For some reason we were not able to put up last weeks sermons yet, so this Sunday I thought I would post this article I wrote for Christmas 2004 on the old Free Church website. Its interesting how things change but the problems remain the same! – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!
A Christmas Bonus – Goldman’s, Norway and Bertrand Russell
Let’s take a break from Mr Dawkins and reflect on Christmas in Britain today. Actually it’s not really a break because what we are seeing in Britain today is largely a result of what happens when a people forget that righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.
Last week I read a series of reports which made me feel sick, angry and embarrassed at being British. Goldman Sachs, the city financiers announced that it would be paying its employees Christmas bonuses of £8.4 billion. Yes – billion, not million. It is a sum that is bigger than the GDP of many small countries. Their 26,000 employees will find themselves with an average of £320,000 in their Christmas stocking. Apparently 25 Goldman ‘stars’ will receive a bonus of over $50 million each. One fresh faced young whiz kind is rumoured to be getting £37 million. I repeat this is a bonus. Not his wage.
A former Goldman’s high flyer stated “Last year, Goldman’s big guns competed to buy the best helicopter or boat. This year it will be football clubs. Bonuses really are that big”. Apparently Goldman have even appointed a ‘bonus counsellor’ to help the poor dears cope with the stress of having to manage such large sums. Again to quote “If you go out from Goldman and spend £30,000 on a bottle of wine and it is written about in the papers, that will be frowned upon. If you spend £60,000 and it is not leaked to the papers as you have gone to a discreet restaurant, that’s fine”. The effects of this money are felt throughout the economy. It pushes up house prices in and around London which then has a ripple effect on the rest of the country. Land prices in Scotland went up 15% in 2006 partly because of City financiers (as well as Russian oligarchs and other world capitalists seeking to spend their ill gotten gains) seeking to avoid inheritance tax. About one third of new buyers are in this latter category. Meanwhile more and more Brits are buying second homes and investment properties in Spain, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
This bonus has also been good for the art business – with art dealers in London expecting a record year.
Sin or Scrooge?
So what’s wrong with all this? Why is it a sin? Surely there is a trickle down effect? Is this not some kind of socialist jealousy? Should we not rejoice that there is such wealth and not be so scrooge like about it?
“Because I see more of Aunt Hilda than you. And she has been dead five years”.
Let’s start with the basic assumption that we are to serve God and not mammon. If we go against the Makers instructions there is a price to be paid. This is as true for Goldman’s employees as anyone. There is a new category of worker in Britain – the ‘extreme worker’. These are people for whom the office is home, who have a wardrobe behind their desk and who barely recognise their spouses. When one Goldman employee was dumped by his exasperated girlfriend he asked ‘why?’ “Because I see more of Aunt Hilda than you. And she has been dead five years”. Divorce rates are high. Another problem is ironically money. People who have money tend to spend it. They end up paying people to run their life’s for them, they up their lifestyle and they still feel financial pressure.
If it can be bad for those who are on the gravy train then spare a thought for the majority of people who miss it. The only Christmas bonus many people will get is a mince pie or an orange. There are people who are struggling with mortgage payments, debt, providing for their families and who feel compelled to work longer and harder hours just to survive in this godless consumerist materialist culture. Remember that this money is coming from somewhere and is being made from somewhere. The average family in Britain is now taxed more than we have ever been. But the financiers and the nouveau riche can afford the accountants and can threaten to go elsewhere if a more equitable distribution of wealth is suggested. It’s easy to make more money when you have it.
Of course there is another way to make money. Sue. Welcome to the wacko world of some of Britain’s’ lawyers – who rather than defending the poor and seeking justice for all, offer ‘no win no fee’ to people who want to sue to make their fortune. James Watt College in Greenock had to pay a Mrs Helen Girvan £60,000 because she had been scared by a hissing tea machine. Even though the judge had difficulty in understanding why she had fallen over so heavily, because ‘truth is stranger than fiction,’ he ordered the college to pay. Meanwhile deputy head Sue Store from Bristol tried to claim £1 million in damages because her school failed to replace a chair which made ‘farting’ noises. And Jacqueline Morrison a female train driver from East Calder sought £15, 000 damages because she had bruised her fingernail whilst adjusting a seat. I guess they all reckon that if Goldman’s employees can get that much money, and if ‘in the interests of national security’ BAE can bribe and coddle Saudi billionaire princes, then why should they not try and get their snouts in the trough?
Crumbs from the Table
We protest against Sexual Orientation regulations as we should – but when did we last protest against this godless, atheistic materialism – something which is far more dangerous and insidious?
And spare a thought for those who do not even get the crumbs from the table. The marginalised, the poor, the women from Eastern Europe sold as sex slaves to service the lusts of British men fed a continual diet of porn; the wageless in Eastern Europe who cannot afford a house but have to watch whilst luxury holiday homes are built for people who visit them once or twice a year, the tuberculous victims in Pakistan who could be cured for a fraction of one of the Goldman’s bonuses; the children born with AIDs in Africa because of the lack of £7 per month to treat their mothers; the untermenschen who inhabit our cities housing estates being told that nothing exists for them except drugs, greed ,mobile phones, TV, lust and a one in a million chance of a lottery win.
The whole system stinks. And I feel ashamed that I am part of it and that the Church fiddles whilst Britain drowns in a pit of consumerist greed and hedonistic lust. We protest against Sexual Orientation regulations as we should – but when did we last protest against this godless, atheistic materialism – something which is far more dangerous and insidious?
The Good Capitalist
But its not all bad news. I recently discovered a great story about a wonderful capitalist. His name is Knut Kjaer and he is one of the most powerful men in international finance. Mr Kjaer is the executive director of the Norwegian Pension Fund, into which the Norwegian government pours most of the revenues from its oil and gas fund. He is very successful. Last year the fund grew by $62 billion. This year by over $63 billion. It is now worth $293 billion – that is $63,000 for each Norwegian. But what is most interesting about this fund is that it is governed along strictly moral lines. The purpose is to provide protection for future generations of Norwegians (it has a 100 year investment horizon) and the government is only allowed to take 4% per year ensuring that the capital remains untouched. Norway has no foreign debt, virtually no inflation and unemployment and the highest per capita income in the world (what could Scotland have done if we had been freed from the shackles of London and of the stupid ‘socialist’ dependency culture that is now an inherent part of our society). Companies that are invested in are examined by an ethics council consisting of a philosophy professor, two lawyers, an economist and an engineer.. The council reports to the Norwegian finance minister who consults with Mr Kjaer. In June 2006 they sold a $416 million holding in Wal-Mart because of serious and systematic abuse of labour rights. Last December, despite protests from the American government, they sold $500 million holdings in companies involved in nuclear weapons production. The Pension Fund fiercely opposes excessive bonuses for executives, board rigging and ‘poison pill arrangements to block takeovers.
The man in charge of all this has a large house, a summer home and boats, and travels to work on the Oslo tram. He earns £192,000 per year. That is less than many of his staff and a whole lot less than the Christmas Bonus award to employees of Goldman Sachs. I don’t know if he is a Christian but he certainly operates in a much more Christian system and country than we have. If Santa was to visit me this Christmas I would ask for two things – firstly that Murdo Fraser (vice-President of the Scottish Conservatives) and Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish Nationalists) would unite and lead Scotland to being an independent nation with a Scandinavian sense of moral rectitude and secondly that Knut Kjaer would take over the disastrous Free Church pension fund so that we would have a Church left and I would get a pension.
A Nakedly Materialist Christmas
Having looked over this article I am actually think that this is not a million miles away from the Dawkins series. Greed, disorder, moral and emotional chaos, confusion and meaninglessness are the ultimate fruits of atheistic thinking. How can Godless materialism lead anywhere else? Johann Hari of The Independent summarised the position nicely
“At the end of 2006, a year in which the atheist fight-back against resurgent religion finally began again, we should celebrate a nakedly materialist Christmas with glee, not guilt. “
What a sad vision. But hardly surprising from someone who follows the philosophy of Bertrand Russell – “Our Milky Way is a tiny fragment; within this fragment, the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and this speck of our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded. In the life of the solar system, the period during which the existence of man will have been physically possible is a minute portion of the whole. Such is man’s life viewed from the outside.”
This Christmas you can choose to follow the gold of Goldman’s, the materialism of Hari, the bleakness of Russell if you want. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. And we will rejoice in the vision of Mary.
” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-53)