Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Thoughts for 2017

In January 1932, the Quaker philosopher John Macmurray broadcast a series of talks on the BBC. What would become known as the Great Depression was biting hard and unemployment and poverty were on the rise, whilst in Europe Mussolini was in power in Italy and Adolf Hitler would grab power in Germany in the next few months.

Transcripts of these talks and earlier broadcast talks were later published as 'Freedom In The Modern World'.

This is how he concluded his final talk:

John Macmurray
Why can we not act greatly for the solution of our international economic problems? Why do we simply watch our social system going to pieces before our eyes? Why are we paralysed? Because we are afraid, afraid of one another, afraid of ourselves, afraid of the consequences of any decisive action. We are fear-determined, and our one demand is the fear-demand, the demand for security, for protection. Our dilemma lies in the fact that the more we try to defend ourselves the more we destroy ourselves by isolating our selves more and more from one another. You have noticed, have you not, that our efforts to solve a confessedly international problem only seem to increase nationalism? That is because it is fear that is the motive force of our efforts to solve the problem. There is only one way in which we can escape from the dilemma, and that is by destroying the fear that is at the root of it.
I do not think that Christianity will save us from the things we are afraid of. I think it would save us from the fear of them which paralyses us. … Real Christianity stands to-day, as it has always stood, for life against death, for spontaneity against formalism, for the spirit of adventure against the spirit of security, for faith against fear, for the living colourful multiplicity of difference against the monotony of the mechanical, whether it be the mechanization of the mind, which is dogmatism, or the mechanization of the emotions, which is conformity.
What are we to do about it? ... how does one begin to grow faith? How does one set about developing freedom of feeling, and rid oneself of fear? … It is you and I who are afraid, … Whatever we do will be wrong till we are put right. If we start trying to set our feelings free we will just be making the dilemma worse; because we shall use our intellects to force ourselves to feel and to act from feeling, and the whole action will be a sham. It would only express what we think we feel, or what we think we ought to feel; and our last state would be worse than the first. We should turn our fear of feeling into a fear of not feeling, our fear of spontaneity into a fear of not being spontaneous. Reverse your fear, change its object, and it is still fear. We are in a vicious circle. Until we are healed we cannot act healthily.
What we have to do is to wait and be quiet; to stop our feverish efforts to do something; to cease our fruitless attempt to save ourselves. Salvation, if it comes to us, must come from outside. We must wait for the new thing to be born in us; for the new light to be manifested to us. Even to look is useless, for our eyes are blinded. We can only be quiet and wait, expectant but unworried, for the creative word that will say, ‘Let there be light.’ There is nothing else to be done. The next word is not with us, but with reality.
'Be quiet, be still–the world is not resting on our shoulders; if it were, heaven help it! If we are so futile and stupid, why should we be saved? And if our civilization is sham, what point is there in its preservation? Drop this stupid struggle against the reality of things; there cannot be anything real to be afraid of.’ For we all know by this time that what we want is a new and better social order, which will be built and enjoyed by better men and women than we are; and obviously, if we are to have a new world we must let the old one go. Even if it is like death to turn our backs upon it, to stand still and see all our defences crumble and our security vanish like smoke, … that ‘he that loseth his life shall keep it’. It is possible for [persons] and for societies of [persons] to be reborn, even if it is impossible to have them reconstructed.