BBC Radio Devon – Pause for Thought: Storm Centres
During the Pause For Thought this week, I’ve been talking about 7 places I have been to: Storm-centres of history.
Today, on our final visit, we will go to the British Parliament.
On Wednesday 27th March this year, I attended PMQ’s with my father at the Houses of Parliament (with thanks to Torbay MP Kevin Foster and his team for arranging this)!
This date was significant. This was the Wednesday before the Friday of the original departure from the EU. It was very exciting to be there, which in the end, turned out to be not quite the bear pit I had anticipated.
British politics is, some say, in turmoil. Others say it is evolving; Still others say it is falling apart. If I could say something positive about it: It seems to me that only a mature democracy can withstand such ferocious and sustained political differences, that runs through all parties as it runs through all families.
We have been exposed to, like never before, the power of words and ideas and truth-claims, and sometimes the language, the debate, the political conversations have ranged from robust and heated to toxic and even murderous!
These political debates and differences are good; as are the debates between Christians and atheists; science and religion, etc. Western societies prizes above all freedom of speech and the autonomy of the individual, and yet by our own power assertions and truth claims, we run the real risk of regressing back to infanthood in the manner and the way we engage each other.
I rather like the exchange between the great journalist and Christian G. K. Chesterton and his philosophical atheist nemesis George Bernard Shaw. They had robust dialogue but avoided any pattern that would destroy their cordial relationship.
In one exchange, just before the debate began, the rotund Chesterton said to a skinny Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England!” Shaw replied, “And to look at you, anyone would think you caused it!”
Today, such is the debating climate, that we might rise to the offence, take umbrage, slur the opponent and maybe take them to court for defamation.
We will all do well to remember how we use truth claims, in politics, religion and in fact, everywhere. Avoiding the rhetoric, as theologian Anthony Thiselton says, that “relies on force, seduction, or manipulation.”
[This kind of approach opens the door to the ancient scapegoating mechanism well documented by social scientist Rene Girard and others. As part of a wider social matrix in ancient and modern communities, the scapegoat mechanism has religious and secular aspects to it – but in essence, it points the finger at an innocent one or group, and removes them from the community. In the British UK political context, we see it at the level of conversation, demonising, point scoring, etc. At its worst, is the excessive use of the Ad hominem form of argumentation – and in any context this approach, whether the person is right or wrong, is fallacious.]
This damaging rhetoric can sound like Walter Breuggemann’s warning to us, “We can’t believe that you repeat the word “democracy” like it’s a liturgical chant from a lost religion!” [It is no accident that Breuggemann says this and thus links up ancient religions and their scapegoat mechanisms, with a so called liberal democracy of the 21st century. The events can be centuries apart, spanning cultures and empires and religions, but it is sociologically the case, that they are out-workings of the same ancient idea. In short, they are cut from the same cloth.]
Just repeating slogans and words does not make the truth. Behind the word is the idea, and if the idea is good and true, it doesn’t need disguise, seduction or manipulation.
In a moral universe made by God, the truth is the truth is the truth.
NOTE: The Pause For Thoughts ran from Monday to Sunday. You can listen to the whole show here, and the Pause For Thought is around the 28 minutes mark. This was broadcast on Sunday 25th August, and I’ve posted it now because of the seeming tumultuous week we are having in British politics.