Stepping into the third world is a strong experience: like venturing beyond the garden gate for the first time, like being blindfolded and swung round in a party game. It is disorientating. All the comforting re-assuring things we rely on to guides us through normal life are gone. We find ourselves in a world without the norms and mores we expect and take for granted: of language, culture, food, smells, toilet and sleeping arrangements, customs, services, institutions and time, especially time. It is as if we are set loose in a wild landscape where nothing is certain any more.
In the west, it seems, we have a very skewed view of the reality of world. We describe the third world as if it were an undeveloped part of our world, when in fact it is the world and we are only a tiny part of it. We are in a very small walled garden, a compound with its walls, gates and barbed wire. Inside we are protected, safe and warm and free to think and discuss and plan and be creative without the crippling business of surviving.
My sense is that the walls of our compound will not, in time, be able to hold out against the inevitable tide which will overrun them. We will not be able to protect our way of life forever. It is not sustainable. Anyone can see that. It is patently clear, yet the impression I get is that we are in denial. We have confidence that we are able to respond to crises that come our way and carry on with our lives. Whether it is a financial collapse, a terrorist threat or the current refugees’ crisis we feel we will be able to sort it out and it won’t threaten our existence. (Interestingly enough the big three still very much threaten us and don’t show any sign of going away.) Even using the word “crises” suggests that they are nothing more than temporary irritants and so we are seduced into thinking that everything will be ok and our culture, so strong, it will see off all comers. Witness Andrew Neil’s rant on BBC (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIKg3Qexn7U), following the Paris attacks. It is a belief that our democracy and civilisation will not only last for a thousand years but for ever. This unashamed arrogance is astonishing as it is breath-taking in its blindness. We seem to have a collective short memory and are wilfully ignorant of the reality of history and of biblical prophecy.
So my heart is not in reinforcing the walls and securing the gates. My heart is for reaching out, sharing what we have left, while we still have it. All the good things: our education, culture, structures and institutions, laws and orders, the sense of the common good, honesty and integrity in public life, what we have learned and found to work, most of which has, it has to recognised, come from the Bible. Sharing as much of it as we can before the wreckers and vandals destroy it completely. In my experience it is what the people of the world want. It is what they come here for. It is not for the weather. The business of trying to protect and shore up our way of life, our British values, whatever they might be, by building walls, and bolting doors is in itself a hopeless and futile project. It is futile because the destruction of our way of life is happening from within. The vandals are home grown. Bit by bit we have chipped away at the foundations, grubbed out the roots and the structure has become very unstable. It won’t take much to push it over. We have broken away from our moorings and set adrift in an uncertain sea, scrambling about for anything, any common denominator (usually the lowest) that will hold the thing together. Yet still we carry an over inflated confidence in our ability to ride out any storm. We believe that our way, the way of liberal democracy, is somehow invincible. It isn’t.
This is not the time for erecting fences, getting the wagons into a circle or retiring into a lager. That will only prolong the agony and the inevitable fall. This is the time for breaking out. It is the time for opening our hearts and our lives and telling the Good News while people are still listening.
I would assent to so much of this, the comfortable and arrogant bubble we, the rich, live in and the fact that it is unsustainable, the inevitable crumbling of the system, etc. In terms of objective threats to human survival (I am of course excluding supernatural forms of survival and continuation) I see three interlocking ones, the basic and unsustainable inequality as above, the devastation caused by climate change and the threat of nuclear war. In terms of the first, and to an extent the second of these, the humanitarian consequences are already vast. My biggest divergence with you, however, is, as ever, on the source of the values that can make life on this wee planet bearable. I think it is wonderful that the inspiration the Bible gives you motivates you to act as a compassionate human (to an extent that definitely challenges my own complacency). In my view certainly many of these values can be derived from the Bible (in a kind of pick and mix way, like ditching the genocidal and tribalist stuff and the eternal torment and all that, but emphasising the compassionate from Mephibosheth to Jesus himself) but the development of that treasury of values over the milennia is a much more complex matter than one collection of writings.