Mea Culpa

There’s a lot of blame around at the moment.

At the UK Labour party conference yesterday, the shadow chancellor – while admitting that their party had made mistakes – insisted that Labour wasn’t to blame for the current financial challenges, saying that it wasn’t “public spending on public services here in Britain which caused the global financial crisis.” Trying to avoid political bias, I can point out that the blame game occurs on all sides of the political spectrum – so the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats equally insist that the current hardship caused by public spending cuts is not their fault, but the consequence of the public debt that they inherited.

Trying to pin the blame on someone for the current financial crisis will also lead you in circles – was it the reckless bankers, the politicians who were reluctant to regulate, the failure to provide adequate safeguards when the European single currency was set up, the addiction to debt of us all? The one answer you are unlikely to get – no matter who you ask – is ‘Mea Culpa!’

People are willing to admit that they are not perfect, they have made mistakes, they must put their hand up for some of the things that have happened: but on the big issues, the ones most under consideration, they are really not to blame.

I’m not aiming to denigrate politicians here. I may be naive, but I think that the past Labour government followed a policy of relatively high public spending to boost the economy during financial turmoil because they sincerely believed that was the best course of action for the country as a whole. Likewise I believe that the current government is following a course of fairly severe public sector spending cuts because they also sincerely believe that this is the best and wisest policy in the current circumstances. In a similar vein, I suspect that most of the individuals that authorised the bank loans which ultimately put banks in financial difficulties, did so believing that debts would be repaid and the loans were a good thing for their employers. And when we go it into debt, most of us do so in the confidence that we will repay those debts before long.

Just after Jesus healed a blind man he said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and asked him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41, NET)

The truth is that knowing the best course of action for a country in the complex world of interdependent economies and unpredictable market forces, is beyond any human’s ability to fathom. Any individual’s views will always be swayed by their limited and one-sided experiences and perspectives. Even in a larger group, the collective perspective will always be biased. In such circumstances we should recognise that we don’t really know what is best, that we need the help and advice of many others and that even with the best advice and soundest judgment the decisions made will undoubtedly prove to be at least partly wrong.

And this is no less true in the equally complex sphere of everyday life. We have limited understanding, experiences and, no matter how hard we try, are most likely to see things best from our own perspective, rather than that of others. We need help in life.

The guilt of the Pharisees lay, at least in part, in their unwillingness to recognise their own blindness, their unwillingness to listen to a different understanding of what was true, and to acknowledge that they had been far more ready to judge than to help this man in need. For us, we too should recognise that we are ‘blind’, that we are often to blame, and that we need the help and advice of others as we go through life. And supremely we need the wisdom, guidance and teaching of the God who does see all perspectives, is not tainted by bias, and does know the best way forwards in a complex and confusing world, even if that way forward is not the one we want to hear.

Sadly though, the tendency is to assert our own independence, our own ability to determine what is best for us, and to insist that we see quite well enough thank you. So our guilt remains.

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