In a troubled world and troubled times, what can we trust?
2020 will not quickly be forgotten – it has had everything and more that we could possibly cope with, and it’s not even finished. There has been the Black Lives Matter movement brought to the forefront of our attention across the Atlantic with the brutal killing of George Floyd and the response to it and other racial injustices. That was followed, (we think) with an election defeat for Donald Trump and the possibility of a new chapter in US politics, not least with the hope of a re-engagement with the global challenge of the environmental crisis. As I write we’re yet to conclude a Brexit deal to bring some stability to Britain’s trading relationship with the EU, with that prospect still hanging in the balance. But, for most of the year even Brexit, which for 3 years was all we could talk about, has played second fiddle to the pandemic we’re now going through together.
I’m one of the lucky ones – my job continued, albeit in strange and unusual form - throughout the first lockdown, providing the same income with less opportunity to spend it. My family have stayed healthy, although there’s a more pronounced dent in the sofa cushions from the extra hours spent watching box-sets together. Many have not been so lucky, with the tragedy of lives lost, of jobs lost or income depleted, of strained relationships further fractured by stress and living in confinement. There’s a strong sense that the financial aspects of covid are yet to fully play out for many others, with furlough and the temporary increase in universal credit only just providing a fingerhold on the cliff-edge of sustainable living.
In the midst of all of this (perhaps from my fortunate outlook) I’ve come to value and appreciate some very basic things: real in-person human conversation; singing; keepy uppies on the flats; shared commitment to helping others; running in the forest; even dare I say it the connectedness of zoom gatherings. Sometimes immersing ourselves more deeply in the most basic and close-to-home pleasures can provide an antidote to the things so far beyond our control. One of those ‘out of reach’ things that has caused me the most despair in recent times has been the rise of the ‘post-truth culture’ or as Barack Obama put it ‘truth decay’. It has infected each of the 2020 issues every bit as powerfully as the virus that we battle against, spreading doubt and providing conspiracy theories to even the most basic and well-attested realities. Those theories from climate denial, to QAnon to election fraud, to Fake Covid gain traction with seeming ease. What is the antidote to a world where truth is reduced to a matter of opinion to be swayed by clever presentation or the loudly shouted claim of ‘fake news’?
Ultimately, I think it can only be rediscovered by a renewal of trust: recovering a sense of critical (not blind) trust in those authorities that we have sought to discard. That
’s not a call for a return to old hierarchical ways, but a recognition that if we aren’t able to place our trust in anything, it leaves a dangerous space into which power can be wielded unscrupulously.
I will once again this Christmas, perhaps naively, perhaps without sufficient evidence place my trust in the innocence of a new-born child over the scheming of a King. I’ll renew my critical trust in the authority of an ancient text to continue to reveal wisdom about the divine, about how to be human, and ultimately about how to love. I know that this trust may be mocked, or very reasonably doubted. But I invite you all, without prejudice to come and see if it can’t provide a reason for hope for you too this Christmas. But, above all, my prayer is that we’ll keep alive a belief that there are such things as truth, and goodness and love and that we’ll know them and trust them when we see them. With every blessing, Fr Martyn