Dear Lord Freud,
I wanted to wait to wait a week or so before responding to your remarks about about the deservedness of the disabled in relation to the minimum wage. I am the father of a disabled daughter and, I didn’t want to write an ‘angry dad’ style letter (even though I was angry – very angry) but, instead, to provide something that I hope is theologically nuanced.
Deservedness for the Christian is a difficult concept, for the doctrine of grace accepts that ultimately the ‘benefits’ we receive, and inherit, are pure gift. Clearly the majority work hard to maximise the fruit of their endowments. This is true for the abled bodied and the disabled. But, as a society we surely need to be very careful about categorising people as either deserving or undeserving?
Like you I worked for many, too many, years in the city and I know that there are large numbers of city workers who, in reality, are undeserving of the stratospheric rewards received. So if we must persist in the language of merit please can we at least be even handed?
A society is healthy when the conditions are created, to paraphrase St. Benedict, where all may flourish and none need fear. Policy making and political rhetoric should avoid creating the impression that some groups are inherently more deserving than others, especially where favoritism, or partiality, is granted based on the fertile fallacy that somehow one group have done more to maximize their God given (or, if you don’t believe in God, biologically inherited) gifts than another group and therefore deserve a greater share of the pie, or less demands placed on them to enlarge the overall size of the pie.
I understand that balancing the books is challenging and, that resources are finite, hence the rationale that policy should be determined by reference to a set of principles that genuinely seek to promote the common good; starting with gift. I would like to suggest that the disabled have a unique gift to offer for what I suspect that they show, alongside other vulnerable groups, is very high stocks of resilience and fortitude and not only in respect of coping with the demands of day-to-day living but also in terms of absorbing patronising and ill informed attitudes to disability. My daughter is a student at Oxford University and yet when she is in her wheelchair people often talk to her in ‘mono syllable.’ She has on occasion been called cripple and spaz. Unacceptable, definitely, but, part of the stock in trade that tragically is part of living with disability.
So much for our Christian heritage!
Archbishop William Temple, who coined the term Welfare State in a 1928 lecture series, famously suggested that theology should seek to influence decision making in other disciplines by providing the broad animating principles but, without focusing on the technicalities of policy making.
I would like to offer six theological principles, or motifs, for integrating Christian ethics into politico-economic decision making: (gift, as I have already discussed), community, solidarity, justice and, subsidiarity. In many ways these principles overlap for they all stress the importance of the common good as the foundation for mutual flourishing. A governments demonstrable commitment to the common good is really the only basis for its ethical evaluation.
One of the pagadological tasks of government, in a modern liberal democracy is to recapture the concept of the common good. Theology, perhaps uniquely, is in a position to help. All that is required are politicians who can see beyond the demands for short term electoral success! Could you become such a politician?
I hope that these insights are useful and will help you to evaluate the ethics of policy making in respect of the disabled community.
Rev’d Andrew Lightbown
Co-editor of Theonomics.