Reck not what the poor have lost

It’s Easter Sunday, and I’ve been bugged over the last week at the aftermath of the fire at Notre Dame de Paris. The fire itself was a cultural tragedy and struck deep to the hearts of Parisians and the French people, whether of the Catholic faith or none. It engaged the sympathy of people from across the western world and all of those who’ve ever visited Paris or the cathedral itself, as I myself have done.

There has, in consequence, been a outpouring of generosity from very wealthy people, as well as the ordinary folk of the country, to fund the restoration and repair of the building. And that’s a great thing. And the French state are even offering tax breaks to donors, which seems fair, given that the state owns the building. I’m happy to be corrected, but I’m not aware that the Vatican has offered anything other than “thoughts and prayers”, although it has grown obscenely wealthy over the millenia on the offerings of the credulous faithful.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Easter sums these things up well:

Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away;
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck his shrine;
Empty though it be on earth …

Who has pearls and opals to bring? Only the rich, who can give from their surplus to endow chapels, priests and masses to save their souls and still keep enough to live in comfort – it’s the only way to take it with you. But from whence cometh their wealth?

This is the hypocrisy of the 21st century ultra-rich; their wealth is built on screwing the worker and conning the consumer. Our low-friction consumer society comes at a cost to those who have no choice but to shoulder that friction on our behalf – delivering take-aways in all weathers because we can “just” order a delivery on our phones instead of shifting our backsides and going to the curry house – working away in fire-trap sweatshops in east Asia simply so we can buy clothes to wear twice and throw away because they are so cheap – people being used to pick Amazon orders because they are cheaper than automation and easier to replace. And in all of those cases, our convenience and bargain prices become the source of exploitation for those who shoulder our trivial burdens on their own shoulders; for those who have no other choice than to take a zero-hours contract, to sign a contract which makes them responsible for covering their own sickness absence, and all the other sins miseries and abominations of the tap-and-go economy by which we widen the wealth gap and entrench people in poverty and hopelessness.

Remember that Jesus too, according to the story, was blind to these things. He praised the widow who gave from her desperate need, rather than condemning a religious system that put more emphasis on looking after the needs of the pampered priesthood than putting food in the mouths of the poor. Those silks and satins won’t buy themselves.

Religion asks the rich to give from their surplus for one reward, and tells the poor to give from their want for another, and pretends it’s all the same. It damn well is not.

One thought on “Reck not what the poor have lost

  1. I think that while you are spot on about religion, you are unfair to Jesus (and possibly also to Hopkins, whose human sympathies are not in doubt). Consider “Who is my neighbour?”, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor”, “I was in prison and you visited me not… Inasmuch as you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me”.

    Religion is full of contradictions. There is a strong social conscience element in some forms of Christianity. I very much doubt if the billionaires chipping in for the restoration of Notre Dame really believe that this is buying a place in heaven, although they evidently believe that they are behaving virtuously, much as Abu Dhabi Department of Culture believes that it is supporting the arts by paying $450 million for a painting by Leonardo. And since we are discussing Notre Dame, remember that the century during which most of the building took place also saw the expulsion of the Jews from France, and the massacre of the Albigensian heretics.


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