Social mobility

I was reading an article in the Economist about social mobility in the USA, and reflecting on my social mobility. I came from dust, from nothing. I have come as far or further than anyone older than I  in either branch of my family, the first person in all the twentieth century to have attained to higher education – the first in many generations.  My dad and my mum were clever enough, but the opportunities were not afforded to them.  I have come further and higher than any before me in my family – and the reason is social mobility.  Social mobility in the 1980’s has got me where I am now.  I got A levels, got into a polytechnic, and got a job – all through either luck or just brains.  This illumines my politics and my beliefs.  It is why I have no patience with public school educated sons or daughters of privilege who have got to top jobs through background and education.  This is why I admire Mrs Thatcher – who got into Somerville on a scholarship, and that by luck rather than anything else.  It is why I can feel a bit chippy about many members of the front bench on both sides of the House – they are in the main, public school educated sons and daughters of privilege.  I’m no socialist, but am a firm believer in social mobility.  I believe opportunities should be available for people from the lower depths to rise to the top – the Clive James’s, the Norman Tebbits of this world.  It is why I have little patience or empathy with those who have a huge weight of generational expectation behind them – four generations a clergyman, or four generations an officer of the Royal Navy. I recall talking to the wife of one such officer at a party. What’s that like to be?

Collectivism and Christianity

I’m no collectivist and have always struggled with what I see as rampant collectivism in the charismatic church, particularly the house-church movement and New Frontiers.

We’re asked to make an offering publicly, i.e put money in a box at the front of church where everyone can see us. It is a right, good and noble offering the church is taking up. But why would I give money publicly unless I wanted there to be a public witness to the fact that I was doing so? Why would I be concerned what anyone else within the household of faith sees or thinks about my giving? Does it matter? I think it does. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:3 that when we give, we should give in secret, not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing.

So to me, giving money publicly – and being seen to do so – is a big no-no. That’s not Christianity – that’s collectivism.

But being against collectivism puts me on the back foot both in church and the wider world. People say I am selfish and care only about myself, merely because I argue that the individual is generally – by no means always – more important than the community.

“Collectivism can refer to any ideal, social, or political thought that puts emphasis on interdependence and the group above individuality or identity. Collectivists seek to be part of a greater whole–a larger scheme that is greater than the individual parts of that whole.”

And that is right and good – as Christians we are indeed part of a greater whole, and we should and do place emphasis on interdependence and the group. That is what small groups are about. But…

Individuals matter. Communities are made up of individuals, just as tables and chairs are made up of individual molecules. The properties of the materials used to make tables and chairs comes directly from the qualities of those molecules. And unless I am very much mistaken, we stand before God as individuals, and we were and are redeemed by Jesus Christ as individuals. There will be no communities judged at the Great White Throne – just individuals.

The importance of the individual over the community, over the collective, is what separates modern western cultures (i.e those arising since the Reformation) from the feudal societies they replaced, and what makes them more open to democracy, more open to freedom, stronger and more flexible that the Confucian cultures of the East (like China) and the Collectivist culture of Russia. All these cultures have strengths – but I believe the West is stronger, because of the importance of the individual.