1930s >> 1930 >> no-307-march-1930

Groan with the Bishop

Bishops are such poor fish; it seems a shame to hurt them. Their job is hard enough already, convincing their thinning flocks of the blessedness of short commons, whilst dallying themselves with the cursedness of plenty. Formerly, when their palsied logic was reinforced with the rack, the thumb screw and the stake, they were formidable enough, but their day has passed, and their excursions into publicity are more humdrum. So long as their pearls of wisdom are cast before their dumb and docile congregations, or scattered in the dry leaves of their parish magazines, little harm is done. They may be left to peter out painlessly in the dank, gloomy caves where they hide from science. Their brief excursions into the open are unfortunate. We remember with amusement their recent controversy over their book of petrified prayers. One had to mingle amusement with amazement at the spectacle of holy bishops quarrelling over the question as to whether pieces of bread, “blessed” by a priest, could remain sacred if stored in a cupboard. One remembers former controversies and activities. Their opposition to elementary education unless it included their superstitions; their opposition to a widower marrying the sister of his dead wife; their incitements to murder in the recent Great War.

They are engaged, as we have said, in a difficult task, and the day rapidly approaches when they will be forced to do something useful for a living. They realise that in the competitive world they have so lauded, their chances of as cushy a job again, are remote. One gloomy and reverend brother has taken time by the forelock, and makes money by contributing two columns of Christian thought weekly, to one of our bright evening news sheets. When the crash comes, and the Church goes into liquidation, he should be certain of a job on the News of the World. Unlike the scriptures, his writings are copyright in all countries.

But to revert. The Daily News espied a sparkling gem of clerical thought in the Bishop of Gloucester’s diocesan letter for January. Says the Bishop

A combination of sentiment and the influence of trade unions has steadily aimed at keeping wages above their economic level. The only results of that can mean that a large number of persons are unemployed. [Horrible English, but it is the Bishop’s.] Until that is corrected unemployment will go on, but apparently it is unChristian to say that a person should give wages in accordance with the money that he has at his control. If a man is employing four workmen and giving each of them £1 a week, it will cost him £200 a year. If he is told that he must give each of them- £2 a week, there are two alternatives. The one is he can throw up business and throw all out of work; the other is to pay two of them £2 a week, and throw two out of work: but the probable result will be that his business will fail and all four will be thrown out of work.

I like these simple illustrations, don’t you? They are so easily grasped, even by the meanest intellect. They are so clear, so luminous, so self-evident, so—well, what is the use of all these terms like gold standards, and socialisation, after all? What we want is simplicity. One employer and four men; everyone can grasp that position. Four men work, one man pays them each £l, out of his scanty pocket, and then they go home. Having spent their substance in riotous living, they listen to a combination of sentiment and trade unionism, and straightway go unto the one man and demand of him £2 each. The Bishop sees but two alternative courses; either he should satisfy the clamour of two of them, and tell the others to go hang, or he shall throw up the business and tell them all to go hang. It is a pity the ecclesiastic vision could discern but two courses. For, having thrown up the business, what is he to do now? Having no business he will be in the same boat as the four. And then again, how far is the process to go. Are all the other employers who so kindly give £2 a week to their workmen to follow his example and throw up their businesses when asked for more? There is another course open too. If the employer in the illustration went to the same school of economics as the Bishop, he could take an enlightened view and at one fell swoop, solve the unemployment problem. He could reduce their wages to 5/- a week and take on twelve more men. They would object, you will say! Simple. The Bishop would beg a ride from some friendly carman, and fortified by his frugal bread and cheese, would go to them and explain the simple elements of his economic system to them. Being at bottom, sensible men, and impressed by the spectacle of dignified penury before them, they would throw their sentiment into the adjacent gutter, and break their trade unions across their knees, and thus would dawn a new era. There would be no unemployment, for the appearance of any man asking for a job, would only be the excuse for a little sum in simple division. When I come to think of it, the whole poverty problem would be solved too. For poverty, after all, is only a relative condition. If everyone were getting the same sum, big or little, the term poverty, would cease to serve any useful purpose. So you will see there is more in the Bishop’s clear reasoning and simple illustration than one might think. And yet some people grudge them their £15,000 a year.

W. T. Hopley