Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Different views on the will of the majority

"...Being principled shouldn't consist in imposing your will on everyone else, but in having the humility to accept what the majority believes to be right - even if they're not. You can campaign to get them to change their minds, but you can't bind them forever with your own purity of conscience..."

Opines Linda Woodhead [here] in a provocative but somewhat philosophically and semantically confused article at Modern Church (formerly The Modern Churchpeople's Union) There is a perceptive critique of her arguments [here] at Catholicity and Covenant.

One would like to think that the above maxim is one which can only be held, if at all,  with certain, and very clear, reservations. It seems not to recognise the very real possibility of a tyranny of the majority, not just in the more clear-cut historical situation of a totalitarian state but even within the context of a modern, western 'liberal' democracy. The ultimate benchmark for our thought and our behaviour, as the prophets and saints bear witness,  has to lie outside any considerations of the majority will.

We can - by no means whatsoever - equate the situation of Christians in our present secular society with, to take these two extreme and historically separated examples,  that of the remnant of faithful Jews under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. , or that of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany in the 1930s , even in the early days of that regime, yet the comparisons no longer seem quite as fantastic as they once would have done, particularly given the developing political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic which begins now to speak (in promotion of an activist ideology of equality) not of 'freedom of religion,' but 'freedom of worship,' and in a culture which increasingly goes out of its way not only to denigrate and ridicule traditional expressions of faith and morality but which actively attempts to exclude them, not just from the public square but from the education system and the determination of the ethics of the public health service.

Majority opinion doesn't always come about, as we like to imagine, by a free exchange of views amongst the members of an informed, active and interested citizenry (for one thing there is never equal access to the means of communication) but is formed and moulded by society's largely self-perpetuating elites. In the West we have not so much a democracy but a 'liberal' secular oligarchy which controls not the philosophical and 'political' (in a broad sense) content of much of what is broadcast to the population but its 'mood music' and its tone and general direction.  Of course, the 'democratic' outcome is  unavoidably but largely determined by the editing of information; in the current ecclesiastical debates, lay opinion cannot help but be largely influenced and directed by the comment and information which comes filtered from almost entirely secularised media sources.  This situation is a self-perpetuating one, as we know well, as the secular Weltanschauung becomes deeply embedded in the life of the Christian community itself.
No doubt, if either the Maccabees or the members of the Confessing Church had regarded majority opinion (even that held in the religious circles of the time,) 'contestation, debate and democracy' or 'the settled and conscientious views of state and society,' as 'a good recipe for testing views and arriving at the truth,' and had accepted that view, even when believing it to be wrong, history would look very different. Time after time throughout Judeao-Christian history, truth is seen to be revealed not from controversy and debate, nor from the weight of settled opinion, but only from the gentle and persuasive witness of the blood of the martyrs.

This alternative view is given below...

"...The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on out traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil. The "reasonable" people's failure is obvious. With the best intentions and a naive lack of realism, they think that with a little reason they can bend back into position the framework that has got out of joint. In their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved. Disappointed by the world's unreasonableness, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness; they step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party..."
"...Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God — the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?..."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Letters and Papers from Prison.

"German Christians" in the 1930s - the logical conclusion of Erastianism?

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