And continuing with our seasonal religious theme ...
I was completely astonished by this story from the BBC.
A priest who advised needy people to shoplift in certain circumstances has been criticised by a retailers' group. Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said stealing was a "better moral thing to do" than robbery or prostitution.
Well, as far as I am concerned, stealing is robbery, so I don't quite follow that. And I think he will find that there is something in his job specification about that - the briefing document from Head Office, paragraph 8.
What I think he is saying is that there are degrees of wrong, and that stealing is not necessarily the worst wrong of the many wrongs on offer. I might go along with that. It's a long time since we hanged men for stealing a loaf of bread, and a good thing too. But when he starts to justify his advice, I start to disagree.
The priest's comments were made in a sermon to his congregation on Sunday where he said stealing from large national chains was sometimes the best option for many vulnerable people.
Best option? Best option?? This isn't a bloody game show, you know.
"I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."
So stealing from a neighbour or from a small family business is wrong, but when you steal from a larger company is OK, because the cost of the theft is passed on to everyone through higher prices. In other words, when the effect of the theft is felt by one person, it is a bad thing, but when it is felt by everyone, that's somehow OK. I would ask the priest to explain exactly how that fits in with his moral code. Presumably by inserting a clause that says "stealing from individuals is wrong, but society as a whole should expect to support the cost of the dishonesty of a few." And what about the higher prices? Will they not mean that some other 'vulnerable people' further down the line, who have chosen not to steal, will be unable to pay for the things they need? As always, those who play the game by the rules end up supporting those who will not.
It's the same argument used by people who cheat on their insurance claims: "It's only the company wot pays, and they can afford it, can't they?"
Speaking on BBC Breakfast earlier, Father Jones said: "When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things. "That's not to say that shoplifting is good. Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with."
Well, of course I would rather that a vulnerable young woman stole a tin of ravioli than turn to prostitution - that's so obvious as to go without saying. But it's the last sentence that I find offensive.
Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with.
Well, with respect, no. We have an extensive benefits system that ensures that all people in genuine need have enough to live on. This is already paid for through general taxation - precisely the burden on the majority that the priest thinks is such a good idea. If someone is so poor that they are 'forced' into shoplifting, surely the compassionate thing is to direct them to the benefits to which they are entitled - and there are many - rather than excuse criminality.
But no. This confused cleric is of the mindset that all the poor are downtrodden victims, and turning a blind eye to crime when it is perpetrated by victims (as long as it is the right sort of crime) is a kind and compassionate thing to do. It's not. It tells the vulnerable that crime is OK if you have an excuse, and once you have broached that particular taboo, who knows what comes next?
"I took the drugs because I was depressed and rejected by society" - then
"I stole to buy the drugs because I needed them" - then
"I'm not a thief, I'm a victim, and I need a Government scheme, not prison."
Ultimately, Father Tim Jones believes that society should pick up all the costs of people's fecklessness, while still maintaining that stealing is wrong. Despite their protestations that they are apolitical, the Church remains a cheerleader for socialism.
If I remember Matthew correctly, when confronted with the paralysed man, Jesus said "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." He did not say "Oh dear, you are paralysed. Get your mates to nick some stuff. Just make sure it's a big shop."