Thought for the Day - Rev Rob Marshall - 04/08/2012

Good Morning

There was just a hint in Stephen Hester’s interview on this programme yesterday that the banking sector has finally run out of fig leaves.

To his credit, the Royal Bank of Scotland boss certainly used honest language.

He talked about remodelling the banking sector, cleaning up the problems of the past, making the bank safe and stronger through physical and cultural change. Their mission was, he said, to put the interests of 30million customers first.

Like many of you listening this morning the extent of the immorality affecting the banking sector bothers me intensely. But what can we do about it?

James Martin, a scholar of new technology, talks more generally about challenges facing the structures of 21st century society and suggests we can move forward into the future by asking two interrelated and overlapping questions which help us here: First, what is the right thing to do? And also, What is the most likely thing to happen?

Protesting about the injustices and evil practises of some in the global banking sector might bring the effects of their actions to people’s attention, but protest does not deal with the cause. A healthy banking system is an essential aspect of society - and its future in a democratic debate should include contributions from a wide range of disciplines including ethics.

To address Martin’s two questions more specifically: the right thing to do is surely to start again and radically restructure the banking sector: the most likely thing to happen is that, even though there are stones still unturned, some of Mr Hester’s rhetoric of yesterday might actually be applied.

Any theological appraisal of the mess which affects significant parts of the banking system must begin with the notion that we have to live in an imperfect world. Whilst the love of money is referred to as the root of all evil, we all know what happens when roots take hold. But then human society is structured on the basis of work and effort being rewarded so that families can flourish. So where is the balance here? How do you protect the innocent from avarice?

In his book Secularisation, the theologian Edward Norman believes that the human race has been cajoled into a valueless and often clueless cul de sac where the poor become more vulnerable and the rich hope no one is looking.

Everyone seems to agree that a fine balance now needs to be achieved through good stewardship across the banking sector. This is a big moment for banks and bankers. Everyone is watching.

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