We live in interesting times! What is the world coming to, with leftwingers queuing up to join the Labour Party – and the Church saying that it’s on the side of the poor and dispossessed? Maybe there’s finally some sort of groundswell against the Me-First approach that has dominated our country for over three decades? Or maybe it’s just a blip? Only time will tell – but at the very least it shows that another kind of society is a genuine possibility.
And how fitting for the Church to make a stand about this, than in its robust defence of the BBC decision to film ‘Songs of Praise’ amidst the squalor of the migrant camp in Calais? – itself a salutary reminder of the poverty-stricken beginnings of Christianity, as told in the (often sanitised) Christmas story.
The Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express dutifully expressed their horror (it’s good to know some things don’t change!) at yet another example of the BBC wasting licence-payers’ money (not to mention yet another example of the BBC’s left-wing bias).
There’s something deliciously appropriate about it being ‘Songs of Praise’ that’s at the centre of the furore. The very idea of something that is the epitome of English blandness and gentleness, being filmed in such a place! But of course for those who think the essence of Christianity blandness and gentleness – it must have come as something of a shock. Perhaps it will help to bring religion back to where it belongs – which is at the centre of everything that matters. Or maybe that’s just a blip as well.
But what’s strange, to the point of being disturbing, is the way otherwise ordinary and decent people come out with harsh and unfeeling comments about the migrants living in such wretched conditions just across the Channel. Whilst we were still in Kent, the issue was (almost literally) right on our doorstep, with the proximity of the Channel Tunnel meaning that we regularly saw what life in Calais was like for those trying to find some way out of a hellish situation. But instead of sympathy, the overwhelming tone in most of the tabloid press is one of resentment. How dare these people (on the occasions when they’re regarded as people, rather than as insects or whatever else might come in ‘swarms’) try to come to ‘our country’?
Given the massive negativity towards them, and given also the way that (despite the picture the tabloids paint) our welfare system is nowhere near the most generous in Europe – they must be pretty desperate to want to come here. But then almost anywhere would be preferable to living in a place where there was a civil war going on. Or where people didn’t have enough to eat. Or where ISIS religious zealots went round beheading those who saw things differently. But instead of wanting to extend the hand of friendship, many of our fellow citizens seem to find it outrageous that people caught up in such situations aren’t prepared simply to accept as inevitable that their only crack at life has to be spent in a total nightmare.
Underlying such a reaction must presumably be some strange sense of entitlement – according to which it’s more fitting or appropriate that people like ‘us’ should have a vastly greater than average share of the world’s goods (which include the benefits of living in a secure society) – and people like ‘them’ do not. If that’s the thinking – isn’t it nice the way things seem to have worked out so well for us?
Or maybe it’s not like that at all – and maybe it’s sheer chance that we happen to have been born where and when we were – and that we don’t, in fact, have any greater moral claim over such things than anyone else?
If that the case, common decency should surely prompt us to enquire how things might be evened up a bit? And whilst there are obvious logistical issues involved, a good start would be to try and ensure that (in our presence at least) the issue is discussed in terms that recognise the desperate and needy as fellow human beings, rather than members of some strange alien species.
The ‘keep-em-out-at-all-costs’ brigade have a Fortress Britain kind of mentality that sees ‘otherness’ as a threat. There was plenty of that about in the 1930s, which is why there was such a niggardly (and belated) response to the plight of the Jews fleeing Nazi tyranny. Many of those who were sent to the death camps could have been saved – had Britain been more generous (and speedy) in its response. That is a permanent stain on our national character – and our response to the current crisis is in danger of becoming another.
The bottom line is that we really have to treat people (and that is) as if we’re all equally important. And that’s because we jolly well are. There can be no half-measures, no fudging: it’s all or nothing.
Either others matter to us – or they don’t. And if they don’t – then we really need to stop claiming to be Christians (or even half-civilized). Because that’s not what we are any more – if indeed, we ever were.