Summary of the discussion 4th May 2017
This morning there was a strong contrast between the readings in Morning Prayer and the newspapers. The letter to the Ephesians spoke of unity (in that case between Jews and Gentiles). By contrast the newspapers spoke repeatedly about division- the impending “divorce” between the UK and the rest of the EU, and the likely conflict to be expected in negotiations about that.
It’s clear that in any human relationship there is a tension between the need to “belong” and a necessary sense of individuality and freedom. Whether in the family or in politics there has to be a balance between these two. If trust breaks down it can quickly be replaced by a feeling of being controlled by an impersonal “system”. Key to the establishment of the EU was the principle of “subsidiarity”- that decisions should be made at the most local and accessible level possible, and only necessary decisions made centrally. Perhaps there was insufficient emphasis given to exploring this- equally a misunderstanding of the regulations and agreements which would be needed for free trade within a single market.
When there is a breakdown of trust communities look for scapegoats to blame for the political unease. Newspapers and other media can easily increase their circulation by pandering to this desire to place “blame”. Any group who are suspected of being “disloyal” to the values which are believed to give society its coherence and stability can fall victim to this. Religious minorities can be obvious and easy targets, but also some social groups. “Working mothers” were once blamed for a “breakdown of discipline” among young people, and unemployed families are still often blamed for giving their children “no incentive” or ambition to work hard at school to get a job. Or does this rather show a sense of realism, that with increasing mechanisation and technology a proportion of young people is very likely to end up with no job, zero-hours contracts, or badly paid work. (After all, one former UK Chancellor said that a level of unemployment was a necessary price to pay for controlling inflation. The post-WW2 consensus that it was vital to create full employment broke down in the 1970s, and the welfare payments that could be seen as a “compensation” for those who bore that “price” of controlling inflation are now themselves under attack).
The expression of anger at what is seen as an injustice in society, at an injury that is done to people or to society, can be constructive, provided resentment is controlled and used to bring about a more just settlement, involving reconciliation and forgiveness. But where anger is uncontrolled it can turn to a desire for revenge and destruction. Then, to use the language of the New Testament, the “principalities and powers” will have taken over again.