Much ink has been spilt in recent days over the EU Referendum. Certainly an average Joe like me probably has very little to say of any worth that can make sense of what is happening around us, but *perhaps* this brief post might be able to shed a dim light upon what we are witnessing.
It seems to me that a devolution of power is a good thing. I am very Left politically and would like to see collectivised groups of people (like what is emerging in Bolivia) governing themselves, made up from the rich variety and backgrounds and traditions that make up our humanity here in the UK.
The Leave vote was not fought for in these terms though, and I voted Remain.
We now find ourselves in a position where fear is the driving force behind many of the decisions that we make, and the EU Referendum was no exception to that. What the Leave vote has done is open the door to that fear to be legitimised through hate.
‘We always fear what we don’t understand.’ (Carmine Falcone, Batman Begins)
Without doubt people are worried, uncertain about the future, fearful of neighbour, and so make decisions in light of these strong emotional forces.
Martin Luther King Jr said that there are three evils: militarism, poverty, and racism. Why? Because these three combined provide the seedbed for unmitigated fear that produces violence towards ‘the other’.
Here in the UK we have been witnessing a rise in these three. We idolise our soldiers, the gap between rich and poor continues to increase and fear of those who are not like us is rising.
In the 1920’s-30’s Germany saw a very similar narrative being played out that we are seeing here in the UK. Hitler was seen as a joke in the early 30’s but then on January 30th 1933 he was appointed as Reich Chancellor. On August 2nd 1934 he became Führer and would come to have virtual dictatorial control.
The concerns over immigration and wealth, Hitler’s breaking of the Treaty of Versailles which included building up the army in secret, and the language of power, especially military power and reclaiming the greatness of the nation were all part of the narrative of Germany in the 30’s. And a very similar narrative is being played out here in the UK.
‘We want our country back’.
‘Let’s make Britain great again.’
‘We want to make our own laws.’
‘We can’t afford anyone else to come here.’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in 1932 in Germany, said,
‘It is as though all the powers of the earth had sworn themselves against peace; money, the economy, the drive to power, yes, even love for the fatherland – all have been pulled into the service of hate, the hatred of the peoples, the hate of compatriots towards their own compatriots.’ (“The Church is Dead”, in Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work, 378)
We are witnessing the same story here in the West.
I believe that a Christian response calls us to think and act in ways that are not dominated by fear, hate, nationalism, economic gain or military might.
The power and the beauty of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is in its call for us to love our enemy. Jews and Samaritans had a long and simmering hate for one another, yet Jesus tells a story to his Jewish audience where the enemy (the Samaritan) is the one who loves and cares for the Jewish man who has been beaten, robbed and left for dead – a bit like a member of Daesh/ISIS loving and caring for you in the same situation.
Our neighbour then, is the person we are least like, prejudiced towards and afraid of, and this is who Jesus calls us to love. Jesus calls us to love Unconditionally with open hearts, open tables and open borders.
Bonhoeffer again writes,
‘Things are coming to a crisis more horribly than ever before – millions of starving people whose wishes have been put off or unfulfilled, desperate people who have nothing to lose but their lives and who with their lives lose nothing – humiliated and degraded nations, who are not able to recover from their dishonour – political extremes against political extremes, fanaticized against fanaticized, false gods against false gods – and behind all of this, a world bristling with weapons as never before, a world that is feverishly mobilizing for war, in order to guarantee peace through armaments, a world whose false gods have become the word “security”…a world…full of distrust and suspicion, because it still feels the terror of the past in its bones.’ (“The Church is Dead”, in Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work, 378)
So what solution does Bonhoeffer offer in light of this reality?
‘The crucified Christ is our peace.’ (“The Church is Dead”, in Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work, 379)
I am sure there are difficult days ahead, and so we must work towards communities of unconditional love, coming together in our common humanity, committed to reconciliation and peace. This is why non-violence matters, because, as Martin Luther King Jr states in light of Jesus’ teaching, ‘hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’
Fear and hate have been the conduit to unveiling and releasing xenophobia and racism. We must therefore be a people of compassion, hope, forgiveness and love.
If you’re a pastor or church leader, you need to call our fear and hate in your churches. If you’re a religious leader, you need to call out fear and hate in your communities.
If you’re reading this, you and I need to call out fear and hate in our communities.
‘We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds. We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech. Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word. Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?..Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 52)