Grown-up Brexit, Grown-up Faith

Added about 5 years ago by David Newman

GUEST BLOG: David Newman, author of Growing Up into the Children of God, draws parallels between the current political crisis and the challenges facing the Church today.

No-one seems to have anticipated quite how much division in our country the Brexit process would unleash with all the subsequent political turmoil that has at this point threatened to make Britain seem ungovernable. The Channel 4 drama on Brexit termed it “the uncivil war” and sought to understand it through the perspective of Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave. On this analysis, Cummings brought success, first because he was able to feel the pain of the most disillusioned in our society, harnessing the technology to gain access to them, and secondly because he was able to link their sense of grievance with Europe and communicate it through well-crafted headlines—most notably “Take back control”. In this way he negated any number of the more rationally based arguments from the Remain side like the economic benefits of Europe and portrayed any counterarguments as “project fear” from a rattled establishment.

With hindsight it’s easy to see how woefully simplistic the arguments from the campaign were. The promise of getting vast sums of money back to spend on the NHS was a typical example. Now we are all too aware of how complex the process of leaving actually is, in terms of facilitating continuing trade, securing the European workers that benefit our economy and perhaps most of all avoiding a hard border in Ireland and setting back the peace that has been hard won in that region. However none of that was heard, because the Leave campaign had touched people at an emotional level and no amount of “experts” giving reasons to the contrary were able to counter that.

In our day and age particularly, we have to touch the heart. That is why Donald Trump could boast “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?” He knew he was touching the nerve of disaffected and frightened America. He was reaching their insecurities and this generated trust not just in the diagnosis but also the prescription. Vote for me and everything will be fine; America will be great again. The nation, or at least a big enough section, was stirred.

Successful politics has to start at gut level, as I believe does successful faith or religion. But it must never end there. We need to bring rational thought and decision-making to bear on our emotions so we harness them for good and channel them constructively. This point was made well in the Channel 4 drama in a scene following the tragic killing of MP Jo Cox where the leader of the Remain campaign Craig Oliver meets with Dominic Cummings and suggests to him that he has just opened a box out of which all sorts of ugly and destructive passions are pouring, symbolised by this terrible death. Feelings need educating and directing. The pursuit of the good requires more than just emotion.

So does the pursuit of God and I have tried to address some of these issues in writing my book Growing Up into the Children of God. My interest is human maturity, the place of faith within that, and so what constitutes a mature faith. Faith gets us in touch with some of our deepest dependencies and vulnerabilities and can never just be a cerebral or rational exercise. Yet it can lead us into many immature and even dangerous places if we don’t think about it and let it interact with all the complexity of life. Many can give up at that point if faith or organised religion does not connect with the real world.

David Newman seeks in this book to “encourage a child-like faith while rejecting childish patterns of thought”. To do so he describes, from a variety of angles, that dependence, vulnerability and sense of asymmetric partnership in divine-human relationships which from a human point of view is about being grown-up children. The author makes a convincing case, covering an enormous amount of ground in such a short volume (from suffering to discernment to the nature and purpose of church) blending scripture, personal experience and theological reflection in a highly readable style.

The Rt Revd Mike Harrison, Bishop of Dunwich

My title—Growing Up into the Children of God—is deliberately paradoxical: sometimes it is only the language of paradox that captures the complexity of human life and maturity. I think that it is no accident that paradoxes abound in the New Testament: “losing your life in order to find it”, “when I am weak then I am strong”, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” and especially in the Beatitudes: “blessed are the poor in spirit”, “blessed are those who mourn”, etc. Paradoxes hold together two unlikely ideas and in that way capture something of the richness of human identity, our child-likeness yet adult potential, our emotions and reason, our vulnerability and strength.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is attributed with this insightful quote: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” A well phrased paradox often articulates the simplicity on the other side of complexity, like reaching harbour after a particularly rough sea crossing. My hope for the church is that in the face of all the controversies and challenges from within and without it may find such a place where the child-like simplicity of faith can emerge from and undergird rigorous thinking and courageous action.

With Brexit we have had plenty of the simplicity this side of complexity. We know now that it is far from a simple issue. We have to move beyond the “life is difficult and its all the fault of Europe” scenario, just as in the life of faith we have to move beyond a simplistic “life is difficult and God is the answer” proclamation. Those who have lost out under the present status quo need to be heard and their pain felt but some of the thinking that accompanies their response needs to be challenged and lazy conclusions exposed. It will take time and unfortunately that is not what currently we have got. I hope and pray that the politicians that emerge from the current crisis will have the wisdom and skill to move the nation beyond the binary divisive options that are getting us nowhere fast, and to find that elusive simplicity beyond complexity that unites the nation and satisfies the needs of head and heart.

Growing Up into the Children of God is out now. In this book, David Newman reflects on what it means for Christians to grow to be mature members of the body of Christ, with faith in a God who acts and themselves actively engaged in the church and the world.

Order your copy of this very timely book today.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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