Boris and his ‘dontopedology’

The Duke of Edinburgh once remarked mischievously that he suffered from ‘dontopedology’, the condition of putting one’s foot in one’s mouth.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 9:15 am

Well, not for the first time Boris Johnson displayed the same symptoms.

Seeking to explain the United Kingdom’s successful vaccine programme, the Prime Minister said, ‘because of greed, my friends’. In truth, the production of the Oxford -AstraZeneca vaccine had little to do with greed, as it is being provided at cost price; and the roll-out of the vaccine has been conducted by an army of volunteers.

The PM’s off-hand remark suggests a man quite comfortable with the manifestation of human greed.

The enormous bonuses awarded to top executives, for instance, seems indefensible in our sadly-divided world, where the Chief Executive Officer of a betting firm recently received an annual bonus equivalent to over £1 million per day.

For many, the dominant approach to life is the slogan once seen on a tee-shirt, “Life is a game. Whoever has the most things at the end, wins!”. I am reminded of an earlier PM who spoke about ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’.

In the Middle Ages one of the Popes drew up a list of what became known as the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, and avarice ranked as one of them. An ancient writer noted ‘For greed, all nature is too little’.

The thirst for wealth and possessions can cause us to sacrifice principles and scruples, and deaden the higher instincts. The Bible records the spiritual shipwreck which follows when avarice is unchecked, from King Ahab scheming with his wife to occupy Naboth’s vineyard, to Demas forsaking his friend Paul, because ‘he loved this present world’.

John Steinbeck’s novel, ‘The Winter of our Discontent’, which won him the Nobel Prize for literature, is all about money, the getting of it and the use of it. Ethan Hawley cheats to win a school essay prize, for which there was a sizeable cash prize. His father discovered his dishonesty and rebuked him, warning in Pauline fashion of the evils that arise from the love of money; ‘The more you have the less enough it is’.

The Bible targets those for whom money is the all-consuming goal of life. The ‘Preacher’ of Ecclesiastes observed: ‘Whoever loves money, never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income’ (Ecclesiastes 5;10) and Paul famously wrote, ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ (I Timothy 6; 10).

Jesus warned: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ (Luke 12;15) and then told a parable about a man who imagined that life consisted in the abundance of his possessions. Too late he discovered that for all his acquisitions, he was not rich towards God. Jesus’ probing question is ever relevant; ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’.