This Answers To That

Is THIS, No one is safe until everyone is safe – we applied it to the pandemic, but why not our economy? | Rowan Williams | The Guardian the answer to THAT, The Guardian view on charities and the cost of living crisis: overwhelming needs | Editorial | The Guardian?

‘THAT’ warns that ‘as more and more people struggle with food and heating bills, the danger is that the services supporting them will collapse’. People turn to food banks and other voluntary charities as the economy and government fail to sustain an adequate ‘welfare state’.

The state uses charities and other agencies to care for its citizens but often does not pay them enough. It says it does not have enough money, and cannot ask taxpayers for more. The gulf between Lazarus and Dives grows wider in our society, although it could be bridged, if Dives were committed, heart, mind, and hand, to raising Lazarus. Don’t read Luke 16.19-31 imagining Dives as a rich individual, but as the State. The State is not the King, not the Government, not Parliament: it is all of us, as the human community politically organized, living together in this space.

Thinking of the State in that way, as human community, has been battered and worn out of us in recent decades. The state as an effective servant of welfare for all was a vision that grew through hard learning in the nineteenth century, nurtured from ancient traditions of biblical and classical wisdom, and was
believed in and welcomed as a necessary project– remember Beveridge and 1945. Around the project of a welfare state, the different entities of State, community, Kingdom of God, drew closer into fruitful though choppy conversation.

Now, our welfare state is like a great dying oak, hollowed trunk, a few leaves on scraggy branches, rocked by storms, ripe for the blind heartless chainsaw that promises – for the Few – privatized Freedom from the fancied Nanny Bureaucracy. 

THIS came to me as an answer to THAT. THAT goes below the surface of our present discontents, to search the communal, cultural heart and mind which allows them to reign over us. Rowan Williams diagnoses our present plight, asking ‘why we tolerate a social order where precariousness is so unevenly shared’. 

And, ‘It was repeated often enough during the pandemic that no one is safe unless everyone is safe: have we really not noticed that this applies to our economic as much as to our medical wellbeing?’ 

He reminds us of ‘the Christian and Jewish model of a community in which each person is responsible for all, where cost is not automatically transferred from rich to poor’. 

And he concludes that: ‘The refusal to see this is the real crisis. The forgetting of this is the real religious and moral sea change.’

Originally published on the Network Leeds blog, 3rd January 2023

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