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Radio: God and Mammon

by
29 June 2011

by Edward Wickham

WHEN you hear the phrase “The Lord will provide,” do you think manna, or milk and honey? Are you satisfied by the promise of sufficiency, or inspired by the notion of super-abundance? A Franciscan, Brother Sam, and Lord Griffiths, of Goldman Sachs, are two very different Christian consumers. The former lives on £3000 a year; the latter on a somewhat larger sum.

The two featured in Giles Fraser’s The Root of All Evil: Christianity and money (Radio 4, Monday of last week), alongside such luminaries as Diarmaid MacCulloch and Niall Ferguson, who were helping him to narrate the story of the Christian Church’s relationship with money over the centuries. Canon Fraser has been examining what the Church can usefully say on the subject.

The trouble is that the Church is up to its knees in the same financial slurry that has almost drowned the bankers. For the Church to take a moralising position on the credit crunch would, Professor Ferguson said, be like a gambler, after a heavy night at the roulette wheel, decrying the evils of Monte Carlo.

As we were reminded several times, it is the love of money, not the filthy lucre itself, that is proverbially the root of all evil. But if these programmes had one failing, it was the lack of consideration for those contexts in which money becomes not empowering, but divisive: namely, where there is massive inequality between people’s wealth, and there is a disconnection between the effort and the contribution that individuals make.

Lord Griffiths suggested that we should worry less about how the cake is cut, and more about who is making the cake in the first place. Quite so; and we should be concerned when the bakers use ingredients borrowed from others for a cake that they themselves scoff.

Those of us who are responsible for choosing hymns, anthems, and the like for worship will be aware of the sensibilities discussed by Terence Blacker in Taboo Be Doo (Radio 4, Saturday). He may have been dealing with different material — he is an enthusiast for the cabaret and music-hall songs of the past century — but the questions are similar: how much should old material be censored or adapted to accord with contemp­orary notions of inclusivity, equality, and tolerance? And to what extent does the presence of a beguiling melody neutralise the potential offence?

These are fascinating issues. But, sadly, Blacker’s own integrity as a dispassionate enquirer was tarnished by his adoption of the now-meaningless cliché of “political cor­rect­ness”. This is not about politics: it is about what we do and do not instinctively feel comfortable with.

It would have been helpful, for example, to have heard from those who were apparently too stupid to understand Randy Newman’s notor­ious song attacking intolerance, “Short People” (the main lyric of which is: “Short people got no reason to live”).

Might it not be possible that those people who were offended were perfectly aware that the song was ironic, but that they might have preferred Newman to park his great hulk of a post-modern, ironic joke in somebody else’s backyard? After all, the best way to increase the annoyance of somebody you have offended through your ever-so-clever irony is to tell them to lighten up and get the joke.

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