An Easter Fantasy

Invited to fill the Thought for the Day spot on the Today show on Radio 4 on Maundy Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury (for the moment Rowan Williams) took the opportunity to preach about charity.

Starting from the traditional Maundy Thursday rite of washing the feet of the poor Williams said that it exists to remind the powerful

… that power constantly needs to be reminded of what it’s for. Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves.

Ordinary people may be ‘treasured and looked after’? Really? If by that he means that I shouldn’t have to worry about being persecuted by an overwhelming state and/or religion then I can agree with him. If however he thinks it means a religion and/or state has the right to protect me from myself than he can take a log walk off of a short pier. Ordinary people don’t need to be looked after, they mostly just want to get on with their lives with as little interference as possible from do-gooders who think they know better.

And those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves? Before anyone calls me a heartless cow, can we please differentiate between those who are unable to help themselves and those who choose not to? The former should be supported (and I hope that I will be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees on that) whilst the latter shouldn’t be. If you choose to opt out of taking responsibility for yourself I don’t see why I or anyone else, indirectly via either state of religion, should support you.

He then goes on to extend this thought with the following suggestion:

What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers  and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK, spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets of a busy town at night as a street pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you’ll find there especially among young people?

Seriously? I know that my English, first language or not, isn’t brilliant but I could have sworn that charitable activities are voluntary acts, done by people who want to help rather than being forced to do so by an overarching state because otherwise they will be punished in some way – not that he indicates what sort of consequence he envisages for disobedience.

Lets go back to his list of potential ‘charitable’ acts though. Serving dinners in a primary school? Cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? I think we call those two activities jobs. Minimum wage jobs they might be but they are still paid employment so where is the sense in wanting people to do them ‘voluntarily’? Is he really advocating reducing the potential employment activities for the unskilled end of the workforce? That doesn’t strike me as particularly charitable.

It is only the last example that can be accurately described as a voluntary activity and if people wish to do that then more power to their elbows. The uniformed social workers (police) who usually have to deal with the violent and rowdy or incapable drunks will probably welcome the assistance.

The muddled thinking moves towards a conclusion with this pair spectacularly unthought through sentences:

I’ve no doubt some of our public figures do this sort of thing privately, and good for them.  But maybe having to do it, to do it in public and not to be able to make any sort of capital out of it because they had no choice?

If someone is doing good deeds privately then they are deliberately choosing not to make any capital out of it, thus making a lie of the second. If people were forced to do their charitable deeds in public then I can foresee it turning into nothing more than a glorified photo-op in the case of several people, such as politicians and ‘celebrities’. Anyone else remember a certain catwalk model’s community service? Turned into fashion shoot if I recall correctly.

Well, perhaps that’s just a nice fantasy to mull over during the holiday weekend.

And long may it remain so! Forcing people to do charitable acts will just result in resentment on the part of those forced and thoughts of ‘only here because s/he has to be’ on the part of the recipient. Coercion would not be acceptable in any other job so why should it be so because you happen to be rich or ‘powerful’?

May I kindly suggest to the Archbishop that he sticks to his job and doesn’t stick his head above the parapet again unless he has actually thought about what it is that he is saying?


  1. JuliaM says:

    “Ordinary people don’t need to be looked after, they mostly just want to get on with their lives with as little interference as possible from do-gooders who think they know better.”

    Spot on! Even for Williams, this sermon is waffle and woolly thinking of the highest order.

    “What about having a new law…”

    What’s he smoking?!? How could you pass a law dictating such actions for such a narrow group of people? He’s taken leave of what little sense he possessed, finally…

    And if anyone should be forced to do this to ‘educate them’ (they shouldn’t, but humour me) how about making it stick with senior heads of the civil service..?

  2. Jess says:

    Oh dear, he has got himself in a pickle, hasnt he?

    I can’t see any merit in forcing humility on people. We may not like top financiers/ politicians / journalists / current bogeymen, but there is, maybe flawed, an element of natural selection at work as to why they are where they are and why Bill Smith is cleaning loos on minimum wage. Listen to Bill Smith, take account if his Kees and circumstance, hut don’t make everyone ape him.

  3. wiggins says:

    Rowan is a proper socialist.

  4. Demelza says:

    Seems quite a lazily put together message, with clichéd playing to the gallery rather than insight. I’ve much more time for Vincent Nichols, but then I would say that.

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      Of course you would being of Rome rather than Canterbury but even as an atheist I can see why people might prefer something not so wishy-washy.

  5. WitteringWitney says:

    Expressed my own thoughts on this MG and linked to yours. Nicely said, if I may say so on our part!

  6. WitteringWitney says:

    Heavens! My typing getting worse! Shud have read:

    Nicely said, if I may so so on your part.

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      Too much to drink, eh David? :)

      • WitteringWitney says:

        I just knew, somehow, that comment was coming……

        I’ll have you know that I have been on the wagon since Thursday!

  7. Misanthrope Girl says:

    I think it can safely be said that Williams will not be remembered as being amongst the greatest thinkers of the age.

  8. Philanthrope Boy says:

    Essentially you feel, as with Thatcher and certain pig-heads on the left, that there is no such thing as society, and that the only substantial form of recognition is economic recognition. The rich washing the feet of the poor would only be a ‘meaningless gesture’ which would take away work from the already disadvantaged. The possibility of being poor but respectable is not acceptible… only the middle class is respectable. The wealthy must contribute voluntarily to society or not at all – otherwise what is the point? They must have the ‘good intentions’ of the middle classes and the recipients must be grateful and deserving. The answer to the logic of capitalist domination is to economically include more people into that logic and not to remind ourselves that there is life outside of it, even if this life is not superficially pleasant.

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      Wrong. I have no problems with the idea of society, I simply don’t want the one which the Archbishop is talking about which is one where the rich and powerful are forced to do charitable activities – or jobs that are already done by others – because of who and what they are. Williams, in this sermon, seems to have forgotten that the very definition of charity is that it something done voluntary by anyone – regardless of money – to assist those in need. That assistance – and the level of it – should be determined by those giving their time and money not by anyone else and no ‘guilt’ should be projected on to those who choose not to.