By James Crossley
Following on from yesterday’s post, there are more examples of the Liberal Bible and Thatcher’s Bible in Liberal Democrats Do God (including more Original Sin). Perhaps most obviously, there is the Bible supporting free-trade and wealth, as might perhaps be expected from those grounded in the nineteenth-century Liberal tradition. John Pugh’s essay, for instance, claims that ‘all Liberals are passionate about free trade’ while ‘sceptical but supportive of state action’.
But what of those biblical passages which appear to suggest an outright hostility to wealth (e.g. Mark 10.17-31; Luke 6.24-25; 16.91-31; Matt. 6:24//Luke 16.13; Matt. 11.8//Luke 7.25)? Thatcher interpreted such sentiments in a relative sense: ‘Christ did not condemn riches as such’, she argued, ‘only the way in which they were used and those who put their trust in them.’ Thatcher did argue that charity and social responsibility are ways in which wealth can be used in favour of Good. But Thatcher still claimed that what might be seen as selfish excesses and putting too much trust in money was a problem. She suggested that the ‘Tenth Commandment – Thou shalt not covert – recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities’.
These sorts of issues are also addressed in Pugh’s essay. For Pugh, ‘Liberals to a man and woman bemoan the unfairness of wealth distribution in our country and indeed the world’ before noting two different types of Liberals: ‘those reconciled to appreciable wealth inequality’ and ‘those who…remain unhappy about the wide distribution of wealth – extremes of wealth and poverty’. But note that there is no attack on there being a class system. As with Thatcher, and indeed Enoch Powell, the biblical verses on wealth inequality and a fiery end to the rich have to be interpreted as not having a fiery end for the rich just because they are rich. Pugh suggested that ‘Christian Liberals of whatever hue have traditionally seen “wealth” itself as morally problematic’ and in support cites arguably the most difficult passages but in a notably vague manner: ‘the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the eye of the needle proverb etc’. Echoing Enoch Powell, Pugh suggests that ‘Christians are taught to be sceptical and indeed humble about any clear link between worldly achievement and genuine personal merit’, adding that ‘this isn’t a simple matter’ and that ‘it doesn’t necessarily follow that Christian Liberals would favour higher tax rates for the wealthy rather than the encouragement of philanthropy, or disown utterly any concept of “undeserving poor.”’
Thatcher’s Bible lives on…