“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
“…In the First Epistle of Peter we are told to honour everyone, and I have never been in a situation where I felt this instruction was inappropriate. When we accept dismissive judgements of our community we stop having generous hopes for it. We cease to be capable of serving its best interests. The cultural disaster called ‘dumbing down,’ which swept through every significant American institution and grossly impoverished civic and religious life, was and is the result of the obsessive devaluing of lives that happen to pass on this swath of continent. On average, in the main, we are Christian people, if the polls re to be believed. How is Christianity consistent with this generalised contempt that seems to lie behind so much so-called public discourse? Why the judgmentalism, among people who are supposed to believe we are, and we live among, souls precious to God – three hundred million of them on this plot of ground, a population large and various enough to hint broadly at the folly of generalization? It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not appear to respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts. As we withdraw from one another we withdraw from the world, except as we increasingly insist that foreign groups and populations are our irreconcilable enemies. The shrinking of imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.”
I have copied (hopefully without too many typographical errors) a paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s essay, Imagination and Community.
In the last days I have begun to wonder as to whether I have indeed become a cynical person – the world that I have constructed around me appears to be full of intellectual and imagined barriers that separate me from my fellow human beings. It is an important question, no-doubt, as to whether we are a specie that by nature likes to be able to discriminate when it comes to the differences that we possess, individually or collectively, between ourselves and that imagined ‘other.’
Though I fear the American, and in general liberal democratic institutions which underpin and undergird the modern pluralistic and secularist societies in which those of us who are privileged find ourselves in, model(s) can lead to a sort-of moral relativism inflicted upon society by design – in that the general will of the populace ought to reign as the supreme agent of what is difficultly and tenuously entitled ‘Progress;’ – and I am cautious, I suppose about certainly constructing a society where certain judgements are removed from the moral calculus, if I understand her correctly – though that said, I think Robinson may be spot-on when it comes to having and cultivating faith in our fellow man.
Indeed, when we act and claim that the impetus for our behaviour is say, ‘austerity,’ or ‘social justice’ (construed very narrowly as always), or for ‘progress,’ ‘liberation’ we naturally exclude some remaining population from our acts. Not one banker in the UK has gone to prison, yet hundreds of thousand – nay, millions, of the poorest and infirm are suffering as a result of the pernicious behaviour or others. Does social justice merely imply a narrowing of the economic gap between people? Are we not acting in bad faith when we assume primarily that the constructing factor of an individual – that which will shape his behaviour to be a functional economic cog in the machinery of the state – is his financial means? What is to be said for ‘progress,’ when we demonise those that seek to restrain it by calling them reactionaries? What happens to the environment in which the other will have to live, or cease to make his livelihood out of, in our unrelenting pursuit of this end? What of the women whose ‘sexual liberation’ came at the cost of a broader dignity through which men began to see them as sexual beings alone. One need only to pass an advertisement on the London Underground to realise how much sex actually sells in our society – what of the fact that women are having to work within a male-dominated paradigm and give up on certain other humane pursuits which for generations have served to keep this specie alive, merely just to firmly grasp at the scraps left-over from the pie so savagely sliced and consumed by men?
These are sweeping examples, and it is beyond the scope of this simple post to provide a long and detailed and coherent analysis; the point to take away from all of this is that the way in which we operate and coexist with the other has now become a cynical exercise, and an enterprise which will collectively bring untold misery – our recent economic plights, or slow responses to environmental catastrophes, might say just as much. Who knows, maybe I am being cynical here, too – I can undoubtedly not exclude myself from this discourse – but what would happen tomorrow if we all woke up and began to see our fellow man in another light? How would this change our behaviour?
Having faith in our fellow man these days takes courage – our whole technological culture relies on our individualism and selfishness to keep it going – why are we so afraid to trust that our brothers have our best interests at heart and that they will consider this in the calculating of their political decisions? If it is a stretch for me to ask you to envisage such a possibility, and it surely is at this juncture of our history, then it should send a shudder through our spine and incline us to ask, “why should it so be?”