THE CHRISTIAN FAITH AND THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
This is a response to a lecture of that title given by Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach in Swansea in March 2013. I have divided my response into two parts - (1) The Christian Faith and (2) The Financial crisis (or a general reflection on free market economics). Part (2) may, or may not, follow.
Part One: The Christian Faith
'Jesus's teaching on economic matters'
Story of a successful revolutionary (Brian Griffiths)
Story of an unsuccessful revolutionary (me)
Morality and the Market Place
Is Jesus business friendly?
Was Moses business friendly?
The two testaments
Two-tier Christianity - monastic and evangelical
Postscript: On social justice
'JESUS'S TEACHING ON ECONOMIC MATTERS'
When buying or selling you can hardly avoid sin. So, in either case, be sure you lose a little in the transaction.
Evagrius the Solitary: On asceticism and stillness
I want to begin with a story which I think illustrates an approach to economic questions that is faithful to the teachings of Jesus. It concerns one of the desert fathers, Abba Agathon. Like many of the hermits of the desert Agathon supported himself with a simple craft that would not distract his attention too much from the work of prayer and communion with God. He would then bring his wares to the market, a dangerous moment in the life of a hermit seeking freedom from the passions, when trade was done by bargaining and therefore was a competition of self interest between buyer and seller.
On this occasion as Agathon was bringing his wares to the market he met a crippled man, a man without the use of his legs. 'Take me to the town', the crippled man said. So Agathon loaded him on his back and carried him to town. When they arrived, the man asked Agathon to set him down where he was selling his wares. When he had made his first sale the man asked him how much he had received. Agathon told him. 'Buy me a cake', the man said. Which Agathon did. When he had sold the second the man again asked him how much he had received and again Agathon told him. 'Buy me this' he was told, and he did so and the third time it was 'Buy me that' and he did so, and so on through the day. Every time Agathon sold something the man asked him for something equivalent to the price he received and Agathon gave it to him. When the day was done the crippled man asked to be brought back to where Agathon had found him. So Agathon again took him on his back and carried him back. When he had set him down the man turned round and said 'Agathon, you are full of blessings' revealing himself to be an angel of God sent to test him. (1)
In this story, Agathon does no more than what Jesus tells him to do: 'from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.' (Luke 6.29)
Jesus is very consistent, and emphatic, on the subject of private property. He has nothing to say in its favour. Most notable is the story of the encounter with the rich young man, Matthew 19, 16-22:
16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
Even the Orthodox Study Bible gags at this in its notes and suggests this was a particular problem Jesus had discerned in this particular young man, not to be taken as a general rule. But that this is not the case can be seen in the reaction of the disciples, who were 'greatly astonished' - 'Who then can be saved?' they ask, a question that would be meaningless if they did not believe that Jesus was laying down a general principle. Jesus replies, giving us some grounds for hope: 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' But Peter then blurts out in his typically impulsive manner, that the disciples have indeed 'left all and followed You.' And though Jesus commends the disciples He uses the occasion to make his already hard saying even harder: 'everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my sake shall receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.' (Matt 19.29)
These are among what might be called the commandments of Jesus - the things we have to do if we want to inherit eternal life.
What is the sense of these commandments? Christians believe that Jesus opened the doors to eternal life which had been closed because of Sin. He gave access to the Tree of Life in Paradise which we had lost through eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In order to profit from the gift of eternal life however we have to make a transition from the 'old man' - Adam - to the 'new man' - Christ. The commandments of Christ are the means by which that can be done. The old man, Adam, is dominated by the passions - anger, pride, lust etc - which have to be overcome if we are to fulfil the 'two greatest commandments': 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and all your mind.' ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your strength, ALL your mind. And 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' (Matt 22.37-40, Luke 10.27). When asked to elaborate on who the neighbour is, He tells the story of the good Samaritan. One of the points of this story is that the 'neighbours' - the Samaritan and the man fallen among thieves - do not know each other. Indeed, as the story goes, they may never have exchanged any words between themselves. The 'neighbour' whom we are to love 'as ourselves', then, is not someone to whom we might owe any obligations of mutual affection - family members or friends: 'If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same' (Luke 6.32-3). And of course the Old Testament commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself is, famously, further extended to refer to loving one's enemies - 'those who hate you ... those who curse you ... those who abuse you' (Luke 6.27).
STORY OF A SUCCESSFUL REVOLUTIONARY (BRIAN GRIFFITHS)
There is a large Christian literature the aim of which is to soften the impact of these plain and unequivocal commandments of Jesus, to reduce them to something more practical, more easily compatible with the demands of our everyday life. This talk is a response to a talk given last March in Swansea by Brian Griffiths - Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach. Griffiths came from an evangelical Protestant background in Swansea. As a student in the London School of Economics he attended Westminster chapel under the great Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher David Martyn Lloyd Jones. He later joined the Anglican Church but still in the evangelical wing under John Stott in All Souls, Langham Place. He was a lecturer in LSE from 1965 to 1975 and in that role he was part - increasingly a very important part - of what was effectively a revolution in thinking on economics and in our political life.
This was the transition from an economic thinking dominated by J.M.Keynes, which allowed for a great deal of state involvement in economic life, to Friedrich Hayek, who argued the classical liberal case that the interference of government could only do harm to the operations of a free market which, left to its own devices, was a self correcting mechanism that could generally be relied on to produce the best possible result. Famously, Margaret Thatcher, when she first became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, interrupted the speaker at a meeting of a Conservative think-tank by producing a copy of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, slapping it down on a table and declaring 'This is what we believe'. (2)
Griffiths, who by this time had moved on to become Professor of Banking and International Finance in City University (the 'City' in question being the City of London) was consulted by the Conservative government from its earliest days in 1979 and he used his influence both in memos and in articles in the press to support the government aim of restricting the money supply in order to combat inflation, regardless of the effects on manufacturing and employment. Indeed, he complained that the government was not moving hard or fast enough, arguing that government support for an industrial structure that was no longer competitive in world markets was preventing a necessary reorientation of the market that was inevitable and could only be the more painful the longer it was postponed. (3) In 1985 he was appointed as head of Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit and in that role played an important part in the deregulation of the financial services industry which many people (myself included) see as ultimately responsible for the financial crisis which became apparent in 2008. In 1990, after Margaret Thatcher's removal from office, he went on to become Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
STORY OF AN UNSUCCESSFUL REVOLUTIONARY (ME)
Some aspects of this story have a personal interest for me. I have friends in Northern Ireland who are great admirers of both Martyn Lloyd Jones and John Stott, Griffiths' mentors in the Protestant world. I accompanied one of my friends on a sort of pilgrimage to Lloyd Jones's grave in Newcastle Emlyn (and he accompanied me as I went to venerate what might or might not be the relics of Saint David). I wrote a Ph.D. thesis and later a book on the history of Calvinism in Ulster and made great use of the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast, a wonderful store of Calvinist writings from the sixteenth century to the present day, run by John Grier, the son of Lloyd Jones' friend and colleague W.J.Grier who founded the fundamentalist Evangelical Presbyterian Church in protest against the introduction of 'liberal' interpretations of biblical history in mainstream Presbyterianism. Though never tempted to join this particular school of religious thought I have a certain intellectual respect for it.
I wrote my thesis in the mid seventies in Peterhouse, the Cambridge college which by that time had become a major centre for the development of the body of thought that would later be called, or at least associated with, 'Thatcherism'. At the time I was a member of an eccentric, free thinking little Marxist group, the British and Irish Communist Organisation, but for reasons to do with Northern Ireland politics I had become friendly with T.E. (Peter) Utley, a leader writer for the Daily Telegraph who, I am told, wrote the speech Margaret Thatcher gave on assuming office, the one that quoted Saint Francis. I remember Utley taking me along to hear Milton Friedman speak - very wittily as I recall - in the Institute of Economic Affairs which existed to promote the free market ideology of Friedman and Hayek.
From my own point of view I tended to regard these people - quite wrongly as it turned out - as harmless utopians. They had an idea and they had thought it through to its logical conclusions and that struck me as being interesting but also pointless because the British working class was never again going to accept the status of being a mere passive factor in the production process. The distortions in the market the IEA complained about were a consequence of the balance of social forces. The working class through the trade union movement had become the dominant force in the society. What was now required was that that force, used negatively to prevent the proper functioning of a capitalist economy, had to be used positively so that the economy would be reorganised in the interest of the working class which by now meant the interest of society as a whole. The dominant class had to develop the skills that were necessary to become a ruling class. (4)
For this reason I, with the very right wing Peterhouse as my base, became secretary of the 'Cambridge Workers Control Group' which existed mainly to support the proposals of the Bullock Report on Industrial Democracy. These were centred on the proposition that - where there was a desire for it - the structure of major industries in Britain would be reorganised so that management, in addition to a continued responsibility to shareholders, would also be responsible to the workforce, the people who had the most obvious personal interest in the wellbeing of the place where they worked. This seemed to us in the BICO to be the logical next stage in the history of Britain understood as a continual advance in the power of the working class. In the event, however, the trade union movement, and the Socialist movement in general, even including the Institute for Workers Control, refused the opportunity offered to them. As Hugh Scanlon of the AUEW said: 'It is management's right to manage' and by implication it was the job of the trades unions to oppose them. Neil Kinnock declared, ludicrously, that Bullock was not radical enough for him. The Marxist left seemed dissatisfied with anything short of revolution in the streets.
The end result of the working class refusal to take control was that management and government - almost inevitably if some sort of order was to be restored to British industry - took the unions on and defeated them. A process was set in motion by which management, responsible only to the shareholder interest, with no responsibility to the workforce, became the self serving élite we all know today. The working class became what I thought they would never be again - a mere factor in the cost of production. And British history ceased to make any sense.
MORALITY AND THE MARKET PLACE
Brian Griffiths had been very much involved in the work of the Institute of Economic Affairs, publishing or contributing to several pamphlets they published - Competition in Banking in 1971, Money and Economic Policy in 1972, 'Stricter monetary and fiscal controls' in 1976. In 1971 he published a book on the banking system in Mexico and another on inflation in 1976. In 1980, after Bullock had been defeated (not, as it happens, by the right wing of British politics but by the left) the IEA published a little booklet, the record of a symposium - Trade Unions, Public Goods or Public 'Bads'? - with a contribution by Griffiths: 'The Economics of Labour Power - Can Trade Unions raise real wages?', arguing that the unions could only force wages up for one sector of the working class at the expense of other sectors of the working class. It was beginning to be possible to envisage a world where the trade unions were no longer a power to be reckoned with.
In all this, Griffiths appears as a straightforward economist with a view of the world more or less in line with that of Friedrich Hayek, uncomplicated by other factors such as, for example, a commitment to evangelical Christianity. In 1980, however, he gave a series of lectures which were to be published in 1982 as Morality and the Market Place, arguing for the relevance of Christian values to the business world. Morality and the Market Place, somewhat disingenuously subtitled 'Christian alternatives to capitalism and socialism', presents itself as a critique of Friedman and Hayek. 'The lectures', he says in his preface (p.7), 'were a response to a challenge posed some years earlier by Milton Friedman. "How can you be a Christian" he said, 'and advocate the market economy? After all, didn't Jesus say that it is more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"' What Griffiths tries to do in response to this is not so much present alternatives to capitalism (not to mention socialism) as to show that 'Judaeo-Christian' values provide a better support for capitalism than the secular libertarianism of Hayek and Friedman. (5) In 1984, he developed this argument further with The Creation of Wealth. These two books laid out the basic arguments that were to underpin the talk he gave in Swansea.
Essentially what Griffiths wants to argue is that the market - in industrial products, in food and in services, including financial services - should indeed be left to its own devices as recommended by Friedman and Hayek. However, the markets will only function correctly if very high standards of moral probity are applied. This cannot be imposed by government regulation and so we have to rely on a freely chosen moral culture. The best source for such a culture is religious belief, and the particular strength of religious belief is that it imposes certain moral absolutes given by God. For a Bible-believing Christian like Griffiths, these moral absolutes are revealed in the Bible. The Christian, in his view, makes a particularly good business man or business woman because he or she is concerned with the wellbeing of society as a whole but able to rise above the shifting sands of public opinion - the moods and fashions that might influence the electorate - to which a government would have to respond. (6)
There is an obvious practical difficulty that comes to mind and I have not yet found a place where Griffiths addresses it. This is that, in order for these highly moral Christians to temper the market in such a way that it will serve the common good, they have to be in positions of authority, they have to seize what Anthony Benn used to call the 'commanding heights' of the - well, Benn would have said the British economy but in the age of 'globalisation' I suppose we must say the world economy. It is difficult to see how this could be assured without legislation to prevent atheists or Hindus or animists from engaging in business, or at least from rising to the commanding heights. However, in this talk I am mainly concerned with the theoretical or theological side of things rather than the practical - intriguing though the practical side might be.
IS JESUS BUSINESS-FRIENDLY?
To develop his argument Griffiths has to show that the moral absolutes revealed in the Word of God are, so to speak, 'business friendly'. I began this talk by outlining very briefly the moral absolutes as I understand them in Jesus's teaching and they do not seem to me to be at all business friendly. Griffiths is of course aware of the problem - as a reader of the Bible he could hardly fail to be. How does he get round it?
He has two approaches. One is straightforwardly an interpretation of the words and actions of Jesus in the New Testament; the other is based on a particular reading of the laws attributed to God speaking through Moses in the Old Testament.
To begin with the New Testament. One of his arguments is that:
'In his lifestyle, Jesus accepted dinner invitations from the rich, used for himself resources provided by his friends and never suggested that as a rule for living his followers (such as Zacchaeus) were to sell all they possessed. For all who sought the Kingdom of God, the promise was that "all these things [material needs] shall be added unto you." (The Creation of Wealth, p.43)
The references he gives for the dinner invitations are all from the Gospel of Luke - 11.37; 14.1 and 5.29. The first two of these refer to dinner invitations from Pharisees. Although the Pharisees are referred to - disapprovingly - as 'lovers of money' (Luke 16.14) I have not had the impression that they were necessarily rich. I have read somewhere but cannot give the source that they did not accept payment for religious services, which included giving advice on the basis of their knowledge of the law. They were therefore obliged to master a craft to earn their living and this is why Paul, who had been a Pharisee (Acts 23.6) was also a tent-maker (Acts 18.3). In any case, even if the Pharisees in question were rich, accepting a dinner invitation from them hardly implies approval of rich people any more than accepting dinner invitations from Pharisees implies approval of Pharisees, for whom Jesus often expressed His disapproval in the most vigourous language.
The third example Griffiths gives does indeed refer to rich people:
'27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."'
Has it really escaped Griffiths's notice that Jesus says to Levi 'Follow me' and that as a consequence Levi 'left everything and rose and followed Him'? We know from the account in Matthew, 9.9 et seq, that Levi was Matthew who was one of the twelve disciples. Does Griffiths think he continued his trade as a tax collector when he became a disciple? Furthermore, when the scribes and Pharisees reproach Jesus because He is eating and drinking with sinners, He doesn't turn round and declare that they are not sinners. He declares them to be sinners and that He has gone among them to cure them and call them to repentance. And the fact that he eats with sinners certainly does not imply approval of, or indifference to, sin.
The very moving story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19. 1-10) is a strange one for Griffiths to choose. As a result of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus, who 'was a chief tax collector and he was rich' announces: 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' The reputation of the tax collectors was such that we can assume a great many people had been defrauded by the 'chief tax collector', Zacchaeus. If he gave up half his wealth and used the remainder to repay fourfold what he had gained by extortion we can assume there would not have been very much left. The biblical account does not tell us if he had a wife and children and if so what they might have thought of it. The tradition of the Church, however, tells us that Zacchaeus joined the apostles, accompanied Peter on his travels and eventually became Bishop of Caesarea - at a time when being Bishop of Caesarea was not a good career move (though I have seen no indication that he was martyred). (7)
Griffiths points out that in the parables of the talents and of the unjust steward, Jesus uses images from the world of trade and commerce: 'The parables of the talents, the pounds [another version of the parable of the talents - PB] and the unjust steward ... were all concerned with the proper management of resources and the lesson of each is that the Christian has a responsibility to use his resources in the best interests of the Kingdom of God' (Creation of Wealth, p.43). He is of course right that the images come from the world of commerce but I confess it never occurred to me to think that Jesus might have been using these parables to give His followers sound business advice, or even simply advice on the proper care of their share of the world's good things. In the case of the unjust steward the advice amounts to theft on a grand scale, since the steward, about to be sacked by his master, runs around currying favour with the master's clients by cancelling a large part of their debts. But Jesus explains quite clearly why He uses images from the world of commerce: 'the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light' (Luke 16.8. This is the New King James version which is used in the Orthodox Study Bible. The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible has: 'the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light'). The children of the world - those who seek their own gain - know how to act in their own self interest. If the children of light (the children who are 'not of this world' - John 17.14; 18.36) devoted as much energy and ingenuity to pleasing God as the children of the world to pleasing themselves and those whom they have an interest in pleasing, they would be doing well.
But really one senses Griffiths knows that trying to make a case for wealth creation out of the words of Jesus is a lost cause. All his arguments are indirect - Jesus dined with rich people, accepted material help from His friends, assumed His followers would engage in charitable giving (which implies the means to do so), implicitly expressed His approval by using images from the world of business and commerce in the parables. These are all weak arguments. Every time Jesus addresses the question of wealth directly he speaks of it as something that is not desirable, that is an obstacle to the work of seeking the Kingdom of God. When He says of those who seek the Kingdom of God 'all these things [material needs] shall be added unto you' (Matt 6.33) he is commenting on what He has just said about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, who 'neither toil nor spin'. It is difficult to see that Griffiths, who believes strongly in the virtues of productive work, would have much time for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. But Jesus gives them to us as examples to be followed because they do not think ahead or plan for what they might need the following day. Jesus assures those who seek the Kingdom of God that their needs will be met without their having to worry on the matter. We might not agree with Jesus or trust His promises but that is not the issue here. Whether He is right or wrong, this is what He says, and He never introduces the qualifying, moderating explanations that tend to proliferate in the Bible commentaries.
Griffiths may feel he is on safer ground when he turns his attention to the Old Testament. In an article published in 1984, 'Christianity and capitalism' he explains: 'Insofar as the Judaeo-Christian religion deals with principles for ordering socio-economic life in a fallen world, it is to the laws of the Pentateuch rather than the spontaneous sharing of the early Church that we should look. Above all, the Old Testament background is fundamental to an understanding of Jesus' teaching on economic matters.' (8)
Looked at from Griffiths's Old Testament view - which, he tells us (Creation of Wealth, p.49), is not stated in Jesus's teaching because Jesus assumed everyone knew it - God created the material world, therefore the material world is good. God created man in His own image, therefore, just as God is creative and ingenious, so man is creative and ingenious. God gave man dominion over the world so man has the right to use the material world to create wealth - while always respecting the material world as God's creation and as a storehouse for future generations. 'Biblical Christianity' he says, summarising, approvingly, the argument of Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 'placed emphasis on the world as God's world and the universe as his creation. The image of man which emerged was of a creative, evaluative, resourceful person, with a mandate to transform his environment in response to his earthly calling' (Creation of Wealth, p.34). Through the Mosaic law, God gave us a number of principles which, though formulated in terms suitable for a primitive agricultural society, are applicable to economic life in general. Here, however, he runs into difficulties, because the Mosaic law includes a ban on usury, lending money at interest, within the community (eg Leviticus 25.36 and Deuteronomy 23.19-20); the principle of the 'jubilee', according to which every fifty years all exchanges of property are annulled and everything reverts to its original condition at the time of the division of the spoils in Canaan (Lev. 25.9-12) (9); and the 'sabbatical year' according to which every seventh year no work at all was to be done on the land throughout the whole year, which in an agricultural society effectively means no work at all (Lev. 25.3-7).
Indeed, much of the mosaic law consists of prohibitions on work. This goes beyond the famous prohibition of work on the seventh day. If we cast our eyes over the word 'work' in Cruden's Concordance, we find:
'No manner of work shall be done in them' - Exodus 12.16; 20.10; Leviticus 16.29; 23.3. 28, 31; 29.7.
'whosoever doeth any work therein shall be cut off' - Exodus 31.14; Leviticus 23.30
'Ye shall do no servile [Jerusalem Bible translates as 'heavy'; OSB as 'service'] work therein' - Lev. 23.7, 8, 21, 25, 36; Numbers 28.18, 25, 26; 29.1, 12, 35.
These are all references to holy days, but that is the point. The holy days (and years) are periods of communion with God and communion with God is presented as incompatible with work. And the prohibition on work is very severe. The penalties include expulsion from the community, and death.
In The Creation of Wealth he explains the Mosaic law as follows: 'Every fiftieth year, the Year of Jubilee, all debts were cancelled and land was to return to its original owners, if ownership had changed (Lev 25.14-17; Deut 15.1-11). The reason given for this redistribution is that while the people were tenants, the true owner was Yahweh. 'The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants' (Lev 25.23. KJV, RSV and LXX as in the OSB all have 'sojourners' rather than 'tenants'. Jerusalem Bible has 'guests'). usury, the lending of money for interest, was prohibited between fellow Jews (Lev 25.35-8; Deut 23.19-20). The major purpose of these laws was to put a brake on the ownership of land being concentrated in a small number of families - to prevent a cycle of deprivation developing where those in difficult circumstances sold their land, increased their debt and fin ally found themselves on a treadmill: a situation little better than slavery. Put more positively, each family had the opportunity of a second chance.' (p.57) And, one might add, a third, fourth, fifth, sixth etc chance.
He then works his way round to this conclusion:
'The view of property that emerges from the Pentateuch has one very important implication. The freedom and ability to exchange rights to private property constitutes the definition of a free market. A free market is nothing more than an opportunity for property owners to exchange their titles to ownership. Any economic system therefore which involves private property rights also involves to a greater or lesser degree reasonably free markets. From this it follows that markets are likely to be features of all societies, ancient and modern, which allow some degree of economic freedom.' (p.58)
It seems to me, though, that the cancellation of all exchanges of property after fifty years, the refusal of the right to lend or to borrow at interest, and the insistence that no work is to be done for a whole year every seventh year represent very severe restrictions on the right of property - and on the right to a free exchange of property - which would have the effect, if applied, of maintaining the society at the level of subsistence agriculture and certainly prevent the emergence of an industrial society, which implies a certain accumulation of capital (concentration of wealth into the hands of a small number of families), money borrowed to enable investment - and therefore the incentive to lend money that is provided by interest - and reduction of large numbers of people in difficulties to a state of virtual servitude (a proletariat).
In this context it may be worth mentioning that in the Book of Genesis the development of crafts and the building of cities is presented as being the work of the children of Cain (Genesis 4.17, 21, 22). The material world is indeed the creation of God, God did indeed 'see that it was good', He did indeed create man in His own image, but as a result of the Fall, of our acquisition of 'the knowledge of good and evil', we were progressively estranged from God, we progressively lost the image, and the earth became progressively refractory and difficult to work:
'cursed is the ground in your labours. In toil you shall eat from it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken.' (Genesis 3.17-20).
THE TWO TESTAMENTS
The Old Testament is - at least from the moment that Abraham appears on the scene - the story of a people. Social, economic and political questions therefore appear more obviously than they do in the New Testament. As a Christian I prefer to interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New rather than - as I think Griffiths is trying to do - interpreting the New Testament in the light of the Old. The New Testament tells the story of a return to Paradise and freedom from the entanglement of sin made possible through the union of God and Man in Christ. The Old Testament tells the story of the loss of Paradise and the process of our progressive entanglement in sin. But it also tells the story of the process by which a womb was formed which could contain God. The story of the Jews in the Old Testament is, for Christians, the story of the Mother of God.
The Old Testament, thus, describes the world as it is, built on violence and sin, on 'the knowledge of good and evil'. As such the world, the knowledge of good and evil, is an obstacle to our true destiny, which is Eternal Life in God. The New Testament therefore - and the theme is developed at length by St Paul - passes judgement on the Old. And the way in which the Old Testament changes its meaning and is transfigured in the light of the New is given in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Griffiths is effectively defending the world (the logic of the Old Testament) against the teaching of Jesus. He complains that if what some Christians write about capitalism is true 'then there is no way in which a public spirited individual can make a career in business and remain a person of integrity' (Creation of Wealth p.11). He wants to assert that Christians can be businessmen. And of course he is right. As Christians can be soldiers, politicians, civil servants, trade union leaders, lawyers, nuclear scientists, or anything else one cares to mention. But it is problematical. It is an engagement with 'the world' and 'the world' - under the dominion of the 'Prince of the World' (John 14.30; 16.11) - follows a logic which is not the logic of the life in Christ. Any engagement with the world therefore is problematical, not just business. Let me give an example plucked more or less at random. The members of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in the late eighteenth century were very pleased with themselves because they had rejected a proposal to form a consortium which would have turned Belfast, following the example of Liverpool, into a major hub for the slave trade. A leading figure in the opposition to this proposal was a man called William Tennent. Although he was subsequently to become an important figure in banking, Tennent initially made his name through importing sugar and rum. From the West Indies. Where of course the sugar and rum were produced by slaves. We are all entangled in the world and we are all therefore entangled in the sin of the world, and that is why when we go to church on a Sunday we go, as Jesus tells us we should, with the attitude of the publican in the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. We stand with our heads bowed in fear and trembling, unable to raise our eyes to the sanctuary, and our only prayer - the only prayer that expresses accurately our relationship to the life in Christ - is 'Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.'
Griffiths sometimes says he is not arguing that Christianity is intrinsically tied to a free market economy (10) but in fact that is exactly the case he is making. And he justifies it historically by saying that the most successful wealth creating culture the world has ever seen (ourselves) was Christian. He quotes Brian May's The Third World Calamity to the effect that the poverty of the third world is due to an inadequate religious culture. 'Iranian culture' for example, 'has been taken up with poetry, philosophy, the arts and dreams of the past and future.' No wonder they're in such a bad shape! 'By contrast a Western-type economic system requires a rationalistic culture of the kind emphasised by Weber' (Creation of Wealth, p.35). He even develops an argument that the doctrine of the Trinity (ibid pp.53-5) is favourable to the interaction of persons we find in a free society. By contrast 'When in religion the One is given preference, as in Islam, the consequence has been a form of totalitarianism which attempts to discern the will of Allah.' For some reason he neglects to mention Judaism in this context. 'The relevance of the Trinity is to emphasise both the individual and the state, as well as a large variety of mediating institutions which form the basis of of a pluralist society.' I lived for some ten years in France. Confronted with something like that I find myself reverting to a French expression: 'N'importe quoi'!
What the backward countries of the world clearly need is a cultural/religious revolution. They need Christianity as he understands it. It seems that Christ came into the world not so much to save sinners as to lay the foundations for the rationalistic culture that could sustain a Western-style economic system and enable us to fulfil God's wish for us that we should be good stewards of His world by transforming it into motor cars, aeroplanes, TV sets and computers.
He can only sustain this argument by equating Christianity with Protestantism. From my own Orthodox Christian point of view, the Protestantism that encouraged and facilitated the creation of wealth was a betrayal of the Christianity that encouraged and facilitated the renunciation of wealth - monastic Christianity.
Griffiths refers to monastic Christianity occasionally and in passing as a marginal phenomenon, a temptation to be resisted, a danger we might fall into if we take the words of Jesus too literally: 'The call to seek first the Kingdom of God is not a call to the life of the monastery or to a narrow-minded form of personal piety which rejects the material world' (Creation of Wealth, p.61).
But for 1,000 years, between the conversion of Constantine in the fifth century and the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Christianity in all its divisions - West Roman, East Roman, Irish, Armenian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Slav - was understood to be a monastic religion. It occurs to me as I write that one could, if one were of a mischievous disposition, suggest that that 1,000 years was the Millennium - the 1,000 year personal rule of Christ, followed by the rise of non-monastic Christianity as a religion of the antichrist. I'm not sure anyone has ever suggested that but it would be an amusing variant on certain equally farfetched Protestant millenarian notions.
Monasticism is characterised by the renunciation of personal goods and personal ambitions in order to devote oneself to the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. It is, in other words, based on a literal understanding of the commandments of Christ, an understanding that isn't in need of explanatory footnotes. The monastic life does not renounce work but it tends to favour work of a routine kind that does not engage strong feeling - the atmosphere of the stock exchange is not favourable to a life of contemplation, of communion with God. And anything resembling competition would immediately be recognised as an offence against the commandment to 'love thy neighbour as thyself.'
Protestantism as a distinct, new, quite unprecedented religion could be said to have started on the day Martin Luther left his monastery. Anti-monasticism is the heart and soul of it. And it is surely difficult not to see a similarity, even a logical continuity, between the destruction of monastic Christianity in, for example, Britain in the sixteenth century, and the ultimately less successful, less thoroughgoing destruction of monastic Christianity in the USSR in the twentieth century. And in terms of sheer bloody massacre it would be interesting to compare the action of the Bolsheviks in the USSR with the action of the Puritans in Ireland in the seventeenth century.
TWO TIER CHRISTIANITY - MONASTIC AND EVANGELICAL
Monastic Christianity could be described as a two tier Christianity. There are the ordinary Christians like myself for whom Christianity is a hopefully positive accompaniment to our everyday worldly lives. And there are those who have found the Kingdom of God, the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, the lost coin and are able to do what Jesus tells them to do - to renounce everything to live it fully. They can join the monasteries or religious orders and devote themselves to communion with God in prayer and repentance or - more so in the Western Roman tradition than in Eastern traditions - a life of disinterested service of one sort or another.
The evangelical Christian tradition to which Griffiths belongs (or belonged. I'm not sure if he has remained attached to it) also teaches a sort of two tier Christianity. There are the people who, like myself, call themselves Christians but aren't really, and there are those who have had a personal experience resulting in the certain knowledge that they have been saved through the sacrifice offered by Christ on the cross. 'New people with new motives', to quote Griffiths (Creation of Wealth, p.62). In some cases they too will renounce everything, take up the cross and follow Christ in, for example, the missionary field, but their options are limited. Short of becoming a missionary or a preacher (which in some branches of evangelical Christianity can become a very remunerative profession (11)), what are the options?
Here is a suggestion from John Wesley, in his famous 'Sermon on the right use of money', quoted by Margaret Thatcher in the course of a theological foray she conducted in response to criticisms from religious leaders in 1988, the period of her closest association with Griffiths: (12)
'it is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, "Gain all you can." Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. If you understand yourself and your relation to God and man, you know you have none to spare. If you understand your particular calling as you ought, you will have no time that hangs upon your hands. Every business will afford some employment sufficient for every day and every hour. That wherein you are placed, if you follow it in earnest, will leave you no leisure for silly, unprofitable diversions. You have always something better to do, something that will profit you, more or less. And "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."(13) Do it as soon as possible: No delay! No putting off from day to day, or from hour to hour! Never leave anything till to-morrow, which you can do to-day. And do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it: Put your whole strength to the work. Spare no pains. Let nothing be done by halves, or in a slight and careless manner. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labour or patience.' (14)
That is how I think we can understand the famous 'Weber thesis' - the argument of Max Weber's book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that the fact that the explosion of industrial capitalism followed the Reformation was not accidental. In suppressing the religious orders, Protestantism released a huge store of human seriousness, dedication and energy which could now be put to the service of things of the world. So the Protestant countries - most especially the Anglo Saxon Protestant countries - became the centre, the power house, of the world economy.
I will finish here with an extract from the Book of Revelation which I think gives some idea of how God, as Author of the Book of Revelation, looks upon the power house of the world economy:
'1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; 3 for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness." 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and played the wanton, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning. Since in her heart she says, 'A queen I sit, I am no widow, mourning I shall never see,' 8 so shall her plagues come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her." 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10 they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, "Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come." 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 14 "The fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee, and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!" 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 "Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste." And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, "What city was like the great city?" 19 And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out, "Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! In one hour she has been laid waste. 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, O saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!" 21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; 23 and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard in thee no more; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth."'
Revelation, ch. 18
POSTSCRIPT: ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
In the discussion that followed after I had given this talk in Llaneglwys I heard myself saying, somewhat to my own surprise, that Christianity has nothing to do with social justice. This naturally provoked disagreement but I think it is a defensible proposition.
Let us take the example of someone we would all agree was a great Christian champion of social justice - Martin Luther King. It would be difficult to find anything that could be said in praise of King as a champion of social justice that could not equally be said of A. Philip Randolph, who led the 1963 march on Washington, or Bayard Rustin, who organised it. Neither Randolph nor Rustin were notably Christian - Randolph defined himself as a humanist. Rustin was a Quaker but this was not a prominent part of his public personality. King pioneered a process by which Christians worked with non-Christians but, prior to this, the running was made by the non-Christians, often very critical of the black Christian churches who made the oppression of their flock bearable by involving them emotionally in the great drama of sin and salvation (and let those who have not experienced this themselves not regard it with scorn. The spiritual experience of black Christianity has a great deal to do with black music, which I think most people would agree is the most humanly profound element in North American culture).
Jesus's commandments do not amount to good advice for living in the world, nor are they meant to. The world prefers the virtues of St Martha to those of St Mary, contrary to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 10.42) and the world believes, contrary to the commandments of Jesus (Matt 5.39), that evil should be resisted. But the world has its own logic, in which good and evil are inseparable. Resistance to evil can result in the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo. We all (monks and nuns included) live in the world and we all have to submit to some degree, larger or smaller, to its logic - powerfully expressed as it is throughout the whole Old Testament (and formulated in a philosophical manner in the Book of Ecclesiastes). As Christians we may have an interest in social justice. Our motivation may - at least we may feel it to be - the impossibility of walking by on the other side when we see human suffering. (15) But we will find ourselves in the company of large numbers of people who have the same feelings but who aren't necessarily Christian. And when we try to devise policies to address social issues we will find ourselves in exactly the same position as our non-Christian comrades. As Christians we may have an advantage through the social connections we can mobilise in the church - that was one of the great assets Martin Luther King could bring to the essentially non-Christian civil rights movement. But we have no particular advantage through our knowledge of the Bible or our commitment to the teachings of Jesus.
If anyone doubts this - if anyone feels Christians have an edge in political matters through being Christians - I would remind them that for over a thousand years the world has had experience of Christian kingdoms - whole political societies supposedly committed to the teachings of Christ. Most Christians, I think, regard that history with embarrassment. I don't, because so far as I am concerned, an earthly kingdom is always an earthly kingdom and as such is obliged to follow the logic of the world whether it calls itself Christian or not. What distinguishes a Christian culture from a non-Christian culture is that space is given for those who want to live the commandments of Christ as integrally as possible. To that end they have to withdraw from 'the world'. But that does not mean they are of no service to the world. They are the leaven that raises the lump. To some extent they (or at least the saints among them) carry the rest of us, in a logic that is foolishness to the world but which is the logic of that Kingdom that is not this world and which is a matter, not of social justice (the good that is always mixed with evil, the evil that is always mixed with good) but of Eternal Life.
(1) The story can be found in Benedicta Ward (trans): The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p.25 Back
(2) John Ranelagh, Thatcher's People: An Insider's Account of the Politics, the Power, and the Personalities (Fontana, 1992), p. ix. quoted in the Wikipedia entry on Friedrich Hayek. Back
(3) Some of this material can be consulted on the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which has a rich archive of government correspondence up to the limits of the thirty year rule (1983 at the time of writing) for the release of government papers. Back
(4) Some of the documents in which the B&ICO worked its way round to this conclusion can be found on my website - www.peterbrooke.org.uk - in the 'Politics and Theology' section under the heading 'Homage to Nina Stead'. Back
(5) He says (Morality and the Market Place, p.14) that his thinking in response to Friedman was much influenced by 'one of the leading neo-Conservative commentators in the United States, Irving Kristol.' Gordon Brown has acknowledged an intellectual debt to Kristol's wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb. Their son, William Kristol, very consciously continuing their legacy, is editor of the Weekly Standard and was one of the leading figures in the Project for a New American Century and as such very active in promoting support for the destruction of Iraq and other recent US overseas adventures. Back
(6) In his Swansea talk, Griffiths expressed his admiration for James Buchanan, who had only recently died. Buchanan was an American academic who was also closely associated with, and wrote for, the IEA. He was the founder of the Centre for the Study of Public Choice which aimed to uncover the complex of motives other than simple notions of the public interest which determine government allocation of resources. Back
(7) Synaxarion for April 20th. Back
(8) The article was published in Digby Anderson (ed):The Kindness That Kills: The Churches' Simplistic Response to Complex Social Issues, London, SPCK, 1984. It was republished later that year in the USA in the Roman Catholic Crisis Magazine. It can be read online at http://www.crisismagazine.com/1984/christianity-and-capitalism Back
(9) Griffiths presents the division of the land in Canaan as a divine endorsement of the principle of private property, pointing out that the land was given to individual families not to the community as a whole, as it would have been under Socialism. However, in order to share the land out, the community as a whole had first to get hold of it at the expense of the existing inhabitants. The process by which this was achieved - the real origin of the system of private property established in the Mosaic law - is described in the Book of Joshua. As always, the Old Testament faithfully presents the logic of how things happen in the world. Griffiths, however, averts his eyes from the Book of Joshua and tells us chastely that 'The story of the Hebrews is of a nomadic tribal people who settled the Holy Land - a depopulated [sic! - PB. Though of course it was depopulated - somewhat forcefully by the Hebrews] fertile agricultural area.' (Morality and the Market Place, p.81). Back
(10) 'In arguing that a socialist economic system is not the logical outgrowth of the Kingdom [of God - PB], I am not for one moment suggesting that the market economy or democratic capitalism or some such concept follows logically either. The point about the Kingdom is that by design it is God's and not ours.' Creation of Wealth p.63. I think this may be a little guilty nod in the direction of what he would have learned at the feet of Martyn Lloyd Jones or John Stott who were not advocates of a social Christianity, whether socialist or capitalist. Back
(11) I stress not those of Martyn Lloyd Jones or John Stott who both lived modestly. Back
(12) See e.g. 'Thatcher pounds the pulpit for her revolution', Christian Science Monitor, 27/05/1988, available on the web at http://www.csmonitor.com/1988/0527/omora.html/(page)/2 Back
(13) The quote is from Ecclesiastes, 9.10 referring incidentally to the condition of a man faced with the inevitability - and finality - of death. Back
(14) Obtained from http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/50/ Back
(15) On the day of writing this I have just heard on the radio not 'walking by on the other side' used as a justification for the bombing of Syria in response to the chemical attack in August 2013. Back