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Primate writes on reconciliation for Belfast Telegraph

Primate writes on reconciliation for Belfast Telegraph

Archbishop John McDowell, the Church of Ireland’s Primate of All Ireland, has written the following article which was published in today’s Belfast Telegraph (Wednesday, 29th May 2024):

The contemporary world faces a range of challenges which in number and intensity is probably historically unique.

One reaction to this could be that of fear. But fear–based and division–generating politics is not real politics. It is playing with paranoia.

It is the opposite of what we need and it will cause untold harm to ourselves, ultimately, as well as to society as a whole.

Playing with paranoia is currently the domain of populists of both left and right. But it is all too easy for elites and wider ‘respectable’ society to become infected by it.

Many interests can become vested in maintaining division rather than in building community. It has been the mark of statesmen and women in history to identify problems and injustices and solve them. It has become the mark of many in public life today to identify injustices and problems and exploit them.

Populist politicians and agitators exploit the complex scale of the challenges we face, not with policies but with slogans. Slogans such as “Ireland is full”. Well, Ireland is not full.

Ireland, north and south, has been right to welcome migrants and asylum seekers. In one sense, such incomers made Ireland Catholic, as in universal and diverse, in a way we hadn’t been before.

Perhaps not enough thought was given to how to integrate newcomers and their needs into society, and what that means for social and physical infrastructure.

That oversight does not excuse us from our responsibility to seek justice for our neighbour. Political and policy failures cannot disapply the law of love.

If the wellbeing of our neighbour (wherever they may have come from) is becoming more precarious, then we are called through the law of love to work even harder for justice.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself.”

These words are a summary of the whole revelation of the nature of God. And the way we are called to respond is known as the law of love. But what is meant by that and how does it apply?

Just to be clear, love in this sense is not a vague warm feeling nor intense romantic passion. Love is our goodwill and benevolence towards our neighbours. Love is what binds people together against hatred and dishonesty. It is powerful; it requires courage.

The demand to love God calls for absolute surrender (“you shall love the Lord your God with all your…”).

But the love of our neighbour is relative and limited; we are to love them as ourselves.

For a society which includes ourselves and our neighbours, both may be required to temper their group’s interest in the cause of the common good. Wider loyalties should act as a check on narrower ones.

Therefore, in societal terms, the way of love lies through reasonable claim and just award; in short, through justice. So long as society is organised in groups with diverging interests, love must express itself first in justice.

In his City of God, St Augustine outlines two kinds of human ‘belonging–together’.

Do we live by bearing one another’s burdens? Or do we live at one another’s expense?

Those are the two great human options.

For Augustine if we go, however slowly or fitfully, for the first we are helping to build up the City of God. If we live by any other principle, it isn’t just that we are going for second best, but we are really opting for a form of chaos, and the best we can hope for or achieve is randomly–controlled selfishness.

This is particularly corrosive in the present day.

We are at an important moment not just in Irish or British history, but in world history.

Is it to be a moment of breakdown or a moment of breakthrough?

Neither breakdown or breakthrough are instantaneous or surprise events. They are always carried in the womb of history and are the product of conscious choices.

History is not simply something which must be understood and endured. History is the process whereby we can make our world more humane and more just.

It is a process which, through conscientious decisions, can produce an “us” that doesn’t currently exist, but is latent in the womb.

We can choose to be a people who are deeply involved in the nature of God and one another, whom for that reason abhor the threats of a malevolent fanaticism whose only contribution to community life is bitterness and division.

If we are deeply involved in the nature of God, how different our contribution to community life should be — in accordance with the law of love.

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