9th January 2021
9th January 2021
20th November 2020
Pastoral Letter No 37 (Sunday 10th January 2021)
‘What’s love got to do with it?’
There is an ideology much advanced within political, religious and social circles over the past 60 years that centres on the idea that people should advance through merit, the best and the brightest should lead the way, those who work hard should earn a fair wage and success should be rewarded. Indeed, it was the ideology that advanced grammar schools and gave us the grammar school prime ministers Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher. Education was greatly expanded to include comprehensive schools where all with ability could attain and advance. The ‘sports industrial complex’ as I call it, sees the best footballers, tennis players, runners, car drivers rewarded beyond imagination. The ‘Arts industrial complex’ saw writers, artists, actors and musicians rewarded and lauded and a whole world of spin offs and franchises developed. Brains, creativity and physical prowess were recognised, promoted and rewarded, thus has it ever been. Intellectual ability and talent seems to have been the route to the top for those who were not born into wealth and power, which still remains the number one route to success and reward.
The problem with ‘meritocracy’, which came to dominate political and social thinking in the UK and America, is that it says to those who are neither intellectual, creative, nor particularly gifted at sport or courageous in battle, nor particularly good at anything recognised by the ideology, it says they don’t count. It has taken a couple of generations to realise this, as the right to a fair wage for all workers, the right to access a decent education and to effective health care were fought for and enshrined in laws, and by the 1980s we could see the fruits of such endeavours. We still did not have enshrined the right to work, the right to affordable housing, the right to sufficient income to live on, whether working or not. We thought those battles would be won. But there is a sting in every ideological tail, for in the 1980s and 1990s our industries were wiped out by cheaper overseas competition. As we expanded higher education, and we , our children and grandchildren obtained more and more degrees, became lawyers and doctors and engineers, nurse practitioners and computer scientists, the socio- economic gap between those who could and those who could not grew. Local communities lost their brightest and their best to the cities and overseas, where life and opportunities were better, the ‘brain’ drain drew away the talented and left behind the vulnerable and those who had lost their jobs and their purpose
Where does vulnerability, and the ‘average’ sit in a ‘meritocracy’? What about the sick, those with physical, sensory, cognitive and mental disabilities? What about those who were trained for industries now considered ‘unclean’, unecological’? There is a sea of such people, and those who care for them were not recognised by the ideology of the ‘brightest and the best’ either, as they worked and lived alongside the ‘the least and the worst,’ the rejected and the untalented: care workers, prison officers, social workers, DWP employees, community workers. The margins of society got wider over the decades, until we had post-industrial and urban wastelands in Wales, as in the rest of Britain, as in America and wastelands within people as well. Meanwhile the successful, rich and powerful, got more successful, richer and powerful. This has led to anger and disillusion, which in turn led to BREXIT, Donald Trump, and the rise of the Right across many parts of the world. And we have seen something of the outworking of that this week in America.
And the ‘meritocracy’ ideology has also started to bite at the heals of those who entered the ‘educational, arts and sports industrial complexes’. The educational attainment levels got higher, not enough to have a degree, but a masters, now a PhD, now two PhDs, a treadmill of qualifications; and it’s not enough to play football for a great team, but to get better and better sponsorship, until the sponsorship became more important than the sport, and success at all costs led to drugs, injuries and burnout. All this has led to the devaluation of ability and of educational qualifications, the arts factories spewing out rubbish, and reality and celebrity TV dominating home entertainment. Theatres and culture centres, sports arena and galleries and private venues have become the repository for true talent recognised by the wealthy, the great and the good. Ivy league and Russel group Universities and league tables of schools are now the gateway to careers and professions.
This year we have seen the underside of the ‘higher education industry’, where the money students bring to universities is the driving force, not their talent or intellectual ability, not the ideals of meritocracy, as even with little or no lectures or tuition provided, whilst students remain locked down at home, tuition fees and rents have to be paid otherwise the whole system collapses. And in sport the lower divisions of the football league and local rugby clubs struggle to survive whilst the premier league and national teams continue to earn vast revenues from media and sponsorship deals and what was once a spectator sport for the enjoyment of loyal fans on the terraces has become a disconnected international elite activity for the chosen few. And where now the arts?
Yes, we have seen carers recognised at last, the NHS and community workers, and shop workers and deliverers, and those who work in warehouses for online retailers, but still they are not paid above the minimum wage, offered affordable housing, or decent career prospects. we can and we must do better and imagine a society for all, not just for the best.
What’s my point in this Covenant time for our churches? Its this, a Covenant relationship is not about committing and living in relationship only with the brightest or the best, for heaven is not a meritocracy, nor should church be. This is a great challenge to all of us in this current age. We are all called into relationship with God and to live out our lives in thanksgiving, love and service as we are, acceptable to God who made us and loves us unconditionally, whether successful or not, whether particularly talented or not, whether well or ill, right or wrong, for life is the miracle and love is the prize. In our covenant service we say ‘Here I am Lord, I come as I am and offer you my whole self, do with me what you will, for in your love for me and for all you want what will give the fulness of life. Let me play my part in the life you have given me, even if it is to do little or to fail or to be unwell or to be redundant at this time, for your love’s sake, for in you we put our trust.’ When the anti-ideology of God’s love prevails in the world the kingdom of God will be close at hand. Amen