THE END OF THE ROAD
In the light of my last contribution in which I recounted my first experience of memory loss, one could easily be excused for thinking that the title of this piece is its logical outcome. Such is fortunately not the case – at least I don’t think so! At my age it really is difficult to determine how far the exigencies of age have progressed and one is reminded of the concert pianist who said “If I don’t practice it takes me a week to notice its effects, the orchestra two weeks and the public a month.” Where I am on that continuum I have no idea – nor does it really matter because in no way can I be compared to a concert pianist. I am indeed tone deaf! I see it more in terms of an old man whose mind and memory is clearly on the wane but who still has enough left to set some alarm bells ringing as to the state of the nation and our society.
Two things in particular have contributed to the mini resurrection.
One is the fatuous nonsense of our former Prime Minister in the Margaret Thatcher lecture when he said “The imperative to love your neighbor as yourself is at the heart of every Western polity …. but right now this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
The other is a statement of Ranier Maria Rilke “ For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but a preparation”.
My thanks to both of these for the shot of adrenalin that encourages me to yet another penultimate statement, this time about “A Culture in Crisis”.
Where then lies the significance of the title of “The End of the Road”? It comes from a cartoon by Jon Kudelka – the original of which seems to have become lost in the halls of history. Here is a copy of a copy of it to give you the general idea.
If memory serves me right, the original had the passenger saying “Is our GPS working?” which I changed to point up the fact that it is more than just a question of technology. Many people see technology as the savior of society. I do not. Technology merely provides a more efficient means of doing something. We now have, for example, the ability to communicate at any time and any place – but that is not the point. It is what we communicate that matters. We have the power to destroy by nuclear bombs. That is not the point. Whether we use it is what matters.
Having had some embarrassing experiences with a faulty GPS, I was temped to leave the original words of the passenger in the cartoon. But in the end I decided on a more personal approach and used words that I have heard on many occasions.
Be all that as it may, I have a problem with the cartoon in that the car has pulled up in time and can now retrace the route it took. In today’s culture I see no signs of the brakes being applied and it may well be that the end result is a tangled wreck with no voices coming from it – a dead end so to speak!
As you will probably have guessed by the foregoing, I am a cartoon enthusiast. Why? Because they are the inheritors of the parabolic teaching method of Jesus. Cartoons, if you get what they are on about, have a punch like a parable. They are designed to impact upon a person and (like a joke) you either get it or you don’t. And if you do get it, it could change not only your life but also the lives of those around you and the life of our society. Long live the cartoon, particularly if it points up that our Culture is in Crisis.
Let me now, in the interests of clarity, share the meaning to some of the words that I will be using. I will be using the word culture in the sense of “a way of living that is transmitted from one generation to another” and the word crisis in the sense of “a turning point”. I have in mind the medical use of the term crisis – the point where a decisive change occurs leading either to recovery or death’ The word crisis is also interesting from a biblical point of view where it is translated as “judgment” – not in the sense of some oriental despot in the heavens sending the thunderbolt of Armageddon but in the sense of that magnificent verse John 3:19. “This is the judgment (krisis) that the light is in the world and people prefer the darkness to the light.” I should also mention that when I use the word God I am not speaking in terms of a personal God in the heavens controlling what goes on in the world. The idea that the world was created by a personal being who continues to watch over it is outdated and has been for the last two hundred or so years. Bishop Robinson in his “Honest to God” pointed it out in 1963 and said it would take a hundred years before it was generally accepted. We are half way through that period. I use the word “God” in the sense of the energy of the universe, the energy of life, not a being but the ground of our being. Of what significance then is Jesus of Nazareth. He embodies (and I use that word deliberately) he “embodies” the highest values of humankind, with the greatest text in the bible being John 10:10: “I am about life in all its fullness”.
God is the energy of life. Jesus embodies the highest hopes of humankind. And our culture is in a state of crisis.
I am not, of course, alone in my concern and, as Simon Critchley observes, we seem to have moved to a situation portrayed by a triangle with the three points being politics, religion and violence. He identified this situation before the rise of Islamic State and must now be wondering how prescient one can be. The title of his book is also pertinent: “The Faith of the Faithless”. He is one of many who are concerned by the Cultural Crisis that confronts us. His answers to the situation are, however, very different to mine so let me then give you a précis of how I see the situation .
Firstly, that our modern secular society emerged from and is a product of the Christian West. Barth, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann made this quite clear in the middle of last century.
Secondly, that our culture has cut itself off from its roots and, as plants wither and die when cut off from their roots, so do cultures that forget their past. I am not for a moment suggesting a return to the Christianity of the past. Much of that belongs in a museum. What I am asserting is that to jettison the Christian faith completely is to cut ourselves off from our spiritual and cultural roots, and that the death of our culture is an inevitable consequence.
Thirdly, that our culture is in crisis. We have reached the crisis point, the critical moment that leads to life or death. The evidence for this is overwhelming, and I literally could speak for hours on the way our culture is collapsing. I have a file of newspaper cuttings three centimetres thick giving instances of it.
Fourthly, the catalyst for life for positive change is what I refer to as “awareness” – known in the Christian faith as “Contemplative Prayer”. And at this point I would ask you to hold judgment as to the meaning of word “prayer”. It is certainly very different from trying to change God’s mind, or asking God for something.
(TO BE CONTINUED)