I am grateful to the kind friends who commented on my last post. I thought, and prayed, hard before writing it and publishing it. Aware, as I am, that so many are suffering at this time, I didn’t want it to seem as though I was claiming anything special for myself; we all carry our crosses.
Neo made the point that he did not like the word ‘sustainability’ because it has so often been used as a political tool. I had meant to add some reference to Pope Francis’ words here. Both in Laudato Si! and in more recent speeches, the Pope has spoken movingly of the need to find a better way of our living in this world.
Our hope, as Christians, may be on the world to come, but we are to bear witness to the hope that is in us in this one. Looking around, hope is in short supply. Our political life here, and in America, seems marked by huge chasms
One of the things which we seem to be losing is the sense that we have to live in this world together. What do I mean? Until recently it was not uncommon for politicians and public figures to disagree profoundly without being overly personal about it. There was an acknowledgment that even if our viewpoints were profoundly different, they were held in good faith. That was basic for the sustainability of our democracy. All elections have losers, and if the reaction of the winners is that the losers deserved to lose because they were morally repugnant, then what incentive is there for the losers to accept their fate? Indeed, what incentive is there for the losers to accept the system itself?
Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar the things that are his; but what if he claims all things? If Caesar insists that in terms of public life we ‘keep our religion to ourselves’ and that it belongs strictly to the ‘private sphere’, who is it gets to define ‘private’? Not having made too good a job of this when the Churches had the upper hand, it may seem as though we Christians should just keep quiet, but what’s the use of not learning from experience?
As the churches withdrew from dominating the political sphere, a variety of alternatives emerged, one of which was representative democracy. At times in the twentieth century it seemed to be on the way out, Fascism, or Communism, seemed the wave of the future. Word War 2 saw off fascism and the Cold War ended with the failure of the Soviet Union. It was, some said, “the end of history” and representative democracy was the wave of the future.
That doesn’t seem to have happened. Instead, as the Pope puts it in his new encyclical:
Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.
That’s not a partisan point. If I look here on Brexit, people with my opinion have tended to insult Brexiteers, ridculing them for what seems to us their failures of understanding. At best, we have failed to understand what drove so many people in that direction; at worst we have written them off as stupid, venal or unscrupulous. In turn, Brexiteers have tended to insult “Remoaners” as elitists who are in the pay of the Eurocrats and have no love for our own country. And so, to quote Pope Francis again, the result is that:
Their share of the truth and their values are rejected and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful. Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.
If we cannot find a better way of conducting ourselves then representative democracy will whither on the vine. It’s a hard thing to do, it requires us to respect each other and acknowledge that the possession of a majority does not give the ruling party a right to ignore other opinions and to ride roughshod. Yet that’s what is tending to happen. If we do lose it then I suspect we will regret it.
As Christians we owe to Caesar what is his, but we owe to God that sense of being equal in his eyes and unless we acknowledge that in the way we treat each other, then we fail at a fundamentla level.