Friday, August 19, 2011

Can we do better than blaming the parents?

There's an excellent leader in yesterday's New York Times that you can check out here. It touches on the issue of parenting in relation to our recent disturbances and the government's response to them and asks the question whether the parents of those who caused the banking crisis, led the hacking of innocent people's phones or over-claimed their expenses in  parliament will be similarly called to account.

It's a good question, one also asked by the comedian Nathaniel Tapley in an open letter to David Cameron's parents (here). It's easy to blame parents, providing they don't mean us.But where did our children learn the values of consumerism, competitive individualism and careerism, the story that lies at the heart of our acquisitive, me-first culture from, if not partly from us? Of course, they also learned it from their peers, the media and the very educational system that countless parents were praising as they lauded their children's achievements in exams yesterday.

More specifically, do we hold the parents of bankers to account for their off-spring living all-out for profits (especially for themselves in ever-inflating bonuses) that come at the expense of competitors and are paid for ultimately by the poor who suffer most in the ensuing busts that follow the champagne-glugging booms? Or do we call the parents of those  involved in phone hacking (an ever-widening circle, it seems) to explain why their children seem to think it's OK criminally invading the privacy of other people? Or do haul the parents of MPs over the coals for instilling in their little darlings the value of grabbing as much as they can for themselves while purporting to serve the interests of others?

Of course not; the suggestion is absurd. So why do we always blame the poor and the parents of the poor for their plight and actions in response to it? We could say that the off-spring concerned (mainly 16-25 year old males) are young enough to be under their parent's authority, as was David Cameron and his ilk when they engaged in the high jnks associated with the Bullingdon Club (here)

Perhaps there are other narratives that we need to be telling our children so that they will grow to model the values we want everyone in our society to live by. When Jesus met a rich young ruler he told him to sell what he had and give it to the poor (because that was the logical outworking of the set of values the rich young man said he had learned from his parents). It was not part of the deal for the rich man to blame the poor for being poor or to say that his wealth was the result of his hard work, careful planning and astute investment planning (see Luke 18:18-30).

Jesus offers a story for us to live by that isn't the one of competitive individualism, consumerism and careerism that we grow up hearing from our mother's knee. It's a story of community, sharing and looking out for the interests of others, a story that's rooted in the cross that deals with all the reasons why we can't live this way and written in our hearts by the Spirit who tells us that we can live this way if we keep in step with her.

As I said in a post recently, what  God expects of us is pretty simple - that we love him and we love our neighbours (you can read it here). That's the story of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced through his living, story-telling and dying on our behalf; a story that's written on our hearts by the Spirit God gives us; a story that our hurting neighbourhoods urgently need to see and hear from us.


AP said...

Thanks Simon for this and for the links to the Betherton/Oborne links which resonate with me. Did you see Steve Clifford's letter from the EA? I found it very disappointing.

simon said...

I haven't seen that though today's Friday Night Theology from the EA is good as was last week's. You can find it at

J Wilks said...

Has this set of riots dealt a blow to the psychology of this country, that exceeds/surpasses the aftermath of previous riots?
The banks were essentially bankrupt and were given money by the government to keep them operating. The Boards of Directors believe that the financial collapse was not their responsibility; bonuses are still being paid at extremely extravagant levels.
What does this say about the level of morality or the existence of any morality. I am reminded of a few Proverbs, one of which is, "Cursed is he who moves his neighbour's boundary marker."