"Never underestimate the advantage of total ignorance and the power of ' the simple question."
That is the starting point for Antonia Swinson's journey into the realms of God and Money and it is this disingenuousness which makes the text so accessible to ordinary people. Here is a champion for the na?ve and the doubtful, all of us who are afraid to question the status quo of economics, because "what do we know anyway?"
Readers should not be deceived into believing that she knows nothing however and the fact that she has rattled so many corporate business people and financial gurus is testimony to that. She has the ability both to simplify complex issues and to unmask the god-like "truths" of our contemporary economic systems. Some might brand it na?vety but for me, it acts in counter balance to the fundamental truths which are often obscured for us by technical jargon or deliberate distortion.
One of the main connections for me was her emphasis on the power of language. Although we acknowledge the power of the "Word" in our faith, we often underestimate the power of words. This is especially true in the field of money and is a recurring theme of the book. Financial experts have mastered the skill of seducing us with cosy, comfortable images, such as ? "the nest egg"; or deceiving us by misusing words ? we now happily talk about credit (with all its successful professional associations) instead of debt (which carries much more stigma); a credit limit is in reality a debt limit. Or they deflect us from the truth by using jargon so that when we try to understand the situation most of us are quickly lost in a morass of technicalities. We need to keep asking the simple questions; who wins? who loses?
Another appeal is her willingness to challenge; she challenges each one of us to bridge the gap between our faith and our finance, to be aware of how we become adept at disconnecting God and Money.
She challenges the church for example on its stance on debt, especially that of the poorest in our country who are prey to loan sharks, with the simple question: why haven't they set up credit unions across the land? She challenges the church on its stance on land issues and repeats her mantra "follow the money" i.e. if you want to understand where someone or something is coming from, don't listen to what they say, look at what they do with their money.
But most of all she is willing to challenge the economists and the money market wisdom. She is willing to stand up and be counted ? the chapters on Land Value Tax, Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethical Investment are testimony to that.
I don't always think that she goes far enough ? for example, I think that the churches should be educating people on the benefits of paying taxes and that corporate social responsibility should be independently monitored, but her willingness to be in there, listening and negotiating, addressing the wisdom of Jesus to the received wisdom of the money markets may well make her a more effective tool in the struggle to bring God into the world of money.
Swinson writes out of her own experience. Her struggle to match the inner spiritual journey to the outer journey of social action gives her writing integrity. This is no detached expose of money and there is passion in her writing. She is prepared to engage with the main players, not being afraid to argue and to reason or be discouraged by the attacks on her judgement: yet she doesn't forget the main losers ? the homeless, those who are in perpetual debt to survive, the low paid. Her willingness to stand in the gap between the haves and the have nots, between God and Money, between the decision makers and the powerless shows her determination to make spiritual values count. She could become a prophet of our time.
Saint Andrew Press, 2003, ?7.99 www.standrewpress.com.
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