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By Jason Michael
WALKING THROUGH THE CITY last week I met Teegan. She was sitting on a pile of flattened cardboard boxes, her knees pulled up to her chin, and with a paper cup containing a handful of coins at her feet. Everything about her stopped me in my tracks. She was young, pretty, and had long dark hair. She was completely out of place in what it means in my imagination to be homeless. “Would you like a cuppa?” I asked. She asked for a cappuccino. I bought her a cappuccino. She was a smoker, so I rolled her a fag and we had a coffee and a smoke. What she told me, I’ve heard a hundred times. She was brought up in the north of England, was in care by the age of thirteen, and was turned out onto the streets at eighteen. She didn’t sleep in hostels because of the violence and the drugs. Rather, she slept rough in a park. Every night, she told me, men would ask her if she wanted “a bed for the night.”
Another night, again walking home, a police car pulled up beside me and the officer in the passenger seat wanted to know if I had been climbing over the wall of a nearby factory earlier. He was taken aback when I said that that was indeed me. Someone had called them to report a burglary in progress, but that wasn’t me. What was assumed to be me breaking into a factory yard was me clambering over a fence to talk to my neighbours – Darren and Natalie, a couple living in a tent. The driver, who gave me the impression of being in charge, informed me that this was trespassing. “Forgive me my trespasses,” I said, “but I hope you don’t mind me climbing over again – I promised to bring them some tea and something to eat.” What happened next gave me a lump in my throat; they drove me home and waited for me to boil the kettle, fill the flask, and make a few sandwiches, before taking me back and helping me over the fence. “Crack on,” said the officer in charge.
Meeting the basic needs of people in crisis trumps whatever the law demands, and that night I was touched to see even the upholders of the law suspend the law for the good of their fellow man. Hunger and homelessness are crimes against dignity. They are an affront to the inalienable rights of our sisters and brothers wrought, like all of us, in the imago Dei. Ignoring the homeless and their suffering is a crime against love and compassion, walking past “on the other side” is a decision – conscious or otherwise – to perpetuate the injustice society has foisted upon them, and this is, by definition, a crime against humanity. There will come a day, I am sure, once our fetish for self-centred capitalism is overcome, when we will look back on homelessness and hunger with the same disgust with which we now look back on slavery. Both are alike – homelessness and hunger are seen as necessary consequences of the market and the economy, exactly as slavery was once justified.
On Monday morning, shortly after ten o’clock, the lifeless body of a man was discovered in an Argyle Street doorway beside Central Station. He was a rough sleeper, and so the police said his death was not suspicious. An hour later, on the London Road near the Barra’s, the body of another man was found. Again, homeless. Again, not suspicious. Apparently, there is nothing suspicious, nothing questionable about human beings dying on the streets – an unfortunate, yet necessary consequence of our way of life, of our economic system. Nothing odd or strange about this at all.
Well, that’s not good enough. The death of homeless people as a result of sleeping rough is damn suspicious; it is a crime, it is premeditated murder, and the economy – our way of life – is guilty. In a very real way, we all share responsibility for their deaths. We are all, in a real sense, guilty of the crime of making homelessness “a necessary evil.” The causes of poverty and homelessness are structural, they are rooted in the economy and social structure we all, in some way, perpetuate – and this is the real challenge homelessness and poverty pose us. “Through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault,” we all share in the guilt. One quarter of Scotland’s children live in poverty, families wait in line at foodbanks, women and men sleep in doorways, and people – human beings – die on the streets because, at some level, we allow this to continue. I am as guilty.
Here’s my secret: I am not an independentista. I am a Liberationist. Liberation – the “Let my people go!” of the Book of Exodus – is as much about the liberation of the nation as it is about the liberation of society and the family as it is about the liberation of the person. Scottish independence, then, for me, is as much a cause of national liberation as it is a cause for the liberation of everyone in Scotland from the constitutional, social, and economic conditions that keep us in chains – and we are in chains; for some these are the fetters of poverty and for others they are the bonds of indifference. Our indifference to the suffering of our sisters and brothers is a form of slavery. It means that even with independence we will continue, as a society, to reproduce the same conditions which produce the poverty and indifference we have today under London rule. James Connolly said precisely this when he spoke of his vision of Irish national liberation:
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.
Like Connolly, likely inspired by him, I too lay the blame for this at England’s feet, or – more correctly – at the crown, at the apex of the class system; the social concretisation of economic injustice; the monarchy. When I hear the monarch described as the “defender of faith,” I scoff: Sure, she defends the faith – the belief in place and privilege, in wealth and the right to own privately what nature has provided for free, and in inequality, poverty, and economic murder. The “faith” of the monarch – the physical embodiment of the constitution – is, by its very nature, criminal.
As liberation is my understanding of “independence,” I do not believe that Scotland will be independent – in the fullest sense of that word – until we have freed ourselves from the constitutional embodiment and all the legal symbols of social and economic inequality and injustice. This is why I am a Republican, and this is why I see the establishment of the Scottish Republic as the only true independence – everything short of this being provisional until the Republic is realised. Not everyone will of course agree with this, and some, no doubt, will want to see a transition; the dissolution of the union prior to the removal of the monarch as head of state. But, all the while, as politics concerns real life, we must always interrogate the meaning of independence. Is this an end in itself, or is it part of a greater vision for Scotland and the people of our nation? Obviously, for me, so long as the crown and everything that it represents and guarantees in Scotland is maintained independence will not be liberation.
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Jason, this rings a bell in my mind and heart. Your critique and your vision grow out of your Christian faith, as do my critique and vision grow out of mine. I think that the Church on earth, the holy, catholic church in all its sinfulness and in all its denominations have failed and are failing by our support of the structures of power and elitism that exist throughout the world. We have failed in the making of disciples by reducing discipleship to private personal piety, and engagement with the Church as institution.
Certainly there is a greater awareness of the address of the Good News to all of life, including political and economic life, by the Roman Catholic and major Protestant denominations, than there was at one time. We can think of the Encyclicals of Popes Benedict and Francis, and recent statements by the Church of Scotland. Even so, we have a government in Westminster in which the Prime Minister and other Ministers claim to be Christians yet pass laws and make policies which further enrich the already rich and further impoverish the already poor. You rightly blame the British polity and Capitalism, which is not only an ideology, but a Faith which I believe is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Pope Francis has courageously condemned the trickle-down economics of the global economy. The churches of most denominations seem to be active in making members of the church institution rather than in making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, one cannot be a disciple of Jesus without being a member of the Church, and being a member of the Church is being part of a community that has an institutional aspect. Discipleship is a life-long process of conversion and sanctification. So one may not expect people who claim to be Christians, yet who have been indoctrinated into the alternative Faith of Capitalism, to move to embrace and to begin to practise overnight an economic which expresses the values of Jesus. The churches of all denominations, however, need to include the political and the economic in our making disciples.
How can a Christian Monarch be The Supreme Governor of the Church? How can a parliament make laws for the Church? We may say that this does not apply in Scotland, but the Coronation Oat does give the monarch, and thus the English parliament of the UK, some oversight of the Church of Scotland, It seems to me that just as the proclamation of Jesus as King was a threat to Caesar, so the proclamation of Jesus as King renders any other monarchy incompatible with that Kingship.
Please excuse careless proof reading. “Coronation Oat” should read Coronation Oath.
Powerful words and an inspiring vision of what Scotland can become!
My husband and I were in Verona one day on holiday at Lake Garda. There were lots of Nuns and Priests walking around (we found out later that the Pope was visiting that day) totally ignoring people sitting on the ground begging while people in everyday dress gave the beggars a smile and a Euro or two. We found the behaviour of the church, one of the richest organisations in the world, appalling.
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Considering its extent in both space and time, the Roman Catholic Church must be one of greatest power structures the world has seen. Indeed they gave us the word ‘hierarchy’, literally Greek for ‘Rule by Priests’ !
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