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Guest blog: J John on the banking crisis

Should we blame the bankers? J John says we all have to take some responsibility ...

Should we blame the bankers?

Guest blog from Canon J John

There is a lot of anger about bankers in the UK at the moment, compounded by the recent revelation that a number of major banks have been rigging the bank lending rate.

The anger is widespread and deeply felt, and while public rage can be a dangerous thing – the first victim of anger often being justice – the banks are nevertheless guilty. These are some of the charges against them:

Banks have allowed a crowd mentality to develop.
Individuals who on their own act sensibly and morally can change for the worse when they become part of a group. Last summer’s episodes of looting were a dramatic and very public demonstration of crowd mentality. Something similar has gone on in the banking world so that a culture of financial immorality has developed.

The banking world allowed itself to become distanced from reality.
People handling millions of pounds on computer screens eventually ceased to be aware of the real significance of what they were doing. The figures become unreal and removed from a world where right and wrong matter.

Bankers and financial experts allowed the creation of a smokescreen of complexity and jargon. 
This meant they could get away with all sorts of things, safe in the knowledge that very few members of the public would be able to find out what was happening.

These and other failings are serious, yet I’m not convinced that the blame can entirely be taken by the banking profession alone. Those of us on the outside must also take some responsibility.

We were all very happy with the banks when they made money for us. Very few people objected when their pension funds boomed or their investments made wonderful returns.

We did not give the kind of warnings that we should have done. We suspected what was going on was highly dubious but we preferred to stay silent. Silence is often the easiest option; it is often the worst too.

I think, sadly, the Church has lost its moral vision. So I think we are also guilty – of greed, cowardice and just a hint of idolatry. We may need to repent as much as the bankers do.

We must remember that in this fallen world there is a natural tendency for evil to increase unless it is stopped. There are already suggestions that we must not be too hard on the banks because of their economic importance and we must resist any suggestion that banking is beyond morality.

Banking must also clean up its act for its own sake: a corrupt banking system will not get investors. Those of us who believe in a God of justice may prefer not to dirty our hands with the banking world. Yet for everybody’s sake, it may be best if we do.

I am reminded of St Paul's statement:  “… whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). “Whatever you do” includes bankers – and us!

Revd Canon J.John is Director of Philo Trust

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