The editorial from the T4CG Newsletter, Christmas-New Year 2023-2024. To view full version click here
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:31-34
As we come to the end of a turbulent year, the unravelling is now obvious to most, and is likely to intensify as the new year unfolds. In the run up to elections, free markets, tribal politics, personal preferences and consumer choice will be sold to us as freedom. But this is not real freedom. The culture of individualism comes with great injustice: vast inequality, alienated cultural ghettos, the battle of rights, the centralisation of power, and the commodification of human beings and the natural world. Low paid families and communities bear the deepest scars.
This violation of justice is often experienced as a soft oppression, as a flattening, colonial entity telling a dominant story that makes the local and communal seem trivial. A widespread cultural demoralisation is taking place. In such a scenario, it may be tempting to choose the security of a decadent but apparently prosperous empire, rather than taking the risks that come with the true freedom of a life with God. But this captivity is too dehumanising to last; more attempts to coerce will only lead to further alienation. The more it extends, the more fragile it becomes and the whole architecture becomes unstable.
Objections are growing. We see movements of discontent: the Canadian truckers, the French Gilet Jaunes, the Dutch and German farmers, American parents’ groups, to name just a few. Millions object to a cultural revolution imposed without mandate, while millions more suffer wage stagnation generated by an economy favouring the very rich. The governing class increasingly aggregates power to itself in technocratic form, communicating its dogma in innocuous language, insulating policy from democratic control, protecting the interests of big corporations. This disrespect of ordinary people threatens social peace.
The unravelling is rooted in a philosophy which has been enthusiastically championed by elements of both the right and the left. The neoliberal economic model and hyperliberal social norms are driven by the same flawed logic, a logic which rejects natural law and frames limits as regressive. Both have a major blindspot: the right attribute moral unraveling to excessive liberalism but somehow neoliberal economics gets a free pass; while the left attribute poverty to neoliberal economics but somehow unlimited self-actualisation is seen as “progressive”.
Christians as diverse as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr believed that justice demands the honouring of natural law, that if a law does not align with the moral order then it has no binding force in conscience, indeed that obedience becomes an act of violence. It follows then that, as Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris said, “one of the principal imperatives of the common good is the recognition of the moral order.” The departure from what St Augustine of Hippo called “the tranquillity of order” is a key driver of the multi-layered crisis we are experiencing across the West.
It looks like we may no longer be able to defer our crisis for much longer, and this may make us open to face the wrongs of our age and to thinking about order and natural law as the basis for peace. It may open up ways for people to discover reconciliation with God.
Christ came into the world to show us the way of peace. Not a negative peace, as in “tolerance” or “social cohesion”, but a deeper peace that comes among us if we seek first the Kingdom of God. Relationships are the foundation of Christian justice. In practical terms, this means that we, in our church communities, are to refuse tribalism, to build relationships, to nurture new forms of association, to be good neighbours, to stand in solidarity with the suffering and with poor families, to treat people with respect and loving kindness in all that we do. This focus on relationship is not a soft alternative to speaking truth to power – it is the antidote to individualism. Relationships of trust and mutuality across our differences enable us better to resist domination and dehumanisation, to uphold human solidarity and demand reform. We’re called to live an incarnational theology that tangibly weaves itself into all aspects of our daily experience.
Our work goes to the heart of these challenges facing the Church and society. This edition of our newsletter includes a session I gave recently on becoming The Relational Church, setting out how the Church can fulfil its vocation, both in its local form, and in terms of understanding its position more widely in a society that is in deep trouble. The causes of division were examined brilliantly in the eighth of our Lincoln Cathedral series of lectures, with Sr Helen Alford exploring how the Catholic conceptions of moral order and natural law could help in rebuilding a social peace. And addressing solidarity between Christians and Jews at this time, I am proud to bring you a sombre essay by Edward Hadas. We’re excited about the community growing around our podcast Leaving Egypt, and we have some great guests lined up for 2024, and my co-host Alan Roxburgh and I are also launching a monthly discussion Forum for church leaders. Also in the full version you will find our latest Common Good Schools update, our 2023 impact report, our signs of the times section featuring a selection of articles, and some recommended books.
Founder and Director, Together for the Common Good
Like what you are reading? More inspirational content from Jenny Sinclair can be found here: https://togetherforthecommongood.co.uk/news-views/from-jenny-sinclair
This is just the editorial from the T4CG Newsletter, Christmas-New Year 2023-2024. To read the full content, click here