Sunday, 23 October 2011

Context of the St. Pauls' Dilemma

I admit I have very little sympathy for St. Pauls, London, and its dilemma over the protesters outside. Anyone who wants to go into St. Pauls, other than during one of the services, has to pay a fat fee. It is increasingly the case in so many of these cathedrals.

When you go in these places there are then charges for photography, the ever present and over-priced shop, and some internal attractions demand extra entrance fees. These well staffed places tell you how much they cost to maintain themselves and this comes across as if they are without reserves and donors.

They want to be 'serving the gospel' (as they put it), meaning putting on services, but they are also part of the establishment. They don't critique capitalism anything like enough that they could, as they are part of the architecture and inheritance of feudalism and sit amongst the architecture of capitalism.

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s communism collapsed, except in China where they converted their authoritarianism into a state capitalist outfit that has, along with Western delusions, led to capitalism's imbalance and fundamental weakness all over the world.

Usually a developing nation takes on cheaper labour and the lower end technical manufacturing, and later catches up with the Western world. Japan did this, via a vertically integrated economy of corporations and lots of little workshops. It has been in a fifteen year slump. But what China has done is develop by state intervention and private dynamism (and back-hander corruption) and kept its exchange rate low; it has financed its expansion by lending to the West, and the money slushing around in the West had been expanded through its make believe gambling financial system. It all finally blew up.

As the protesters say, capitalism is crisis, because on the one hand the governments bailed out the banks and now the governments are going around bailing out one another, thinking that the banks are going to have to take some hit after all. It is a merry go round of incapability: only the Germans, it seems, have benefited from the euro because, of course, it is set lower than the mark would be if it was for Germany only. It benefits from the weaker economies, rather as the Chinese benefit from keeping its currency artificially low. Europe does not have the regional policy necessary to maintain a euro of unity, nor has Europe been prepared to allow whole areas to go into economic sluggishness while other parts do well - as has been the case in the United States. Europeans are not expected to travel to Germany to get work. Nevertheless, many governments in the euro did not keep to the rules, and in the fantasy of higher living standards than available they have themselves either gone bust or are near to going bust.

Christianity is, really, at its own decision point, though I suggest it has also undergone a similar crisis of its own. It doesn't have intellectual credibility (it explains nothing) and only a minority of people observe its rites and rituals, except on occasions - and fewer of those rites of passage are observed too. In places it has lost much ethical goodwill too, like in Ireland (child abuse) and Spain (child trafficking), though it still can from sources still generate an ethical argument.

I have never bought the idea that Christianity is a bias to the poor. Jesus of Nazareth preached reverse ethics from the assumptions of his day in his last days idealised vision, but he chose his twelve tribe leaders from among capable small business people - people who had boats, who maintained their own living, and people who were paid. They were not like sanyassins or close, not of the poor.

When Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, whole families including slaves were baptised at a time and traders became Christians as a mark of honesty and respectability - their mobility was how it carried through the Empire. Eventually its monotheism was an attraction to a centralised State. The earliest days showed a tension between being Roman and Greek and being underground. It was underground by necessity, not by choice.

And since Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the Protestant Churches were all allied with monarchs, princes and social systems. The Reformation took hold thanks to the political support that reduced down the reach of the Holy Roman Empire and Catholic empires. It is only after the United States had a different approach and Europe's working class was generally unchurched (except for the time of churches offering welfare, education and leisure provision) that the churches started losing the middle class as well.

Paternalism was a counterforce and some parish priests considered the poor, as well as the sheer desperation of Victorian inequality (rather like in the USA today), and denominations like the Unitarians were a sort of guilt-ridden middle class Church; but it is really only in its marginalisation that Christianity has started in parts to think about minorities and economic ones in particular. Its evangelical wing remains both individualist in salvation terms and generally (but not always) right wing.

So here we are as capitalism is in deep trouble. All the West has to somehow overcome the capitalist crisis while maintaining democracy. People are saying that they will not put up with the cuts, the loss of jobs and attacks on the poor. No one will grasp the necessity, even whilst protecting the savings of individuals, that countries have to default and banks have to go bust so that a lot of it can 'start again'. There needs to be the strengthened state to regulate these commanding heights of the economy and yet still a liberal state in terms of liberty and accessible democracy. At the moment we have governments behaving like monetarists when the new crisis equilibrium has curves like the Keynesians understood (governments should be spending and employing: quantitative easing of money does bugger all). We don't know what will happen in China when it fails to retain the growth that buys off genuine reform and change but part of the 'start again' is that China won't be able to maintain its artificial imbalance.

Giles Fraser might give his quick, liberationist, support the protesters comment, but in the end the Church has been part of the feudal State, part of the establishment, in with capitalist investments and part of its theology has always been to support these. No suprise then if its cathedrals contain entrance charges, shops, added attractions and are, increasingly, part of the tourist and heritage industry. In which case there are models for them, as in Fountains Abbey and Riveaulx Abbey (etc.).


Anonymous said...

I'm not keen on churches being tourist attractions, but whether they raise money at the door, or generate an income some other way, what difference does it make? Someone, somewhere, has to figure out a way of raising the funds to look after these buildings, and the bigger the building, the more money must be raised.

The only alternative is for Christians to abandon their church buildings altogether. I think that would be a good idea, but neither you nor many Christians would enthusiastically support that idea, I imagine. And very few British people, believers or nonbelievers, would seriously want St. Paul's boarded up permanently for lack of funds. But the money's got to come from somewhere!

As for the apostles not being poor - they were self-employed when Jesus called them, but once they gave that up, their finances must have suffered quite a bit!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Who says they didn't still go fishing, and what about Mary Magdalene as a money bags? The gospels are only biography-like, not actual biographies.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they did continue to do a bit of fishing on a part-time basis. (The Bible says they still had their nets and boats.) I don't see what's wrong with that.

Some would say that religious teachers/preachers should generate their own sources of income from 'secular' employment instead of relying purely on their religious preaching/teaching to earn them a steady salary. The notion of a paid and settled clergy isn't quite the same as offering sustenance and gifts, etc., to travelling teachers, as in the NT.