Sometimes I do have to compliment The Times on their variety. On the very same morning that they reported the Bishop of Durham and favourite for next Archbishop of Canturbury, the Right Rev Justin Welby, urging that a new banking Act should replace the system destroyed in 2008 with something ‘…dedicated to the support of human society, to the common good and to solidarity’, Tim Montgomerie quoted Gary Streeter, MP, saying a new Archbishop should end all clerical attacks on politicians and believe that if you ‘transform a person’s inner outlook then their political manifesto, business behaviour or parenting will take care of itself’. Now, these two things need not be contradictory, at least in terms of pure reason. But at the very least, proposing legislation about the organisation of banks and finance – a central part of a capitalist economic system – on grounds of the common good and solidarity implies a belief that legislation can play a part in framing people’s ‘inner outlooks’. Once governments are involved with that in any way, their policies become, on Montgomerie’s and Streeter’s own premises, a matter of direct concern to the clerics. In theory, they could, as Streeter wishes, just whisper in politicians’ ears behind the scenes. But we all know that publicly controversial matters do not stay behind the scenes, whilst covert lobbyists are a favourite object of suspicion and distrust – the last thing a churchman would want.
Montgomerie and Streeter display a typically conservative delusion that political life can stick to bread-and-butter issues because religion will take care of everybody’s spiritual needs and moral concerns. Banks and organised capital in general provide as good an illustration as any of why this won’t wash. The notorious liability of capitalism to periodic crises is not altogether a bad thing; it helps to prevent the rich winners under capitalism turning into a sacerdotal caste which imagines itself superior to the rest and which stifles social mobility. But it does mean inherent instability and insecurity. Further, if we are to limit speculative crises in particular, as well as protect ecologically sensitive areas like the Arctic, we are likely to need a curb on pursuit of patriotic pride and identity through economic competition. That would, persumably, mean a change in people’s ‘inner outlooks’ that most Conservatives and their equivalents around the world would dislike to put it mildly.
I have managed to follow Streeter’s advice (to Christians) in one important respect so far. I have not said one word about sex. The issues around capitalism demonstrate that there is plenty of scope for religion and politics to brush up against one another without sexual matters appearing at all. Oh, and what about Islamic finance?