Is faith necessary for a good society?
The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, asks if money has become the only motivation for bankers today. Is pay now the only reason to do a good job, and to take some responsibility for our neighbours? Is this also reflected in the recent criticisms and scandals of poor care in some Health Authorities?
If this is true, is it a serious symptom of the decline of the influence of faith in our society (and because Christianity has been the dominant form of faith in the past, of its decline?). Is faith vital for what some people have called “spiritual capital” or “social capital” in our communities? (eg http://transformingbusiness.net/ )
Is a faith-based society the vital basis for a tolerant, respectful and “safe” society for minorities (or have faith-based societies sometimes led to intolerance towards those seen as not sharing the “majority” view)?
Is the current debate about same-sex marriage an example of the deliberate programme of some people to undermine the traditional Judeo-Christian basis of society? In the past the Jewish and Christian traditions have been very clear in their attitude to homosexuality (and the argument that Jesus said nothing about it seems to be a very weak one- he was clear that nothing in the Torah was to be ignored). Or must it be recognised that same-sex attraction has always been a natural part of human life (as it is of all animal existence), and that to deny the possibility of such loving relationships is inhuman?
Is it possible to have humanist values that are capable of creating a good and just society? Russian Communism tried to abolish religion and failed (though some of its animosity against the Church was because the Orthodox Church had been closely integrated with the authoritarian and oppressive Tsarist autocracy). Modern consumerism is perhaps having more success at diluting faith and a sense of community.
One expression of our responsibility to one another in modern society is the acceptance of taxation. A free market economy will produce wide gaps between rich and poor unless taxation policies redress the balance. Governments are accountable to the people for the use of tax money, but the sense of “mutual responsibility” on which taxation is based seems to be weakening today. This is especially true of the way big international companies avoid tax by using tax havens. This operates in rich and poor countries alike, but the impact on poor countries is estimated at something like $160 billion every year, considerably more than the total of overseas aid given to those countries.
Why don’t the governments of poor countries do something about it, by refusing to allow those companies to operate unless they accept their responsibilities? But that is very difficult for poor countries to achieve- OPEC did it over oil in 1973, but few others have had any real success. International companies are very skilled at “buying off” governments and playing off different countries against one another. Until international action is taken over tax havens, and the people of poor countries gain the strength to challenge their own governments’ policies not much will change (and this applies to rich countries also).