Disillusioned with Humanity?

7 02 2013

Disillusioned with Humanity?

Job’s wisdom came with an interview with God. I often think how different we would all be if we each had ‘an interview with God’ and would thus be able to realise how great He is and how small we are, but it’s not like that. It seems that the Lord in His wisdom allows us to go our own way but then He either brings or allows (and there is room for debates in individual occurrences) things to cross our lives that make us question the views that we had of ourselves as almost divine-like beings.

But real life for us begins when we proceed along, to use a picture that Jemima Khan has recently used in respect to her attitude to Julian Assange over the principles of WikiLeaks, “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”.  So much of the time we live with self-admiration but we only come to a place of reality when we become demoralised over what we are really like. Then we come to God for help.

Our society in the UK is going through a journey from admiration to demoralisation. We, as a society at least, abandoned God back in the last quarter of the twentieth century and became a self-admiring society that, free from its religious shackles, could now grow up and reach its full potential. Yet the truth is that in any and every area of our society over the last ten years we have been found to be drastically wanting and demoralisation is setting in.

Being cut free from the strictures of absolute morality, government authorities and media, all made up of self-admiring individuals, have opened the doors to liberal freedoms –  but these chickens are now coming home to roost.

In the financial realm, the mockery of the bankers continues unabated after over five years of mismanagement. I recently came across a comment written by Clive James a couple of years ago that seemed to describe it all so well: “Even the legitimate financial system had all the trappings of a racket, including a wonderful mechanism whereby which the banks that lost your money were saved from ruin by being given more of your money so that they could award it as bonuses to the very people who lost your money in the first place.”  That is the bizarre nature of the world without absolutes that we have created.

If we move into the realm of relationships and sexual freedom, even the most liberal of writers is now forced to concede that it is not going well.  In a world freed from absolute morality, it is no wonder that promiscuity so often undermines marriages and committed cohabitation alike, it is no wonder that many men struggle with sexual imagery in their minds that drifts into reality and produces sexual abuse, rape, child abuse and so much more, it is no wonder that teenage pregnancy rates, abortion rates and STD rates are at almost epidemic proportions, it is no wonder that young people and old alike despair at ever finding that elusive quality called love.

It takes a Sunday journalist to state it clearly: “Children fare best, and are less likely to be a problem to society, if they are raised by married parents. Those married parents are far more likely to remain together – and so provide a stable home life for their families, as well as being a socially cohesive force in the community – than are those who are unmarried. These are just bald statistical facts.”  But it seems most of us don’t like the facts.

Perhaps the icon for demoralisation should be Jimmy Saville. If he was guilty as so many seem to claim he was, wasn’t the guilt also spread through those who turned a blind eye to him. Expediency was obviously the name of the game in the world freed from absolute morality. Only now, it seems, after he is dead, is the curtain being drawn back and the magnitude and extent of the sin revealed.

Demoralisation is striking in every quarter. In the realm of politics, in recent weeks I have now twice heard, from what were once staunch Conservatives, about both Prime Minister and Chancellor, the equivalent of “This man must go!” and yet the alternatives seem equally bad. Moral ethics appear to have no part to play in modern politics, only what is expedient or seems good at the time to an unanchored mind. Much of the malaise experienced within this society today must be laid at the feet of politicians and media people alike who have their own present-day agendas built on nothing less than what seems good to them today. Already we have said, the chickens are coming home to roost, but still they plough on opening further doors to future social chaos. Today’s laws thus create tomorrow’s chaos.

I have heard a few comments of “There must be an alternative to all this,” but generally society acts like the frog in the saucepan of water bring gradually brought to the boil, and seems unaware of just how bad things are. Self-admiration is a difficult thing to overcome; indeed it often takes crisis to shake our self-sufficiency. Whether we are suffering from the effects of global warming or from a cycle of unpleasant weather systems, as a country we have been getting pounded by the weather for the last few years.  Perhaps it is only those who suffer flooding again and again who begin to face the reality that they are small and puny and have little or no power in the face of such things. We will eventually learn to build flood-proof houses but we are slow to learn how to do that, and to recognise our own frailty and need of God’s help.

Perhaps the process would be accelerated if London was seriously flooded. That would be a wakeup call! But would that bring such people as our national leaders to their senses? The book of revelation shows crisis after crisis but still the stupidity of mankind meant they failed to turn to God for help. Self-admiration can be both the most blinding and the most stunting characteristic of the human race. How tragic.

In the midst of the process that I have referred to as “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”, we fail to face the truth that all of us are human beings prone to getting it wrong.  The recent classic case of Chris Huhne, a man who found himself getting caught doing one relatively small thing wrong (speeding), shows the folly of self-admiration that desperately seeks to cover up any failing. In his case he sought the help of his wife, but when the marriage broke down, found himself exposed and then had to tell lie after lie for years to try to cover it up. One sin (speeding) + one sin (conspiracy with wife) + multiple sins (lying and denial) = rejection of an MP by society. How much more simple would it have been if he took a driving ban originally and the whole thing passed into obscurity. Instead self-admiration dragged on for ten years before demoralisation set in and the truth was faced.

At a corporate level we are hearing yet again of the failings of the NHS, this time because of deaths occurring while in NHS care. Yes, of course we can do better but for the moment we are going through the media frenzy yet again where truth is hazy. Only this morning I read of nurses who dropped an 86 in the ward and two weeks later the lady died. Whether the two things were linked is unclear, but people (nurses) are human beings and from time to time they get it wrong. Did they drop that lady purposely? Of course not!  In fact so fearful were they of repercussions that they pretended it had not happened. Self-admiration seeks to cover up and avoid truth.

The recent snow brought many school closures and with them, criticism about wimpish schools. One good article on the subject suggested it was nothing to do with that, but more that head teachers were fearful of litigation. The payouts that have been paid in recent years by education authorities for even minor natural injuries, things that happen in day to day living, like tripping over, have been incredible in both numbers and size. This is a society failing to handle its demoralisation by blaming whoever it can – except yourself – and, along the way, making capital out of others. Greed and selfishness walk hand in hand with self-admiration. And all the while, God in His goodness, is quietly working to bring people to their senses. As I’ve asked before on these pages, how long will it take?

Another Day

17 05 2008

So another day arrives. It’s a day of cloud and,  we’re told, rain. Yesterday was the same but the previous ten days were bright sunshine and blue skies. The weather in the UK changes so quickly. If it wasn’t for the weather people we’d be living in constant surprise. Variety, they say, is the spice of life.  Variety isn’t always good though and talk of the weather can be utterly mundane in the face of the bigger issues of life.

The news of the past two weeks has largely focused on two natural catastrophes, one in Burma and one in China. In both of them there has been large loss of life. We have now grown used to seeing on TV bodies floating in murky water or lying in open scrubby land or being dragged out from under piles of rubble. In the eyes of the media the second one, the earthquake in China has eclipsed the first one, the hurricane and flooding in Burma. This seems a bad thing because the magnitude of the first one seems much greater and also seems to need the pressure of world opinion and politics to make the generals’ junta of Burma act to let help come it, which hasn’t been happening.

As this is supposed to be a blog about faith, it might be useful to ponder some lessons from these two terrible events. We may not be able to influence them, but perhaps we can learn from them. The first and obvious thing that comes to mind is the whole question of the problem of evil and suffering, and God’s activity or inactivity. For the atheist with no God to blame, this is just an example of a terrible world that does terrible things to its inhabitants. For the Christian believer it is not so cut and dried as that. There’s a bigger picture and that involves a God of good who made this world perfect, yet within that perfect design had to build in free will into humanity. It is a world that is both material and spiritual and the spiritual affects the material. With the exercise of that free will to reject God and go their own way (Gen 3), that expression of what the Bible calls Sin, appears to have spiritual impact on the material world that makes it ‘malfunction’. Thus we have tectonic  plates moving to cause earthquakes and weather systems that get out of hand, all materially and scientifically explained things but with spiritual backgrounds, according to the Bible.

Why doesn’t God step in and stop it, asks the cynic?  Because He has given mankind that freedom and to remove it means He removes free will and we cease to be human beings. Should He stop us living with the consequences of our actions?  Similarly that would flow against His constant desire to let us be who we are, and that includes being people who learn about responsibility and consequences. Those are the first big issues that face us every time such a thing happens, but there are issues about us, not God, that are revealed here.

Suppose you were a friendly alien visiting this planet. Suppose you skim round the world and observe all that is going on. What sort of opinion might you arrive at in respect of these creatures who apparently rule the planet over all other creatures?  Flying over Burma or China, or possibly any other nation for that matter, how might our advanced alien observer think about each of these ‘nations’ where ruling juntas (or whatever) live in great affluence and power but large numbers of their population live in abject poverty? What might he (or she) think about the fact that everyone takes it for granted that the slums of Mumbai (for example) exist while some Indians live with incredible wealth. What would they think of a world where generals refuse to let in helpers while millions of people suffer and hundreds of thousands die?

I get annoyed at hearing that old criticism of God being trotted out, “Well, as I drove into town on a bus, I saw a dog caught up in barbed wire, and later in the day when returning home, it was still there, severely hurt and dying. Surely if there was a God he’d do something and wouldn’t let it suffer.” Get off the bus you insensitive idiot. You are God’s answer to the dog’s suffering!  Do something about it!  But the callous insensitivity of such carping criticisms reveal the heart of sin: we’d rather find reasons to blame God than listen to Him and receive His wisdom and grace to provide help in the face of need.  One day we will face Him in heaven and perhaps He’ll ask, “Why didn’t you listen to me? Why didn’t you take what I was offering, the ability to act and bring change?” But perhaps He won’t ask such a question because we already know the answer.

We human beings have tremendous potential for goodness and greatness and I don’t doubt that there are many people who are not Christians who are both good and great because we are all made in the image of God and these things are naturally there in all of us; it’s just that in most they are largely crushed by the sin thing.  I rejoice in goodness wherever I see it, in whoever it might be, but I also rejoice in something else, something that seems even more wonderful. It is when some of those people who are subjugated by sin and who live miserable, self-centred lives, hear the good news about Jesus Christ and respond to it and have their lives utterly transformed.  As I watch I see now there is hope, now there is joy, now there is concern, compassion and action, now there is humility, gentleness, graciousness and goodness. These are the things I see happen within the human race, and these things give me hope, on a bad day when juntas refuse to care, politicians takes bribes and two thousand and one other expressions of bad are expressed in the papers or on TV.

In the face of the most terrible of disasters we have to look at the bigger picture. There is a world after this world; death is not the end. There is hope in the midst of pain and terror, for God IS there, reaching out arms of compassion and comfort and, for us onlookers, wisdom to know how to help. That help may not be for the big disaster, it may be for the old lady around the corner, the single parent family along the road, the old guy living in a cardboard box, and who knows who else. The worst thing we can do is just stand and watch and do nothing. God’s love has been expressed through the incredible life of His Son, Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection.  Christians realise that this was to bring us forgiveness, meaning, hope, restoration and reconciliation, and all that means a new life. Each such new life is a means to bless the world with His love even more – yes, even in the face of the mega-disaster – but perhaps even more for the ‘people next door’.