Tuesday, October 01, 2019


British society values us, or, in some cases, is prepared to tolerate us, to the extent that we have utility; that we serve a useful purpose, to society, or, rather, to the economy (and, therefore, more particularly, to the most wealthy). We might not want to pay what it would cost us if those who deliver our pizzas were paid an actual living wage, but we’d take it as a personal inconvenience if they weren’t there.

The elderly, once they are too old to provide free childcare for their grandchildren, possess no utility whatsoever. Nor will they regain any. And so, truth be told, they are a burden on society (albeit one we would like to claim we bear gladly, at least in the case of our own family...if only we were able to do more).

The same is true of the long-tern unemployed, the chronically ill, the most profoundly disabled, among others.

What are the implications of Jesus’ words, found in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Luke 17:5-10) that those who would follow him should self-identify with those who have no utility? Who, despite being kept in servitude, are surplus to the needs of society—effectively a drain—and who can have no hope, at least in the foreseeable future, of liberation from their dependence on someone more fortunate? (For this is what is implied in the Greek of verse 10, though perhaps buried under English translations.)

How would a society built on such teaching organise itself? Might it, for example, create and commit itself to universal health care provision that was, as largely as possible, free at the point of use? Or see a robust welfare provision that kept human dignity front and central, alongside seeking to address endemic injustices that require some to be kept in servitude? Would it reject the idea that utility is the sole, or even primary, measure of human worth?

Of course, such a vision is impractical. But not impossible, far from impossible. Practicality is itself tied to utility, and is too narrow a means test. Arguably, it is an excuse. We cannot ignore those we identify with, not as patrons handing out gifts from our bounty, but as fully one with us.

My God, British society needs to rediscover Jesus.

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