Limited certainties and new credibility

31 December 2017


The year ahead looms large in the imagination. We are on the cusp of change. It may be that the events of 2017 are casting a shadow over us; if so, the uncertainty can be constraining. Just as places unfamiliar to us 12 months ago are now household names, so we wonder where, who, or what, will make the news in 2018.

People of faith are not immune to a sense of anxiety the unknown can inflict. Such a feeling, debilitating though it may become, is a symptom of awareness. Those with closed minds and cold hearts are desensitised to the impact of unknowing. If we are anxious about the world, about our nation, community and lives then this could be a gift; one that can be nurtured to create empathetic and positive responses to the urgent task of healing the rifts that have opened up over recent times.

My own opinion is that division across society has never been deeper in my lifetime than it is today. Consider wealth inequality: where a tiny minority can languish in an extravagant lifestyle while millions have little or no chance of bettering their situation; it seems that the social mobility of the post-war period has been put on hold for the vast majority. Or ponder the regional differences, always present of course, but the contrast has surely not been so stark before. The possibility of certain parts of our islands having special status post-Brexit is very real, endorsing what is already evident to so many. Not for a very long time have the two main political parties been so far apart. Now some may think this to be a good thing, a fact that allows for a clear choice. There is nothing wrong with choice in a democracy, I thoroughly endorse it. However, when opposing political ideologies have become as extreme as they have these past few years, there is a real danger that identity becomes tribal. One feature of this is when members on each side are no longer open to hearing the truths expressed by the other. Certainty of mind creates a menacing arrogance.

Those who seek to follow Jesus should have an eloquent riposte. We read of one who sought, and was able, to reconcile and rejuvenate. He did so not so much by engaging in talk but by action: the overlooked caught his eye, the worried were calmed, the bereaved consoled, not through platitudes but through the installation of hope in their lives.

In the Christian Church we are not devoid of division. Some may have celebrated the Reformation recently but it began five centuries of splintering where the prophets, or even odd ones out, could form their own movement and church rather than stick it out, enter into dialogue and engage in a more effective inter-transference of ideas than has been otherwise the case. Certainty and arrogance on both sides has resulted in a less believable Church.

Today, on the one side we have those who hold tight to their selected verses in order that their prejudices be not confronted. On the other we have those who are so dismissive of accumulated wisdom that they make it up as they go along. Both are literally creating their own religion; though they would strenuously deny it of course. Neither approach is helpful, in fact the first is anachronistic and the latter short-termist.

Regard for the context of our scriptures alongside the need to remain open and alert to the prompting of the Spirit through the arts, science and philosophy renders a more credible religion, one in which others might more readily invest their time. The presumptuous certainties that are so derisory of others’ views born out of experience and tempered by events should have no place in the Christian Church.

An attractive and convincing religion is one that is authentic and credible, not one that is tribal and closed to the possibility that God is doing something new and now.







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