Friday, June 29, 2007

Storms....


George Herbert suggested that 'Storms make the oak grow deeper roots' - I think he may have been right - many a storm has passed this way of late, (my dad says it 'poshed' it down - not sure what he means) let's hope he was....(right that is, I mean Herbert not my dad).

Of all the places I have travelled in this world, there is one that moves me more than all the others put together and it's right here in Guernsey.

Walking up the steps of Tower Hill has become a very sobering experience. About half way up the steps is a plaque and its inscription describes the terrifying events of a day in July 1556 when three women were burned at the stake. What happened that day is a chilling rminder of what any religious right is capable of when given total control and power over communities.

Why is it many people shy away from mixing politics and religion? What is it that causes so many to keep these two sides of the same coin seperate? One could argue that maybe some people only entertain small talk and don't want to engage in a conversation of such potential diversity that the party might be spoilt.

The other night such an occasion arose. I suppose with Mr Blair moving on and Mr Brown moving next door, politics was on everyone's agenda as the boys tucked into chillied beef with udon. With a few religious convictions thrown in, it wasn't long before strongly held opinions were flying across the table.

The big disagreement stemmed from my opinion that state and Church should always be kept apart. Some, due to their belief that faith does in fact have real political implications, met this with great indifference. I don't disagree: you only have to look at someone like Martin Luther King Jnr to see that there is an integral connection between faith and politics; it's just I firmly believe that religion should inform politics not control it.

My worry is that the religious right has an obsession with taking over the world and I for one don't think this is at all theologicallly sound. The Church should be concerned with how it seasons the world rather than becoming its self-proposed dictator. In other words I believe the Christian mission to be more about quality rather than quantity. My point is that the Church's missionary vision should be one of a kingdom, not an empire - a subtelty which the Church has not always observed (again I refer to the plaque).

The big difference is that, and we see this all too clearly in todays world, an empire seeks to increase its own power and territory; a kingdom (God's anyway) does not need to gain the world, for that world is already God's. For me, it's more about dwelling within and carefully moulding culture. Didn't Jesus liken it to yeast working through a batch of dough, or a seed growing in secret (back to Coupland again)?

One of the main reasons William Temple was one of the most remarkable archbishops Britain has ever seen was because he proposed a pattern for society based on kingdom not empire values (personal freedom and dignity under God). His vision was based on a new partnership between government and faith groups.

So, in our contemporary context, this means the Church would reach out in respectful partnership with other faith traditions, inviting a new dialogue between religion and state about social and political morality. As for democracy, I agree with Jim Wallis, that, 'the biblical view of humanity suggests power and decision making should be decentralised and accountable, not because people are good but because we so often are not.'

A renewed ecumenical community has the ability to assist governments with new visions for a society desperately in need of them. Historically, religion has been a source of guidance for spiritual values and a brush with transcendence should call us to accountability. I remember a while back some timely comments from Rowan Williams regarding his desire to inspire a moral sensibility with ethics rooted in a transcendent reality. His comments were kindom comments not empirical ones.

What I have no desire to return to is what Philip Jenkins describes in his book 'The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity' - that the hugely influential roles and church leaders now play in the internal politics of American and African states draws 'telling comparisons with medieval Christendom.'

And after once more reading the plaque on Tower Hill, I am not sure that is a journey I want to make.......

12 comments:

mister tumnus said...

too right. try living in northern ireland! i think our best hope lies in the idea that the views of certain members of our new wee government are not sustainable as actual political policies in a society that also values human rights. but maybe i'm being too hopeful....

maggi said...

tower hill had that sort of effect on me too

Suzanna said...

We have our World Trade Center, which I just saw for the first time last week.
and St Paul's just east of it with it's grave markers worn away by weather looking like old teeth coming out of the green grass.
We are well to remain calm in the midst of heated debate knowing the talk is more for our benefit, letting off steam maybe for some who are simply trying to figure it all out too, despite their bravado.
Nothing helps keep perspective like a gravestone.
But it depends. For some it brings silent reflection and for others it's a call to arms.
God has introduced, as you say and also for me, more desirable Kingdom.

The Father said...

funny had been reading jim wallis on gordon brown earlier and pondering some of this. I put this comment on my blog and now having read yours it seems kind of apt here too.

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Pascal.

Awareness said...

paul....i'm in complete agreement. the very idea of religious right being a dominant force within the political process is downright scary because it does have the potential to lead to "obsessions." it is an ongoing topic of discussion in these parts given that we share a border with the U.S. and feel and see the impact of their choices. Just yesterday, my family took part in a game of baseball with good friends....5 of the adults are American who chose to move here to live and work, who have all recently become Canadian citizens. The last straw for them...the turning point in their individual decisions to do this has all to do with the political climate in their home country. The religious right and the power base they hold was enough to reevaluate their citizenship. That says a lot.
Our present PM skirts this category himself which has made the majority of the Canadian population wary indeed. Though he doesn't seem to have blatantly merged the two to a point where it has impacted any long term decisions, I think it is only because he has a minority govt right now. My feeling is that he may only ever have a minority government because of the wariness of the population.

I could be wrong though, as it is very different in Western Canada. The religious right, more accepted there than in the East, has a very strong mobilized base. It is acceptable in Western Canada politics. If Stephen Harper was to win a majority, his base would be rural and Alberta....and his first order (or at least his top ten) would be to scrap same sex marriages, and attempt to change abortion laws as they are still the most contentious issues in the eyes of this growing power group.

Having stated that......how can one separate our values and faith from the decisions and perspectives...your point "religion should inform politics not control it" speaks volumes to me.

From what I've read about your new PM, Mr. Brown.....he seems to be bucking the trend? Good on him! :) My heart goes out to him as he completes his very first week trying to deal with the latest terrorist attempts in the UK. It will be a fine fine line he will have to walk and talk....God help him.

Julie said...

As long as those there storms are over by Greenbelt!!!

Steve said...

We don't want to have to think, and apply compassion to each religious/political conversation. It's too much work, I guess.

Black and white is much easier to consider than grey. That's why the right in the states love our abortion and homosexuality issues. Easy sides to choose.

I appreciate your heart on this matter...I'm struggling with how to undermine such a strong, polarizing push.

May those that lead, lead on value and principle, rather than issues.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

lovely people who drop by here....

....am sorry i have been so crap at responding to your comments - i really have no excuse aside from i am bloody wiped out

i will endeavour to remedy my laxness (!?) very soon

apologies all round.....

Anna said...

So true Paul.

I missed your blog while I was away. I hope that you are doing well there.

Take care friend.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

hi anna, doing ok - was wondering where you had gone too....glad you had a good break - look forwad to the shots

Kate's Typewriter said...

gosh, i never know how to respond to your posts. brilliant. i'll just leave it at that.

Loreena's version of The Highwayman brings me to tears everytime.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

in truth kate - i have no idea what i'm talking about so commenting on my rants and rambles can't be easy....

i still love the book of secrets most....