Did you hear the one about the Archbishop and the journalist? No? Well it goes like this…
Alastair Campbell may be infamous for claiming that Blair didn’t “do” God, but Jeremy Paxman seems to have come close to a similarly reductive statement last night, when he claimed that Newsnight didn’t “do” original sin.
The suggestion came out during a discussion involving the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, playwright and author David Hare, and historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, on the ideological and cultural impact of the credit crunch. For those of you who missed it:
Williams: Why exactly were we seduced by this [an unlimited sense of economic growth]?
Paxman: Well nobody’s got an answer to that yet, have they?
Williams: Well, I could say original sin, which is a good start, but I’d need to spell that out a bit further…
Paxman: I don’t think you really believe that, do you?
Williams: Original sin? Oh yes.
Paxman: You really believe original sin is the cause of our delusion about this?
Williams: There is, inbuilt into human beings, a sort of dangerous taste for unreality.
Paxman: (a pregnant Paxman-pause) Right….that is far too complex a thought for this time of night.
The joke—if it is a joke?—is surely on Paxman. Why on earth did they [the Newsnight team] invite the head of the Church of England onto the programme unless they wanted a theological angle on the financial predicament? As Williams readily admitted, he is not an economist.
Jokes aside, Paxman’s vetoing of any discussion about the ethical, even spiritual, dynamic of the current crisis speaks volumes about the gaps in media discussion of how to resolve the economic and environmental challenges ahead.
This is not to suggest we should all be turning to the church and repenting ours sins, but it should mean broadening the debate by taking on board some of Williams’s more philosophical observations, including a “dangerous taste for unreality.” If not, the danger is that we continue to invest time and energy in a purely scientific debate; one that is so out of touch with the human impulses behind the bust that it produces no real, holistic solutions.