Mike yesterday also put up a piece commenting on Theresa May’s plan to use teachers as border guards in her campaign to cover up her failure to crack down on illegal immigration. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, had joined a number of other politicians condemning May’s plan to force schools to withdraw offers of places to the children of illegal immigrants. Rayner rightly attacked these plans as contrary to British values and impractical. She stated it was trying to turn teachers into border guards.
Mike makes the point that teachers are already overworked. It is also unfair and illegal to stop children under 16 from having an education in order to punish their parents. As for teachers demanding to see children’s passports, Mike makes the point that not all children have them. He didn’t until he first went abroad in his twenties. I first acquired a passport when I was at school – in the sixth form – to go on a school trip, so I also didn’t have one until quite late, at least by May’s standards.
And Mike also makes a point about how this reflects on May’s declaration that she is guided by her Christian faith. He thinks that this is less about Christian charity, and more about the Old Testament dictum that ‘the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation’. But I don’t think it’s even about that. It’s just sheer vindictiveness against the poorest and most defenceless, just to cover her own failings.
Actually, there’s a bit of synchronicity here, as I read this on Mike’s site just after coming back from the first part of an Advent course held at our local church. This was an exploration of the meaning of hospitality in the Old Testament. The minister argued that hospitality has to be at the centre of Christian practice. He made the point that in the Old Testament, hospitality meant much more than it does today. Observant Jews in ancient Israel were expected to entertain and feed travellers, the poor and strangers, including foreign residents, as Abraham, the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, does in Genesis when he meets the Lord and two angels. The patriarch urges them to stop by his tent, washes their feet, and his wife, Sarah, prepares a meal for them. He invites them to join him, saying that he would be honoured if they’d join him.
At the same time, the Torah – the Mosaic Law -in Leviticus commanded the people of Israel to respect and provide for the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner, ‘for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt’. During the Feast of Sukkoth, Jews were supposed to open their doors and feed widows, orphans and strangers, according to a passage in the Talmud. This is the oral, supplementary law which guides observant Jews as well as the written law revealed by Moses. The passage in the Talmud, which enjoins this states that the man, who does not open his gates to the poor during this feast, is not really celebrating it, but only his belly. And such hospitality is regarded as a mitzvah – a commandment.
It strikes me that this last statement contradicts the various Tories, who turned up during Thatcher’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, to tell us all that Christ’s remarks about looking after the poor and marginalised were all about doing so responsibly, and had nothing to do with government policy. In the context of the time, they don’t. But it’s much stronger than the voluntarism the Tories and New Labour tried to promote.
These passages from the Bible and the cultural contexts in which they are placed, such as the Talmudic laws on the correct observance of the Hebrew festivals, are a very sharp rebuttal to the current xenophobia that is sweeping the nation thanks to Brexit. And the minister leading the service said that he was very worried about the xenophobia which was rising in this country.
I realise that many of the readers of this blog are atheists. The point I am trying to make here, is that Tories don’t have a monopoly on the Jewish and Christian revelations and the Bible. And when it comes to the poor, quite often the commandments of the Bible point away from the abuse heaped on them by the Conservatives and Blairite right.
As for the duty of the wealthy to entertain the poor, this was also taken extremely serious in medieval and 16th century Britain. Great lords used to set aside sums of money so they could be seen to be feeding and supporting the poor. The prior of St. James’ Priory in Bristol, for example, fed 100 beggars at the priory gates every day. Similarly, one town chronicler in the 16th century lamented the burning down one gentleman’s house, because its owner was a generous man, at whose house many people were refreshed. In other words, he took seriously his responsibility as a member of the upper classes to provide for those less fortunate than himself.
Which poses an interesting question. If Theresa May wants to restore society to the quasi-feudal conditions of the 19th century, does that mean that she’s also willing to accept the feudal responsibility of feeding and clothing the poor once again? Not just through food banks, but also at the gates of their homes? Somehow, I don’t think so, no matter what she might say about the importance of charity. You can imagine the screams of rage she’d utter if 100 poor men and women turned up at her house, asking for bread.
Tags: Abraham, Advent, Angela Rayner, Aristocracy, Bristol, Children, Christianity, Food Banks, Genesis, Illegal Immigrants, Immigration, Jesus, Margaret Thatcher, Old Testament, Sarah, Schools, Shadow Education Secretary, St. James' Priory, Talmud, the Poor, Theresa May, Upper Classes, Xenophobia