Category Archives: Formation, Values and Virtue

What Money Can’t Buy – an event with Michael Sandel

Nick Spencer at Theos has written an excellent review of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  This book explores the difficult questions of how the marketisation of everything leads to a devaluing of those things which money shouldn’t buy.

Michael Sandel will be in London soon for an event entitled: ‘What money can’t buy – the moral limits of markets’ hosted by St Paul’s Cathedral in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science, JustShare and Penguin UK. This event will take place on Wednesday 23rd May, 6.30 – 8pm.

Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? Do market values dominate too many spheres of life? What are the moral limits of markets? Professor Michael J. Sandel will explore some of these pressing questions and Bishop Peter Selby will respond. Copies of Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets will be available on the evening and there will be plenty of time for questions from the audience.

This event is free but a ticket will be required. Reserve your ticket now by emailing institute@stpaulscathedral.org.uk with your name, postal address and phone number (please note: this information will be sent to the LSE events team so that they can mail out tickets on the 10th May). Tickets will also be available on the door. You can find out more at: http://www.stpaulsinstitute.org.uk/Events/What-Money-Cant-Buy-The-Moral-Limits-of-Markets

Tagged ,

Welfare into work: a theological perspective

With the ‘welfare to work’ debate continuing to rage, we reprint the article Angus Ritchie wrote in the January edition of Christianity magazine – responding to a piece by Peter Oborne hailing the Christian inspiration of Government policy
Poverty has spiritual as well as material causes.  This is why Jesus told his disciples that the poor would always be with them.  From Amos to St James, the Bible identifies these causes as the greed and indifference of the ‘haves’ much more than the indolence of the ‘have nots’.
So Peter Oborne’s article tells only one part of the story.  He is right to criticise new Labour for treating poverty as a purely material matter.  And he is right to denounce the welfare system for incentivising unemployment, and for its bias against families.
However, unemployment has not shot up because of an epidemic of laziness among the poor.  Its rise has been caused by a deep and prolonged recession –itself generated by an under-regulated, over-greedy financial system.  That is the real issue, both spiritually and materially.
The poor have not lost their appetite for work.  Across the East End, members of London Citizens (an alliance of churches, mosques and other civil society organisations) have been running ‘Olympic Recruitment Fayres’.  They are on track to secure over 1500 jobs for local people.  The energy local people have put into this process speaks volumes about their hunger for gainful employment.  
Here, as across the UK, there are real obstacles to the move from welfare into work.  If an unemployed person gets any job offer at all, it is likely to be time-limited or insecure.  When such jobs end, the welfare system cannot be relied upon to start payments again in a timely and accurate manner.  That is one reason for the profusion of Food Banks up and down the country.  People who are willing to work still lack the means to eat.  
In this economic climate – where unemployment has been caused by a morally bankrupt financial system, and the benefits system makes it hard to move from welfare into work – we should be very wary of a narrative which blames the poor for their lot.

Responding to Richard Dawkins’ Christmas message

Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman – beginning with an open letter to the Prime Minister attackng faith schools, and calling for governmental “neutrality” on religious matters.  In this festive blog, Centre Director Angus Ritchie offers a response.

Dear Professor Dawkins

Merry Christmas to you too! I hope the authorship of this letter isn’t too big a disappointment. When you write to the P.M., you don’t expect the reply to be written by a cleric.

(Just to be clear, I have no authority – or desire – to speak on behalf of David Cameron. The views here are very much my own.)

Time is short.  It seems we both have carol services to attend! So let me cut to the chase. Your letter to calls for “state neutrality” on matters of religion, and an end to any government support for faith schools.  I think your position is anything but neutral.

You imply that the “neutral” way to bring up children is to avoid religious practice until they can decide for themselves. Hence your analogy with economics. We don’t bring up children as Keynesians or monetarists; we let them decide which to be when they are old enough to grasp the arguments. You think we should do the same with religion.

But you can’t bring up children “neutrally”. The economics analogy doesn’t really work. Long before they are able to evaluate the arguments for and against our view of the world, we have to bring children up according to some norms. We teach them by word and deed, what kinds of things are right and wrong, what they should value and what they should dismiss. Some of those norms will have religious, or atheistic, implications. We either bring them up as if God is a living reality, worthy of gratitude and worship, or we don’t. If (as I believe) there is a God, then it is the most natural and right thing in the world to pray to him from the earliest age. If (as you believe) there isn’t, then such a practice is worse than a waste of time.  Neither choice is “neutral”.

“Neutral” parenting cannot be expected of anyone. Some parents will pray with their children, and will also take them to church, and even send them to religious schools.  While we can’t demand “neutrality” from parents or from schools, there are some things we should expect. Every parent and school should bring children up with an openness to other worldviews – and, as they get older, the freedom to draw their own conclusions.

Let’s turn to the wider issue of governmental “neutrality” on matters of religion. You and I agree that the state should not impose atheism or religion on its citizens. But government policy is inevitably, and rightly, shaped by values. That’s something we need more of – now more than ever.

Politics is about how we build a common life, and discern a common good. You can’t expect me to participate in that without bringing my faith to bear. It is the foundation of my convictions about what is good and just. You will have different foundations (a matter to which we must return if this correspondence continues).

Christianity is a holistic view of the world, not a detachable set of private convictions. For a Christian, the nature of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ have implications for economic policy as much as ‘private’ ethical choices. The recent statements by the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury on the financial crisis are a case in point.  That’s why churches are at the forefront of both the Jubilee 2000 campaign (on international debt), and Citizens UK’s Nehemiah 5 Campaign (against exploitative lending). The very names of the campaigns are revealing.

Of course, if Christians are to turn their ideas into reality, they need to win support from others. This involves making arguments that appeal to non-Christians. There’s nothing underhand about that; building coalitions across differences is central to all democratic politics. Whatever your worldview, turning your convictions into government policy involves two things.  Firstly, you try to persuade people of the truth of your worldview. Secondly, you build alliances with those who remain unconvinced. So, in the Nehemiah 5 Challenge, churches advance some reasons for public policy which are distinctively Christian, and some which are not. As part of Citizens UK, they work with mosques and trade unions, tenants associations and student unions, on this and many other issues. (These include the Living Wage Campaign – with deep roots in Catholic Social Teaching – which has now won £70 million for low-paid workers in London alone.)

Of course, Christians disagree amongst themselves – on economics as much as anything else. How to understand and apply the teachings of Scripture and Church is a matter for discussion. That’s one reason we have departments of Theology as well as Religious Studies in our universities (just as we have departments which reflect on moral and political issues without reference to God).

You may ask: “Why should I be forced to live with an economic system shaped by your religious views?” A good question! To which I would answer: “That’s the price of living in a pluralist democracy. I’m forced to live with a system shaped in part by the moral convictions of atheists, and you’re forced to live with a system shaped in part by the convictions of Christians.”  Neither of us is “imposing” our worldview on the other.  What we’re doing is negotiating a common life in the midst of deep ethical and religious disagreement. That’s the challenge, and the joy, of politics.

The elephant in the room – in your letter and in my reply – is whether religious views can ever be reasoned and reasonable.  In the end, your desire to relegate religion to the private sphere is anything but neutral.  It only makes sense if you believe religion has no rational foundations.

If you are willing to engage in this correspondence, I’d love to move on to a more detailed examination of this elephant. There’s a lot more to be said.

In the meantime, this comes with my best wishes to you and your family for a happy Christmas,

Angus Ritchie

Demos Launch The Character Inquiry

Next week on 10th May 2011, the think tank Demos are launching a new pamphlet entitled The Character Inquiry.  This new pamphlet draws together emerging research on how character is formed and developed and explores possible implications of this for public policy.

The launch will be chaired by Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and places can be reserved by emailing events@demos.co.uk.  You can find out more about the event on the Demos website.

Tagged , , , , ,

Archbishop of Canterbury: Big Society – Small World?

Speaking to an audience at King’s College London, the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the way the concept of the Big Society has opened up a serious debate on our political priorities, whilst acknowledging that ‘it has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised’.

Turning to a theme he has explored before in relation to the Big Society, Rowan Williams suggested that theology has a key role in defining a proper appreciation of ‘character’ and the notion of ’empathy’ and that the pursuing of national goals without defining what sort of people we are or want to be cannot be of much value without this.  In essence, that it is important to ask the question about what kind of people are necessary for the Big Society to succeed?

The Archbishop argued that the localism agenda needs to be related to thinking about how civic character is formed and how social relations are shaped. On this the Archbishop affirmed the communities and presence of the established Church which has its own role in recognising and confirming the importance of civic responsibility.

The lecture also turned to exploring the implications of the Big Society on an international level by warning of the twin dangers of excessive centralism and abandonment to the market, and petty and fragmentary localism.

You can read the full lecture here.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Of Good Character

Character is creeping back into fashion.  One of CTC’s core research streams is looking at ‘Formation, Values and Virtue’ and it’s clear that in seeking to foster more conversation on the topic we are pushing at a door which is ready to open.

Although still muted in the main public arena, conversations about the decline of virtue and the need to address questions of personal, and social, character abound.  It is worth highlighting a few recent contributions to the field.

In 2009 the Demos produced a report entitled Building Character which examined the role of parents in bringing up children.  Confronting the liberal instinct that questions of character are best left to private individuals, the report’s authors argued that “to the extent that certain elements of character impact equality, opportunity and fairness, it ought to be a concern for policy makers interested in those outcomes” (p.12).  Policy makers lack a vocabulary for discussing the issue, however, and despite making a few suggestions around childrearing, the report is resigned to accepting that “there is no set of policy solutions that can solve such an intractable, private and complex cluster of problems” (p.57).  The formation of children, though, is identified as a legitimate focus of policy action.

The empirical grounds for doing so are provided by another recent publication by Professor James Arthur which is the book Of Good Character: Exploration of Values and Virtues in 3-25 Year Olds.  An outcome of the Learning for Life project, Professor Arthur’s book draws on extensive qualitative and quantative research to move towards a modern definition of ‘character’ and to identify its traits and formation in young people.  It is well worth engaging with, or at the very least reading the Young Foundation’s review of it.

These are just two contributions to the discussion and there are many more out there.  We will be posting more resources in the coming weeks and months.

Tagged , , , , ,