Readings in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church are set in advance on a three-year cycle. That’s partly to stop priests from constantly picking their favourite bits and partly to make sure all parts of the Bible are covered, even the tricky passages. Which means that, last Sunday, up and down the country, the same readings were read out to congregations. First we heard a stinging condemnation of wealth from the book of Amos: “Alas for those who lie on beds of Ivory, and lounge on their couches.” Then a psalm about God sustaining the widow and the orphan. Then a long passage about money – “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” – from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Then, to top it all off, the story from Luke of a rich man (“who was dressed in fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day”) burning in hell and a poor man, who lived homeless at his gate, being carried off to heaven by the angels.
It’s five years next month since the Occupy protest arrived at St Paul’s cathedral. Though originally aimed at the London stock exchange, its impact on the cathedral and the wider church was, if anything, much greater. For what the protest dramatised was the deaf ear that the church and its members often turn when it comes to any reference to their wallets.
This week saw the 90th anniversary of the BBC broadcasting choral evensong. During every one of these the choir will have been encouraging revolution – bringing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, again from Luke’s gospel. On Thursday, they were singing this from Westminster Abbey, the heart of the establishment. Sedition hiding in plain view. And no one batted an eyelid. Which I suspect is evidence that people were listening to the wonderful music and ignoring what they were singing about.
But despite all the aesthetic chaff that the church throws out to misdirect the ear, it remains gobsmacking that, of all people, it’s the Tories that are still most likely to profess their commitment to the church. For heaven’s sake, Theresa May is a vicar’s daughter. There is the brilliant little bit in Godfather part III when Cardinal Lamberto is talking to Michael Corleone by a fountain in a cloister of the Vatican. “Look at this stone. It has been lying in the water for a very long time but the water has not penetrated,” the cardinal explains, “The same thing has happened to men in Europe. For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated.”
Even so, can it really be so inconceivable that Jeremy Corbyn’s political philosophy is inimical to the British people when he – atheism notwithstanding – is the only one who even approximates to Christian teaching about wealth. After all, Christianity is, like it or not, still the official religion of this country. And the Queen is its head. So you’d think that the Queen would be cheering on Corbyn, encouraging his bold redistributive instincts, and dismissing the Blairites for their fondness for Mammon. For, unlike Peter Mandelson, the Bible is not intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.
And if the Bible is to be taken literally, Donald Trump is headed for the fiery furnace. He shouldn’t boast how rich he is. He should be ashamed about it. After all, Trump says it’s his favourite book. Funny, isn’t it? When the Bible speaks about something like homosexuality, it has to be taken literally. When it speaks about money, it’s all a metaphor.