Is your spirit ‘level?’

There has been a lot of news and interviews around the theme of poverty in the last couple of weeks.  This is hardly surprising when you consider that it was Christian Aid Week and there was an excellent advertising campaign highlighting part of the work of Christian Aid on our televisions.  But it is, of course, about so much more than the call to look after those who are less fortunate than we out of some altruistic motive (although, understand me, I am not putting down altruism!).  Looking after those who are poor makes good sense in the end because it is self-serving in an entirely rational and wise way.  In an inaugural parliamentary lecture to launch Christian Aid Week, Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, highlighted the role that inequality plays in provoking violence.  Growing inequality threatens social cohesion, prosperity and democracy the world over.  The link between violence and historic poverty, terrorism and poverty and poverty and the breakdown of the rule of law in normally law abiding countries is well documented.

In our country we are told that there is a growing divide between the rich and the poor.  The harsh spending cuts are being felt in cities with the most children living in poverty.  A worrying 38% of kids in Manchester live below the breadline – 33% in Liverpool.  People can only take so much.  When they see so much wealth around them and know they have so little, their resentment and anger will grow.

“The Spirit Level” is a brilliant book which came out a few years ago with the subtitle, “Why equality is better for everyone.”  This book is full of the sort of statistics and graphs that usually turn me off, but the evidence it produces is challenging and overwhelming.  It asks similar sorts of questions to the ones Archbishop Rowen asked in his lecture.  Why do we mistrust people more in the UK than in Japan? Why do Americans have higher rates of teenage pregnancy than the French? What makes the Swedish thinner than the Australians? The answer: inequality.  If we want health and contentment; if we want the joys of the kingdom of God – peace, justice, love and mercy.  If we want to live well with our neighbour and happily with ourselves, we have to share; we need to seek a more equal society.  Too much wealth in too few hands is bad for us, including being bad for the people who have it.

Christian Aid Week may be over for this year, but the message of Christ continues, love your neighbour as yourself (that you may live well in the land your God has given you.)