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25/07/2012

Unwitting Radicals

This week I'm reading Ethics in a Permissive Society by William Barclay, a liberal Christian theologian who served as minister in the Church of Scotland. The text has been made freely available via The Baird Trust in a series of PDF documents. 

I'm reading it on recommendation of the minister at my local Unitarian & Free Christian church (where I'm due to get married shortly), after he quoted a powerful William Barclay excerpt ahead of a service looking at life's passions and I enquired afterwards as to who he was (I realise now most liberal / progressive type Christians will likely be familiar with him!).

However, I also think it follows naturally on from the recent reflection I've been giving to Marcus J. Borg's writing on Sin in Speaking Christian, and the idea of 'sinful structures' within organisations and states as a whole. 

Perhaps now more than ever, or at least in recent decades, British society needs to re-evaluate its shared values and ways - recent scandals have highlighted corruption within the media, financial institutions, political class and possibly even our law & justice services. And our economy remains in recession.

But we are not just talking about systems here. I also worry - on reading about the tragic circumstances in which Kane Gorny died - whether we have each lost  a sense of individual responsibility for the care of others, and for society as a whole.

A few days ago I sat listening in to a conversation between a committed twenty-something Christian and two regular, run-of-the-mill guys. It struck me, as they challenged him with question after question (followed by criticism after criticism) as he tried to calmly explain his beliefs, that young Christians are the unwitting radicals now - for simply choosing to live according to a clearly-stated code of ethics, a discipline, that goes against dominant patterns. The same goes for committed Muslims, Jews (as an aside, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi, published a powerful article covering similar issues this week), Hindus and Sikhs in Britain, although I would say their continued 'exoticness' affords them some protection from the hostility of the white educated, affluent classes.

Looking to recent British history, it seems there has always been a William Barclay, or a William Wilberforce, or a George Fox who 'speak Truth to power', who act as 'voices in the wilderness' - and my hope is that in this day & age there will be new ethical voices raised up to challenge and guide our society.

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