What haunts us when we strive for social change

Here is Alistair McIntosh on the shadows that haunt us when we strive for social change: “We fear the whole process getting out of hand. Can we handle it? Where might it all end? Won’t people think that we’re peculiar, and then there’ll be no way back on to strait-street? We also fear that if we engage the Powers it might be for the wrong motives. It may just be ego; indeed, we know ourselves, and so we realise that to some extent it will be ego! Also, it may be that the corporation, or the Government, or ‘the system’, or whatever it is represents an unresolved complex with a parent or some other authority figure from childhood. There’s nothing really wrong with the world – we’re just projecting our own crap out on to it!” (Soil and Soul, p. 124).

Yep, that’s about it. Just when I feel the energy of a group of like-minded people, hear about a positive breakthrough on the world stage, reach a new insight; simultaneously in that moment is doubt, prodding me. But I think I’ve got a solution, or at least a way of standing back from the problem and realising that it is actually our friend.

The solution is faith, but not necessarily as you know it. Over the past two weeks I’ve been re-listening to a CBC podcast series called After Atheism, and it has a lot to say about faith, particularly the episode featuring John Caputo. As a non-Christian I’ve never understood faith, assuming it to be a sort of mental gymnastics through which people “believe” something with no evidence for it being the case. I am so far from being able to do that wilfully, it seems like a directive from the Queen of Hearts. But these scholars present faith as something else – a choice or calling or intuition to act as if something is true, while always knowing it may not be. Without knowing our choice may be false, there is no faith. There is no sense of freedom, as it could be no other way. No freedom, no faith, only a sure reality. Now “sure reality” would be fine, except that when it comes to questions like creating a better world, it is simply not an honest position.  No one can really know what it takes; it’s not that kind of problem (although we all pretend at times, as our political, rhetorical games make certainty pop out like a cat’s fur balls).

So my faith, is something about the worthiness of working towards a world of human and ecological flourishing – a world that aims for all life to be as good as it can be – to express its character, and, especially as it matures, to be aware of allowing other life forms to do the same. It is faith because it feels like a calling lodged somewhere deep inside of me, but I also know it is possible to be human and feel differently. I know this for a fact, because of the times I see through my faith – I see how a successful talk grows my ego, I remember how I was told I was argumentative when I was 13 and knew it to be true so what better to pit myself against than global capitalism?; and so it goes on. Occasionally, just occasionally, I think that maybe the right is right after all. 

Now, if I am relentlessly trying to understand “reality” in order to take a position on what a better world might look like and how we can create it, these doubts are paralysing. But when I call it faith, a choice to play, the doubts lose their seriousness. Not that they can be arrogantly brushed aside, but they can be seen as a necessary part of the play. There is a story that when the South Island of New Zealand was created, the gods realised it was dangerously beautiful. This meant people may become spellbound, unwilling to tear themselves away from simply drinking in its majesty. Therefore sand flies (pesky little bugs that adore human flesh) were brought in to keep us on our toes. Our doubts, then, are a necessary part of not simply taking for granted the beauty of our own vision.

Hey people, we might have got it completely wrong! Wow, isn’t that liberating – to know you could spend your entire life on the wrong track but it actually isn’t your role to fuss over that endlessly – unless you want that to be your role of course. After all, in 100 years all new people – assuming someone played their cards right.  

So, go forth in faith I say. Not the faith that distorts the mind into “belief” but the faith that frees the mind from having to know before being what, most of the time, we are called to be. 

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