When the Pursuit of Wealth Leaves Us Feeling Empty


Early signs as we go to press are good; the markets are picking up, and Gordon Brown has won plaudits from almost everyone for his and the Treasury's handling of the situation. That there are hard times ahead is indisputable—and for anyone losing their job because of decisions taken by reckless gamblers in the City, talk of a brighter future rings desperately hollow. But it may be that the conditions have been put in place to allow some sort of normality to emerge.

The question is, what sort of normality should we accept as normal? There has been no shortage of people pointing out the obscenity of the sums of money involved. Nearly £2 trillion has been pledged to stabilise the banking system and start the flow of credit again.

This is nearly 36 times the aid sent by the richest nations of the world to the poorest every year, and 190 times the gross domestic product of the whole of Ethiopia. We are, it seems, as profligate when it comes to solving our own problems as we are miserly when it comes to solving other people's.

Whatever the long term effect of this bailout, it should at the very least make us, as a society and as Christians in society, take a far more critical view of the culture in which we are inevitably embedded.

Most of us have very little influence on the great affairs of state; we do not run major financial institutions or multinational corporations. But we are entitled to opinions about how far the pursuit of wealth by the few should be allowed to trump their responsibilities to the many. We are entitled to take a stand on the glorification of greed in popular culture.

And we are obliged, by our discipleship, to live differently ourselves. To walk around one of our great city centres is to be exposed to a full-scale onslaught on the senses from advertisers who want us to buy things not because they are useful, but because they are desirable in themselves; a quality they acquire simply because we are persuaded that other people desire them too.

The glossy lifestyle magazines which are such a feature of weekend papers are consumer pornography, designed to titillate us with longings for what most of us can never have, and those of us who can will never need.

The events of the last few weeks require deep reflection over many months. But if a different normality means an adjustment—no, not a lowering—in our expectations of what it's reasonable to consume, it should surely include an adjustment in what it's reasonable to ask for others.

It is not, with due respect to worthy campaigners, as simple as saying, 'You've just spent £2 trillion on getting yourselves out of a financial mess; just give a fraction of that to Africa and all its problems will be over.'

But there is a yawning gulf between the poverty of a First World economy or City trader and that of a Zimbabwean child suffering from every disease of malnourishment. Nothing should deflect our political leaders from their commitment to end global poverty.

Rev. Mark Woods is editor of Britain's Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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