Discussion to be introduced by Daphne Beale
In their pastoral letter to the churches the Bishops argue that the extent of loneliness in society today, with the attendant problems of mental and physical health, is one indication of how far we have drifted into a society of strangers. But that drift is far from complete — and few people, if asked, would say that a society of strangers represents a vision of society which they desire.
Our political life would be equally enhanced if it were possible to speak about markets, business and the profit motive as an impressively effective system of distribution in a complex society and hugely liberating of human creativity — but one that also tends to entrench inequality, diminish human sympathies and, unchecked, damage the conditions for its own flourishing. Adam Smith, the father of market economics, understood that, without a degree of shared morality which it neither creates nor sustains, the market is not protected against its inbuilt tendency to generate cartels and monopolies which undermine the principles of the market itself.
They suggest three criteria for judging any austerity measure: Is it fair? (giving priority to the vulnerable) Is it generous? (including the obligation to share our resources) Is it sustainable? (taking into account the interests of future generations).
The answer to the question who is my neighbour? will deeply affect the way we practise our lives and the values we promote. If my neighbour is only one who agrees with me, practises my lifestyle, looks like me and shares my ability (or inability) to think through the issues then we end up with a fractured society, with gross inequalities and increasing levels of stress in all parts of society. If my neighbour is a wider concept then maybe we can mend our society so that all feel they are part of a community, we can reduce the inequalities and just possibly improve the well being of us all.
Some useful websites
Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) publications
There are a whole series of publications on current issues well researched
by the churches working together. Among them are:
2013 The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty.
2013 Faith in foodbanks?
2015 Time to rethink Benefit Sanctions
2015 Faith in Politics – Preparing Churches for the General Election 2015
(a paper giving one side of A4 to each of 16 issues relevant to the coming
One theme of the Joint Public Issues Team is ‘Think, Pray, Vote’.
The Archbishop spoke on this theme at a JPIT conference on 21 Feb 2015.
You can find his speech on this website using the theme.
Also of interest are the following:
The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the 2015 General Election titled
‘Who is my Neighbour?’ (a 52 page article looking at issues in our society
urging people to vote after careful thought and prayer). The letter can be
and look for the letter.
Another interesting paper has been produced locally by the Diocese of
‘How do you get by?’ comes from the Bishop’s Commission on Poverty. This
can be found on
and click on Poverty Commission.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have produced a paper
‘2020vision: The Good Society and the General Election’.
Look for it under