Bishop's Letter; Discovering our true worth

First published 28th May 2013

In this months letter, Bishop Mike argues the way the world around us measures our value is actually devaluing and reminds us of where our true value comes from and lies.

Maria Millers first speech as Culture Secretary delivered now some weeks ago will certainly be remembered. Her thesis on the basis of current thinking in a recession was simple and, in a way, understandable. It was this: judgements about which art should be Government sponsored (and, by implication, which should not be sponsored) should be made on the grounds of the economic potential of the art in question.

This of course is indicative of a wider trend in our rapidly changing culture. For we are drifting towards a world where people, ideas and institutions are increasingly valued only in terms of their potential cash value. We should have some sympathy with the Culture Secretary at one level. With a limited pot of money available in a troubled economy, there is a kind of logic to sponsoring those facets of art and culture which will generate more money to put into the pot.

The longer term danger of this, however, is that we stop believing that art for arts sake or education for educations sake is a good thing. Of course, there is the irritation we can feel about sponsorship money only being used for art, drama and opera that appeals to a few elite people. There is the kind of modern art that infuriates people. However, it must be debatable whether the best source of inspiration for an artist of any kind is simply the economic outcome of their creations.

I doubt that Michelangelo when painstakingly painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel thought that one day millions of people, having paid muchos euros would file through to admire his work.

Already people experience our education system as one that is tilted towards economic outcomes, efficiently turning out people with bits of paper that will be exchanged for fat salaries. Indeed, the whole idea of students having to pay their own fees is a product of this thinking. Your university education must now be thought of as an economic investment for the future and no longer a place simply to have your mind stretched for the sake of learning. Intellectual capital is now exclusively valued in terms of its cash value.

This, in the end, will create the kind of society that we are inexorably drifting towards. One where people and the results of their God-given creativity are valued only in terms of their economic potential. Even our benefit system has been re-crafted so it doesnt penalize just those who wont work, but also those who really genuinely cant work and those who have low paid work.

Of course my point is not that wanting to achieve is a bad thing. It focuses human endeavour to enable some people to do great things. The point is that if we only value people in terms of their cash value or their attainment, a lot of people will feel undervalued and disempowered.

The Bible suggests that our value as human beings is intrinsic because we are God's creation. We are says St Paul (Eph. 2:10) God's poiema, his workmanship (in the Living Bible his masterpiece). The suggestion here is that we are very simply of intrinsic value to the God who made us, the God who loves us and the God who remarkably demonstrated His love by sending His Son to a Cross that we might be redeemed.

Little wonder that in a world which has lost any sense of the God's workmanship has to revert to other ways of measuring human value. The problem is that in the end the worldly assessment of value is actually very devaluing. We learn our true worth in the light of Him who made us and who loves us so lets thank God for that. You are His masterpiece!

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