I shouldn’t say it, but the thing that annoys me most about the readers of this august organ are those who want to consign me to a party-political pigeonhole. “He’s only saying that because he’s Liberal/Labor/Green/Callithumpian.”
Sorry. I have a lot of strong views, and I hope it isn’t hard to detect an internal consistency in them, but they’re not driven by loyalty to any party.
The Salvation Army sets out to help the unfortunate. Photo: Jim Rice
Like many old journos, the older I get the more disdainful I become of both sides of politics. They’re not identical, but they have far too many bad habits in common.
But if my views come from a consistent set of values, where do those values spring from?
It’s no secret. If you must pigeonhole me, I don’t mind you saying this: “He’s only saying that because he grew up in the Salvos – and hasn’t managed to shake it all off.”
I certainly inherited from my father a penchant for preaching sermons. So, since it’s Easter, here’s the latest.
Wiser on efficiency
Earlier in my career as a commentator my mission was to convert readers to the one true faith of economic efficiency.
As I’ve got older and wiser, however, I’ve realised that, though economic inefficiency has nothing to recommend it, efficiency isn’t the only worthwhile goal of public policy, and there are often times when other objectives should take priority.
Such as ensuring the fruits of our economic success are distributed fairly between all the participants in the economy, not hogged by the rich and powerful.
Such as ensuring the poor – these days we’re supposed to say the “disadvantaged” – are given a helping hand, even if they’re the political path of least resistance when trying to fix the budget deficit.
The more unimpressed I’ve become with party politics and economic orthodoxy, the more I’ve fallen back on the values I imbibed as a youth, reading about the Salvos’ daring, disreputable and sometimes law-breaking exploits in their early days.
I’ve been reminded of all this by a four-DVD box set, Boundless Salvation, produced by my coreligionist and mate, John Cleary, late of the ABC religion department, to celebrate the Salvos’ 150th anniversary.
I certainly inherited from my father a penchant for preaching sermons.
Saving the worst
The Salvation Army was founded in the East End of London in 1865, when the Rev William Booth broke away from the Methodists. As a protestant church, its doctrines are identical to Methodism.
As Cleary explains, what distinguished the Salvos was Booth’s preoccupation not just with saving souls, but saving “the worst”, and the way he matched spirituality with practicality.
As soon as you were saved you were set to work, not just spreading the word, but helping the downtrodden escape the economic bonds that enslaved them.
Consider this recorded sermon from late in Booth’s life: “Amidst all your joys don’t forget the sons and daughters of misery. Do you ever visit them? Come away and let us make a call or two.
“Here is a home, six in family. Bathe and drink and sleep and sicken and die in the same chamber.
“Here is a drunken hovel, devoid of furniture, wife a skeleton, children in rags. Father maltreating the victims of his neglect.
“Here are the unemployed, wandering about, seeking work and finding none. Yonder are the wretched criminals cradled in crime, passing in and out of the prisons. All the time.
“There are the daughters of shame, deceived and wronged and ruined. Travelling down the dark incline to an early grave.
“There are the children, fighting in the gutters, going hungry to school. Growing up to fill their parents’ places.
“Brought it all on themselves, you say? Perhaps so. But that does not excuse our assisting them.
“You don’t demand a certificate of virtue before you drag the drowning creature out of the water.
“Nor the assurance that a man has paid his rent before you deliver him from the burning building.
“But what shall we do? Content ourselves by singing a hymn? Offering a prayer? Or giving a little good advice?
“No! Ten thousand times no! We will pity them, feed them, reclaim them, employ them.
“Perhaps we shall fail with many. Quite likely. But our business is to help them all the same. And that in the most practical, economical and Christlike manner.”
Never heard that sort of talk from the pulpit? Here’s a verse from Psalm 82 a reader sent me:
“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
It all helps me know whose side I’m on in the great self-centred battle for government largesse.
Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.