adult children and all of them have been through university – indeed, one is still there. They emerged with massive debts and begin their working (and married) life with an assumption that living in debt is the only option – the norm. For those of us who have spent our lives trying to live within our means, this has always looked wrong. It was not rocket science to realise that the endless offers of credit cards, loans and debt-consolidation schemes from banks were unsustainable. Lending money indiscriminately to people without any scrutiny of their future ability to repay – also the problem with sub-prime mortgages – was always bound to end in tears. But, when everything is going well and the general standard of living is high, we all-too-easily assume that the experts must know what they are doing. Now we know they didn’t. Or, if they did, they were criminally selfish.

The point about an inquiry is that it would re-tell the story in the cold light of day and expose where the system and decision-making went wrong. And I suspect it would make the fantasyland activities of the banking sector look embarrassingly stupid. But at least it would help us to learn and learn and learn.

I suspect that we would end up questioning the values that have underpinned the economic and banking system in the past thirty years. I would not be the first to suggest that money doesn’t actually exist – that it merely represents an arbitrary system of relative values that only pertain if everyone agrees to the same assumptions about where ‘value’ lies. That is surely why the system, founded on trust and confidence, collapsed so quickly when trust and confidence evaporated. The uncritical assumption that economic growth is eternally sustainable and can only generate winners now looks like the Emperor’s new clothes.

But this situation now provides us with a unique opportunity not only to try to get the economy going again, but also to re-think the values and assumptions that underlie it. It enables us to ask (without embarrassment) for whom the economy and the banks exist – and whether the system is there to serve the people whose money it uses or if the people are merely there to serve the system and those who run it.

Coincidentally, the Independent today also has an interview with Jerome Kerviel, the French banker who lost Societe Generale in the region of five billion Euros. He describes the unreality of the gambling he was involved in and the lack of scrutiny by his superiors as long as he was making vast profits. His (and their) negligent hubris led to disaster. He describes his joy at making huge profits out of events such as the 7/7 Tube bombings in London and the 9/11 attacks in the USA, exposing the hard fact that some people love crises because they are able to make huge amounts of money from them.

Although I think I understand why Gordon Brown is taking us further into almost inconceivable amounts of deeper debt (to get the credit flow going so that we can gradually resume the lending and borrowing that allows businesses to function as well as grow), I have a possibly simplistic suspicion that it might not be good to sort out a debt problem by going further into debt. We cannot and must not simply try to resume ‘business as usual’, if that means returning to the same old fantasies that have dominated the last couple of decades and not learning that a fundamental review and repositioning of values is essential to the future construction of a fair economy.

Abba’s cynicism will always be there, whatever system is shaped in the future. But whatever happens next, the world cannot re-dress the Emperor in the same old new clothes.

Today I am a divided man. I am at the beautiful Lee Abbey in Devon, looking out over the wild sea and thinking holy thoughts (sometimes). But the world is watching Barack Obama being inaugurated and I can’t get mobile phone reception or a broadband internet connection. There’s probably a telly somewhere, but it seems that ‘retreat’ is supposed to mean ‘retreat’. Oh well.

When I drove up the hill earlier to get a mobile signal for my phone messages I got a text message from a friend in New York who said that the churches will now be losing more worshippers as everyone there seems to be pinning all their unreasonable adulation on Obama. This isn’t the first time I have heard stuff about Obama that has made me wince with pity.

Obama comes into office in the face of unprecedented crises: two unwinnable wars, the challenge of Iran, the scandal of Gaza and Israel’s behaviour there, and the collapse of the banking system with the global plunge into economic recession. No wonder people want a saviour who will sort it all out – and Obama seems a nice, clever chap, doesn’t he.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent warnings about the search for a saviour should be heeded. There is no hero capable of sorting this lot out singlehandedly and Obama will fail on a number of counts. I hope people will be merciful to him and give him the space to fail as well as succeed. The search for a saviour always ends in tears and our memories are short when we romanticise the ‘saviours’ of the past.

Last night I was reading Nikita Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR in February 1956 in which he denounced the cult of the individual nurtured by Stalin. Stalin applied his massive and insecure ego to the elimination of millions and the attempt to portray himself as the sole saviour of the Soviet Empire. It is estimated that he was responsible for the deaths of up to 30 million people. Yet last year he was in the running for ‘top Russian’ – despite the fact that he was Georgian. People forget very easily.

This is not new. One of the reasons the Israelites of the Old Testament were required to establish annual festivals(see Deuteronomy 26, for example) was to make sure they didn’t forget their origins and their story. If they became prosperous, they would forget that they had once been slaves and might begin to treat others as such. Guess what happened.

The weight of expectation on Obama is heavy. The weight of unreasonable fantasy on his shoulders is immeasurable. We should pray for him and hs family and pray for mercy as well as strength in integrity. God bless him.

Last night I went out to the cinema in Croydon to see the acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire. The posters (as well as a number of critics) declare that this is the ‘feel-good film of the decade’. Based in the slums of Mumbai in India, it involves, ethnic and religious violence, abject poverty, horrific exploitation of orphaned or abandoned street children (including deliberate blinding to make begging children more appealing), dehumanising of already damaged people, gangs, corruption, torture and suspicion.

Now, maybe I am a little linguistically challenged here, but that doesn’t make me feel good at all. The film is supposed to depict the triumph of love over destruction and violence, but it left me thinking not of the young man and woman who triumph, but of the millions who don’t. Life is portrayed as cheap (apart from the two good-looking stars) and disposable.

The last time I went to the cinema it was to see Mamma Mia. Perhaps that was ‘feel-good’ becasue it was silly and contrived fantasy – also based on dodgy relationships and haunting pasts.

However, what both films have in common is a great soundtrack (I love the Bollywood stuff).

Saying ‘I am a footy fan’ (which I am) sounds a bit like saying publicly, ‘I am an alcoholic’ (which I am not). Not only does Ronaldo write off his Ferrari and jump into his Bentley, but the wages earned by footballers are ridiculous. This morning the news is that Manchester City are going to buy Kaka for  over £100million and that his weekly wage will be around half a million quid.

I guess there are two ways of looking at the rather skewed set of values that allow this sort of thing in the middle of a global banking crisis. One way is simply to shrug and be satisfied that at least these guys offer some light and entertainment and colour in a rather dark world. The second is to wonder if these guys epitomise the problems I wrote about regarding Barclays Wealth.

What should not go unremarked is the amazing charitable giving and support that some highly-paid footballers indulge in. What also should not go unremarked is that more people go to church each week than go to football matches – and yet the difference in investment by media in religion and football is staggering. That is why we highlighted this in the joint submission by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to Ofcom on public service broadcasting recently. This is not to pretend that investment should go with simple numbers, but to draw attention to the inconsistency of argument behind the investment. (Songs of Praise gets a similar audience to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, but a fraction of the investment – which is not knocking Jonathan Ross, but exposing the inconsistency.)

And the link between God and Everton? Don’t be ridiculous – I’m a Liverpool fan.

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.