Archive for February, 2017

Moose antlers, taxes and the second iphone

February 28th, 2017

There’s an interview with Robert Frank on the “Evonomics” site which I thoroughly recommend. Actually, both the interview and the site generally, as it tends to publish articles very critical of neoliberal economics, and regular readers will be well aware of my attitude to that!

I want firstly to highlight a couple of results from research which he mentions. First is the finding that studying economics makes people more selfish and less communitarian, based on experiments using the prisoner’s dilemma. If you couple that with the critique of short-term thinking arising from the sole preoccupation being stock value (“maximisation of shareholder value” being the one and only objective in neoliberal economics), you can see that training people in neoliberal economics and then packing management with these MBAs is going to produce a system in which short term gain is everything and there is very little, if any, consideration of “the general good”.

The article then successfully critiques competitive behaviour, and it is easy to draw a parallel between the over-sized antlers of the moose and the $2,000 suit at interview, the $72,000 wedding and the over-specified Lexus. All of those are seriously wasteful compared with something which would be entirely adequate, and all of them involve a kind of “arms race” in which just the knowledge that other people are doing something leads to very many people feeling compelled to do the same.

I don’t myself react that way, and I don’t think anyone who studies the synoptic gospels and seeks to follow (albeit imperfectly) Jesus’ commands should react that way either. If I’m buying something, I want to buy something which is adequate for the task I intend. Anything beyond that, and I am thinking “I should be content with enough; any surplus should go to helping those less fortunate than me”. I also consider that Genesis gives us a clear direction to be good stewards of creation, and therefore anything which uses up natural resources to no good purpose (such as the wedding or, probably, the car) is failing in that stewardship. Again, when  interviewing (and I do some of that from time to time) I actually tend to downgrade anyone who is too well turned out (the $2000 dollar suit) because that tells me they’re likely to be wasteful, uncharitable and more concerned with appearance than actuality.

The trouble is, the thread running most of the way through the article is that perceptions matter, and we are educating and employing people to attitudes which are contrary to the spirit of aiding the least among us, the “preferential option for the poor”. I used to think that at least some of this communitarian spirit had worked its way into the general consciousness of my increasingly non-Christian country, but since 1980 that seems to me to have changed, and I see little chance that the dreams of some of my evangelical friends, that there will be a wholesale revival and people will flock in droves to following the social gospel will come about (following the Great Commission). Actually, it seems to me that we have an uphill task persuading a lot of self-identifying Christians that they should reasonably devote, if not all then, say, half of their effort and money to the poor (following the tax collector rather than the rich young man there, which I could argue demands a marginal tax rate of at least 50% for the wealthy!). Can we do any more than the two counter- normative attitudes I mentioned in the last paragraph, aside the Great Commission? Well, we can point out that in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the less selfish path produces the greatest good for all, and to stacks of research indicating that a strong communitarian sense benefits everyone in society.

The second piece of research is that from playing monopoly, and from observing the habits of drivers. It seems that being rich makes you, basically, more of an a*hole. OK, there are some extremely rich examples of massive philanthropy, notably the Gates family and Warren Buffett, but the vast amount of money they are giving away leaves them still among the top 0.1% (let alone 1%) of humanity, and this does not seem to be universal among billionaires by any manner of means. They are exceptional.

That also argues that, if we want to have a society with less a*holes, we should try hard to reduce the income and capital gap between the very rich and the rest of us. We might also note research that shows a direct correlation between health (of all, not just the poor) and equality of income in societies, and another Evonomics article indicating that large wealth gaps tend towards societal collapse. If we’re going to do this as a society, we either need a culture in which vast incomes are seen as shameful (which, again, I would argue flows from consideration of the tax collector and rich young man stories) or we need to tax the rich more heavily.

The article, in fact, suggests just that – but it suggests it as a graduated tax on consumption, rather than on income. I don’t think that would work. Firstly, part of the problem with inequality is “decreasing marginal propensity to spend”; the poor are going to spend pretty much everything they receive immediately, the rich can do without the fourth ice cream, and sometimes do. Even more so they can do without the second iphone… Inequality slows down the circulation of money, and that circulation is what powers the economy. Secondly, as another Evonomics article points out, saving doesn’t fuel investment (or at least it doesn’t do that well).

The fact is, if you put £10 in the pocket of a poor person, it will be in the pocket of a rich person again within 24 hours (because he will spend it); if you put £10 in the pocket of a rich person, it will probably just sit there, maybe finding its way into a bank sometime next week. The first yields you an improved economy, the second actually slows down the economy.

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One world, one tribe, one church?

February 20th, 2017

There is a strong Biblical theme involving the eventual vanishing of boundaries between tribes and nations, as this meditation on Joel indicates. It is one aspect of the current of seeking justice which pervades the scriptures, particularly the prophets; the foreigner is one category of the oppressed who are singled out for particular care and protection.

In the New Testament, Jesus then takes steps to invalidate tensions due to people’s occupations, consorting with tax collectors and a repentant courtesan, due to their nationality in the tale of the Syrophonecian woman and even if a member of an occupying enemy nation, in healing the servant of the Centurion, and finally due to their religion in the parable of the Good Samaritan (and in that case it is important to note that the Samaritans were completely beyond the pale, as they practiced what Jews regarded as a perversion of Judaism in an immediately neighbouring area with a long history of violence between the two communities). Paul just sets another seal on it in Gal. 3:28 by denying not only differences between Jew and Gentile, but between slave and free and even man and woman.

Indeed, Alain Badiou (who is at least nominally atheist) wrote a book called “St. Paul; the Foundation of Universalism” in which he explores universalism as an “event”, something which breaks apart the existing structures and leads to new possibilities. New possibilities like seeing every other human being as your neighbour, or your brother or sister. Although Christianity has not generally been very good as regarding all of humanity in this way, the long ascendance of Christianity in Europe eventually gave way to a secular liberalism, and frankly I don’t see that any committed Christian should object to the end result of that, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That isn’t an ostensibly Christian document, but it does, I think, encapsulate a large amount of how, as Christians, we should treat others.

Now, I can occasionally dream that in the future, following Jesus might become something truly universal, and that this might at least to some extent solve our problems of tribalism and the attendant violence and prejudice. Christianity is not, however, the only universal religion – all the Abrahamic faiths are at least potentially universal (though Judaism makes it rather more difficult than others to become part of their conception of the “people of God”), as are Buddhism, Taoism and the more philosophical schools of Hinduism, such as Advaita Vedanta (and multiple others).

There are problems, however. The other major world religions have their own very faithful adherents, for a start, and a sizeable proportion of Christians have (as I mentioned in a previous post in this series) fixed on one of them, Islam, as “the enemy”. Yes, I know that most of us are careful to say that the enemy is radical Islam, and particularly radical Islam of the Salafist variety, but the way we actually act indicates that we regard every Muslim as a potential terrorist – witness all the restrictions on refugees from Muslim countries, who have a massive claim on our compassion even without considering that our Western governments have contibuted in greast measure to the fact that they cannot feel safe at home.

It may come as a shock to some, but I would actually have no major problem in saying the Shahada, just as I have no major problem saying “Jesus is Lord”. Some American Christians have, indeed, recently been suggesting that they could do likewise in a show of solidarity with Muslims terrified by President Trump’s noises about Muslims and the upswelling in persecution which goes along with it. I have read the Quran (OK, in translation), and while I could nitpick about some of the passages in there, there is nothing worse than, for instance, the Biblical attitude to Amalekites, and the general tenor of it is far more universalist than the general tenor of the Bible if you include the Hebrew Scriptures. Islam is capable of expressions which I consider more Christian than most of what I hear from Christians these days, as witness this address on the Quebec Mosque killings (which reminds me of, for instance, the Amish reaction to their own massacre some years ago). I rather treasure the comment of one Muslim in a thread some years ago, after I expounded a thoroughly Christian concept of submission to the will of God, that I was a “good Muslim”. How could I do otherwise, given the eleventh step “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out”? To call me a “Good Muslim”, however, requires a broadness of definition very few Muslims would agree with, but “al-Islam” is “the way of submission”…

(For the avoidance of doubt, I am not actually likely to jump ships in that direction, for two reasons – firstly, Islam takes a very dim view of what it considers “apostates”, and I tend to manage to be heretical in any system I participate in, and secondly, bacon…).

Is there any possibility of true universalism without the supremacy of one of the universalist religions (all of which are a part of one or more tribal identities)? My rationalist friends would say that any such endeavour should not. However, they would replace religion with another philosophy (as far as I can see, humanity cannot form a viable tribe without some unifying philosophy), and pretty much any such philosophy is likely to be anathema to some people subscribing to any religion. I would also problematise such an endeavour on the basis that it would give no place to the spiritual side of human nature, and it is (to my thinking) exactly that spiritual side which is likely to bring people to consider themselves part of a greater whole, namely humanity, or that it would try to elevate the philosophy in question to a level which it is unable to bear (such as the way Communism used to be viewed by many in the last century).

I have a lot of sympathy with Karen Armstrong, who has described herself as a “freelance monotheist”, having started out Catholic, gone through a period of atheism and then studied Judaism, Islam and Buddhism in depth. I am, however, very sceptical that her path is one which could be followed widely, let alone universally. Granted, I know people who regard themselves as Christians and Buddhists, Christians and followers of Vedanta and am even aware of one or two who claim both Christianity and Islam; this is not to dwell on “Messianic Judaism” which strives to combine Christianity with Judaism, but without any significant Jewish membership – it is unfortunately little more than a covert Christian evangelism project, and I am very much not in favour of trying to convert anyone who already has a well-functioning faith (or philosophy). They, however, are probably all going to remain outliers, and all of them would be rejected by significant proportions of their chosen faith traditions, even those who claim “Buddhism plus” or “Vedanta plus”, neither of which is religiously exclusive, at least in theory.

There is perhaps more traction to be gained from finding a non-religion-specific philosophy which, however, doesn’t tread too heavily on any religious toes, and leaving the various faiths to accept minority status in the wider community. That is, let’s face it, what the American experiment attempted to do in the First Amendment to the Constitution. OK, I will grant that I don’t actually think the Founding Fathers intended anything more than preventing the various sects of Christianity which were dominant in one or more of the signatory staates from becoming the religion of the whole country (as most of them had at that point a lamentable record of oppressing people from other denominations, which is probably what the Pilgrim Fathers were hoping to create), aside perhaps two or three who had a more wide-ranging objective. (Incidentally, any of my more conservative readers who are happy with my strict construction here should note that I do consider the constitution needed to develop to meet changing circumstances, and the procedure for amendments is inadequate for that because too difficult, so while I wince slightly at the way legal decisions have gone, I think it was necessary; they should also note that using the same principles I would interpret the second amendment as allowing the restriction of any ownership of firearms to members of the armed forces, police or National Guard – and I might argue about the inclusion of the police!)

I do not here mean to suggest that the rest of the Constitution is a viable model for the world in general, perhaps with the inclusion of the Declaration of Independence,by the way. There are good features and bad ones about it, and current events strongly indicate to me that it’s system of governing is broken. I would suggest that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is rather closer to the ethos I would like to see as universal.

That would, of course, mean that all the religious tribes would have to accept being minorities, at least unless and until one of them managed to secure a worldwide majority. Looking back at history, Judaism has managed to do this for a very long time; Christianity had its greatest expansion as a persecuted minority and Buddhism has done very well as a minority religion too. I can’t see this status as being bad for them – and, indeed, the keenness of the Pilgrim Fathers for setting up their own theocracy and persecuting others does make one wonder whether it is in any event very good for anyone else (more recently, Burma/Myanmar is an unpleasant reminder of how even the very peaceful Buddhism can be unpleasant when in effective control of a state).

But I still dream of the day when we can add to Paul’s words in Galatians:-

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, nor is there Christian, Muslim or Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh, Taoist, Animist or Confucian, Wiccan or Pagan, Discordian, Agnostic or Atheist, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. (Italics my addition).

It would be nice if we could start with having that viewpoint throughout the many Christian denominations… there are huge numbers of Christian tribes, many of which consider other Christian tribes as the great enemy (rather like Jews and Samaritans). Can we start there?

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Politics and faith

February 14th, 2017

Daniel Kirk has posted an excellent piece about the intersection of Christian faith and politics. In it, he asks four questions:-

  • What sort of rubric do you use for engaging politics as a person of faith?
  • Is there really any point in participating in the system we’ve been given?
  • Are you more actively engaging now than you did a year ago, if so what’s new?
  • What are the points at which Christians should be changing the conversation rather than simply taking up the flag for one side or the other in the political maelstrom?

I think my first answer has to be to the second question. There really is no alternative to participating in the system we’ve been given; the only alternative would be to seek to tear down that system and institute a different one, and I don’t think we’re called on as Christians to be wreckers (aside, perhaps, from a need to overturn the tables of the moneylenders regularly); we are supposed to build community, not to destabilise it. Granted, building a Jesus-driven community IS a destabilising action so far as the prevailing order is concerned.

Yes, the system we have is corrupt; I’m with Walter Wink in characterising it as one of the “powers and principalities” against which we should struggle, but also with him in recognising that our current system is, like us, fallen and capable of redemption. Our task should be to strive to redeem it. Granted, we may also hope that God will move mightily and change things, but our experience should indicate that where we have the power to do something, we should not expect God to do it for us – and, in a democracy, we have the power to do something.

That power is the power to vote, first and foremost, but also the power to agitate to sway representatives, to work to have representatives who share our vision elected and, in the final analysis, to stand for election ourselves if we find we are the only person willing to. This was a situation in which I found myself around 40 years ago, when I complained to a former Jesuit friend that I had no-one to vote for, and after establishing that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either of the main parties and there was no presence of our rather marginal third party, he suggested that I stand for them – which entailed creating a party group on the ground locally. After a couple of trial runs, I then proceeded to get elected to local councils seven times…

I think his advice was sound – and he himself was a member and a representative for one of the main parties, not the one I stood for! (Incidentally, I’ve paid that one forward in giving other people advice which got them elected, and two of them stood for his party). There really is no alternative but to participate, given that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke).

That, I think, also gives my answer to the last question. If you don’t like either side in an apparently two party system, join or start another which you like better. Who knows, you may win…

My basic objective was always to promote social gospel issues, to ensure the good of the greatest number possible as a communitarian enterprise while avoiding major disadvantage to minorities. In the process it was necessary firstly never to lie, and secondly never to make a promise which I wasn’t confident I could deliver on. I grant you, these are not normally regarded as things politicians do, but I’m proof that, at least at a local level, it’s possible. If standing in a more serious capacity, I would probably want to add “don’t take any campaign contributions from people who expect you to do anything which conflicts with your basic objectives”.

I am, however, retired from practical politics, so no, I am not really more actively engaging – my health is, frankly, no longer up to the challenges of either pavement-pounding or vigorous public engagement. Though I do find I’m thinking and writing more about political subjects than I used to, and don’t rule out the possibility of doing more, albeit almost certainly not in standing for office again. Over 20 years worth of being an elected representative is entirely sufficient for anyone, in my view!

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Pick up the cross?

February 13th, 2017

I’ve just read an article by Rachel Held Evans with which I resonate. OK, I only agree with four of the points which she says make her uncomfortable in a mainstream, “liberal” church – and partly with a fifth, but I’m completely with her on the points which separate her from the more conservative church (and most of what is labelled “evangelical” falls squarely into this category).

Added to her points of difficulty with the conservatives, I can add that I’m very much “pro choice” as it tends to be put these days. This isn’t nearly so much of a demarcation line here in the UK as it is in the States, but it is a difficulty. I haven’t written at length on this topic, but I know I have some “pro-life” readers, and if there’s push-back on this point, I’ll write about it.

Where I part company with mainstream churches is primarily on the issue of actually getting out there and doing things in the community. I’m happy if there’s evangelical outreach as well, but very unhappy if that is linked to serving the poor and marginalised – under no circumstances do I want to exact payment from them in the form of listening to attempts to “convert” them which they don’t want to hear. Second on my list is Bible study – I want a church I attend to have active small groups which I can be part of – the church which basically presents a spectacle for an audience and stops there is not for me.

Like Rachel, I also want to take the Bible seriously (but, to the disappointment of my more conservative friends, not literally much of the time). I want to do that with ALL of the Bible, and not (as I find perhaps the majority of people in Bible studies do) ignore the difficult bits of either testament – but mostly those in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I also don’t want to do what some conservatives do, and decide that Islam is the new Amalek and we should therefore exterminate Muslims (yes, I do know some people who actually think this should be the case). I am very much with Alfred North Whitehead’s suggestion (passed via John Cobb and Tripp Fuller) that God has to be at least as nice as Jesus – and the Jesus I think God has to be as nice as is definitively the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels excluding the apocalyptic passages, and not the “DJesus unchained” of Revelation.

To be completely honest, though, neither tendency of church, at least not those near to me, is nearly as radical as I want. As I’ve commented before, the more I read the synoptic gospels (and, to be fair to him some of Paul) the more politically radical my views become. Christianity, it seems to me, was as a whole doing a much better job of following Jesus in the first couple of centuries following his death than at any time after the Constantinian adoption of Christianity as the Roman State Religion. OK, there are some denominations which gave a good account of themselves in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, combatting the slave trade, obtaining rights for workers and children and instituting the co-operative movement, but by and large Christianity has been imperialistic since certainly about 300 CE.

And during the period when it was doing the best job of following Jesus, it was being persecuted; it was rightly seen as being subversive of the imperial power of the day.

So, in conscience, what I want to see from my church is a group which gets up the nose of the powers that be to such an extent that they risk persecution – and that I see from neither mainstream nor evangelical churches at the moment (although I do notice a lot of American evangelicals seem to think they’re persecuted – but then, American evangelicals seem to have lost connection with both reality and the gospel recently).

I notice with interest that during that period when they were much closer to following Jesus than the churches in general now are, and were being persecuted, Christianity grew faster than at any other time in its history. Time, I think, to pick up our crosses and follow our leader…

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Save the Cheerleader?

February 9th, 2017

I have been wondering about going offline and avoiding all news, such is my current feeling that the world is “going to hell in a handcart” as my grandmother would have put it. Brexit here and Trump in the States makes me feel that everything is falling apart – “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” as Eliot put it. In truth, though, I merely feel it’s doing that a lot faster than was previously the case; regular readers will know that I see neoliberal financialised capitalism as pervasive, becoming stronger (at least until it crashes on all of us) and as being “the System of Satan”. At least one facebook friend welcomes Brexit and Trump, possibly out of a Dada-esque liking of absurdity, possibly out of a feeling that only in the flames of the old can anything new be born. And I find it difficult to see anything I could do about it…

I think a significant factor in both the Brexit vote and the Trump win has been a large pool of people who have similarly been feeling that things have either been getting steadily worse or at least not getting better for them over the last decade or so. I can understand people thinking that Obama talked a good line, but that the average person didn’t see much (if any) improvement during his presidency, and similarly here a lot of people thought that Blair talked a good line, but things didn’t improve much for them (and the coalition and then the Conservative win just put the icing on that cake for them). With a young friend of mine, they then voted Brexit because “I want to see the world burn” – and I think the same may be true for a significant number of Trump voters. Enough desperation, and you’re ready to unleash destruction without having a clear plan to replace anything; to clutch at straws, or vote for men of straw.

I am frankly afraid of “tear it down, something will come up and it’s got to be better” attitudes – those have fuelled a lot of revolutions, and whether the end result has been positive or negative on balance, the common factor tends to be a lot of suffering. What to do in the meantime, though? How can I, not in a position of great power of influence and without the funds to buy even a very low ranking politican, have influence in a positive way?

For those with health, energy and youth on their side, I strongly suggest involvement in the political process – if you don’t like what politics is producing, do something to change that. It’s by no means too early to start campaigning for 2020; building up a strong organisation and widespread support can easily take three or four years.

In any event, though, I suggest doing the small right things. Richard Beck wrote about the “little way” a while ago, while I’ve meditated on the last few verses of Matthew 25 (you help the disadvantaged or marginalised, you help Jesus…). What springs to mind today, however, is that we people feel powerless to save the world, and it looks as if it might need saving. I remembered the repeated message in the first series of “Heroes”, which was “Save the cheerleader, save the world”.

Now, OK, in that case, saving the cheerleader did save the world, as the cheerleader saved the world. But there’s another very similar line in the Jewish Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”. (Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9). This exemplifies a principle in Judaism which is more strongly expressed there than any other tradition, namely that any general thing has to have particular expression – a generalised compassion, for instance, is considered worthless unless you are compassionate in a practical way to a particular person. Perhaps this echoes the particularity of Judaism itself; Israel is God’s chosen people, which prompted William Norman Ewer to write “How odd / of God / to choose / the Jews”, exciting people to claim this was antisemitic and write rejoinders such as Ogden Nash’s “But not so odd / as those who choose / a Jewish God / but spurn the Jews”.

Actually, though, I think it was probably meant in a kindly spirit. Many Rabbis have, in the past, expressed some surprise that Israel was chosen, and some have just rested on that rather than tried to find hidden reasons. There had to be a particular expression in order for the general compassion and care of God to be demonstrated (just as I would say there had to be a particular incarnation of God in Jesus in order for the original incarnation in existence as a whole to be demonstrated, though that may go too far for the non-panentheist).

When the opportunity arises, save someone. If enough of us do that, the world will get saved.

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Beyond tribalism?

February 5th, 2017

In writing about nations (or ethnicities, tribes, cultures or, if pushed, races) one needs to consider how these might be organised (and I have in mind that they may organise themselves). I recently found an interesting article regarding the conflict between democracy and liberalism (both as defined in that article), and another about whether the concept of the nation state may be outdated.

Let’s face it, we are going to have ethnicities for a very long time, if indeed there is any chance they will eventually vanish as a feature of human organisation. One of the more stupid suggestions I’ve seen mooted recently was the idea that we should solve all the problems of the Middle East by eliminating tribalism. Granted, if there was no tribalism (ethnicism), there would probably be far, far fewer tensions in the area, but really? You might as well say we could solve all the same problems by eliminating violence. It is not remotely a practical suggestion.

Humanity is, I think, irredeemably given to creating identity groups. Where there aren’t enough nice clear identities for young people in urban sprawls in the West to adopt, they will create gangs, with their own visual and behavioural distinctives. Before you dismiss this as a feature of youth culture, or counterculture, consider the average parochial church council of body of elders – if there are more than four or five people, there will be factions, and sometimes the level of animus there is equal to that between rival gangs, although, thank the Lord, usually not expressed with guns or edged weapons…

There are a number of factors which contribute towards the identity of an ethnic group or tribe. Large among those is language; if you have a language “the others” don’t understand, this helps you preserve the identity. Dialects and heavy accents will do almost as well, and if you haven’t one already, don’t worry, your group will soon invent its own set of “in group” words. Similarity of appearance is a big one – if your group happens all to have the same skin colour or other clear features such as an epicanthic fold, that’s a good start, but you can get a long way by dress codes, body art and even just general demeanour.

Beliefs are also a very strong identity factor. If they can attain the status of a religion, all the better, but I look at some sports supporters and find it difficult to distinguish their Kierkegaardian “ultimate concern” with their chosen team from the basic substance of a religion, and I am wholly convinced that the neoliberal consensus in economics is religious in nature (and worse than many religions in that its basic tenets such as the infallibility of the market and “trickle down” economics have been shown time and again to be both false and damaging).

Most of all, though, the thing which cements any group together is having an enemy. “Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity. 
Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.”  – James Alison. The great enemy du jour in the West (“Western” may not be a tribe, but that holds for many of the individual tribes which constitute “the West” or “the First World”) is nominally Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, but the terrorists’ narrative is that this conceals the fact that Islam as a religion, as an ethnicity, as an identity is the enemy, and despite the best endeavours of spokesmen in most of the West (I except the new US administration, who seem incapable of being even slightly subtle) that is very much how things are playing out. While we may say that we are merely combatting terrorism, our actions frequently prejudice Muslims generally, and I can well understand my Muslim friends who no longer feel comfortably “at home” in my country, despite in many cases having been born and brought up here. Yesterday’s great enemy was communism, of course, but that is now almost universally regarded as a failed philosophy (wrongly, in my eyes, as what actually failed was command economies). Indeed, the unifying force of a great enemy seems to be the most significant factor in political divides.

We have to deal with the fact that if you put enough people together, they will form tribes; any attempt to create a larger body with a common identity is likely to founder on petty divisions. I have in mind that even in the early days of Christianity, Paul was complaining of this. It would be nice to think that we can get beyond the great unifying force of a common enemy in order to do this, but at the moment I cannot see a way to do this, apart from stressing at every possible opportunity that we are all human beings; we are children of God irrespective of our other differences.

My next post will talk a little more of the Biblical witness to this idea.

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