For the love of money
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
One of the great contributions of Catholic Social Teaching to the church has been the concept of structural sin. Structural sin is the idea that wrongful attitudes and practices can be enshrined not just in individuals, but in the very systems, policies and structures that collectively we live by. The thing about structural sin is that its relationship with individuals is two-way. On the one hand, sinful structures can be promoted by individuals who are seeking their own agenda – consider a racist policy proposed by an individual racist. But structures of sin can also facilitate and encourage sinful behaviour by their very existence. Often it is our unwillingness to challenge them that makes us complicit with them.
This bidirectionality is neatly summed up by John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, when he writes: 'If the present situation can be attributed to difficulties of various kinds, it is not out of place to speak of "structures of sin" which... are rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people's behaviour.' And he goes on to give a concrete example of such a structure: 'In this respect I wish to mention specifically…the reform of the world monetary and financial system, today recognized as inadequate.'
I mention all this because although this passage in 1 Timothy is clearly directed at individuals, the 'love of money' of which it speaks can also be considered corporately. Our economies have become beset with the false idol of economic growth for which the love of money is the fuel. Whether intentionally or not, we have developed a system, a structure if you will, where the love of money is simply assumed. Such a system is both fed by individuals who are greedy themselves, but it also impacts all of us – encouraging and facilitating our own love of money.
It was in light of this that I was pleasantly surprised to see New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explicitly state that the purpose of her government’s budget is not economic growth but the 'well-being' of her population. Specifically, all spending must advance one of five priority areas: mental health, child poverty, inequality, thriving in a digital age and the environment. For many years, campaigners have been arguing that national budgets should prioritise people and planet over profit. Yet, we have been stuck in a system whose only measure of well-being has been rising GDP. This has been our structure of sin for it involves a metric that pays no attention to inequality or meeting the needs of the most vulnerable or environmental sustainability. We can all thank God that perhaps the tide is beginning to turn and if coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that an alternative future is possible.
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..