23 MAY 1992, Page 5


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While insincerity is always a vice, sinceri- ty is not always a virtue. The archbishop is a well-meaning man, but a general benevo- lence towards the world, which in practice is often indistinguishable from mere senti- mentality, is scarcely a substitute for clear thought when dealing with highly complex matters of fact.

It is obvious that the archbishop's mind, like that of his royal mentor, the Prince of Wales, is filled with clichés. Some clichés capture truth, but many do not. Unhappily, the archbishop, with a regularity which can- not be the product merely of chance, chooses precisely the untrue kind of plati- tudes to propagate from the privilege of the throne of Augustine.

Contrary to received opinion, the rela- tionship between population growth and poverty is by no means a simple one. The scarcity of food in Angola and Mozam- bique, two of the poorest countries in the world, was not brought about by population growth but by economic and political mis- management on a grotesque scale (which the World Council of Churches consistently applauded). Population growth in Hong Kong was probably a spur more than a hin- drance to its spectacular economic develop- ment. Furthermore, the assumption that world poverty is increasing is itself by no means unassailable: the archbishop credits the Africans with the notable, indeed miraculous, feat of starving to death and reproducing at alarming rates at the same time. In this context, it is worth reminding ourselves that the health indices of most of sub-Saharan Africa today are no worse than those of Great Britain considerably less than a century ago. And Africa is by a long way the most backward of the conti- nents in this respect.

When the archbishop attributes popula- tion growth in the Third World to igno- rance of contraception, he reveals the hid- den condescension that lies behind so much Third Worldist thinking. There is no popu- lation on earth which reproduces at any- where near the biological fertility rate: in other words, all populations know how to limit the size of their families. The people of western Europe restricted the numbers of their children well before the present panoply of contraceptive methods existed. And the people of the Third World choose to have the numbers of children they have for their own reasons, and are not the vic tims of a rabbit-like inability to refrain from reproducing, as the archbishop imagines.

The archbishop goes on to suggest that education in contraceptive methods is a large part of the solution to catastrophic population growth. It does not occur to him that there might be other impediments than ignorance to their use: after all, many other western goods have been available and widely used for decades throughout the Third World without any need for special educational campaigns to promote them. While, pace the Catholic church and Islam- ic teaching, there are no firmly grounded ethical objections to contraception, the benefits to be secured by the public glorifi- cation of contraception are relatively few.

To counter the huge increase in the world's population, the archbishop suggests we all draw in our horns, and become a lit- tle more like St Francis of Assisi. Here, of course, his environmentalist views mesh neatly with his views on profit as a motive in economic life. He believes that service to others, not profit, should be the driving force behind companies. Evidently, news from eastern Europe did not reach Bath and Wells: or if it did, it did not occur to the then incumbent that many companies (except in conditions of monopoly) make a profit by providing goods or services which others want. If competition reigns, service and profits are intimately connected.

The archbishop's ideal economy — and, who knows, perhaps that of his princely mentor — then, would seem to be a vast self-sufficient mixed-sex monastery, whose biggest industry would be the production of all kinds of contraceptives (as a service, not for profit). People would be content with what they had, which in many cases would be rather less than they have now. They would travel by bicycle and would not expect greater variety in their food than that of African peasants.

The political pronouncements of the archbishop are a sign of a deep crisis in the Church in this country. The Archbishop of Canterbury sounds less and less like the prelate of a Church founded on a rock, and more and more like the leader of a small political party, whose main support is from members of the middle classes who are guilt-laden at their own prosperity.