Class and Conscience

Being ‘posh’ is not a sin. Being nouveau riche is not a sin. Being just plain rich is not a sin. Those of us who are not posh or rich sometimes have difficulty seeing beyond the things that irritate us about those who are. Nadine Dorries may be right about David Cameron’s shortcomings, but what she said told us more about her than about him. Inverted snobbery is still snobbery, and ugly too because it makes judgements on the basis of something utterly ridiculous, quite literally a no-thing..

In England, class is hard to define but instantly recognizable. It is linked to, but not determined by, wealth. Accent and education play a major part, but not intelligence or many of our grandest families would hardly qualify as upper class. Everyone can become middle class, but one has to be born lower or upper class. That fact alone should indicate how silly it is to value or misprize anyone on the basis of class.

But do we use class as shorthand for attitudes that really have more to do with conscience? Many rich people are extremely generous; many others are extremely mean. Whether Christian or not, we still tend to expect those who have a lot of this world’s goods to share with those who don’t. When the rich person refuses to share or is rude or belittling about those less fortunate, we feel that something is not right and are left thinking about camels and eyes of needles. A hard heart and a tight wallet is a particularly unlovely combination.

It would be sad if our present economic mess were to lead to another outbreak of class warfare. Much better, surely, to concentrate on developing a conscience about others and a more generous response to their needs. ‘All in this together?’ Yes, Mr Cameron, but at a much deeper and more demanding level than I suspect you, or most of us, have yet guessed.

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30 thoughts on “Class and Conscience”

  1. You are right to say that just holding riches isn’t a sin. But actions speak louder than words. There are 18 millionaires on a cabinet that has led the charge in developing policies that strip the poorest in this country of their rights and dignity. That is why I condemn them, and call them sinners.

    • I don’t believe that anyone in the cabinet is setting out to strip anyone of their dignity or rights. You and I may disagree with their prudential judgements, or suspect their motives, but that is no ground for calling them sinners. Except in the sense that you and I are.

      And what does their wealth have to do with it? Is it okay to be in “a cabinet that has led the charge in developing policies that strip the poorest in this country of their rights and dignity” so long as one is poor? You call them sinners because they’re in that cabinet AND they’re millionaires? If not, why did you mention the millionaire bit?

      Those are rhetorical questions.

      Being poor does not make one more human than being rich does. And name-calling doesn’t achieve anything, except wars, revolutions, the Holodomor, …

      It’s harder to consider concrete examples and their concrete effects and make concrete proposals. You may do a great deal of that, for all I know, of course.

          • I totallly agree about inverted snobbery. Jesus’s teaching is about loving the poor but not about hating the rich. My concern in all this is how far those who have never had to worry about paying bills or affording food or clothing for their families can understand those for whom these worries are a daily reality. It does often seem as if they have no idea. I’m at a loss to know how this gulf can be bridged. I don’t suspect government ministers ministers of bad intent and certainly wouldn’t brand them as sinners, but isn’t the point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus that the rich man iignored the plight of the poor. It’s about what he didn’t do and his lack of compassion.

  2. Thank you, Virginia. I think I am clear about the duty of those who have been blessed with riches, but I am not in the business of judging or condemning anyone.

    • Virginia is quite clearly right, Sister and has not been afraid to standup and be counted. I applaud her and feel embarrassed at the mealy-mouthed attitude of others.

          • Without being in the least argumentative, I have to say that I’ve more often come across an entirely unconcealed agenda of ideas and ends that are normally lumped under “left wing”! It probably depends on where you live 🙂

            Catholics don’t have to agree politically. Nor are “left” and “right” any use for describing how a Catholic should think politically. In fact, they’re very dangerous, because we start thinking in the terms and categories set by unChristian, and often anti-Christian, ideologies.

  3. Sr Catherine I do enjoy your blog, informative, often a sideways view of issues, sometimes a direct hit on my own possibly lazy acceptance of others’ ideas. What I like best, is easy reading – clear typeface on iPhone for ageing eyes as well as short but pithy. Thank you.

  4. Sr, I do enjoy the sharing in twitter, i am one of your followers..i am a religious.. so i like it most when you say your place is notto judge but oh yes my sister to build ..

  5. St Thomas is with you, D. Catherine, about hard hearts and tight wallets, I think ! “The rich man is reproved for deeming external things to belong to him principally, as though he had not received them from another, namely from God” (ST IIª- IIae. q. 66 a. 1 ad 2).

  6. Agnes, Eric and D. Catherine, Bravo.

    You have all chosen your words well today. Thank you for eminding us how we should behave and respond to others.

  7. The fact remains that all we have and hold is a gift from God, and we are merely stewards of those things here on earth. How one uses the gifts of time, treasure and talent for the good of the world and God’s people is the key.
    As it has been said, its not what you have, but what you do with it. (tikkum olam?)

  8. I cannot type! … It’s “Tikkun olam”.
    To quote:
    ” the term refers to social action programs; tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness); and progressive approaches to social issues”

  9. Here in the Canadian West, our society is young – barely 100 years old. It is not to say some people don’t imagine themselves to be better than others by virtue of wealth, but the class system didn’t take hold due to the difficulties of frontier life. Many an English “upper” class person found themselves having to learn to work with their hands in order to survive. There is a saying out here “a man stands tall when he stands on his wallet”, delivered with a nod and a wink, as well as “it’s a long fall when you fall from your high horse”. The one I like best is “we all put our pants on one leg at a time in the morning.” And we’ll have no need of wallets, horses or pants in eternity.

  10. Over the years, I’ve found that reverse snobbery is still snobbery: it’s no prettier for being directed at those who have more than we do, rather than at those who have less.

  11. Thank you for your comments. I really dislike it when anyone accuses others of bad faith or uses objectionable terms to describe them; that holds good whatever opinion is being expressed. We should be able to discuss/argue with one another in a reasonable and courteous way. I would urge everyone who reads this blog to try to bear that in mind when commenting.

    I know I often draw attention to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, but I think it does tease out how we are to interpret the Gospel in the light of economic inequalities. However, it is important to remember, as some have already pointed out, that concern for justice and charity does not imply endorsement of any particular political system, nor does it equate being poor with being good or being rich with being bad. While I believe that we should be concerned about and for the poor, the rich also have souls and often experience a spiritual poverty amounting to real deprivation. In that context, it’s worth remembering that virtually every one of us in the West is rich and privileged beyond the dreams of those who are truly poor.

    • I know I often draw attention to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, but I think it does tease out how we are to interpret the Gospel in the light of economic inequalities

      It’s not just about economics! 🙂

      • What’s not to understand? My point is perfectly clear. As Christians we hav an obligation, before anything, to be on the side of the poor.

        • I ask who are the poor? I think, Deborah, that an inclusive definition of poverty that extends compassionate understanding to those materially gifted but spiritually ‘poor’ allows an expansion of the mission to reach all the impoverished, all the children of God.

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