16Jan

Fighting the age of hostility

The irony of the modern age is that the more we promote tolerance as an ideal the less of it we witness. In fact ours is increasingly an enraged and selfish age in which toleration of other people and viewpoints is at an all time low.

Consider the political landscape. In America democrats no longer conceal their hatred of republicans, especially President Trump. And the republicans barely hide their loathing for leftism and socialist ideals. Centrism is dying. The left and right abecoming more extreme, more outspoken and less tolerant of alternative view points. The situation is no different in the UK where the entire fiasco over Brexit highlighted a similar division which shows little sign of abating.

One cause of rising division in the 21st Century is the modern media which long ago abandoned even the pretence of impartially to promote narratives and ideologies instead. This leads to subjective demonisation and adulation of people, parties and groups and does little to bring people together. Social media is especially toxic serving as a virtual petri dish for the cultivation of hatred. When nobody is physically present we easily lose sight of our opponents dignity. We begin to pigeon hole and dehumanise instead.

Another reason for division, seen in growth of hard right and hard left, is due to a collapse of centrist liberalism which was the politics of choice in the 20th Century. Lies over weapons in Iraq, the financial collapse, the discovery of widespread abuse and corruption in institutions and political parties, the growing gaps between rich and poor; these have led to a loss of faith in the globalist centrist project. People no longer trust those in authority and, it must be said, often with good reason. A shift to the fringes and to a politics of protest is the inevitable outcome. This loss of confidence in a globalist vision can also be seen in increasing success of nationalist governments. A situation that makes peace between nations increasingly fragile.

Sadly this loss of tolerance and rise of division can also be seen in the church at present. Where previous papacies held a fragile truce between modernist and traditionalist, elevating a balance of both and seeking to broker peace, the latest trend is for demonisation of one by the other in a bid for total domination of power. Cardinal turns against cardinal and the threat of another schism is real.

Against this sorry back drop of division in the church and world a need becomes obvious. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peace makers’. How could you be a peace maker; at home, in school, in the workplace? How can you show acceptance and tolerance of those with whom you disagree? We have to learn to live alongside one another in the end. This does not mean losing integrity. After all a pursuit of goodness and truth always trumps pursuit of peace because you don’t do deals with the devil! But it does mean learning how to better disagree, even bitterly if necessary, but in love. Not all who vote a certain way are bad, not all who believe a certain way are wicked.

Republicans go buy a democrat a beer and vice versa! Leavers make supper for a remainer and discuss football not politics. Rugby clubs, churches, clubs and societies are excellent places where a coming together can be done. And remember when debating online- a real person is on the other end. We must not lose sight of their dignity and they deserves as much care and attention as you.

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1 thought on “Fighting the age of hostility

  1. Yes, Father Ed, we in the western world certainly seem to be living in a time of increasing intolerance and polarisation. As I write these words, the radio presenter James O’Brien is asking the question “why are we all so angry?” And on Friday of next week we in the UK will see a large number of people in a mood of political/cultural celebration and triumph while a more or less equal number will be in political/cultural mourning. Nothing that has happened before on the UK mainland has been quite as divisive as Brexit (but at least we may get a better understanding of life in Northern Ireland, where for generations celebratory days such as 17 March and 12 July have served to divide rather than unite). You are quite right to urge us to be peacemakers, but I must confess that I find it increasingly hard to live up to the exhortation of Matthew 5:44.

    In your post you refer to “the left and right becoming more extreme” and to the “collapse of centrist liberalism”. I think we need to unpick the concepts of extremism and centrism if we are to begin to understand the societal divisions you have identified.

    Extremism is always in the eye of the beholder. If someone calls me an extremist they are describing their own position as much as mine. Just over a hundred years claiming that all women should be allowed to vote was regarded as extremist, and two to three hundred years before that promoting the idea that the sun went around the earth was also dismissed, not least by the Church, as extremist. Yet both views are now completely mainstream, completely ‘centrist’ if you like. And it works the other way too. For thirty years or so after the Second World War having a top rate of income tax of 80-90% was accepted as the norm, and yet today a political party suggesting such a level of taxation for the super-rich would no doubt be labelled “hard left”, extreme.

    And to understand centrism we must continue to focus on the thirty years or so after the Second World War, the period the French refer to as “les trente glorieuses”, the thirty glorious years. During this time a historically unique set of circumstances resulted in a period stability, secure lifelong jobs, and gradually increasing prosperity for most people in the Western world. That is why consensus, in the form of what you call “centrist liberalism” worked fine. People saw no need to rock the boat with “extremist” ideas. But technological and global developments since the 1970s mean we can never get back to such a world. The days of well-paid, secure, skilled employment have gone for ever, so we must look for new political, social and cultural approaches if we are to avoid society breaking down into angry factions. Centrism won’t do it – just look what has been happening in France recently under President Macron, a self-styled moderate and centrist.

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