Rights and responsibilities

I heard a woman on the radio recently saying that we should work shorter hours. I wonder how well farm animals would take to being left to their own devices (do they have devices?) until the farmer had had his (or her) beauty sleep, leisurely shower, gelled his (or her) hair, and finished a fry-up and cafetière. It’s easy to point out the holes in the idea. But maybe there is something in it, after all. If we worked shorter hours, the lady said, we’d have more time to tend our families so there might be fewer family breakdowns and child-rearing problems. We’d have less money to waste on things we don’t need; we’d consume less so there’d be less waste and environmental damage. We’d be better citizens, more mindful of our place in society, and less concerned with me, me, me. You can see her argument. It’s a timely call, as Lent is upon us, to reassess the way we live and think, and to chuck out what we don’t need any more, in order that new ideas have room to sprout in our hearts and minds, just as they are doing in the earth. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is about just this. Look what happened when Mary and Colin were forced to ditch their prejudices and fixed false beliefs—when they were forced to confront reality. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, I recommend you do.

Being less concerned about me, me, me is what part of the Lord’s Prayer is about. The phrase that goes ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ might just as well be translated ‘save us from ourselves and the demons that tempt us’. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and spot-on psychologically. Save us from ourselves. Writing about the Lord’s Prayer—taught by a Jewish teacher to his Jewish mates—makes me wonder about its future. The days are long gone when Vicars could expect people at weddings, funerals or baptisms to know it, in any translation. It has not routinely been taught in non-Church state schools for 30 years or so. What can we do about it? If parents want their children to know the Lord’s Prayer, it’s up to them to teach it, or else come to church with the children. Responsibility shifts to the individual family. This is the reverse of what’s happening in matters of health where personal responsibility is so often rejected on the assumption that the health service will look after us. ‘It’s my right to get drunk if I want to’ (I’ve heard it said), and presumably ‘I’ have a right to expect the medics to cope with the fatal, messy, bloody, and desperately unpleasant liver disease that I give myself. Absolute rubbish. I wonder how this squares with Christ’s teaching that we should take responsibility for ourselves.

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