Boris Johnson’s election as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and by default, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is the product of (to quote Fintan O’Toole in the Guardian) “the product of three decades of performances of the show called Boris being Boris, an artful rearrangement of the standards of truthfulness and competence to which those who aspired to a public life had at least to pretend.” Donald Trump has done the same, though his performance is less an artful rearrangement than a deliberate assault on truth. O’Toole reminds readers of Boris’s fictions – the old Europe-infamy trope about the ban on prawn cocktail crisps and the recent brandishing of a kipper to denounce another false claim. Performance is everything and the relationship to the truth simply irrelevant.
The no-deal Brexit story we are now being sold, skilfully crafted by Dominic Cummings, may by force of optimism and sleight of hand may sweep many to believe in the fantasy, believing it can work despite the three years of incompetence, failure and warnings about the dangers of a no-deal outcome. People like to believe in optimism and hope, a golden dawn of global influence and a British economy transformed by fantastic new deals. Boris offers instant gratification.
For the majority of the media, a Boris vision of transformation and success is a much more appealing story to tell when the reality we face is a global climate crisis and the steady decline of public services in every sphere of our society, in politics, health, education, poverty, crime detection and prevention, addictions, and psychic distress.
Our psychic distress is a natural response to the global challenges confronting the global human community. The evolutionary future of the human race is threatened. This is a prediction so overwhelming and unimaginable that we can barely conceive of the implications. Boris will divert us with fake Brexit hope and dangle policy baubles before us – more police, new hospitals, extra funds for schools. But there are more fundamental matters that need to be at the forefront of our public discourse: does the future of our planet and the evolutionary future of humankind lie with new international trade deals or with a broader vision of global relationships, political, economic and cultural, and will we create this vision more effectively within Europe or with a new alliance with Trump-dominated USA?
Where do the best interests of humankind lie? This is an impossibly broad, complex question to ask, I know. It’s hard enough to distinguish between the values of those advocating a hard Brexit compared with those advocating Remain, let alone what vision we need if our planet is to survive as a hospitable environment for the human race in thirty or seventy years time. I wish other questions were being explored now, questions about the spiritual, humanitarian, evolutionary values that inform both Brexit and Remain platforms. If our political thinking and planning, our public discourse and the decision making process, is not better informed by a more consciously truthful, reflective, informed process, then we will be vulnerable to the drives of the self-interested, superficial, fake-news addicted addicts who believe they will benefit from a direction of travel that will potentially hasten the destruction of our habitable eco-system.
We are at the mercy of politicians. In the UK both major parties, Conservative and Labour, are pursuing strategies designed to maximise their electoral advantages. Both parties have adopted democratic mechanisms designed to give their members a significant voice in choosing the party leader. In doing so, they have created a mechanism that disenfranchises the national electorate. We now have a Prime Minister with no mandate from the electorate to resolve the conflicted desires of the electorate (52%/48%) and the majority in Parliament, opposed to Theresa May’s deal and no deal.
Three decades of regression
We are living through a three-decade long period of regression in our national life, a regressive movement found in other countries. I observe regression taking place in the social, political and religious realms. Fewer people speak with an independent mind, rooted in the wisdom that comes from commitment to truth-telling, integrity, and a deeply embedded set of values, whether they are grounded in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, philosophical, agnostic or atheist traditions. In the House of Commons, Kenneth Clark is one of the few members to speak fearlessly, truthfully, and from the conviction of his own soul.
Our political, secular realms as much as our religious and spiritual communities need mentors and wisdom teachers, people whose lives are rooted in a life practice that enhances awareness, self-reflection, interiority, compassion, transformative energy, truth, love, self-giving and integrity. Does the Church of England provide a bedrock of people endowed with these qualities, in the College of Bishops, the House of Lords, in places where I used to find such people, Cathedral chapters, Spidir networks, colleges and religious communities? No. Such people are not entirely absent from the church, of course, but those I meet are either liminal in the church, barely surviving as Christians on the edge of the institution, or they are not professing Christians at all.
The loss of such people in church and society is serious – and they have been lost – forty years ago I met many such prophetic, spiritually gifted people in the church. Not now. Such people, whether secular or sacred, lay the foundations in society. They hold wisdom and prophetic vision and communicate the energy of their wisdom in subtle ways.
The fragility of our political State is replicated in replicated in our religious State. Fake news abounds in the political world and fake gospels abound in Christianity – gospels that propound prejudice and discrimination, that are not committed to the Mystery of God as enshrining love which is unconditional, infinite and intimate and woven seamlessly through creation and evolution.
The need for Wisdom
The regressive era we are living through needs an infusion of Wisdom teachers and practitioners. Without them, we lack the people capable of teaching us about ourselves, our behaviour patterns, insecurities and anxieties and addictions. We lack the people who are needed in every generation, whose vision makes an evolutionary, sacred difference. Traditional religious language and practice are not adequate. They come with baggage and assumptions about what it is to be human and what God is like that limit and inhibit our capacity for depth and life.
Many people are writing about spirituality from a Christian perspective, but few have the insight necessary to confront the institution with its failure to explore the mystery of the sacred, holy, divine qualities inherent in creation and evolution, or even to identify them.
That which is deepest in every human being is sacred. In me, you, us, in our being, our bodies, our intuition, our energies, our feelings and emotions, our breathing, our heart pump and our blood circulating, our skin, flesh and bone, our organs, our gender and sexuality and intricacies and longings and sexual desires and orgasms.
What are we going to do?
What are we going to do about all this? The active doing might be the easiest element, but what about the reflective, contemplative, prayerful, silent doing – the doing that relies on doing nothing more than being present and breathing? What are we, you and I, and other followers of the Christian path, going to do, contemplatively, prophetically, passionately? Every one of us has a pure gift, not of our own doing – the gift of life and breath. We need to keep returning to the place, any place, where we can breathe, feel, ground, flow and re-charge. That may not, and perhaps certainly will not, be a church.
Interior work in our culture, Christian and secular, is neglected. The best work is probably done in therapy. We need the Wisdom people to guide us, showing us how to give ourselves to the most profound truths about our very selves and our lives, our core life values and qualities, love, fidelity, self-giving, openness, wisdom, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, compassion, humility, gentleness.
How do we believe in the essence of these sacred human qualities and in our vocation to internalise them and live through them? How do we believe in the essence, the seamless divine Mystery, God of unconditional love? This is an emotional, not a rational move. It requires us to take the risk of living “as if” all this is true, sometimes having an inner conviction that it is indeed true in the core of our being, and sometimes feeling lost, uncertain, ill-at-ease, insecure. We are human. How do we develop our interior presence, our self-awareness, how do we get to know better our bodies and energies, our emotional matrix, our capacity to feel deeply and trust the sacred in the core of our being? By developing the basics – how to breathe, how to be in the present moment, how to stop and haze and open ourselves to the Mystery and wonder at the Mystery.
Just do it – begin to live “as if” all is true in the core of your being. Dive more deeply into your Self or tip toe cautiously to the edge and dip a toe in. Do it! If you don’t, you will never really discover what lies within you.