Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On Devils, Detail and Deficits

There's a fantastic piece on the Ekklesia blog by John Heathershaw called "God is in the (political) detail". Mostly about high level political decision making, Heathershaw argues that good intentions in making big decisions are not enough. The focus is mainly on the war in Iraq, and the claims of the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush that they had high motivations and good intentions. In the context of a complex world, is good faith enough?

For Tony Blair, operating in a 'big picture world', it seems it is. However, Heathershaw thinks not:
A politician, official, social activist, doctor or school governor who does not pay attention to the details in our complex world is in dereliction of duty, however much good faith she applies.
Just war thinking has always agreed with this, not least in its demand that any proposed war ought to be 'winnable'.

It's not so much Iraq that interests me in terms of detail, however, as the proposed benefit cuts that have been announced at the Conservative Party conference this week. I don't mean the Child Benefit cuts, which seem quite sensible given that cuts need to be made. What concerns me is the proposed cap on benefits. If God, or the Devil, is in the detail, there has been no real detail here. It seems a piece of political posturing (the polite term is 'symbolism') to please the party faithful.

The detail is needed here. There is a benefit trap, and this is good neither for society nor for the trapped. But there are also complex needs. So far, amid the cheap tabloid headlines (even on the broadsheets) concerning Child Benefit, there has been no attention to detail. And thus there has been no attention to God, nor to the danger of the devil. Both are in the detail, because that is where people are. Heathershaw again:

So this leads us finally back to this question of moral responsibility which sits squarely at the intersection of politics and theology. Politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair and Sarah Palin, among others, may feel and say they have the moral courage to do ‘the right thing’. But if this thing is only generally and broadly defined it provides no moral guidance at all. As such, it indicates the lack not presence of political responsibility.

People’s lives take place in the details... Leaders who think about the big picture before they think about the consequences for individual, communities and relationships delude themselves that God is with them. God is in the details.

The art of politics is to articulate the details in a way that connects it with the bigger picture of values and the political, social and moral narratives that connect with our society. But only looking at the big picture is irresponsible in the extreme. Perhaps this is why we should pray for our politicians.

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