Last night I watched two television programmes I thought would be interesting.
One was about tax and tax havens, the other about extradition police.
I came away disappointed. The journalism in the second one was extraordinarily childish – as in, how likely are you to get a meaningful interview with someone by following them saying ‘You’re a murderer aren’t you! Are you a murderer?’ No wonder the journalist’s target took refuge in the police station!
I felt overall that the principle object of both the programmes was to exploit insecurities, anxieties and inequalities.
The tax programme, about tax haven use by the super-rich, ended with the posting of a telephone number we could ring if we wanted to report anyone for avoiding paying tax.
Money has such a hold on our society. It is valued above almost anything else. ‘It’s cheaper!’ is thought to be the card that trumps any other argument – compassion, ecological well-being, anything. The earning and the spending of money have between them become a life substitute for millions of people, who would not know how to fill the time that came back to them if they neither earned much nor spent much. In recent weeks, spending money has even been urged upon us as a social duty; which, in the Kingdom of Mammon, it may well be.
I thought that one of the objectives of the programme about taxation was to stir up jealousy: the ordinary cove versus the stuck-up snob born with the silver spoon in his mouth – let’s get him! That kind of thing.
Hearing recently that one of our government’s targets is to provide nursery places for all one-to-two-year-olds made my heart sink. A little child needs to be at home with his/her mother. If that’s what they want to do with the taxes when they get it, I don’t think I shall be picking up the phone whatever I may see or hear.
I am not jealous of the rich. There are one or two things requiring money that I still would like to put in place in my life – and I shall. I’ll get there. Envy and resentment are empty, destructive emotions, and great riches are likewise destructive.
I like the Bible verse in the book of Proverbs (30:8-9) that says:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.
It is important to me to pay such taxes as I owe, because that is faithful citizenship. But simplicity is my priority. The tax havens of the rich and the envy of those who look on are not matters of indifference to me, because they contain the seeds of war, and so endanger the whole web of life: but they do not interest me apart from that. Why should I covet a share in someone else’s greedy isolation?
Then came the extradition programme. This startled me too. There was considerable focus on European eastern bloc countries lately come into EU membership, and an assertion that large numbers of violent criminals – rapists, murderers etc, are pouring into England and there is nothing we can do to stop them.
An MP was harassed on the subject, and a number of Lithuanian or Albanian or Polish men were filmed being arrested without the usual blurring of the face to protect identity.
I am unsure what the desired outcome of the programme was; but I have no doubt that it will have done nothing to build cultural bridges. It will have tended to create uneasiness and suspicion towards all men who have come here from the eastern bloc to live and work.
This evening a prospective tenant is coming to look at the room we have to let. We have surmised from his spec online that he may be Polish/Hungarian. Seeing that programme sowed a little seed of wariness and fear in my heart about him. I think it was meant to. I felt it could be seen as an incitement to racial prejudice. But when the prospective tenant comes to my home, as ever I shall turn on my seeing, and trust what is revealed to me when I look in his eyes, listen to his voice. I am not usually wrong. But such television programmes are not helpful. They are calculated to sow distrust and division, and to exploit the natural wariness that lies between one culture and another, inflaming it into hostility and hardening it into dislike.
When I watch the television news, I am intrigued by the emphasis that is placed on ‘worry’. What we should be, may be, are, will be or have been worrying about.
Worrying has become a national pastime. Being worried about the things we ought to be worrying about. Watching the news bulletin so we can learn where to direct our worrying next.
But Jesus said: ‘Do not be worried or upset. Believe in God, believe also in me…. Don’t allow your hearts to be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’
I think this is not a reassurance; it is a discipline.