I don’t suppose they planned it but the Occupy London protesters could not have chosen a better site for their tents. The symbolism of a protest about mammon and democracy pitched on land jointly owned by the Corporation of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral is exquisite. What they want is a more just society. Confusion about their message arises from their failure to distinguish between two aspects of justice: the legal and the moral.
Their tents may be illegally pitched. Lawyers for both sides are making a strong case so the law must be unclear. But both sides are appealing to justice as legality. As I understand them the protesters want a better congruence between moral justice and the law, for example in financial institutions. Breaking the law can sometimes be justified on moral grounds provided the issues are carefully thought through. Neither side seems to have thought through the confusion between justice as law and justice as moral virtue.
It is a pity that St. Paul’s Cathedral Chapter appears to have concentrated too much on the legal side of justice. I presume Canon Giles Fraser has resigned because he could see this and knew that the Cathedral was missing a chance to engage with the protesters about justice as morality and thus help them to clarify exactly how they would like the law to enshrine greater financial fairness and how democratic institutions might better represent the wishes of the people. Many people feel that capitalism isn’t working as well as it might (as well as it should?). They suffer the consequences of capitalism’s unfairness while its masters smile, pull the levers and pocket too much of the profits.
There is a sense however in which we get the kind of capitalism we all want. We allow ourselves to be defined as consumers rather than human beings (or perhaps we could say spiritual beings on a human journey). Capitalism brings enormous benefits to a lot of us (but by no means all of us) human beings. Some of us are beginning to say, let’s examine where we have got to and see if some course corrections are needed.
On Saturday 19th November Southwark Cathedral will host a day of workshops on prayer one of which will be on Prayer and Justice. http://www.southwark.anglican.org/prayer/prayer-spirituality-training I hope the symbolism of the Occupy London site will help us to discern how best to serve both God and mammon.