One of my formative philosophical influences – and I can say that without being pretentious because I was about 17 when I read it, and pretention is expected at that age – was Albert Camus’ ‘The Rebel’, most especially the first few pages. These describe the reaction of a slave who has simply taken too much abuse and turns round to say ‘No’. From that refusal comes a sense of value and a sense of self – and these are the building blocks for creating something new. This is the primal reaction from which all else comes. Camus writes “An awakening of conscience, no matter how confused it may be, develops from any act of rebellion and is represented by the sudden realisation that something exists with which the rebel can identify himself…”
I’ve been pondering this whilst following the events outside St Paul’s. There has been much criticism of the Occupy movement for not having ‘clear goals’ (on which see this great cartoon). That is immediately to try and force the rebellion to conform to the dominant discourse, to be co-opted into the patterns that pose no threat to the establishment. Specific claims will, I do not doubt, follow in due course. For now, however, it is enough for there to be the protest, the rebellion – the saying ‘No’ to manifest injustice, arrogance, ignorance and greed.
So what of St Paul’s at this time? I can’t be the only one who is dubious about the ‘Health and Safety’ rationale for closing the cathedral, not least because those grounds have not been clearly communicated to the Occupiers, who are therefore prevented from being able to take action in response to allay the concerns. Clearly it is a way of trying to bring moral pressure upon the protesters to get them to move along and not cause such bother. Yet if I’m right about the rebellion being the ‘awakening of conscience’ then the cathedral authorities are lining up on the wrong side of the divide – their moral pressure is simply an expression of convention rather than a receptivity to the right. In Camus’ terms they are embodying the abuser, metaphorically and literally. What I find most intriguing is that the Occupy actions have inadvertently put the spotlight onto the national church, rather than causing immediate difficulties to the financial institutions. What are the real values that guide the Church of England? With whom shall we stand? At the moment, sadly, it looks as if the Church is simply another element of the governing class, an Erastian placeholder cavilling at those protesting wickedness because it is simply not the done thing. Will the Church ever get to a point where it can say to the establishment ‘thus far and no further’? It would return to the Church that sense of value and sense of self which is conspicuous by its absence. I believe that it is what the people of this country are in fact looking for – the Occupiers not least among them.
(In the meantime plaudits and kudos to Kathryn Rose for following where the Spirit leads!)