Friday, 5 November 2010

Were Are We Now?

Where are we now?

Many people do not understand that spending a heritage is like draining capital; in this case it is cultural capital
Many do not understand that our UK cultural capital has been laid down over many centuries via strong Judeo-Christian emphasis; that does not mean that I believe we have ever been a ‘Christian country’ whatever that means.  But we have inculcated values that help us live, keep us safe, make us  generous and help us to treat each other with respect and dignity.
Each time a bit of the law of the land reverses that cultural capital, or erodes it by practice it makes many things harder for all of us.  In what way you might ask, well in very practical ways, for example:
·         The pressure to keep married if you are married
ILL: as someone said on Radio 4 question time recently, we have dismantled the family and replaced it with the welfare state and it really isn’t working.
·         The pressure to stay sexually healthy
·         The pressure to benefit your children with a stable home and good role models both male and female
·         The pressure to stay financially solvent
·         The pressure to care for the stranger who comes into our country
·         The pressure to work and care for others

We need to understand that these values are in the culture, and actually they did not appear from nowhere.
ILL: Recently I was in a government think tank environment and we were asked to come up with ways that OFSTEAD inspectors could judge if a school is working well ‘morally’; OFSTEAD are required to inspect a school on that subject by UK law.  We were told we couldn’t change the law, but we could advise best way forward.  My problem straight away was how do you get a moral base unless you have a moral giver or to put it another way a law giver.  In my group were Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Roman Catholics and some from ACE Christian schools, oh yes and one humanist.  All agreed moral imperatives don’t come from nowhere, all except that is the humanist.  I asked him why is it that Britain is often so generous to other countries who are far away but who are going through natural disasters like earthquakes, or famine or floods.  Why is it the British are actually very good givers, yet there are other nations who are as rich as we are if not richer yet they see no need to help, his response was, ‘well that’s their problem we have ours.’
The humanist argued with all those who expressed any kind of faith saying to me, we are generous because we used to be a colonial power!   Hang on a minute I thought colonialism was, to a great extent, about getting what we could from others, or did I miss something. 

Yes I know it was about trade, and also Christians went along to share the message of good news, but there was a lot of exploitation too. In the end I said to the humanist, I am so glad you disagree with me, (he did on every subject), and he looked puzzled and asked why.  I said well if you agreed with me I would think I must be wrong!

People of a faith may disagree on a lot of things, but they know one thing and that is moral prerogatives do not come from inside mankind; rather it comes from another source.  Each time the culture takes its own supposedly amoral direction, but more often than not, immoral direction then we have squandered a little more of our culture value capital, and in the end we are broke, morally, and that’s worse than having an economic downturn or financial cut backs or being  financially broke.


I worry about those who think there is no strategy to people of the way, or that we do not need one. I am sure we do, but not one that hems us in, or turns us into ‘religious’ people or that becomes humanised, corporate, institutionalised and fixed. We need that Celtic wild goose experience that is God led, and let me tell you He has a strategy. 

 Why do you think that in the early first century people like Paul set their face toward Rome, it was a lot more than the tourist in him, he new that Rome then was influential and he want to influence.  Why does Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, he is determined to go there, scripture says it was the plan, it was the Fathers strategy for rescue.

So what is our strategy?  It ought to be to influence, to be salt, to be light.  Not to attack, notice Paul starts at the point where people are, he circumcises John Mark, because he believes that he should be so, not because he was willing to go in that direction but to enable others to hear him.  On Mars Hill, he starts where the people are. He says ‘I see you have an alter to the unknown God, I have come to show you him!’  Does he start by quoting scripture at them no; rather he says, ‘your poets have said....’  Our strategy must not be condemnation, but friendship and cooperation without letting go of who we are and what we hold dear.  How many Muslim, Hindu or Sikh friends do you have? You need them. If you haven’t got any then go and find some, understand them, understand their culture, understand their ways, not for false compromise but because scripture says that he that who wins people is wise, very wise.

One of the frightening things that we do is to dehumanise people, we do this by giving humans strange names that make them less than human which then enables us to treat them as other than wonderful beings made in the Image of God. I noted in the Northern Island troubles that Catholics would refer to Protestants as Prods and the Protestants would refer to the Catholics as Papists, both in a sense dehumanising each other so it’s almost as if, when you kill them you are not killing a human being. And also like phrases used in war: ‘body count’  or ‘civilian collateral damage’ for those phrases read ‘dead people’, or worse still mothers, sons,  fathers, daughters; that changes our perception, do not dehumanise people they are people whom God loves.


What will it look like?

Do we know what we are looking for – personally I want to be obedient to the command to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ and if we are seeking it we should have some idea what it will look like when we find it.  ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Peace, righteousness, justice, wholeness, let’s find it, Let us be the salt / influence that brings it to earth. Let us be a light that shows the way.  You cannot do that without being involved in the culture, changing it, seeking the Kingdom in it, in the areas that make and mould the culture education, arts and media, politics, business. And you can’t do any of that without getting your hands dirty and being involved and that means touching all the people not just the ones that you perceive are nice enough to become Christians; whatever that means.

Newcastle on Tyne 22nd October 2010
Adrian Blog
Editor A. Brookes
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  1. So how did the 'down-grade' occur? How/why/when did it happen? If we can identify the cause, we are on our way to rectifying the least to prevent it getting worse. Ideas?

  2. On a postcard, actually every small step changes it, so when you make divorce easier, and I have sympathy with those who need it, nevertheless it takes us down a pathway. And there are very many instances of those small steps to bring us to where we are, so I guess small steps in reverse, and that is hard to do

  3. Yet again Adrian i have glanced at some of your work and still miss the `tail` the 5th leg....i.e the spiritual aspect of each human, recognised or not. If not, it does not change the love of God towards them.
    But this aspect for men, yes the very nature of God`s creatures must also include man`s answer to God`s `Word`
    We cannot `run away` from this factor in man`s past, present and future. I do agree that media does shape the views of man but God`s voice is the 5th leg. How to stand upon that leg is another question !
    Peter Bayliss

  4. I think the narrative of loss when it comes to culture is unhelpful. Particularly when you think of British history and those "Judeo-Christian" origins. There has been erosion of some cultural values, good and bad, alongside the addition of new ones, likewise good and bad.

    The addition of a cultural aversion to racism and homophobia is new, for example. Increasing equality for women is new, the changed position of women in marriage, from property to partners.

    The list goes on, many of the cultural changes brought about, in part through legal reform have been positive. There is no sense in being nostalgic about the past. You mention that the erosion of cultural capital can make things harder, it can also have the opposite effect. Especially if you think of the capital being held by specific groups over others. It is possible to be too conservative about the loss of "cultural capital". What would the great reformers have done if they followed this logic of conservation of "Judeo-Christian" culture. Perhaps we would not have the NHS, social security, the abolition of the slave trade, universal suffrage and the criminalisation of marital rape to name but a few. Culture is fluid like water. If you try to contain it, it soon becomes stagnant and unhealthy.

  5. I guess the problem is time line, I think that you are write to look at things like Slave Trade and the like but time lines are difficult, I think particularly things like the slave trade where very much because of Christian input, and just because a thing is the legal domain does not mean it does not have a Judo Christian input, but even presuming you are right and it is unhelpful think of loss then answer me this are we still adding to that reservoir or is their no erosion to any of it. I might also wonder if we really got there with some of the right such as woman's rights, maybe it was going in the right direction but is it still going?

  6. I don't think I follow you on the time-line issue.

    But yes I am with you on Women's Rights. There is still a long way to go. I don't believe we have reached the "end of history". I am not arguing that we should be content with either the past or present but rather be restless for a different future.

    I think the question is unhelpfully framed. You ask whether we are adding to or depleting the reservoir, but it doesn't matter whether or not the tank is full if the water is foul!

    There is a risk of conservatism with this narrative. The conservation of the establishment of the church for example. Which is possibly the greatest hindrance to the proper functioning of the body in the UK. If we buy into the narrative of loss, we must protect the status-quo lest cultural capital is eroded.

    So going forward we have to accept that that "Judeo-Christian" reservoir has been contaminated. It has undoubtedly been the source of both good and evil cultural norms. In light of this, isn't it better that we forget about trying to protect something which had such mixed results. Yes of course we must own the victories, but if we are to be credible we must also own the shame of the failures. So rather than protect cultural capital as a sort of normative pressure on people to act right. We may, as Christians, trust in the transformative power of Jesus in our lives as well as our communities. God's Kingdom has always been found outside the cultural norm, challenging the status-quo.

    Isn't the narrative of progress and transformation rather than nostalgia and conservation more powerful, hope-affirming and faithful to the life of Jesus described in the Bible and experienced by you and I 2k years later?

    There is another discussion about the benefits to all (including people of faith) of maintaining a secular state and securing the separation of church and state for the sake of the church as much as the state.