I have been a little occupied recently. I legally became the Bishop of Leeds on Sunday in a legal ceremony (called Confirmation of Election) at York Minster. We did the legal preliminaries before the big event, then concluded during the service attended by nearly 3,000 people. This was the first event at which all parts of the new diocese came together to celebrate a new beginning – and it was, thanks to the wonderful Minster staff – a great event: four cathedral choirs, a brass ensemble, an excellent church worship band, visitors from home and abroad, and full of colour. My friend and German counterpart as co-Chair of the Meissen Commission, Bischof Professor Friedrich Weber, did a reading – as did Professor Michael Clarke, chair of the Dioceses Commission which kicked off the whole transformation business in the first place.

What didn't come over in the service was the enormous amount of sheer hard work put in to the transition towards the creation of the new diocese by an army of brilliant people. The closer you get to the detail of the processes we are going through and the more you realise just how complex and demanding the whole business is. I would want to pay tribute to the unseen shapers of the infrastructure upon which we shall build the new diocese, orientated by a fresh and creative articulation of our vision. Watch this space, but hats off to the 'workers'.

While all this has been occupying my mind and time, some big questions have arisen in the world around us. I haven't had time or space to follow all the detail, but, sitting on a train to London, the following questions come to mind:

1. What are the 'British values' that Michael Gove wants taught in our schools? In what way are they 'British'? Who decides what is a 'British value'? (As I keep proposing, 'Britishness' is something we keep creating and not merely something we inherit from a real or imagined glorious past.)

2. Who is driving strategy for the British Humanist Association? To ride on the back of the 'Trojan horse' to attack faith schools seems particularly inept and disingenuous when all the schools involved are state schools. Has someone missed something here – or is this just another case of prejudice leading to narrow propaganda?

3. When did 'diversity' become a virtue as opposed to a phenomenon? The word describes a reality, but it has become elevated to a virtue or value that has to be uncritically revered. As Mark Easton points out, one man's diversity is another woman's extremism. So, what are the limits of diversity, who sets them, and according to which criteria?

4. Does Ofsted retain any credibility? Either they were inept when they last did their work on these schools, or they are inept now. How are we to judge the judgements of any Ofsted inspections – a question asked well before the latest credibility crisis? (This is tied in with the question of centralisation and accountability: a political dogma that proclaims decentralisation and the virtue of the small state has somehow managed to remove local accountability and replace it with centralised accountability to the Secretary of State. And nobody laughed…)

5. Who allows Sepp Blatter to run world football as a personal fiefdom, refusing even to disclose his salary? And why does the rest of the footballing world collude in this travesty?

That's all.

 

This is the text of this morning's Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

Yesterday a conference on Inclusive Capitalism was held at the Mansion House in London with eminent speakers such as Bill Clinton, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde and the Prince of Wales debating how capitalism needs to be re-imagined for a changing world. One of the questions being addressed was which type of capitalism works best to build economic and social value?

Now, I am not an economist, and I get a bit weary of listening to economic language that seems to assume that economic questions have purely economic answers. So, I am encouraged that at the heart of yesterday's international conference lay a fundamental question that puts economics in its rightful place: who and what is the economic system there for? In other words, you can't look at economics without querying social value and human interest.

This is obvious, really, isn't it? A strong economy cannot be an end in itself, but, rather, must be a means to an end. But, what that end should be – and how it should be achieved – is a matter of considerable and often aggressive debate. Yet, it asks of us what we think society is about, and uncomfortably focuses our attention on our anthropology: that is, who we think people are and why they matter. 'Inclusive Capitalism' sounds good, but is it possible to have an economic system that doesn't exclude?

One of the phrases quoted a good deal in relation to this conference – including on this programme yesterday – was Jesus's remark in what we often call 'The Sermon on the Mount': “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” But, it seems to me that Jesus is polarising to make a point. In fact, he precedes this statement with: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

This is a very powerful way of putting the question raised earlier: who is money for? If you love people – and not just in a generic way, but in the detail of the real people who come uninvited across your path (think Good Samaritan, for example) – then money is a means of enabling people to thrive … or, maybe in the short term, just survive. But, what if you assume that money and wealth exist for their own sake – and for the sole good of the person who accumulates both? It is not hard to see what sort of an economist Jesus might have been…

Undoubtedly, the system we have grown in the last century has brought massive benefits. But, we are now responsible for how we hand this on to our grandchildren. So, we are still left with the question that the conference began with yesterday: does the economy serve people or do people serve the economy? The answer will tell us what sort of people we have chosen to be.

 

Abba thought it was all about money. The MC in Cabaret sang that ‘money makes the world go around’. And Der Spiegel poses the key question on its front page this week: money rules the world… but who rules money?

At least this question reminds us that, despite the technology that now drives financial transactions across the world, it is still real people who are responsible (a) for the system we accept, and (b) the values that shape our acceptance of that system.
 
It seems to me that this is actually the bit of reconnection that needs to be made today. Politicians seem to think that more of the same systems that have created our current distress will get us out of the mess we are now in. Where, we ask, is the political or economic imagination – the vision of an economic system that puts people back at the heart of the enterprise? Where is the vision that re-grasps the only dynamic that can ever have integrity: that money exists for people and not people for money? Which is subject and which is object?

These questions might be inevitable and acute right now, but they are not new. Jesus quietly slipped in the notion that if we want to know where your values really lie (and what really drives you and your choices, etc) we’ll need to see your bank statement. Heart and money lie closely together – at least for those who have money to love.
 
So, Spiegel‘s front-cover question is a deeper one than it appears. Markets do not drive the world, money does not behave as if personified, the economy cannot be ascribed personality or moral competence. People make systems, people are driven by values and assumptions about what (and who) matters (even if there is a discrepancy between what they think and what the evidence suggests), and people decide on the ends the systems are intended to achieve – and in whose interests.

From what I have heard (which, admittedly, isn’t much), Ministers blame the police for handling the riots badly. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has come under fire for not having made any statement about the riots before his response in the House of Lords yesterday. Then, the first thing he did was praise the police.

Awkward…

It appears to be mostly media people who are upset by his apparent silence. He is, after all, supposed to ‘say something’ every time anything happens.

Why?


It is for the bishops of the affected areas to speak, not primarily the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has no jurisdiction over other bishops’ dioceses. There is something prophetically stubborn about Rowan’s refusal to accept that (a) every time someone sticks a microphone under his nose he has to say something, (b) his job is to feed the media with words, and (c) there is something to be gained from speaking before thinking – or being sure of the facts. There are plenty of others (like me, obviously) willing to comment; why should he?

His silence – however frustrating for the rest of us – makes his response more powerful. And he didn’t once say, “I told you so.” I will comment further on this phenomenon (silence), but, for now, here is what he said:

“My Lords, along with all of the members of Your Lordship’s House, I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the work of the police force in recent days, and the work of the emergency services. These are people who have put themselves at risk in a very costly way in order to minimise the risk to others, and we are reminded by what we have seen in recent days of the crucial role that these services play in our society. I believe there are indeed questions about the right level of policing that is appropriate to a complex and troubled society like ours, and I hope that those are questions that will be seriously addressed in the days ahead.

I wish also to express the deepest sympathy to those who have lost members of their family, who have lost their livelihoods, who have in some measure lost hope and confidence in recent days. And it is perhaps that loss of hope and confidence that is the most serious, the most long-term issue which we have to address as a society. In the events we have seen in recent days, there is nothing to romanticise and there is nothing to condone in the behaviour that has spread across our streets. This is indeed criminality – criminality pure and simple, perhaps, but as the Prime Minister reminded us, criminality always has a context, and we have before us the task of understanding that context more fully.

Seeking explanations, it is worth remembering, is not the same as seeking excuses, and in an intelligent and critical society, we do seek explanations so that we may be able to respond with greater intelligence and greater generosity. My Lords, one of the most troubling features, as I think all would agree, of recent days, has been the spectacle of not only young people, but even children of school age, children as young as 7 taking part in the events we have seen. And surely, high on our priorities as we respond to these circumstances must be the question of what we are to do in terms not only of rebuilding the skills of parenting in some of our communities, but in rebuilding education itself.

Over the last two decades, many would agree that our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship – ‘civic excellence’ as we might say. And a good educational system in a healthy society is one that builds character, that builds virtue.

In the wake of the financial crisis a few years ago, we began to hear more discussion than we’d heard for a very long time about the need for a recovery of the virtues. The need for a recovery of the sense of how character was to be built in our society, because character my Lords, involves an awareness not only of the connection between cause and effect in my own acts, but a sense, a deepened sense of empathy with others, a deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project in which we all have to participate.

There are indeed, as we’ve been reminded, no quick answers here. And I believe one of the most significant questions that we ought to be addressing in the wake of these deplorable events, is what kind of education we are interested in, for what kind of a society. Are we prepared to think not only about discipline in classrooms, but also about the content and ethos of our educational institutions – asking can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens. Yesterday I was speaking to a friend who teaches in higher education, who said that she had been overwhelmed with the number of messages she had received from the young people she was involved in, expressing their anger and their frustration at what they had seen on television. They believed that their own generation was being betrayed by the activity of many young people.

And that, My Lords, is simply a reminder that the young people of this country deserve the best. The reaction of so many of them to the events of recent days has been, as we’ve already been reminded, an inspiration. Just as has been the reaction of so many in our communities – generous, sacrificial, and imaginative. My Right Reverend Brother the Bishop of London has already spoken in other contexts about the way in which communities have rallied, and the place of churches and other faith communities in that rallying, to provide support, to provide emergency help, and simply to provide a quiet space for reflection. Communities deserve the best, and above all, let me repeat it My Lords, young people deserve the best.

I would hope that in our response to these events we shall hold in mind what we owe to the next generation of our citizens – and I underline that phrase “the next generation of our citizens”. What we have seen is a breakdown, not of society as such, but a breakdown of the sense of civic identity, shared identity, shared responsibility. The Government has very rightly made a priority of building community cohesion in what it has spoken of in recent months. Talk of the “Big Society”, of which we have heard a great deal, has focused precisely on the rebirth, the renaissance, of that civic identity. Now we need to see what that is going to look like. Now we need – all of us, without any point-scoring from a partisan approach – we need all of us to reflect on what that building will require in terms of investment in the next generation – in formal education, but also in the provision of youth services, imaginatively and consistently, across the country.

My Lords, I’ve spoken a little about the way in which communities have responded, not only volunteer bodies, but local businesses and also individuals, building new friendships, new networks. People have discovered why community matters. They’ve discovered why solidarity is important. They have begun to discover those civic virtues that we’ve talked about in the abstract. In other words, My Lords, I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, including in Your Lordship’s House, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society.”

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:New York, USA

My grandson is almost seven months old. He lives with his mum and dad in Liverpool. On the notice board in my office I have a big photo of him. He’s laughing all over his face… wearing his first Liverpool kit. No wonder he’s happy.

Does dressing him in a Liverpool kit mean that he is being brainwashed or indoctrinated by narrow-minded parents and grandparents? Well, if one line of argument is right, we should probably all be in court for ‘shaping’ the little lad and not allowing him to grow up and make up his own mind.

One of the bizarre things clergy often get told is that parents want their baby baptised, but that they don’t want the child to be brought up in the life of the Church because ‘we want him/her to make his/her own mind up’. Apparently, this applies to religion, but not to any other aspect of a child’s life. So, we can play a particular type of music, provide any nurture framework shaped by any worldview or set of values, dress the kiddies according to our taste and… and pretend that this is all neutral territory and value-free in any ‘indoctrination’ sense. But, when it comes to shaping a child’s world view (which issues in practice and habit), anything is OK provided it isn’t religious.

How have we got to a position where some people think (uncritically assume?) that there is some ‘neutral’ ground – which they occupy – over against the ‘loaded’ ground occupied by, for example, religious people?

There is no neutral, value-free territory. Every child is brought up according to some world view or value framework which is often not argued for.

What has brought this to mind is the rather odd view I heard on the radio this afternoon in the context of the latest fostering controversy. It was to the effect that people are free to believe whatever they want, provided they don’t do anything with it. In other words, ‘belief’ is a private opinion which can only be acted upon if it conforms to someone else’s assumed norms.

So, if you ‘believe’ that living according to the precepts of Jesus Christ is good or essential, you are supposed to keep your ‘belief’ in the realms of opinion. But, if you ‘believe’ that no negative  judgement should ever be made about any other practice or lifestyle, that is a ‘belief’ that can be given free rein. Is that not weird?

This is the real question behind some of the noisy debates occupying both airwaves and the digital world. Who decides what is ‘neutral’? And when did ‘belief’ get reduced to mere private opinion when inconvenient to those who consider themselves to be ‘neutral’?

These aren’t the only questions, but it seems to me that they are the ones most ignored.