Over the last year or two I’ve got into YouTube: it has gradually become a valuable resource where you can access high-quality content. One of the channels that I’m subscribed to is Douglas Carswell – he is formerly the MP for Clacton (who achieved notoriety by becoming UKIP’s first MP when he defected from the Conservatives). Since he retired from politics, he has started filming conversations with people on YouTube, discussing interesting ideas.
One of the videos I watched recently was his interview with Grace Blakeley:
I thought it was a good interview, and fascinating to watch them talking. Douglas Carswell was coming from a more ‘right-wing’ / free-market perspective, and Grace Blakeley from a more ‘left-wing’ / democratic socialist perspective.
What I was really struck by throughout the interview was how it kept on coming back to the basic human problem: people are selfish and greedy and can’t be trusted. It came across to me very clearly in the video how this was the fundamental issue of government – organising the country in the best way to try and mitigate against human failures.
One thing it made me reflect on was the way that the Christian faith does not fit into any particular political ‘box’. It transcends politics. This isn’t always the way that Christians talk about politics, and we’ll maybe get onto that in a moment.
The root problem is this: you cannot solve the problem of the human heart without Jesus. Jesus is the only ultimate solution to the problem of the human heart. People are selfish and greedy, people are corruptible, people treat others badly. Legislation won’t cure that problem, nor will the free market. Only Jesus will.
It seems that both the left and the right are trying to solve the problem in different ways by politics: the right-wing, free-market solution is to harness people’s selfishness to create wealth which will trickle down to the poorest. Whereas the left-wing, socialist solution is to regulate everything, redistribute wealth by the power of the government, and essentially force people to give money to those who are more deserving.
Neither of these approaches really solves the problem, however. I think this is what came across clearly in the programme: unless you can solve the problem of the human heart’s natural inclinations, people will find a way of wiggling out of their responsibilities. They will find a way of being selfish and greedy whatever the government says. There’s no way around it.
One of the folks from our church is from Liverpool, and he’s often talking about the fact that, in days gone by, in the north of England mill owners would put their wealth into community ventures – orphanages, hospitals, churches, etc. Why? Because having wealth came with social responsibility. And that view comes from within a Christian worldview where we all have a responsibility to love our neighbour. Wealth is not simply to be used selfishly but is a responsibility for us to steward wisely.
I think this is something of what David Cameron was getting at with the ‘big society’. At the end of the day, no political system will really work unless people from all over society actually love and care for each other, and use their positions to benefit others. It seems that these days there is a much more ‘personal’ view of wealth – if you are rich and wealthy, spending that money on the community is an optional extra (and an extra which few people seem to take advantage of).
Jesus is the only one who can transform us from being inward looking to outward looking. With him, we gradually become less selfish and greedy and start loving our neighbour as ourselves. The best thing the church can do to help in the country is actually preach the gospel. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek political solutions to certain things – e.g. I am glad that slavery was banned, to take one example! And I think there are many positive things about the welfare state, e.g. the NHS.
But whatever the state provides, Christians need to acknowledge that it is the responsibility of all of us to care for the sick and the poor, to give to the needy, and to seek the good of others. We need personal transformation, not simply better laws.
Incidentally, all of this is why I feel uncomfortable with the way some Christians (notably bishops) talk about politics. I wrote about this before when Justin Welby called for taxes to be raised to help the poor. As I said then, it’s not wrong to be involved in politics – but the church has a unique position in proclaiming Jesus. If we focussed a bit more on proclaiming Jesus, perhaps the politics would take care of itself.