'This is our chance to make a better world': Cardinal's article in the 'Daily Telegraph'
posted on 08 January 2009
The following article by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor appeard in the 'Daily Telegraph' of Thursday 8 January 2009.
'This is our chance to make a better world'
Now that the 'credit crunch' has turned into a global recession, savers and borrowers are becoming increasingly uncertain about their situation. Behind the gloomy headlines are cities, neighbourhoods, families, individuals deeply affected by the economic breakdown. The hardest hit will be the poor, and those already below the poverty line struggling to survive.
Christians have a paramount concern for the poor. The biblical concept of justice implies that the justice of a community is measured by how it treats the powerless. Therefore, any new dispensation of the world economy which does not address the marginalisation of rich and poor does not merit consideration.
The number of people without work is rising. No work deprives a person of their ability to make their contribution to the life of the community, thereby marginalising them and diminishing their dignity: a dignity found in our being created in the image and likeness of God. As economic contraction continues we must do all we can to preserve individual dignity. Similarly, as the economy revives, it must be operated in a way which helps to create new jobs with adequate pay and decent conditions which contribute to sustaining family life.
The Church neither condemns the market economy nor canonises it. Christians recognise that the market, like money itself, is an essential element in the conduct of human affairs. But the laws by which it operates are not blind, like the law of gravity; they follow from (and can be moderated by) human actions and decisions. So, those who operate the market have an obligation to ensure that they act in ways which promote the common good, and not just in ways which maximise the profits of those most adept at exploiting it. Governments and regulators have a part to play, but all of us – not only bankers, business leaders and financiers – have to bear in mind the moral implications of what we are doing.
But what is the common good? There is nothing immoral in wanting to be prosperous. But are economic growth and ever-increasing material prosperity the sole criteria of a healthy or successful society? Although the majority of people in the developed world are financially better off than 40 years ago, has this been reflected in social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing? Non-believers, by definition, do not share the Christian's faith in a divine purpose, but what many of us do share is an unease with the state of society, which is so clearly not a society at ease with itself.
So it seems to me that the crisis may be an opportunity for stocktaking: for a conversation within society about what we understand by the common good; about what it means for a society or a nation to be successful; about what it means to be human. And an opportunity, at the same time, to recognise that ensuring social justice cannot be left to governments, politicians and the market, but depends on day-to-day decisions taken by each of us.
We live in a secular, multi-faith society and this is viewed as a mark of tolerance. We should move beyond tolerance to a vision of how our interdependence can creatively enhance all of our lives. Believers do not have a monopoly on values. Non-believers also have convictions on what constitutes a just and healthy society, not all of which is out of harmony with the beliefs of those of faith.
The stocktaking forced on us provides an opportunity for a conversation in which all of us can explore the extent of the common ground. If we can do that without rancour and with mutual respect the crisis will have been a cause for hope rather than gloom.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor is the Archbishop of Westminster
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