A long journey…
When I was a lad I was forever falling out with my small group of friends. The only thing we agreed about was that we liked to disagree! In our childish way we would usually “go to arbitration”. This involved calling in one of our parents as an authority figure to settle any dispute (better than the occasional fisticuffs). The outcome depended on whose parent was closest at hand – not because they were biased towards their “little darlings” – quite the opposite as we found to our cost!
As I write, the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill is running into trouble. Despite its laudable aim of protecting people from hatred, many feel it might lead to the suppression of some of our most cherished freedoms: of thought, conversation and expression. A group of academics, journalists and community leaders, as diverse as the National Secular Society and the Christian Institute, and including Peter Tatchell, have written to call for a rethink. The prospect that a Government should decide what people should think or say is a step in the wrong direction.
But if Governments cannot legislate against hatred then what is to be done?
Perhaps the whole episode is indicative of a road that western civilisation has been travelling for a long time; a road with many signposts. The first is the loss of the idea rooted in the Reformation affirmation of Biblical truth: that everyone, being made in God’s image, is deserving of respect regardless of the differences that might characterise us.
Secondly, a loss of individual self-identity. People without God (and the idea they are made in God’s image) grow fragile. They may identify themselves instead, using some other particular identity, so creating difference and barriers in relation to other groups. They may also be less able to cope with the differing perspectives of others. Cancel-culture ensues lest offence occurs.
Thirdly, an erosion of communal values and community feeling; if Governments cannot act then where does the counter-blast to hatred come from? It can only come from a consensus of common morality that makes life uncomfortable for the unreasoned hater.
But now Governments, to a large extent, whether willingly or not, act in place of communities.
Fourthly, a retreat from reason itself. Separated by our ideologies and conflicting world views, how do we appeal to common values if not through reasoned debate and discussion? But Truth has been eroded by consumerist individuality, not just in Tesco but also in the realm of ideas. Behind this trend lurks the fifth signpost, the loss of any sense that there really is a final authority figure to arbitrate. We no longer call on the name of any Heavenly parent.
In Lent we recall that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem and stepped out on another long road that, through the cross, would lead to the reconciliation of all things to this Heavenly parent, the breaking down of every wall of separation between the children, the creation of a new humanity, in Christ and moral transformation that would drive hatred from the public square and put love of others in its place.
It’s a long way back but are we, His people, ready to walk that road with Him?