Tag Archives: capitalism

Christmas isn’t about giving

From the line “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” we get two disturbing directives: that because God gave us his Son at Christmas, we must give to each other, and to charity.  And we must give generously.

Why? Because retail needs you; the majority of its annual taking is acquired around Christmas. Your city, nay country’s economy depends on your buying into the consumerism that Christmas has become an excuse, if not a byword for. It’s celebrating capitalism – both the dream of fluffy families, and of love being shown by gifts, sometimes which are unsuitable, and which creates debts and fear to fulfil. The debt industry also does well out of Christmas, using social expectation to goad us into showing affection and thus our worth by what we have purchased or provided. (I note that many old ‘debts’ are revived at Christmas – collections agencies are active at this time of year and I find that especially reprehensible). Love is shown through stuff, say these prophets of Mamon, and status is shown through stuff. As kids and teens we asked each other, “what did you get?” As older people, it may become “who are you with?” or “what will you give?” All these questions are about acquisitions.

In my family, we give the presents of our presence with one another.

As for the other giving – to charity – the logic there also mystifies me. Charity of course can include church funds as well as special appeals.

There is a practical predicament – that if we are doing 1) above, we are more limited in 2). Those of us not receiving Christmas bonuses from work, or involved in retail or entertainment, will be stretched to pay for Christmas gifts, food, travel, work outings and parties. And on top of this – winter bills. So why do charities feel that this is a time for them to benefit out of already scooped out resources?

It’s actually supply and demand, and a captive market: capitalise on the full pews at Christmas services, and that non-attenders will attend at this time of year. Give them a bit of hearty cheer, bit of entertainment, some traditional refreshments, and they’ll fill the offering bowls. As cute kids pick noses in quilted quasi middle eastern costumes, or surly shepherds bark out local lines, as we sing cultural favourites, with or without personal meaning for us, there’s a trade off: we’ve provided your traditional seasonal needs – now stuff those little envelopes.

Charity is rather a nebulous term, for it refers to a legal set up of an entity, not necessarily good work. Are all charities automatically ‘worthy causes’? Are their causes fought for in a worthy way? Many of us are concerned that what we give isn’t going to help the cause that we’re touched by, or that the charity’s means of doing so is dubious. My experience of Oxfam revealed it to be a hardheaded disorganised business with charitable status that makes its logline ‘make poverty history’ ironic in the way it remunerates its staff – or doesn’t. A popular Christmas charitable cause, the Salvation Army support and administer workfare, which is a form of modern slavery. Do other charities involve enforced medication or proselytisation or animal cruelty in the name of care?

It’s worth asking for more information than is on those begging leaflets.

I’ve also seen a church run an alternative service which was all about the assumption that none of us could relate to the themed suffering connected to the nativity story. Not that the leaders got to know us well enough to know what we were going through. But we were expected to channel our pity into one bucket, going to Christian Aid, as a sleight of hand from solidarity to financial support.

Perhaps one could argue that this drive to donate is a natural extension of pass it on, pay it forward – we’ve got a gift, so gift to someone else. Don’t only give to those you know or who will give back. Yes, there’s a Bible verse to support that.

But if we need to seek a biblical mandate for our actions and beliefs – and I don’t think we do – then be aware that this giving at Christmas, or because of Christmas, isn’t in scripture.

Checking a concordance reveals that Biblical mentions of gifts or giving are about

1 – thanks and praise to the Lord

2 – sacrificial offerings in the Old Testament

3 – spiritual gifts in the New

and the nearest we get about the gift of Jesus is of God’s grace. Even the 2 Cor 9:15 passage I started with isn’t directly about Jesus’ entry into the world.

I’ve known the offertory hymn be “Give Thanks” – for God has given Christ his Son, but the verse and idea that chorus is based on is under point 3 – gratitude; and the upshot is the poor feeling rich – not so that they do a widow at the temple and pour their meagre funds into their place of worship.

The consequence of John 3:16 – the most famous verse about God’s giving his Son – is that there’s no condemnation for believers, but instead eternal life. It’s a verse I now find less palatable, for it pairs gifts with threats. Perhaps exhortations to give also have a dark side.

And many theologians would argue that the real gift of Jesus wasn’t so much his being born – that is necessary for the rest – or even, just his ministry, although his teachings impress and inspire even nonchristians. No, Jesus’ ultimate mission was his death and resurrection. Hence the real showing of God’s grace, the ultimate gift of Jesus’ earthly life, is in the cross and tomb. Yet Easter giving is much less than at Christmas– eggs abound, but not parties, presents, donations or consumerism.

So Christmas giving is not a scriptural mandate. In John 10, Jesus gave ‘a new commandment to love one another as I have loved you. By this will all know that you are my disciples….’

Love does not have to include gift aid envelopes and big cheques, queues in department stores, debts and guilt. Jesus’ real gift dealt with guilt and shows us that God’s love subverts earthly ethos.

If you want to use Christmas as a time to give, then do, but I encourage thinking carefully about the charity you support. If you want to buy presents, I’m not exhorting you to stop. But I am exhorting: stop manipulating us, advertisers, and stop twisting Christmas into a major revenue collection time under the guise of seasonal spirit, or worse, Christian duty.

Stop using peer pressure of offering buckets and sad eyes of supposed recipients.

I like that it’s the birth, rather than the death, which we celebrate as a gift, making the whole of Jesus’ life matter, and not fixating on his cruel end. The fuss about Christmas stems from mainstream attempts to gazump the major Pagan festival of Solstice and Yuletide, although we’ve made Christmas pagan with a small p: it’s usurped by secular Western culture; actual Pagans are very spiritual people and this season is very meaningful to them and considered a High Holy Day. Here, Christians are doing as the pagans with small p do.

Christmas is not a time of giving, by any theological or scriptural or even logical discourse. Christmas is a time to celebrate a particular gift which – and not store vouchers – is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Or rather – a once for all gift that produces grace ad infinitum, all year round.

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A political triptych

I’ve promised to post on various things but think I can squeeze many of my recent political thoughts into one piece.

Re the justice secretary wanting to give the Court of Human Rights less power – I found that a frightening manipulative speech designed to get the people to give away their right to a court higher than our own country’s. The Rule of Law is supposed to be an equaliser, but it is not in practice because

-law is not made or influenced by most ordinary people

-ordinary people need professional assistance to use the law

-the cost of this is beyond most peoples means, because we pay our lawyers and judges comparatively too much and cut out legal aid. I am so glad to hear of an unprecedented walk out by lawyers today about that – some of them are on the people’s side! or are they… is it more about wanting their proper (ie extortionately high) pay for legal aid work than truly wanting a justice system that’s fair and open to all?

We need a system where we are involved in decision making and where law is affordable and not influenced by politicians and businesses serving their own agenda. And we most certainly need a court beyond our supreme court!

The other big thing wrong with our society is capitalism. I read a book about philanthrocapitalism – an oxymoron! because these big businesses and bosses who claim to care and want to sort out the world’s problems have only one way of solving them: imposing their system on the poor and others who don’t fit, and getting community groups like churches and charities to become like them. Their whole language is about venture, human capital!! and growth… and growth is the key to doing just the opposite. Unlike nature, greed knows no sensible cut off. The only thing we should grow without limit is spiritual and personal development, and that in short would be growing in wisdom and love. If you stopped the need to grow business and constantly improve on last year’s profits, you would find the pivot of the world’s problems was destroyed and you’d be in a place to truly stop them.

The biggest problem, at its fulcrum, is imbalance of power and resources, and the need for growth and the insecurity of the powerful which causes it to look after its own needs and placate or control everyone who is other. It’s not just the environment which suffers from the need for more, it’s people too. If we ceased growth for growth’s sake and the need to always get something back (the basis of debt, which is worth a post in itself) then we would be moving away from this harmful model.

The final piece of today’s trilogy is the news from the lovely Mr Osborne about Britain having further cuts to its welfare budget. Even his critics are trying to run the same ship on the same wind, and what’s really needed is to rebuild the boat. I am angry that no politician from one of the main parties is questioning why the people are paying for the government’s borrowing. why is the deficit really our problem? and it’s especially not the poorest’s. The whole nature of what is work and that our worth comes from the being part of that narrow definition needs to be questioned too. And of course, the cuts are coming out of the same greed powered, oligarchical, plutocratical growth based opaque system.

Yes, the world can be changed and no it’s not too complex or naïve to do. People saying otherwise are helping the system continue, whether they mean to or not. What does evil need… good people to do nothing (Edmund Burke). And for the belief that change is too great and is not my problem. Well it isn’t and it is.

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The Hooded Claw of Green Energy

A turbine doth not a Green company make

I’m keen to leave Britain’s Big Six main energy suppliers behind and have been shopping for a new one over past months. I wrote to all the ones I liked with a list of identical questions not answered on their website. I was very disappointed by most of their overall answers.

Being green is not just about solar and wind generated energy and a rejection of nuclear and fossil fuel. Green is a world view that starts with equality, respect and justice. I’m reading the No Nonsense Guide to Green Politics at present, a New Internationalist publication by Derek Wall. And it reiterates my understanding that greens are generally against capitalism, for freedom and liberty and highly critical of the financial philosophies and behaviours that have caused global suffering.

So why do several green energy companies do credit checks – a system created by the American banks who are at the heart of the economic bubble that’s just burst? The values behind credit checks are very capitalist, whilst the creators fail their own criteria. And credit checks are intrusive – something I know greens dislike from their criticism of current welfare practices.

Most sites want direct debit – again, benefitting banks, themselves, but not customers. We lose control over money leaving our account (causing banking fees if we don’t have enough), and we pay more than we use. There’s been reports of quite large average overpay for most customers using direct debit (also true if you have a payment plan on a low income, with or without direct debit).

Most worrying was their relationships to debt collection. The policy of cutting off supply even in winter, revealed by accident when I lobbied against yet another price rise, is why I am leaving my current supplier (not because it happened to me, just the principle). Ecotricity lauds itself as especially ethical, taking the time to show up other companies on their website, and is advertised by the Green party. (I am not sure about an energy company and a party going together). I’d like to point out that Ecotricity has the worst debt collecting policy of all the independents, as bad as the Big Six energy companies. Despite being all over my local paper this week, effectively giving themselves a free ad, they omit that you go into collections after 2 weeks after a bill is outstanding. They may charge for debt recovery, including in relation to a previous occupant’s alleged bill! And they could cut you off in as little as a month – worse than the company I’m leaving! And debt/reconnection costs will be incurred. That rubbishes any claim of being ethical, green or different. And means I will not become a customer. Plus they seem like awful employers, with their “rigorous retesting” of the customer service staff. Ethics extend to customer service and employees and there’s definitely a gap here.

Ovo can add late fees. But they won’t cut off supply; they told me that categorically they’ll work with you to pay off outstanding balances.

Another un-green thing is holding customers into contracts with exit fees – a deeply capitalist idea.
Nearly all do it, especially on fixed rate schemes.

I’d also like to query why dates of birth have become mandatory when you sign up to an energy company. What do you need this intrusive and identifying information? I didn’t have to give it when I signed up to my current supplier, but I note I would have to now as a new customer with them. This has put me off my new chosen supplier, and the tone of the terms and conditions that I don’t think I could see until going to the signing up process. (I cancelled it to have a think).

None of the green energy companies offer a low income scheme and several charge a bit higher than main companies.

Finally – beware price comparisons. Every company has exaggerated my old supplier’s bills and claimed a saving, which I am cynical of. Already one of the many suffering with fuel poverty, I really don’t need a rise when I try very hard to be a low and responsible energy user.

I’d like to think that energy companies took heed and made all of their business – not just the Tellytubby windmills – truly Green (not necessarily in the party sense) but in having bottom line values which are ethical, not just for a simple price plan and a natural design on their website!

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