Conforming greed

Digby Anderson has been listening to the bishops and also finds a great deal to lambaste and condemn

Greed seems to be the favourite explanation for the economic crisis among liberal bishops. As expected, they have denounced bankers and the City as greedy. Somewhat less expected, some have denounced consumers as greedy. Liberals are usually wary of criticising the masses, especially the lower classes. Their usual explanation of any wrongs such persons appear to do in the way of crime is that it is a result of their condition; a condition imposed on them by more affluent and powerful people or in Marx-speak, structural factors.

The use of the word greed' is also unusual in that it comes from the old moral vocabulary. Liberals customarily prefer the modern vocabularies of pseudo-social science - marginalized, excluded, not sufficiently affirmed. Whole lists of sins from the old moral vocabulary are next to never mentioned, sloth, fornication, equivocation, presumption, jealousy, perjury, indifference (to religion), failure to honour parents, parents' failure to discipline children, and heresy. The few sins that do get denounced are those that can be creatively stretched to coincide with secular anathemas such as racism or putting one's rubbish in the wrong bin.

This deliberate unfamiliarity of liberals with the old vocabulary may explain why they have chosen greed to denounce. Because I am not sure that it is the best word. For a start, there are other words that better describe the repellent behaviour of consumers. Idolatry is one. It captures much better the seeking happiness in earthly vanities, the inordinacy of commitment to goods and the role played by the repeated act of shopping. The excessive use of credit maybe fuelled by greed, but also points to self-deceit and imprudence. Covetousness sheds a bit more light too. But none of these is exactly right. Rarely does the shopping fervour attain full scale latria. And most consumers do to not try to consume other people's goods which covetousness at its worst would include.

At first sight the consumers are materialistic. At second, it is clear that some do not want the goods they buy at all. New shoes lie unworn in the cupboard. That greatest and most expensive of wished-for commodities, the new kitchen is rarely used, as a kitchen. Is the new kitchen then something to show off?

Is consumerism about exhibitionism? Not exactly. Exhibitionists want to be noticed and they want to stand out. Consumerists all buy the same thing. As fashions for jeans, hoods, thongs, tattoos, trainers and rings and studs come and, belatedly, go the lambs all obediently follow. And so do their Mummies and Daddies with their four-by-fours, kitchens and wide televisions.

This conformism is the key to the matter. And the conformism goes way beyond consumerism. Young and old obey the same sexual morality - that is, immorality. They swallow the same topical crusades about climate change or carrying bottles of water. What Christians are confronted with is not a few or even a lot of greedy individuals, but a whole decadent culture. It is not just behaviour which is decadent, but the norms by which people judge such behaviour.

Ours is not a society containing isolated deviants but a conformist society and what it conforms to is foreign to Christianity. This culture is subscribed to by all. The most unnoticed moral revolution of the last fifty years is the collapse of traditional middle class morality.

The key fault of liberal Christians is to think they can work with this hostile culture, that its leaders, politicians, teachers, physicians are secular Christians or anonymous Christians, unprofessing, unpractising but still imbued, as T.S. Eliot had it, with Christian culture. It is not so. Serious Christians living in England are in enemy territory.

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