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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Capitalism rules, says former bishop

Former Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, has been thinking
By BBC News Online's Giles Wilson

You might expect a former bishop to have a head for figures - the number in the congregation, perhaps, or even coffee morning takings.

But you would not necessarily expect him to know the ins and outs of the global money markets, or to know the detailed workings of the IMF and WTO.

But David Jenkins has never been an ordinary churchman. And his new message - "We must not collude with the free market" - is not ordinary either.

In the 1980s, it was a toss-up who was the more famous man of the cloth between him and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Puppets of both of them were standards on Spitting Image.

But it was David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, who had the notoriety. Even now newspapers occasionally attribute to him the line that the resurrection was just a "conjuring trick with bones".

I am not clear that God manoeuvres physical things... After all, a conjuring trick with bones only proves that it is as clever as a conjuring trick with bones. A resuscitated corpse might be a resuscitated corpse and might be the sign of something, but there is still the question of what it is the symbol of.

David Jenkins, Radio 4, 1984

In fact a reading of his full statement makes it pretty clear that his meaning was the exact opposite.

His politics - particularly during the miner's strike when he called the coal board boss an "elderly imported American" - ended the reputation of the Church of England as being the "Tory party at prayer".

And when York Minster was hit by lightning and badly damaged on the very night on which he was consecrated as bishop, it gave his opponents all the ammunition they needed to claim it was a case of divine retribution against a turbulent priest.

York Minster after being hit by lightning

He retired in 1994, but has resisted the temptation to spend his time in consideration of the hereafter. Instead, for five years, he has submerged himself in the minutiae of the here and now.

Swapping the Church Times and the Guardian for the Financial Times and the Economist, he has made the latest IPOs, mergers, hedge funds and trade talks his business.

This was a conscious reaction to being told time and time again during the miners' strike that he just did not understand what was going on. So when he had the time, he put it right.

And his conclusion is that - like it or not - the market runs the world and is unquestioningly accepted as the only way to achieve freedom and prosperity.

But his acknowledgement that this is the way the world is working does not - liberals may breathe a sigh of relief - signify his approval.

Struggle at last week's demonstration in Washington

Capitalism has become so unfettered, he says, that it is now the only thing people trust in. It's what they work for and what embodies their hopes.

As he characterises it in his new book, Market Whys and Human Wherefores, the market is now society's mantra. "It is the creed of our Free Market faith and the hymn of our salvation...Our common good, the investment which unites us all, is in the Market."

It is not perhaps surprising then that the demonstrators who intended troubling the IMF meeting in Washington this week earn his support (although violence does not).

Speaking to BBC News Online he added: "There are other things that matter than just keeping the financial system going so that the people who have got money can carry on making money. It does dreadful things to people, en route it does dreadful things to the world, maybe permanently, and we've got to wake up to this.

Capitalism has never been so unfettered, says Jenkins

"The world is not saved by banking, banking often makes the world bankrupt."

David Jenkins has never been one to keep the politics out of his religion, and that has meant his relationship with the church has not always been happy.

At a recent lecture he gave in central London, he said, only half-jokingly, that being a bishop had brought him nearer to becoming an atheist than anything else in his life.

He even sees some parallels between the way he believes the world is expected to subscribe to the market, and the way it was once expected to unhesitatingly do what the Church told it.

After all the abuse which was directed towards him, it must surely have been a temptation to settle for a quiet retirement? Apparently not.

"It was only recently that I started to think of myself as old, and that was because a social worker came to call because I was on their computer as having reached 75," he says. And his passion to persuade people of his arguments persists.

And for the moment, that argument is that if people - not just Christians - want to make a difference, then they can.

Capitalism has become so unfettered, it's the only thing people trust in

David Jenkins

"Christians ought to say, with all the allies they can get, 'No, we need not put up with this'."

Even those of an orthodox business point of view were starting to become more worried about the potential hazards of letting finance get away with anything, he says. And public opinion counts too.

"There is, for one thing, increasing pressure on the environment, and public opinion is so alert about it. Companies are now getting credit for considering it - like Monsanto making available their patents for rice, which will make a tremendous difference to the millions of people who are fed by rice."

Yet the market was failing to solve many of the problems of distribution, particularly in the developing world, and it was right that people had questions about it.

"I think it is at least a good thing that people are getting worried. If there's the growth in the next 100 years as there has been in the last 250, where will we be? Can the world stand it?"

Market Whys and Human Wherefores is published by Cassell, priced 16.99

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