First Thursday, November 2nd 2017

Summary of the discussion

 

Today was the 100th anniversary of the “Balfour Declaration”, when Britain said:

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

It is worth reflecting on how much of that Declaration has been fulfilled in the past century, and how much has been ignored, or abandoned under the pressure of later developments.

Also the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, had presented a so-called “Humble Petition” to force the Government to reveal research it was holding into the likely economic effects of Brexit.  In response the government suggested it would respect the vote and publish the documents “in some form”.  (Has anyone seen them yet??)

But the newspapers, and our discussion, were dominated by the “sex-scandals” in Parliament.  A Daily Mail article talked about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, the “epitome of the Swinging Sixties….. high priests of sexual permissiveness and drug use”, which it suggested had led to “family breakdown brought about by sexual licence”, and “by removing long-standing inhibitions and boundaries, may have contributed to an increase in the number of serious sexual assaults.”

As Hamlet said “That would be scanned” (Act 3, Scene 3).  What is true is that there was often a ban on discussing sexuality before the 1960s broke the taboo and questioned the blanket “thou shalt nots”.  From the early 1960s the contraceptive pill greatly reduced the fear of pregnancy as an unanswerable argument for chastity.  What has been learned since then, of course, is that sexuality treated purely as a physical experience and separated from relationships can all too easily became an instrument of power and domination.

That had been well known long before the 1960s, but hardly talked about openly.  The greatest change since the 1960s is surely that those who had been dominated in that way (often, but not exclusively, women) have gained some courage to speak out against it.  And that can only be good.

One of our readings was the story of King Josiah’s reform in Jerusalem and Judah (from 2 Chronicles chapter 35).  Perhaps our society could benefit from such a reform today.  The presence of people from other faiths in far greater numbers than was the case in the 1960s could strengthen this process-  it could provoke Christians to a deeper questioning of the values society needs for its health and well-being, rather than resting content with the religious complacency where “Most follow the religion of their ethnic background, and consider that religion to be truth” (to quote a recent Facebook discussion).

 

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