A Greek Tragedy
As someone who is Greek Cypriot with a great affection for Greece I feel the tragedy of its current situation deeply. That a modern European nation could be reduced to bankruptcy seems unbelievable. Ironically the very vocabulary of the situation – ‘democracy’, ‘politics’,‘economics’, even ‘tragedy’ and ‘crisis’ – are almost unaltered Greek words. Greece is symbolic of Europe as a whole and its turmoil should concern all of us.
At the moment there is a faint glimmer of hope: that a new coalition government will allow Greece to stay in the euro, although at a financial cost that will hurt many people, especially the poor. Yet the situation remains precarious and there are politicians on both the extremes right and left willing to take advantage of the difficulties. There are also troubling concerns that if Greece tumbles into the financial abyss, it will drag some – or all – of Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland with it.
Let me make three observations. First, I believe the post-war focus of European politics and economics has been misdirected. There are two ways of changing society: from the top downwards and from the bottom upwards. The great European venture tried the first of these. Plans, schemes and agendas were created by bureaucrats in Bonn, Strasbourg and Brussels and then passed down through nations and councils to individuals. Despite the expenditure of unbelievable sums, ordinary people were probably more oppressed than blessed and lives did not change in any lasting way. In the Bible the vision of changing the world is totally different in its methods. Its diagnosis is that the ‘heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart’ and that God is the great heart surgeon who transforms people internally so that their attitudes and actions reflect God’s values and principles.
Second, the traditional Christian virtue of honesty has been woefully lacking. Across large areas of the European Union people have been playing ‘tricks with figures’ – selective use of economic data, deliberate massaging of budgets and the camouflaging of deficits. The view seems to have been that the means justified the end. This was wishful thinking: the birds have indeed come home to roost. The Ten Commandments apply to nations as well as individuals.
Third, this tragedy is the result of idolatry. Jesus said that ‘you cannot serve God and money’ (Matthew 6:24). Yet in post-war Europe economic growth has been made such a priority that anything that might get in the way has been bulldozed aside. God and God’s morality has been ignored and a proud Tower of Babel created. Inevitably, that structure has proved unstable and now seems in danger of collapsing and crushing both guilty and innocent. If you make power and money the measure of all things then someone will get hurt. The ancient Greeks almost certainly knew that. It’s a pity for their descendants that such wisdom was forgotten.
I wonder whether Europe needs to fall to its knees so that it can look up!
Revd. Canon J.John