‘We can play a ‘goodness’ game – profess love and goodwill for all – but how real is it?’

Thought for the week: Piers Maddox sees inconvenient truth

'The impulse to "rightness", when embraced, is irrepressible.' | Photo: by Michael Carruth on Unsplash.

There’s a space between theism and nontheism that is important to explore.

Early Quakers witnessed the breakdown of village-based community, with enclosures driving the landless into towns. Merchants cheated, and you doffed your cap to your rich masters. It was the beginning of capitalist society. Those Friends felt the Spirit of Truth (an inner guide to ‘rightness’), which they identified with Jesus. To deny it would have been blasphemy. It was something real, inside, an essence behind the biblical words – but they knew you didn’t have to be Christian to feel it.

Our world is very different now, but that instinct was good. Fakery and injustice are with us still, perhaps more than before. The rich and the poor know their role but, for the middle classes, part exploiter part exploited, things are more confused. We can play a ‘goodness’ game – make token gestures to impress, and profess love and goodwill for all – but how real is it?

Meanwhile the eco-crisis pricks our bubble of delusion. Capitalism is unsustainable. We know it can’t go on, that we should end exploitation and war and live as one people one planet. But how do we justify our eco-footprint exactly? We’re at the mercy of the rich. Will those with the power and wealth see sense? And when they do, will there still be room for us?

We seek pleasure to distract us from our helplessness. Pope Francis has spoken of a virus of narcissistic spirituality. Shall we watch as the train crash unfolds? Should we pray for the rich western empire to fall to its knees and repent? What’s the salvation we need? Are we even bothered? If we are, we should decide what we want, and then act. We need two things. First, principles of ecological and economic justice – a little global ecosocialism. Second, we need awakened people to organise and act. But it has to be real, not greenwash and gestures. Transformation – perhaps revolution.

The history of monotheism isn’t great. It has a tendency to intolerance and is compliant to authority. Modern scholarship views the Jesus stories as fiction. Some think that’s disillusioning but, as early Quakers used to say, it’s the spirit not the scripture that counts.

What prompts people to self-sacrifice? Or to act for something beyond self at personal cost? There’s a choice each of us makes. The impulse to ‘rightness’, when embraced, is irrepressible. It’s challenging and uncomfortable at times, but it also comes with a feeling of contentment, like having a compass or a trusty mountain guide at your side (or a shepherd if you prefer). There’s a sense of connection with others working for a better world, part of a global striving for the future we need. It’s not done with the expectation of reward in heaven or even earthly hope of success, but simply because it’s the right thing to do – the way of life, the only thing of value you can do, to be a Friend of Truth. The alternative is fakery.

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