Russia’s little green men

So – I quite like playing Civilisation. Probably a bit too much. But one of the things that happens in the game, even when I want to play peacefully (win through culture or science or religion… normally the latter πŸ™‚ is that I get attacked by another player. Which is fine, it is a fun part of the game.

But – assuming I win that fight, and as I get better at the game, that’s what happens more often – at the end of that conflict I have an army. Moreover, that army was expensively accrued, has accumulated lots of XP points, and is cheap to run, especially if they raid or pillage, in which case they become net positives on that asset score.

Of course, I could hold to my original intention and disband the army, but that would be quite a waste of resources.

I ponder this because the risk of Putin winning in the Ukraine is non-trivial (by winning I mean being allowed to continue in possession of some area of Ukrainian land). I think it’s non-trivial because the Western governing classes are generally crap, and because Putin can hold on until Trump comes in, and Trump… well, Trump is Trump. Europe needs to think about it’s own defence.

If Putin wins, he will have a large army. How will he play it?

I think Poland has already worked this out, and at least part of the UK defence establishment is fully on board. It feels like 1938 all over again πŸ™

This is not a conflict in a far away land of which we know nothing. Putin has to lose, and be seen to lose. The sooner the better.

The only mercies in war

In the context of present crises I keep coming back to the thought that there are only two mercies in war: speed and clarity. In other words, a decisive victory for one side or the other. The worst thing in war is a conflict that never resolves, like a wound that never heals, that continues bleeding and suppurating for years.

So – however barbaric and detestable it might be – the removal of Armenians from the Karabakh region due to the swift military victory of Azerbaijan back in September, that was merciful. There are people alive now who would not have remained alive without the swiftness and certainty of that military victory. Life will carry on.

The opposite end of the spectrum is, of course, Israel. I wonder what would have happened if – at various points – the Israeli government had simply said ‘sod it’ and genuinely carried out some ethnic cleansing, in the way that Azerbaijan has. I rather suspect that the overall suffering would have been less in recent decades, for all sides. Instead, in an attempt to be ‘good’ and to win the good graces of all interlocutors, the great un-endable conflict increases and immiserates all involved.

Perhaps Israel needs a bit more of the Old Testament Heart…

Tearing down the hedges

Recently at Morning Prayer I read Isaiah 5, which describes God’s judgement upon faithless Israel, and it gives this description of God’s wrath:

“Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.”

I keep musing on the link between boundaries and holiness. We see, daily, more and more evidence of the collapse of virtue in our society, the moral bankruptcy that causes chaos and disorder. So I think: is the lack of boundaries a result of this collapse, or does the collapse flow from the removal of the boundaries? The hedges around the West have been destroyed and now we are being trampled. We are in the place of After Virtue – and, as the man said, the barbarians have been governing us for quite some time.

How to rebuild the boundaries? How to reclaim virtue? This has been my avatar (or one of them) for a few years now:

Inner turmoil

I am in a weird place at the moment.

I haven’t been well – and am still not right – I suspect that after three years of avoiding it I have finally had a dose of Covid. My immune system seems to be ‘cycling’ several times a day, which is why at first I thought it was allergic (gluten or dust or feathers or what-have-you) but it has been nearly three weeks now. I seem to only have about half of my normal energy.

Also, though, and what is taking up much of my attention at the moment, is the situation in Israel and, even more, the protests in London celebrating Hamas (and I think that is a fair description). I’ve thought a lot about Islam in the last couple of decades. I did some academic study of it in Cambridge, and then in my curacy I was in a Muslim majority area at the time of 9/11, and that was rather formative for me. There is a heart of darkness there, and when I ponder it I start to worry that I’m Islamophobic. “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

We are facing a fundamentally spiritual crisis and – channelling MacIntyre – it is our unawareness of the nature of the problem that is the most important part of the problem. Secular thinking has run aground, the only question is what will take its place.

Such horror.

LLF: a left brain car crash

In my studies I am starting to think about Iain McGilchrist’s work, and I have begun to work my way through his ‘The Master and His Emissary’, which is an exploration of the different functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and the impact this has had upon our culture. There is a good Youtube explanation of his work here.

Some of his comments seem especially pertinent when considering the Anglican predicament of our time. Put simply the left brain seeks certainty and order, using existing knowledge – think of a chess board, or a machine – whereas the right brain is all about meaning and relationships, ie how to discern the context in which something is understood. Where there is right brain damage then a person loses the capacity to ‘get’ a joke, to empathise with others, to understand their relationship with a wider whole.

What we have in this culmination of the LLF process at General Synod is, it seems to me, the product of two groups captivated by a left-brain dominant approach to the question at issue. On the one side we have the mechanic logic of ‘the bible says it, I believe it, that’s the end of it’ – no subtlety or nuance there. Yet on the other an equally secular and mechanical process of ‘equality and rights you bigot’. Each has an internally consistent and complete world-view, which clashes fundamentally with the other. As McGilchrist puts it (p82 of my edition): β€œSo the left hemisphere needs certainty and needs to be right. The right hemisphere makes it possible to hold several ambiguous possibilities in suspension together without premature closure on one outcome.” The left side lacks empathy and awareness of ‘the other’ – both in the sense of other people and also in the sense of a higher authority, like God. Which is ironic – something else that the left-brain dominated are unable to appreciate.

So a left-brain conflict inevitably descends into a political struggle, with more or less transparent moves to exercise control (another left-brain feature). Those familiar with the conflict will recognise the increasingly blatant power manoeuvring on both sides.

The interesting question is always: what is to be done? I have a memory of one comment, I think from Evelyn Underhill, but almost certainly mediated through a Susan Howatch novel, to the effect that ‘when the two wings of the church have exhausted themselves fighting each other it is the return to the mystical path that brings life to the church again’.

Which is a right-brain process. What might that ‘return to the mystical path’ look like, and in particular what might it look like amidst the aftermath of General Synod? Well the right-brain is about ambiguity, and relationships, and the group, and about stories and imagination and metaphor.

So what we need from our bruised and battered and fearful leadership is a re-presentation of our founding stories, emphasising what is held in common and placing each left-brain chessboard into a much larger portrait of meaning. We need leadership of poetry not prose, communication not speech, awe and wonder not compromising pragmatics.

It may be that this needs to be done before making a conclusion to the LLF process – yes it has been dragging on for years, but fruitlessly because the more fundamental spiritual work has not been done (and the same applies to the ordination of women – that argument is now mostly over not because of a winning of hearts and minds but because of political reality).

So what might this more spiritual work look like? For me I would emphasise a few things, where I believe – where I hope! – it may be possible to forge a consensus. So: the Anglican quadrilateral; the autonomy of the Church of England; the sinfulness of taking offence; the shape of discipleship in the world; the demonic nature of the Modern world and so on. With agreement on big things (the right brain stuff) the left brain approach would find its proper place. As it is LLF is the proverbial tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Ah well. One last quotation, and I shall ‘let the reader understand’ the relevance: β€œThe right hemisphere is also much more realistic about how it stands in relation to the world at large, less grandiose, more self-aware, than the left hemisphere.”

When the bubble becomes a boulder

I’m pretty sure the image wasn’t original to me but it was nearly 12 years ago that I started to think in terms of there being a ‘bubble’ of mainstream opinion, and that I was outside of the bubble. The dimensions of the bubble became obvious to most observers in the UK when the bubble lost the Brexit referendum, and then spent several years trying to overturn the result.

The disconnect between those within the bubble and those outside has only increased over time; that is, the polarisation of views, the increase in the extremity of opinions voiced, the active embrace of previously unthinkable political positions, all of these developments have damaged our body politic, and I see them as unsustainable.

Most especially, the bubble has coalesced around the righteousness of the vaccines and – more in other countries than in England – an embrace of mandates. Before the developments around Covid-19 lockdowns were considered a very poor response to an epidemic virus, now they seem to be a default. A default that the bubble has embraced.

The image that comes to my mind now is that the bubble has become a boulder; those within the bubble are determined to impose their will upon society, and resistance will be crushed – more or less gently according to taste.

The boulder will itself end up smashed to smithereens as it is detached from reality – from the human and political realities most of all, but also – imho – the scientific reality around the vaccines. Time will tell on the latter front.

My concern is about how much damage will be done through that process, and how to mitigate that damage, how to increase the permeability of the bubble and enable communication between those who disagree, most especially with those who cannot see that they are within the bubble. (Yes, we are all within bubbles of some sort or another, that doesn’t negate this point. As has repeatedly been shown, conservatives understand the progressive point of view much more clearly than progressives understand the conservative point of view.) This is something that Psybertron has been writing about for a long time – how to have intelligent dialogue across the divides. A work in progress.

The sound of an idol toppling

Like most of the world around it, the Church of England is so caught up in busyness and anxious make-work that it has ceased to attend to what is truly happening in the world around it; and as attention is simply another word for prayer this is a grievous fault.

If the Church were to pay attention, I believe that it would perceive one immensely important fact in particular: the great idol of our time is toppling. The idol is science, or, more particularly, the idol is a particular form of scientific and technical expertise that has been shepherded by a priestly class of laboratory-coat wearing men (well – in the story that is told, mostly men) who have journeyed into the greater mysteries and emerged bearing gifts and blessings for the people.

This idolatry, this white coated religion, has its foundation myths (Galileo!) and rituals (the scientific method!), its seminaries and its churches just like any other faith. Walter Brueggemann, in writing about the prophetic imagination, notes that when Moses, the archetypal prophet, seeks to inspire the people of Israel with a belief that things do not have to be the way that they are, that it is not an eternal truth that the Israelites must be enslaved by the Egyptians, a crucial step comes when the technocrats of the Pharaoh contend with the technocrat of YHWH – and they come up short (see Exodus chapters 7-9). Each time Moses and Aaron take a step to demonstrate the power of YHWH the magicians of Egypt are able to match the demonstrations using their own powers – until they cannot. There comes a point when the powers of the establishment are no longer sufficient to provide for the people, when they are shown as no longer omnipotent and omniscient, all wise, all benevolent.

There comes a point when the god bleeds.

Which is where we are now in the West. We have experienced an immense crisis, whose ramifications are still rippling through our lives. Rippling? Maybe a rip-tide. Covid 19 – from whence did it come? Almost certainly from gain of function research in a scientific laboratory in Wuhan. From the place of expected blessing has come a curse. The cure for the curse? A white coated woman in a laboratory achieved something amazing (Sarah Gilbert) yet the issues with the mRNA style vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna) seem to only grow with time. We have embarked upon an immense social experiment, whereby fear of a contagious virus has been deliberately stoked in order to justify unprecedented levels of social control. People in England, from where I write, have for the most part gone along with this. It’s what we tend to do, this is the land of the obedient queue. Yet there comes a point when that obedience comes to an end and the Anglo-Saxon plants their feet in the ground and says ‘No’. Then the authorities have to navigate around a new reality.

(It’s what happened with Brexit.)

So the apparatus of science and the religion of technological expertise is wobbling, it is uncertain – but why am I so sure that this wobbling is in fact an incipient toppling? Because of climate change. Not so much climate change itself but the scientific and technical apparatus that surrounds it, that has been so on display in Glasgow in the COP negotiations when we do not simply see the expected hypocrisies from the great and good who jet in from overseas in order to lecture the peons on the virtue of doing without, but also in those one might reasonably expect to know better – such as the Green politician from Brighton who flew to Glasgow rather than taking the train. The gap between the ritual intonations of ‘climate change’ and the people who are being lined up to change their patterns of life is becoming increasingly large. The people are noticing more and more, and are paying more and more attention, and some time soon the tipping point will be reached and the underlying science behind the rhetoric will be brought out blinking into the light.

At which point there will be much anger. The poor are being asked to pay for the choices of the rich; I am thinking parochially – the poor in post-industrial England are being asked to change their patterns of life (gas boilers, cars), all the things on which they rely, in order to… what exactly? The claims will be of seas rising, and nations vanishing, and mass migrations and so on and so forth – yet because the cost of the changes being demanded of the poor will be so great upon the poor, the poor will rightly say ‘prove it’, and the naked panjandrums will stand blinking and mumbling and Greta will denounce the blah blah blah and the Anglo-Saxon will say ‘No’.

For the IPCC itself no longer foresees disaster under the heading of climate change. The ‘consensus’ of 97% of scientists – which is itself a falling away from the true faith, for true science has no place for ‘consensus’ – will be shown as not very interesting. The climate is warming – yes – but how dangerous is the warming, what is the best way to respond to the warming, adaptation or mitigation and most of all, with Brueggemann in mind but as Rowan Williams once phrased the single most important question in Christian political thought: β€œWho pays the price?”

The rich will ask the poor to change their ways but the poor will once again vote for their own betterment, and the climate will shift, in earth as in politics, and as above so below the idols will topple. The rich will use the inherited rhetoric of the scientific and technological hegemonies and they will be rejected, and the idol of science will topple with them. No longer will science be seen as the repository of blessings and wisdom; instead the intertwining of science and technology and capitalism will be rejected as a whole, from pharmaceutical exploitations to farming interventions the fundamental wrongness of the apathistic stance will be perceived and rejected – for it will be asking people to be cold in the winter, and it will have lost its power of persuasion.

I hope that we don’t face a Butlerian Jihad, for those in white coats have indeed given many blessings to the people, but for so many reasons the thought patterns of scientific and technological rationality need to be, have to be, incorporated into a larger, wiser, deeper understanding. Theology must become the Queen of the Sciences once again. In one of those little ironies of history, if in the long run we are to ensure a safe place for the Richard Dawkins of this world, it will likely only be if a recognisably Christian culture is re-established.

Else there shall be war and famine and pestilence and death – and Hell shall follow.

The idol hasn’t toppled yet, but it is moving, and wobbling, and in another year or ten or twenty it will fall, and great will be the falling of it. Then, once again, the communities of the faithful will start to pick up the pieces and seek to preserve as much as possible of the good, whilst seeking to ensure the practice of virtues that might inhibit a return to the bad. The world will continue to turn, the tides will rise and fall, and human follies shall remain inescapable.

Kyrie Eleison.

Synod: The dying of a church is not a management problem

This is the first of three emails unpacking some elements in my election address.

Like many others I have long been frustrated with the pervasive sense of unreality that seems to govern decisions made by our national church. So many initiatives, so much cheerleading, so much refusal to face what is happening. I am wholly in favour of church planting – I have successfully planted a new congregation myself – but with the recent discussions of planting 10,000 churches (‘No! We mean a different new 10,000 churches!’) I cannot but conclude that our national leadership has finally jumped the shark.

Back in 2012, when I was struggling with the realities of a large, multi-parish benefice, I got hold of a copy of β€˜The Tiller Report’ – β€œA Strategy for the Church’s Ministry” by John Tiller, then Chief Secretary to ACCM, which was published in 1983. The Tiller report was itself building and moving on from a previous β€˜Paul Report’ from 1967, which covered similar ground. It made depressing reading. All the issues that are currently being discussed (eg how to cope with a reduction in clergy numbers) are identified in Tiller, and all the same solutions are advocated – empowering the laity, distributing responsibilities, making the Deaneries the focus of mission and so on. I have this dark vision of another report being written in 20 years time, describing the present context as richly resourced, and working out how to keep the Church of England ‘renewing and reforming’ with only 2,500 clergy.

If managerial, pragmatic and administrative remedies addressed the real problem, then those problems would have been solved by now. That they haven’t suggests that our continuing malaise is not something that can be treated with those techniques. We keep doing the same thing whilst expecting different results. The dying of a church is not a management problem, it is theological and spiritual. Which means that we need to employ spiritual analysis and deploy spiritual solutions.

For me, the framework that makes most sense is Walter Brueggemann’s depiction of ‘Royal Consciousness’: those who make decisions on behalf of the national church are locked within a pattern of thought that is convenient for the established powers but which neutralises the gospel. As an institution we have unconsciously absorbed the secular framework of our surrounding culture which means we no longer use spiritual language with confidence, and so we spend our time parading our secular virtues in order to be acceptable to the society in which we live.

Most damagingly of all, the framework within which we make sense of the role of a priest has vanished. Instead of a ministry of Word and Sacrament we have had an evacuation of priesthood in favour of incumbency – fewer and fewer priests responsible for more and more churches. I believe that enabling clergy to become the ministers that they were called to and trained for is the most essential step that we can take towards renewing our church. Instead we employ business consultants to advise us on how best to manage our decline, and usher us into our simpler, humbler, bolder senescence.

For someone who considers themselves profoundly Anglican – as I do – the naturally desirable course of action is to stay and try and change things for the better. Yet I cannot escape Leonard Cohen’s mordant commentary, β€œthey sentenced me to twenty years of boredom… for trying to change the system from within”. It occurs to me that if it was possible to change the system from within – through incremental shifts – then it would have been done already. After all, the spiritual root of our present predicament was accurately diagnosed by Evelyn Underhill more than ninety years ago. In a letter to Archbishop Lang in around 1931 she wrote to complain about the way in which the complications and demands of running the institution had compromised the capacity of priests to maintain their prayer life: β€œThe real failures, difficulties and weaknesses of the Church are spiritual and can only be remedied by spiritual effort and sacrifice […] her deepest need is a renewal, first in the clergy and through them in the laity; of the great Christian tradition of the inner life.”

More recently, the generation of priests ordained in the sixties and seventies were, I suspect, not given any more or less grace than the present generation – and there were many more of them – so why the tacit assumption that ‘one more heave’ might make any difference? In other words, the spiritual rot has gone so much deeper than any possible structural reform can address. We no longer have the capacity to make the right decisions, because our spiritual strength has been exhausted – and it is that spiritual strength which is my principal concern, for building up the spiritual strength of any Christian community is precisely the priestly task, the cure of souls.

Which leads to a more troubling and possibly terminal question – is it actually possible to be a priest in the Church of England any more? If the generating and nurturing of spiritual strength is indeed the core role of the priest; if this is a distinct and important (most important!) task; if this is what priests continue to be called to by the living God – is it at all realistic to consider the role of an incumbent within the Church of England as a context that enables such a vocation to be expressed? Or is it the case that the hours of an incumbent are filled with the need to satisfy the demands of a second rate managerialism, keeping the wheels of the institution turning, and where the worst sin is not a failure of spiritual cure but bringing the institution into disrepute? Incumbency drives out priesthood, and the future that we are staring it is the exaltation of incumbency. The deep understanding of what a priest is for – that which inspires so many people still to present themselves for the task – seems to be structurally forgotten, and only referenced in rhetoric at ordinations.

If there is to be any future for the Church of England it will involve ‘giving up’ – giving up an illusion of centralised control, that if only we get in the right leaders doing the right programs then all shall be well. It will involve setting parishes free, and it will involve setting priests free – free to actually be priests, and not establishment functionaries. What we really need is a way of handing over all ‘incumbency’ rights and responsibilities to local laity – to revive lay incumbencies no less (which is not the same as lay presidency!) – and to only have ‘mission priests’ – people whose responsibility it is to feed the faithful by word and sacrament – and nothing else. The institution keeps loading on other options onto the creaking shoulders of the clergy and they are almost all distractions from that core task; they make clergy miserable and simply generate stress and burn-out. It is because we no longer know what a priest is for that we have devised an institution that makes it impossible to actually be a priest within it.

I want to resist this – and I want to resist this in the right way, with love and with laughter. With love for our leadership, and an absolute resolve not to scapegoat or cast blame upwards, for we all share responsibility for this predicament. We also need to resist with laughter. The emperor has no clothes, but all the courtiers have been stitched up into a false narrative, and the clothing may not be on the emperor but it is covering their eyes. Sometimes we need to laugh – it might just be that laughter brings people back to themselves, and the truth can then be realised, and the masks can be taken off and then, together, seeking the truth in love, we can work out where to go.

The great green herring of the IPCC

So those who know me know that I’m a dissident, old-fashioned and curmudgeonly sort, β€œafflicted with the malady of thought” – and that applies especially to Green things, where I find myself repeatedly annoyed by what I think of as ‘the great green herring’ of climate change.

I see the IPCC process as simply yet another form of the technological imperialism, the death-complex, that drives out our common humanity in favour of unacknowledged puritanical theologies and self-hatreds (I don’t doubt warming, nor human contributions to that, but all the coverage is about the most unlikely outcome). Fear is the mind-killer.

I like Schumacher’s idea of appropriate level technology, and the importance of the human scale, emphasising our biological and social nature and the importance of what we have in common. That is where we need to concentrate our attention – not with pandering to the fear-factories of modern media because we think that being seen is sufficient.

To put that in concrete terms – our future is not going to be electric cars, nor will it be people riding around on horseback, it will be everyone using a bicycle, and our communities will be geared around that, not the interests of the motorists.

The truth is that no matter what measures are taken to respond to climate change we are not going to be able to carry on in the way that we have been. We are still tracking the ‘world model’ outlined in the Limits to Growth, which means that in ten to fifteen years – AT BEST – we are going to go through a breakdown and collapse.

Personally I think it has already started – and it will solve the climate change problem fully no matter what we do. I first started studying climate change in 1989 – I still have my Greenpeace report on Global Warming on my bookshelf! – but what made me start questioning the orthodoxy was discovering LTG. You can’t be worried about both LTG and climate change – the one cancels the other.

Human life will carry on. Human civilisations will carry on. I think that the UK is well placed (in many senses) for a good future. The only question is how much damage the death-complex will make as it struggles with its own demise. When something is unsustainable that means that it will not be sustained, it will come to an end. Our machine civilisation, this asophic industrial fascism, will come to an end.

I am interested in what comes afterwards. What comes afterwards will be determined by the stories that we tell each other (which is why the Dark Mountain group is so important). I think a healthy story has to be rooted in the greatest story ever told – the only story that leads to long-term, healthy and sustainable communities. It’s also why we need a much better national narrative – more on that another time.

For a sense – a much more effectively-written sense – of what I am on about, have a read of this by Wendell Berry. Our human future begins with a hug.

Click to access Berry-Health-is-Membership.pdf

IDWTSLACP – why the crazy conversation is important (OR: why the UK has a more hopeful prospect than the US in the coming years)

One of the dire consequences of our present cultural breakdown is the collapse of a shared space of discourse – a common frame of reference, a mutual framework of values – against which, within which, we can hammer out our differences without threatening the stability, and therefore the safety, of the community as a whole.

One of those shared values is democracy, which has as a necessary component the notion of ‘loser’s consent’. In other words, democracy is the means by which we have agreed to resolve our differences. We make our arguments and then there is an election (or a referendum!) which produces a decision for one path or another, and then there is a gathering around that decision with a common resolve to make the decision work, or apply.

The two shocks in the English-speaking world, of 2016, did not receive that expected loser’s consent. However, the working out of that refusal of consent took a different path in the UK and in the US.

In the UK there was a concerted effort on the part of the governing class to overthrow the verdict of the referendum. However, in contrast to what happened in other EU member states, the governing class was not able to succeed. Through a sequence of further democratic votes, most notably the impact of the Brexit party in the EU elections of 2019, and culminating in the General Election of December 2019, the democratic decision was re-affirmed, Mr Johnson received a mandate for Brexit and – slightly to my surprise – he has actually implemented it.

Please note that this is not an argument saying that Brexit was the ‘right’ decision. This is simply saying that in the UK a democratic verdict was implemented – there was a time of strife but in the end the institutions of the state, the limbs of the body politic, did actually reflect the choice that was made.

(A personal aside: whilst I am – obviously – a committed Brexiteer, it was actually a sense that this needed to happen, that there was a risk of something profoundly wrong and damaging about to take place, that moved me to stick my head up above the parapet with the Brexit Party. That was a terrifying experience on all sorts of levels; but it was the right decision, and, I believe, it was of God. A small but healing (for me) act of prophetic drama.)

This outcome – that the UK voted for Brexit, and the UK has now got Brexit, for better or for worse – gives me a degree of confidence in the future of our society. Our institutions eventually worked, and that means that our institutions continue to enjoy the consent of the population. When things go wrong – as they seem to be doing with our COVID response, whatever your view on the underlying science – then people will turn to the existing systems to remedy what has gone wrong. In other words, if Johnson is eventually considered to be an incompetent and bumbling fool then he will be thrown out of office, either by the Conservative MPs as they face the prospect of losing an election, or by the voters in a General election themselves.

The reason why I think that this is so essential is because I think if it hadn’t happened – if Brexit had been somehow denied by overt and covert means – we would find ourselves in the situation that the United States finds itself in today.

When Trump was elected, against the odds, there was a parallel reaction of the establishment to try and overturn that democratic shift. It took various forms, Russiagate was the most blatant, but there were others. Again, this is not a point in favour of Trump, it is a point about the democratic process. When one side of a democratic context refuses to accept the basic legitimacy of a decision that they did not support, then it is the framework itself that breaks down – and when the framework breaks down then there is no longer a possibility of a consensual future.

In my view, what we are seeing in the United States today is the product of both long-term and short-term factors. The long-term factors need not detain us now (see MacIntyre amongst others) but the short-term factors are quite straightforward. The deplorables have been demonised, and they have demonised in turn. Trump was denied legitimacy, and now Biden is denied legitimacy. Consent in the democratic process is being withdrawn, and that withdrawal is escalating. Place this into a context of cultural polarisation and add free access to automatic weapons, then stir.

I am very worried about the short-term (up to five years) future of the United States. I do not see how to get through the crisis that now obtains without things getting significantly worse, up to and including a degree of civil conflict, and possibly the secession or breakdown of the United States itself.

If there is to be a shared future – and this applies to the UK also, even though I hope and pray that we have now avoided the worst outcomes – then I believe there are two linked things that simply must be put in place. The first relates to political leadership, the second relates to how ordinary people conduct themselves with each other.

Political leaders must demonstrate honesty. The normal jostling for advantage, the reliance upon ‘spin’ to present events in a light that is most flattering to the speaker, these belong to a more luxurious and decadent age. We need plain speaking, frank admissions of what has gone wrong, what the true situation is. Leaders need to trust people again – and that cannot happen if the full truth of a situation is not disclosed.

Similarly, if there is to be a renewal of our shared cultural space there needs to be an acceptance of the legitimacy of difference. To denounce different perspectives as malicious – which is what happened in the Brexit debates – and fail to engage in the substance is part of the cultural breakdown that leads to greater conflict.

One might say: if there is to be reconciliation between the warring factions, that reconciliation can only be built upon a shared truth.

Which is why the ‘crazy’ questions simply must be addressed. They must be engaged with, patiently, and the truth must be excavated and brought out into the light. It will not do to repeat talking points shared on the one side or the other. There must be a recognition of the sincerely held beliefs held by those who oppose. There has to be an affirmation of the shared humanity of the other side. Without this there is only perpetual conflict and dissolution.

I am hopeful that the UK has been enabled by grace to find that more creative path. On this day of Epiphany, the light that enlightens the nations, I pray for the US – an amazing nation, a beautiful people – currently in the grip of a devilish crisis. Lord have mercy.