Good Marx, Bad Marx

About 15 years ago I did a clear out of my books about Marxism. These were not quite consigned to the dustbin of history but rather the attic or the charity shop. I now see that I had made a mistake. Marxism remains the official “creed” of the world’s biggest nation (and economy), China, and, albeit in a bizarre sort of way, nuclear armed North Korea is also officially Marxist. The 2007-9 banking crisis and recession had a favourable impact on the sales of Marx’s books. Continue reading

Ain’t gonna study war no more …

The 2016 Catherwood lecture was given by Alan and Elaine Storkey on 24 November 2016.

The accumulation of power by arms companies and the influence of militarism have continued for over a century. The time has come for people of faith to address these issues and to take seriously Jesus' words, "those who take the sword will perish by the sword. Dr Alan Storkey is an economist, sociologist and artist. He the author of War or Peace: The Long Failure of Western Arms. Elaine Storkey is a theologian, philosopher, social scientist and broadcaster. Norman Hamilton (OBE) is convenor for Public Affairs for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and was previously the minister of Ballysillan Presbyterian Church.  

A Soul for the Union?

A Soul for the Union?

Faith-based perspectives on the EU Referendum

An event held on Monday 13 June 2016 to help people of faith and others explore some of the issues to be considered in a deciding on how best to vote in the forth-coming referendum. To download a copy of Ben Ryan's talk click here. To listen to a recording click here. To read Evangelical Alliance's summary of the event click here.

Keynote speaker – Ben Ryan (Theos Think Tank)

Ben first joined the Theos think tank as an intern in September 2013 and graduated to a researcher in early 2014. He read Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge and also has an MSc in European Studies from the LSE European Institute. He is the author of the Theos reports A Very Modern Ministry: Chaplaincy in the UK and A Soul for the Union.

Responders giving a N.I. perspective:

Colin Harvey (Professor of Human Rights Law, Queen’s University Belfast) responded with reference to Human Rights and Constitutional issues. Esmond Birnie (Chief Economist PWC in Scotland and N.I.) responded with reference to Economic and Financial issues. The Referendum is a democratic opportunity; the outcome will influence our relationships for years to come. Politics is inherently spiritual since God gives us the responsibility to govern within His sovereignty. This evening explored issues of sovereignty and subsidiarity, business and bureaucracy, security, migrants and other national and local challenges we all face in making a decision on how to vote. It encouraged and helped in making an informed response and not just one that thinks of self-interest!

EU: In or Out?

In or out; stay or leave; in favour of Brexit - or not?  The complexities and the unknowns of the forthcoming referendum on EU membership will, unhappily, be boiled down to simple a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote on this question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? We are not used to voting on such a momentous and complex issue.  Nor are we even sure what the key issues really are for those of us with a Christian conscience.   And we will struggle to hear what the scriptures might be saying.  Yet we must try, if we are to vote wisely. Continue reading

Can There Be a Distinctively Christian Contribution to Northern Ireland Politics?

The following reflections are inspired by Steve Stockman’s “An Open Letter to Northern Ireland’s Political Leaders” (PS September 2015) and Esmond Birnie’s response.

The central issue raised by Stockman and Birnie, is whether there is a distinctively Christian input on issues debated in the public arena. Birnie, seems to disagree with Stockman’s conclusion that all polticians are prone to selfish and partisan behaviour irrespective of the kind of political framework and institutions in which they have to operate. He implies that Northern Ireland politics has been prone to “periodic crisis”, in contrast with politics, say, in “London, Dublin, Washington or Berlin”, because of the political institutions as set up by the 1998 peace-process, with slight modifications in 2007.

Birnie argues further that one main reason why politics in Northern Ireland have been in continual crisis of one kind or another is because “we have pursued a 'peace at all costs' so called peace process”, resulting in “moral compromises in order to keep everyone talking, to keep all parties at the table and the room.” This preoccupation with “peace at all costs”, he contends, has forced Northern Ireland politicians to ignore the fundamental issues on which they legitimately disagree. He cites as an example the disagreement about “austerity” fiscal policies by the Government since 2010 and seems to castigate Irish Church leaders for their anti-austerity stance in a statement made last year. Continue reading

Living in debt or out of debt

Given that the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil, he would not be impressed by our public worship of borrowing and debt today.  The statistics are scary: people in the UK owed £1.452 trillion at the end of September 2015. This is up from £1.418 trillion in September 2014 – an extra £661.50 per UK adult.  Total credit card debt in September was a mind blowing £62.7billion. Per household this is £2,349.  For a credit card bearing the average interest, it would take over 25 years to repay if only the minimum monthly repayment was made.  (Figures supplied by The Money Charity). Continue reading

Unfair Trade

(This article appeared on the blog PeoplePlanetProphet on 1 November 2014) Christians of all stripes should be concerned about the proposed free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US). In the book of Exodus we read of the Israelites’ suffering at the hands of Pharaoh, especially when Moses began agitating for their freedom. Pharaoh suddenly decreed that the Hebrew workforce had to produce the same amount of bricks as they had previously but without straw being provided. What had been a difficult task quickly became a torturous one. Continue reading

What did Mrs Thatcher ever do for us?

‘She saved the country’. This was just some of the hyperbole evoked by David Cameron following the passing of Margaret Thatcher last month. Well I’m sorry, Mr Cameron, I must have missed that! Mrs Thatcher is largely remembered in Northern Ireland for her misjudged response to the hunger strike and for the much reviled Anglo Irish Agreement, which some now say paved the way for the eventual success of the Good Friday Agreement. But her economic legacy in Northern Ireland has been largely overlooked. Unfortunately, it was even less successful than her political interventions. Continue reading

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

  sandel_book_coverOn 16 October 2012, Philip McDonagh facilitated a lively discussion on this book by Michael Sandel, who is political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University. In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel examines one of the biggest ethical questions of our time and provokes a debate that's been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy? Philip McDonagh is an economist. He formerly worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers; he has over 30 years experience in dealing with local economic matters. He is a Charity Commissioner with the new Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. He is also a member of the Society of Friends.  

Very High Top Salaries: Necessary for Global Economics or Offensive to Biblical Justice?

Esmond Birnie and Allen Sleith both seek to apply their faith to all areas of life, including economics. However, on this issue they come to different conclusions. This evening was not a debate, to see 'who wins', but a conversation to explore and learn. Allen and Esmond talked about how their faith, and their reading of scripture, influenced how they approached this question. The audience then joined in what proved to be a lively discussion! Esmond Birnie is Chief Economist for PWC in Northern Ireland. Allen Sleith is minister of Regent Street Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, we were not able to record the first few minutes of the discussion, so a small part of Allen's introduction is missing.