I was on the ‘phone recently, one Thursday evening, to some friends in the UK. A few minutes before 9pm they said they had to ring off, as it was time to stand in their front porch and applaud the National Health Service and all its personnel.
Bravo to that say I. Both before and during the crisis we (by which I mean the British) have often spoken of how much we value the Health Service and all who work in it – doctors, nurses, ancillary staff. But we have a problem which is that we don’t want to pay for it. That’s because it’s a ‘service’ and is funded out of taxation, and we don’t vote for any party which might increase taxation. Yet we are prepared to pay phenomenal prices to go to a football match or the opera, or to go on holiday or to a restaurant. We tell ourselves that we ‘need’ all these things, when in fact we ‘want’ them, which is different. That’s where advertising comes in – to convince us, first, that we ‘want’ something (usually with the argument that everyone else is having/doing/enjoying it) and then justifying the ‘wanting’ by turning it into ‘needing’ (which is morally more comforting).
We don’t have advertising campaigns for the National Health Service. From time to time the tabloid newspapers run a sentimental story about our ‘angels’ but you can be sure that, come the next election, their anti-tax campaigns will have ousted stories about health workers.
So what will happen when the pandemic is over, or when we have got used to living with it? Was the Thursday night clapping a sentimental gesture, or will there be real change, which means a change in our values? We human beings in our unregenerate state are selfish. Our present economic system relies on that selfish individualism to maintain itself. Only conversion of heart to the true God who created us and redeemed us, can change the way we live. The Church must call for conversion and grace, not just in individual lives, but in politics and society.
The Church knows (it) to be false – namely man’s competence to save himself. In this respect, the human race is in the same plight as Humpty-Dumpty, whose fall involved a break into fragments, just like that of the human race, which no-one, neither he himself nor even all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, could mend; for man’s only hope of re-integration lies in the act of the One who originally created him.
Man made schemes such as Communism (‘Workers of the world unite’), National Socialism (‘the solidarity of the race’) Federal Union (‘Nations, get together’) all collapse because of their partiality, the limitation of their scope to men in some particular capacity as class, nation or race and because they ignore the root cause of this disruption, which is sin.
Fr P McLaughlin of the Church Union, writing in 1944, in a series designed to look forward to the re-building of society after the Second World War.