The greatest created person

The role of 'Our Lady', educating women and the liberating role of faith

Jesus Christ, God the Son, came on earth as a man in order to overturn ‘the aboriginal calamity’, humankind’s assertion of equality with the Creator, and to give us the freedom to love outside ourselves. He achieved this through the generosity of a WOMAN.

Her name was Mary and her love of God was such that she did not hesitate when asked by God to become the mother of his Son on earth, surely the most unlikely of all requests! It left her vulnerable to the threat of stoning (as a pregnant unmarried girl at that time) and she could not have been certain that Joseph, her betrothed, would marry her in these unforeseen circumstances.

We are told that he did, and became protector to her and to her child. She remains both virgin and mother; she is the benchmark of womanhood, because of the quality of her loving.

Christians have, from very early times, always claimed her as their own – in many languages she is ‘Our Lady.’ No wonder that the image of Mary, with her Divine Son is one of the most familiar of all, wherever Christianity has touched the culture.

She reflects the existential nature of woman undamaged by sin – her loving, giving and understanding enabling her to identify herself with her son’s mission with such intensity of love that we see her as the loving mother of the whole world and the Queen of Heaven. She is the most powerful of women; that is why we ask her to pray for us.

WOMEN ASSERTING THEIR PERSONHOOD

Women’s understanding of themselves changed too, with the coming of Christianity. The laws of Rome, for the most part, gave, as we have seen, power of life and death over women to fathers and husbands. But by the end of the second century A.D., we find young girls defying their pagan fathers and refusing to marry the pagan husbands chosen for them, which would have meant giving up their Christian faith.

They asserted their autonomy as individuals. It was a time of great persecution and a number of young Roman women chose to be faithful to their love of Christ, rather than deny him, a choice that led to death - a choice that may well shock the people of our time.

But these young women believed in the thing that they professed, rather like anti-Nazis during World War II or dissidents in Stalin’s gulags. Note that they did not kill themselves. No doubt, they longed for a time when such choices were not presented to them. With tremendous courage, they determined not to reject Christ’s life and death in order to save themselves.

EDUCATING WOMEN

The formal education of women began in a surprising way under the auspices of an irascible scholar called Jerome in the fourth century. He was the first to translate the Bible into Latin. He was acquainted with a number of wealthy Roman women, who were Christians and he gave them lectures on the Christian faith.

They were remarkable women. One of them, Fabiola, set up the first known hospital, in order to care for pilgrims travelling to Rome. Her enterprise started off a tradition of medical care and hospitality which continues in the Catholic Church to this day, in many parts of the world.

Another of Jerome’s female pupils, Melania the Younger, by name, had inherited as many as a thousand slaves. She decided to free them because she was a Christian and she divided immense tracts of land in the Roman province of Africa between them – in a practical and personal way anticipating the work of William Wilberforce by a millennium and a half. .

These women were educated, they studied in many fields and revealed remarkable organisational talents. Their circle of women formed the proto-type of the convent and led to the life of the nun – a woman who dedicated herself entirely to God, living with like-minded women in community. Such women continue to this day. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is probably the best known religious sister of the last century, and she devoted her life to the care of the abandoned and dying, so that they would know love. Her sisters carry on her work all over the world.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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The Future of the Left: A new start requires a new economy

Creating a "sharing economy" can get the left out of its post-crunch malaise, says Stewart Lansley.

Despite the opportunity created by the 2008 crisis, British social democracy is today largely directionless. Post-2010 governments have filled this political void by imposing policies – from austerity to a shrinking state - that have been as economically damaging as they have been socially divisive.

Excessive freedom for markets has brought a society ever more divided between super-affluence and impoverishment, but also an increasingly fragile economy, and too often, as in housing, complete dysfunction.   Productivity is stagnating, undermined by a model of capitalism that can make big money for its owners and managers without the wealth creation essential for future economic health. The lessons of the meltdown have too often been ignored, with the balance of power – economic and political – even more entrenched in favour of a small, unaccountable and self-serving financial elite.

In response, the left should be building an alliance for a new political economy, with new goals and instruments that provide an alternative to austerity, that tackle the root causes of ever-growing inequality and poverty and strengthen a weakening productive base. Central to this strategy should be the idea of a “sharing economy”, one that disperses capital ownership, power and wealth, and ensures that the fruits of growth are more equally divided. This is not just a matter of fairness, it is an economic imperative. The evidence is clear: allowing the fruits of growth to be colonised by the few has weakened growth and made the economy much more prone to crisis.

To deliver a new sharing political economy, major shifts in direction are needed. First, with measures that tackle, directly, the over-dominance of private capital. This could best be achieved by the creation of one or more social wealth funds, collectively held financial funds, created from the pooling of existing resources and fully owned by the public. Such funds are a potentially powerful new tool in the progressive policy armoury and would ensure that a higher proportion of the national wealth is held in common and used for public benefit and not for the interests of the few.

Britain’s first social wealth fund should be created by pooling all publicly owned assets,  including land and property , estimated to be worth some £1.2 trillion, into a single ring-fenced fund to form a giant pool of commonly held wealth. This move - offering a compromise between nationalisation and privatization - would bring an end to today’s politically expedient sell-off of public assets, preserve what remains of the family silver and ensure that the revenue from the better management of such assets is used to boost essential economic and social investment.

A new book, A Sharing Economy, shows how such funds could reduce inequality, tackle austerity and, by strengthening the public asset base, rebalance the public finances.

Secondly, we need a new fail safe system of social security with a guaranteed income floor in an age of deepening economic and job insecurity. A universal basic income, a guaranteed weekly, unconditional income for all as a right of citizenship, would replace much of the existing and increasingly means-tested, punitive and authoritarian model of income support. . By restoring universality as a core principle, such a scheme would offer much greater security in what is set to become an increasingly fragile labour market. A basic income, buttressed by a social wealth fund, would be key instruments for ensuring that the potential productivity gains from the gathering automation revolution, with machines displacing jobs, are shared by all.  

Thirdly, a new political economy needs a radical shift in wider economic management. The mix of monetary expansion and fiscal contraction has proved a blunderbuss strategy that has missed its target while benefitting the rich and affluent at the expense of the poor. By failing to tackle the central problem  – a gaping deficit of demand (one inflamed by the long wage squeeze and sliding investment)  - the strategy has slowed recovery.  The mass printing of money (quantitative easing) may have helped prevent a second great depression, but has also  created new and unsustainable asset bubbles, while austerity has added to the drag on the economy. Meanwhile, record low interest rates have failed to boost private investment and productivity, but by hiking house prices, have handed a great bonanza to home owners at the expense of renters.

Building economic resilience will require a more central role for the state in boosting and steering investment programmes, in part through the creation of a state investment bank (which could be partially financed from the proposed new social wealth fund) aimed at steering more resources into the wealth creating activities private capital has failed to fund.

With too much private credit used for financial speculation and property, and too little to small companies and infrastructure, government needs to play a much more direct role in creating credit, while restricting the almost total freedom currently handed to private banks.  Tackling the next downturn, widely predicted to land within the next 2-3 years, will need a very different approach, including a more active fiscal policy. To ensure a speedier recovery from recessions, future rounds of quantitative easing should, within clear constraints, boost the economy directly by financing public investment programmes and cash handouts (‘helicopter money’).  Such a police mix – on investment, credit and stimulus - would be more effective in boosting the real economic base, and would be much less pro-rich and anti-poor in its consequences.

These core changes would greatly reform the existing Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism and provide the foundations for building support for a new direction for progressive politics. They would pioneer new tools for building a fairer, more dynamic and more stable economy. They could draw on experience elsewhere such as the Alaskan annual citizen’s dividend (financed by a sovereign wealth fund) and the pilot basic income schemes launching in the Netherlands, Finland and France.  Even mainstream economists, including Adair Turner, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, are now talking up the principle of ‘helicopter money’. For these reasons, parts of the package are likely to prove publicly popular and command support across the political divide. Together they would contribute to a more stable economy, less inequality, and a more even balance of power and opportunity.

 

Stewart Lansley is the author of A Sharing Economy, published in March by Policy Press and of Breadline Britain, The Rise of Mass Impoverishment (with Joanna Mack).