Summary of discussion, September 7th
Many of the stories in newspapers appear to be about conflict and arguments- the media seem to think that this is the best way to attract attention and increase sales. Rather like a playground fight where children shout “Fight! Fight!” and everyone rushes to see. But soon over, with little analysis or follow-up. Which leads to a “democratic deficit” (people switch off and grow cynical). And there is also a risk that people are “type-cast” and stereotyped, with no real understanding of the complexities of their personalities. Some arguments, of course, are worth pursuing- for example Justin Welby’s comments on the economy: http://uk.businessinsider.com/britains-economy-is-broken-archbishop-of-canterbury-2017-9 There is such a thing as responsible journalism, and it is good that some church-based papers attempt to pursue this (the Catholic Herald was mentioned by one member present).
George Lakey’s book “Viking Economics” describes Norway, where 40% of national wealth is taken in taxes, similar to other wealthy economies (the UK included), but where 27% is spent on social matters, compared to an average of only 17% in the others. Lakey reports that Norwegians seem happier to pay these taxes than appears to be the case in other nations- the transparency of their political system leads them to say “We know what we are paying for”. Is this more likely to be achieved with a relatively small population (Norway is just over 5 million)- eg also Scotland, most German States (Länder), the recent experiments with some autonomy for Greater Manchester?
On Radio 4 earlier that morning Bettany Hughes, the TV history presenter, had been speaking to a number of people about her ideas of the ancient Greek goddess Gaia, the nurturing, but also potentially destructive “Earth Mother”. She asked whether it would not be better for us today to have some such concept of our relationship with the earth, than the purely mechanistic notion that has developed in Western society since the Enlightenment, where the environment is simply a “thing” to be exploited by human ingenuity.
The Genesis stories of Creation include both the idea of humans having “dominion” over the world (Genesis 1:28), but also the responsibility to cultivate and care for the earth (Genesis 2:15). Modern Western thinking (including Western Christianity) has often ignored the second, and concentrated on the first.
So is a “religious” or theological basis better for the cohesion of society, our economy, and our relationship to the environment, than a materialistic secular basis? What about the experience of eg Poland, Italy or the USA, as compared to the UK and northern Europe, where the development of industry, followed by two world wars, has seriously weakened faith commitments? Though perhaps the cohesion of Poland and Italy is also weakening more recently, and in the USA is creating a polarisation which will be difficult to handle.