Summary of our discussion
The day’s reading from Job chapter 30 seemed to us perhaps to mirror the experience of those families caught up in the Grenfell Tower fire: “And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest…….. I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me…….. Surely one does not turn against the needy, when in disaster they cry for help…….. But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came.”
With that experience it is not surprising that there is mistrust (including of the judge appointed to lead the Public Inquiry), whether justified or not. And the area has a history of bitter experience of conflict and exploitation, which produces an ingrained attitude of suspicion and even cynicism. The generation of Hebrews who had experienced slavery in Egypt wandered in the desert for 40 years until a new generation who were free of what slavery had done to their parents’ spirits were ready for a fresh start.
Inequality in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is higher than most places in Britain. The average annual salary is £123.000, but the median (the point at which half the population is below and half above) is only £32,700 (figures from the Economist, June 24th 2017), a bigger gap than most places. In the whole of the UK in 2014 the richest 1 percent of the population received 12.7% percent of the nation’s income (in 1919 they received 19.6%, but in 1978 only 5.7%).
There are many studies that suggest that greater equality is good for the whole community (including for the wealthy), but most people prefer to distinguish themselves from their neighbours. Is this what is meant by “original sin”? Augustine (who lived from 354 to 430), said that we “inherit” original sin, and made it appear that it is somehow linked with sexuality (through lust and desire). But the teaching of the New Testament is probably better understood that if we are born into an unjust society its attitudes infect us and make it hard to break free and envisage anything better.
The impact of this is probably most clear in attitudes to housing. “Council housing” was once seen as the preserve of feckless people who lived for the present and for pleasure, in contrast to “responsible” people who saved to buy their own homes. When tenants were given the right to buy councils were prevented from replacing the housing sold with newly built homes. But private house-building has never provided enough homes for the whole population (because if enough homes for all are built the price inevitably falls and wipes out the profits which private builders need to survive- necessities usually need some kind of subsidy if a section of the population is not to go without).
These attitudes to housing, to society, and to our neighbours, and the lack of understanding of how economy works, is what led to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.