Responding to Iraq’s horrors

1359564497_muslim-riotsA letter in the Times today (Thursday) makes the point that the ability by young British men to commit murder on video is the result of the failure of the policy of multiculturalism in this country. This word ‘multiculturalism’ is a word that needs to be unpacked a little. It is one of those words that gets freely bandied about so I need to be clear for myself and for the reader what the word actually means before considering how it might relate to the themes of this blog. Multiculturalism is the promotion of diversity in society, the advocacy of equal respect towards minorities and their cultures. As a political policy it allows the growth of a rainbow of different cultures and attitudes in society, with none being given special privilege. As its best it allows for a huge amount of cultural variety in society, together with the promotion of respect for all that is different. At its worst it creates ghettos, intolerance and ignorance because some groups are tacitly encouraged only to know what is in their culture and be effectively trapped by it.

It is the aspect of multiculturalism that creates ghettos that is an issue that will exercise many of us. Ghettos serve the purpose of separating people and creating chasms of misunderstanding between groups. From the point of view of those within the ghettos, the barriers of separation are experienced as protection. The ‘other’ who lives beyond the ghetto is felt to be a threat to the particular way of life that is lived within it. Among the negative aspects of multiculturalism in Britain are the sight of women wrapped up in Muslim headgear who are never allowed beyond the areas around their homes, or given any help in learning English. The walls of protection that are offered by their ghetto way of life are walls also of an effective prison.

Multiculturalism in education has also, arguably, given rise to the promotion of attitudes that have allowed 5-600 young men to travel to Syria and behave in the most extreme way having the capacity to commit appalling atrocities. These young men were in our State primary schools as little as 15 years ago. These same schools were teaching them, we all hoped, kindness, tolerance, sharing and a respect for others. The actual reality was that the influence of certain extremists within their culture and sometimes ghettoised communities effectively overrode the gentleness and tolerance of a British education to produce something indeed monstrous.

I have allowed my angst over what is going on in Iraq to take me longer than usual to come to the point of this blog post. The issue over ghettos is one that should be faced, not only by immigrant groups, but also by all Christians and churches. In a recent post I talked about the seductive appeal of puritan ideas, the thought that we can and should separate ourselves from the impure, whether people or ideas. The ideas of multiculturalism seem to encouraging this tendency to be puritans by every religious group. We are all guilty to some extent of this. How much easier to live only with people like us?

My reader will not be surprised when I point out that some manifestations of Christianity, the conservative in particular, promote ghetto values. But as I write this, I see that it is in fact an issue for all Christians to resist allowing themselves to retreat back into their comfort zones. These are all too often ghettos of some kind. So-called fellowship groups or any gatherings of the like-minded in a church can all too quickly become exclusive and ghettoised. In short, if we are to challenge the negative aspects of multiculturalism, which the Times letter referred to, we will have to spend much more effort in refusing to collude in the separatisms that exist in so many aspects of our churches and in society.

One point that the Times letter writer demanded was that the values of democracy and respect to be promoted in British schools and other extreme forms of behaviour to be declared to anathema to British values. By democracy I understand him to mean a whole cluster of values that I believe this blog also is passionate about. Democracy is the right to debate issues. It is the right to be heard, even when an institution deems your point of view or insight inconvenient. Democracy in short is against systems of thought or belief that are intransigent and incapable of change. It supports the right to go on discovering and exploring even though those around you declare that the values that the group holds, whether Christian or Muslim, are fixed because they can be extracted from a book. The democratic, dare I say it, British liberal tradition, will want all children to see that values belonging to their society are still being discovered, still being refined by each generation. Education in schools is to be become party, not only to a tradition from the past, but to an ongoing process which will continue for generations to come. Everyone in society is invited to this process of learning how to live creatively and well with people who are different in terms of belief and culture. We will all be changed by the quality of that encounter and perhaps understand our own traditions better through the process.

In my attempt to make some sense of the awful things going on in Iraq, I find I have to return to this restatement of values that are intrinsic to the liberal quest. Truth is a value that continues to be uncovered and cannot be said to have reached its final form. Chris mentioned to me recently the idea of ‘progressive revelation’ and it is a topic to which I will return. While we have the encounter with Christ as in some way definitive for Christians, it is a personal relationship and that cannot ever be complete in terms of words and concepts. The same is true of any human relationship; it goes on revealing new facets for as long as the parties are alive. When Jesus talked about the Spirit, he pointed out that work of revelation was not complete but would go on into the future. The Holy Spirit ‘will lead you into all truth’. That promise in the future tense means that I, with many others. look as much to the future as to the past for my understanding of truth. What lies in the future is of necessity incomplete. In the same way my version of truth is incomplete and can never be any other way. Hopefully all those who do not have final truth can never be tempted to be fanatics. Who, with a profound grasp that truth is incomplete, could ever want to kill another for their version of truth or even abuse them verbally? One day beyond the grave, we may see truth clearly and completely but not yet.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

6 thoughts on “Responding to Iraq’s horrors

  1. Ghettoisation is not, I would suggest, multiculturalism at all. It is apartheid. And yes, something ought to be done about the plight of women locked up by their men. Our democracy allows the kind of dissent that can be abused. And there’s the problem. And I agree that churches practise apartheid too. The young people’s service, the family service, the BCP one. An assistant priest who was not I have to say, well liked, once made a very wise comment. Sometimes you agree to watch a video you don’t particularly like for the sake of sitting down together to watch as a family. That is my answer to those who don’t come to a particular service because they don’t have your favourite hymns! As for a man who can behead another human being in cold blood? He is a murderer and a monster. He is, of course, also a human being much loved by God. A desperately sad situation.

  2. The ex RC Theologian Charles Davis wrote a very powerful piece many years ago saying that the choice for the Church was between the ghetto and the wilderness.On the whole the Church has chosen the ghetto with the result that for instance the Church of England has become “The Society for the Self-preservation of the Church of England”. The wilderness is the place of discovery , vulnerability and openness. If we all behaved and looked like that we could break down other people’s fear and defensiveness.

  3. Yes Robert, The wilderness is not a safe place to be, many prefer the sanctuary that stained glass windows and ritual promise.
    My question would be how do we encourage people to follow the path of risk and danger that Christ chose?
    To change this present society we need to go to ‘that hollow place’ of desolation that only He knew to its fullest extent.
    It seems to me that there is always someone wanting to interpret or dilute that reality into an accepted academic form. There is no level playing field.

    PEACE, Chris

    1. Thanks.The present situation with ISIS etc just reminds us that there is nowhere safe or secure and it is a delusion to try and find it. The one promise Jesus gave us was “In the world you will have tribulation” along with “I am with you always”

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