‘We are all to blame for financial crisis’ – archbishop

February 12, 2009

Bankers, auditors, money-market speculators and regulators all came in for criticism at the Church of England’s General Synod during a discussion on the implications of the financial crisis and the recession.

The City had lined its pockets, regulators had not done their job properly and auditors had signed off financial deals that should not have seen the light of day, the synod heard at its meeting in London.

The result is a deep recession, the first since the early 1990s, with Britain suffering a shrinking economy, rapidly rising unemployment and falling output.

But the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, suggested everybody was to blame.

“We have all worshipped at the temple of money,” he said. “We have been guilty of idolatry: the worship of God falsely conceived – which is deadlier than either heresy or sin, for it is the prolific source of each. It is this idolatrous love of money, pursuing profit without regard for ethic, risk or consequence, which has led us from orientation to dis-orientation.”

He said the solution lay not only in economics and politics, but also a “deeper vision”.

“It is not about what governments can do for us but what we can all do,” he said.

Various suggestions were put forward by synod members, including working with counsellors, supporting credit unions, donating 10 percent of salary and opting for a gentler life.

They sympathised with the near 2 million unemployed and recognised that some of their own communities were still suffering from the economic downturn of the 1980s, with generations of families still unable to find work.

But the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, while empathising with the 150,000 people in his diocese who are likely to lose their jobs, said some may feel relief from being made redundant.

“It is difficult to know whether to sympathise more with those who have lost their jobs or those who are left carrying even greater loads with higher targets and fewer colleagues,” he said. “Sometimes indeed people seem to be relieved to get off the treadmill and to be given an opportunity to reconsider what they really want out of life.

“One of the great implications of this turbulence for us is to re-boot our sense of what a truly flourishing human life consists of. The Crack-berry culture is dangerously addictive and coming off is notoriously difficult.”

The comments were less strident than those made since the onslaught of the financial crisis.

Sentamu in September had accused short-sellers, those who speculate on falling share prices, of being “bank robbers and asset strippers“. While the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in December said the credit crunch was a reality check, a reminder that “fairy gold is just that“.

He also criticised the government’s fiscal stimulus package, likening it to “an addict returning to a drug”.

But there were still criticism from synod members.

“It is very ironic that we have got to the point now where we have massively bailed out big banks, and bailed out car manufacturers in the States doing to them what we have not done for many nations in the Third World,” the Bishop of Durham, Thomas Wright, said.

“We are in severe danger of the very rich doing to the very rich what they have failed to do for the very poor, and that is shameful.”

But not everybody was angry with the financiers.

Susan Cooper, from the London diocese, said she was “a little disconcerted” by some of the comments.

“These are people too alongside the rest of us and they do not need vilifying at this stage. Some of them are members of our congregations,” she said.


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The bishops should keep the self-flagellation for themselves. I deeply resent these types of all-embracing “we are all to blame” comments from those who live off the fat of the land and produce nothing.

I work damned hard for my money; have always been prudent in how I spent it; have never been out of work for more than a couple of weeks because I was willing to take whatever job was available until I could find something better, and have never sponged off the state or anyone else. It was not people like me who caused the recession, but it is people like me who will get the country out of it in due course, despite the best efforts of politicians and other self-serving elements to drive the country deeper into debt while lining their own pockets.

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive

They’ve got it completely wrong, but given all the other nonsense they believe in, I suppose that’s not at all surprising, and it has to be said that they’re probably no wider of the mark than our esteemed government.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

blaming everyone rather than those truly at fault is cheap and false piety. like andy, i have worked hard, avoided consipcuous and needless consumption, invested prudently, and do not think my governement or neighbour owes me anything. the thanks i get is increased taxation and an economy in shambles because spendthrifts and entitled demanders would not rein-in their appetites for mammon. what a great lesson for our subsequent generations: be thrifty and prudent but, if you won’t be, just vote yourself your neighbours’ wealth

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

For once, I think the Church has actually produced something worth a lot of merit. Short of actually finding a solution, pointing to the fault and trying to amend it is the best course of action. People like Andy and jd, I don’t dispute that you’ve worked hard for your earnings and status, but to blame the government – the government that is democratically elected, the government that represents the will of the people, the government that potentially would have been different were the nation to actually care about elections – is wrong. Criticism is all well and good, but it gets us absolutely nowhere; besides which the Church does not live off ‘the fat of the land’ and serves the purpose of guidance, and regardless of your beliefs they are wise enough members of society to be listened to and not disregarded simply because they are Christian. This is a World situation in which we need to pay attention to the others around us and actually do something to help each other; the self-serving nature of capitalism is where society has gone wrong.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

Whilst the Archbishop of York may have made too sweeping a judgement, he does seem to have diagnosed the basic problem. Too many people have been borrowing money they are unable and/or unwilling to pay back; and too many financial institutions have been willing to accommodate this irresponsibility. The huge credit card industry and personal debt mountain already starkly illustrated this problem. Now UK banks have irresponsibly invested in American banks that irresponsibly provided mortgages people couldn’t really afford to take on. This is greed and recklessness on a massive scale. Ironically, the financial institutions who could hardly wait to lend will now not lend to anyone! Archbishop Sentamu is one of the few people to speak out fully against this fiscal madness. Whether anyone will really listen and change their ways is another question.

Posted by Matthew Wilde | Report as abusive

“It is difficult to know whether to sympathise more with those who have lost their jobs or those who are left carrying even greater loads with higher targets and fewer colleagues,”

How can anyone have any difficulty with this?? At least those still in work are still able to pay the mortgage, buy food etc… the answer should be obvious, bishop!

As for losing your job being “an opportunity to reconsider what they really want out of life”, this is surely a luxury reserved only for those fortunate enough to have received a decent redundancy cheque.

Posted by trish lindsay | Report as abusive

It is insufferably arrogant and insulting for the Archbishop to presume to know that I am to blame. I am not religious, but I did not and do not “worship at the altar of money”. Nor did I take on one penny of debt during the boom. The Archbishop may bare a share of responsibility – he purports to be a leader of society, but he failed to spot this crisis coming – but I do not.

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