T4CG Newsletter, Summer 2023. This is an extract – to view full version click here
Welcome to the summer edition of the T4CG Newsletter.
It is said that Amos was an ordinary man. He heard what God was saying and wrote it down. He wasn’t thanked for his faithfulness – raw truth is never popular. Few have ears to hear. Today, there is so much that is positive in the world, but those who are honest sense something is deeply wrong.
The malaise is real, and it some places it is very dark. The symptoms are manifold: extreme inequality, economic instability, the degradation of nature, the breakdown of trust, polarisation, fragmentation, loneliness, addiction, human distress, ideological and spiritual confusion, degradation in the poorest places and the abandonment of whole communities: a breach of common good. This condition long pre-dates the pandemic. Catholic social thought helps us read the signs of the times: the causes are rooted in a hyper-liberal philosophy and a false anthropology.
Amos conveys God’s wish for us to choose good, but to do this we must recognise evil. In Hebrew, the meaning of the word for evil, ra’a’, includes brokenness, to be broken in pieces, and the space between elements designed to be connected. Sometimes it hides in plain sight, disguised among the beautiful and the good. But often, as Hannah Arendt observed, it is concealed in banal form, in corporate form, indeed it can become a civil norm.
Tragically, some are falling for its false claims about self-actualisation; for its modes of governance that replace democratic agency with technocratic administration; for its for-profit social engineering dressed up as freedom of choice. Some may warm to its idea that human political sovereignty should be relocated to unaccountable forms of bureaucracy and social control. We have become accustomed to living inside a story characterised by this banality. Too many of us may not see it until it is too late.
Recognition of these shadows makes us long to make friends with the light. The Hebrew for good is Tov and the depth with which God uses this word is mind blowing. In Genesis it refers to the process by which God calls forth life. Life from a seed which itself has the seeds of even more life within it. Like an apple seed becoming an orchard. Like a life-giving conversation that brings forth life from inside of you and calls forth life in another. This calling forth is important. Because it transforms us and we begin to live a different story.
As Jesus says, the kingdom is like a mustard seed. It has its own mysterious life. It is our responsibility to cultivate conditions in which it can grow. We can practice “an asceticism” as Ivan Illich proposed, “which makes it possible to savour one-ness and here-ness, here, as a place, here, as that which is between us, as the kingdom is – in order to be able to save what remains in us, of sense, of meaning, of metaphor, of flesh, of touch, of gaze.”
We are relational beings with a transcendent nature, made in the image of God, not isolated individuals. And so, as Matthew Crawford says, we must reject the new anti-humanism, where human beings are seen as stupid, obsolete, hateful and fragile, needing endless products, services, medications or indoctrinations to be compliant. Better to embrace our imperfections and find meaning in each other.
Amos the ordinary man calls for the recognition of a hard reality. To commit to the good, it is necessary to identify evil and reject it. It is vital to discern what tov and ra’a’ look like morally, culturally and socially and in statecraft. This is why John Paul II identified both unbridled liberalism and state collectivism as the twin tyrannies, and argued for intermediary institutions like clubs, local businesses, unions and associations as countervailing powers. It is why the wise are now working on new forms of local democratic accountability and covenantal association.
When we think of renewal, it is God’s renewal, not ours. This is not about a campaign but a prior move – a shift in disposition. Practices of prayer, listening, repentance and loving friendship are vital here as well as patience, wisdom, humility and forgiveness. This is how the calling forth will happen, and it’s why Pope Francis calls for “a culture of encounter”. In practice it involves enabling local people with different backgrounds and opinions to meet and hear each other’s stories. It involves attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, noticing what good means in our particular neighbourhood, and how we are called to fulfil our unique vocation for the common good, as communities of place. It is about discovering together what it means to be God’s people in this age of unravelling.
In this edition, we are delighted to bring you +Philip North who calls on the church to repent of complacency and make a commitment to restore its relationship with poor communities, and Lord Glasman who considers how to resolve the malaise in terms of political economy, looking at its roots and focusing on the dignity of work. Along with these we bring you a story by Barry Jung who explores the meaning of tov and God’s call to practices of reweaving in his neighbourhood, and Jenny Sinclair explores what it takes to become a listening church in this time of profound change. Also we bring you a Common Good Schools report about building bonds of international solidarity, plus news of our next lecture with Jon Cruddas MP, our forthcoming podcast with Alan Roxburgh. Lots more to explore too in the full edition here – don’t miss our selection of articles to help you read the signs of the times along with our latest recommended books.
Every blessing for a restful summer
Jenny Sinclair, and the Together for the Common Good team
This is an extract from our Summer 2023 mailing. To read the full content, click here