St. Paul’s Cathedral revisited

In response to a comment on this post I thought I had better explain, in greater detail, my concerns about St. Paul’s Cathedral and its admissions policy.

Anton, your criticism is acknowledged and understood however, it is far too simplistic. My main criticism of the organised church is precisely that it is a business.

Imagine, for example, Mother Teresa working all day in the Calcutta slums and then going home to a palatial mansion with an Olympic sized swimming pool in the basement which has a magnificent mosaic of Christ on the cross at the bottom of it. At what point does Mother Teresa think to herself, “The cognitive dissonance is too much; surely all this wealth is better spent servicing the poor?”. Maybe she thinks to open the mansion to the public and charge an entrance fee. That way she can justify the extravagance of the mansion; the money will go towards her work with the poor. But the maintenance takes more and more of the money and her time and eventually she is forced to concede that she has simply become a real estate business maintaining its assets and nothing at all to do with the religion she was supposed to represent – the poor still go without.

She may even have a couple of servants working in the mansion. Her thinking is that she is providing a useful service, nay, a Christian service by helping these people out of poverty by giving them a job. But by that criterion, any business – banks included – are providing a Christian service by helping people out of poverty.

If you go to the fountain head of any religion the core message is to do good, to help the poor, to be of service to a higher calling, not become a sovereign state with fabulous wealth.

Or take the young man working at the till in the cathedral.

If he is simply an employee of the church, a hired, unbelieving hand, then he is simply part of a business like a bank or an accountant’s (you could argue that all businesses are charitable in that they ultimately help the poor). If he is a believer, a servant of the church however, at what point does he say to himself, “How is this doing good? How am I helping the poor? This money is going towards maintaining bricks and mortar, not life, and it is given by people who have no interest in the works of my church, only in its architecture”.

Equally, at what point does the head of the church admit that he is an administrator in a capitalist business with a profit and loss account and not a servant of God helping the less fortunate?

The cathedrals were built when the church was booming due to the rich trying to buy their way into heaven and so had money to spare. If all its remaining money is now being spent on bad assets, what is left to service the poor?

You quite rightly explain that during a normal church service a donation is asked for. But this is a voluntary donation and presumably if you have nothing to give you will not be turfed out by the choir boys. A flat fee is a regressive tax on the poor.

The time has come for the church, one of the biggest land owners in the country, to hand over expensive assets like St. Paul’s Cathedral to the National Trust and concentrate on what it is supposed to do, help the less fortunate.

Imagine an advert for a charity. It is shown on television and asks for donations. You donate a sum of money but wonder how much of it is going to the television company (a purely capitalist business) and how much is actually going to the poor (or whatever the charity claims to help?)

If the church is going to admit that it is simply a commercial business it might as well have gaming machines in the cathedral with bars selling alcohol and a desk where loans from the church can be arranged at competitive interest rates. If however, it insists it is true to the teachings of its founder then how can it justify these commercial practices?

Finally, the use of commas and the term ”for example’ indicates that i am aware St. Paul’s is not part of the Catholic church. The reason I mention the Catholic church is because I hope one day to visit Rome and see the religious buildings there. As I do so there will be a moment of frisson as I hand over my admission fee to an organisation that is one of the richest in the world and which also has so much blood on its hands. When I do so, am I part of the solution or am I part of the problem?

4 Responses to “St. Paul’s Cathedral revisited”

  1. Barbara Samuels says:

    I read this article with interest. I have woken early, pondering the demonstration on the steps of St.Paul’s and felt the urge to look further into the situation.

    My understanding of the protest is a drawing of attention to the ever widening gulf between rich and poor and promoting debate and question on the subject. On the radio programme, Any Questions, one of the panellists suggested that where the enormous bonuses, or investment in shares return is concerned, it should be a matter for the share-holders to judge and guide the level of reward pay outs to those directing the companies.

    Is it process then, that those presiding over a company and producing vast financial rewards from investments, are in turn favourably awarded huge sums of money for their endeavours? The company prospers, the share-holders are satsfied with the return on their investment and the directors are encouraged to do more of the same. This is a sound way for a few people, favourably positioned, to reap a comfortable finncial return.

    But what are these investments? What are these funds being used for? Do they invest in opportunities which are solely financially led, or do they have room for ethical and moral condiseration?

    You mention the business machine needed to sustain St.Pauls and that in practice, the proceeds plough back in to sustain the machine and not the original purpose, to help the poor.

    This protest against capitalism appears to be gaining momentum globally and rightly so, keeping alongside the far reaching spread of the beast. These sound investments that produce astounding returns – what are their global consequences? In the human chain of those involved in the money making, process can the winners justify their gains to the losers? Can those at the top of the chain answer that they are morally accountable for their financial gain?

    It is a question for us all to consider. How do my deeds affect my fellow human beings? We must acknowledge that personal gain must be carefully weighed against the wider benefit for us all. Let us tread gently and with conscience.

    I wish moral guidance and safety to the protesters and all who are moved to deliberate the current social divisions of wealth. We are all connected, we are all deserving and there is enough for all.

    In support of the cause – B.

  2. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Thanks for the comment Barbara. I sense a sea-change in people’s attitude towards excessive business practices. Simply saying, “What we did is not illegal” is not enough to justify some of these practices. At some point, a sense of moral outrage has to influence the decisions of business leaders. If these business leaders have lost their moral compass, then it is the duty of the people to find it for them.

  3. Dan Ladds says:

    I’ll avoid opening the whole can of worms on this, but I’ll say a few things.

    “If you go to the fountain head of any religion the core message is to do good, to help the poor, to be of service to a higher calling, not become a sovereign state with fabulous wealth.”

    The subtlety that must be noted is that it is the will of the “higher power”, not the needs of the poor, that are being served. Those who are altruistic because of religion are arguably very selfish; they don’t give to the poor because they deeply empathise with them, but because they are concerned with making sure their own immortal soul goes to the right place.

    One might argue that it is immaterial in practical terms, but it is not, because it inflences the type of actions taken. It leads to people dividing their help not by its actual effect, but how good it makes them feel. It leads to people doing good things to excuse the bad things they do in the rest of their lives; like billionaires who exploit child workers in Asia and then donate to the church so they can sleep at night.

    Altrusim that is motivated by superstition and irrationality also leads to irrational altrusim, like the Salvation army destroying toys donated because “Harry Potter is blasphemous” or effectively blackmailing people into converting in what can only be termed “believe or die”. Among other questionable practices, Mother Teresa accepted stolen money.

    For all its altruistic efforts, with its anti-contraception message and the cascading effects on population and HIV/AIDS, the Catholic Church has done far more harm than good to date.

    “Equally, at what point does the head of the church admit that he is an administrator in a capitalist business with a profit and loss account and not a servant of God helping the less fortunate?”

    He doesn’t; his faith is an excuse for his Capitalism. I am sick and tired of this excuse, not just from religion, but all those who “get rich to give back”. If you obtain money through the Capitalist mode of production then you obtain it through exploitation of labour, which is inherently wrong. Giving some of that money back to the working class, even be that a poorer strata, does not make things right.

    “The time has come for the church, one of the biggest land owners in the country, to hand over expensive assets like St. Paul’s Cathedral to the National Trust and concentrate on what it is supposed to do, help the less fortunate.”

    Agree. These are immensely valuable historical buildings. I want to be able to donate to their upkeep without donating to the systematic brainwashing of the church.

    Okay, I just opened that can of worms.

  4. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Brilliant comment, Dan. I am aware that Mother Teresa is another can of worms that needs to be opened and consumed but I didn’t want to digress from my main point.

    Calling Harry Potter toys ‘blasphemous’ is like calling iphones instruments of torture. Oh, wait a minute… maybe that’s how the children in the sweatshops DO view them.

Leave a Reply