The Privileges of Piety
November 17, 2009
From the Telegraph:
Faith groups are to be given a central role in shaping government policies, a senior minister has vowed. John Denham, the communities secretary revealed that a new panel of religious experts has been set up to advise the Government on making public policy decisions. Mr Denham argued that Christians and Muslims can contribute significant insights on key issues, such as the economy, parenting and tackling climate change.
Oh happy day. Islam and Gaia, together at last.
The minister said that the Government needed to be educated by faith groups on “how to inform the rest of society about these issues.”
Perhaps someone could explain why it is we even have a “communities secretary,” and why this one is so eager to defer to “experts” whose, um, expertise lies not in parenting, economics or climatology, but in affairs of an altogether more elevated nature. Sadly, Mr Denham doesn’t reveal which particular “significant insights” will be brought to bear by the aforementioned “faith groups”. Nor is it terribly obvious how being Muslim or Christian might bestow a parental or economic wisdom unavailable to less pious human beings.
Which leads us to another item featuring one of those “experts” - Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury - self-described “hairy lefty,” palace-dweller, figure of ridicule, apologist for terrorism and chief executive of a failing religious enterprise. Dr Williams’ latest musings on mortal affairs are also aired in the Telegraph, where we learn “higher taxes would be good for society”:
Dr Rowan Williams said that taxation should not be seen as a way of stifling business or redistributing wealth but helping to make the world a better place in which to live.
You may want those sunglasses. It’s dazzling stuff.
He called for new levies to be introduced on financial transactions and carbon emissions, and an end to the idea that unlimited economic growth is desirable... “Taxation builds a habitat - already, quite properly, through state welfare provision, but potentially in other less familiar ways.”
Whatever Dr Williams chooses to believe, higher taxation and “new levies” are a very good way of stifling business, and base commerce is ultimately how we pay for all of those good deeds the Most Revered One likes to bang on about. And if the implied individual belt-tightening is so “good for society” – that’s you, dear reader - why isn’t it good for government too? Or should the state become larger and more righteously engorged, “making the world a better place” with publicly funded diversity policy officers, tobacco control officers, undercover waste bin spies and other consciousness-raising efforts? As, for instance, when the Arts Council saw fit to spend £150,000 of your taxes on sending Jarvis Cocker to the Arctic for “inspiration,” along with Marcus Brigstocke, Kathy Barber, Julian Stair and Beatboxer Shlomo:
The ambition of the expedition was to inspire the creative team to respond to climate change... It was an amazing journey; 10 days of artistic inspiration, debate, discussion and exploration.
I’m sure it was a hoot. And when it comes to “artistic responses to climate change” you just need to include a third-rate leftwing comedian, a “billboard hijacker” and a maker of ceramics.
And while higher taxes will apparently be “good for society,” there will, obviously, be some special dispensations. Some free rides must always be available to those deemed deserving. The Church of England is of course a recipient of tax breaks, including a 100% VAT refund for the renovation of religious buildings. Places of worship, including those overseen by Dr Williams, are eligible for complete business rate exemption and Ministers of Religion are entitled either to significant discounts or full exemption from paying council tax. Which is nice.
The insight continues:
The archbishop also claimed reality television gives us “alarming glimpses” of what the world would look like were everyone to be governed by self-interest.
Let’s pause for a moment and ponder a small but pertinent question. What kind of worldview sees self-interest not in its most obvious, everyday, prosaic terms – say, as what motivates the local butcher to open on cold mornings - but instead as defined by a tiny self-selecting group of televised narcissists? Apparently, self-interest isn’t about the millions of humdrum but useful transactions that take place today and every other day. For Dr Williams, it means something else entirely. It means Celebrity Big Brother. Just how naïve, how cartoonish, does that worldview sound to you?
Clearly, more input of this calibre is needed.