A good friend of mine has a philosophy, quite a common one I think, that if you can’t do anything about a problem you should not spend any time worrying about. “It’s silly”, he would say, “to get all stressed out, tied up in knots and agitated about what governments and politicians do when you can’t really change a thing. Making your own stand would be little more than a pointless gesture and your sacrifice would change nothing.” It makes a lot of sense of course. But then, the trouble is, as I responded to him, if you carry any sense of responsibility, especially for the future generations, you just can’t just brush it off. It spirals out from your responsibility to the folk you love, your family, the community and the world. If you have just a hint, a half-formed vision, some feeling for where we are likely to be heading and you know it’s not good, you have a duty to speak out. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent and I think this is the time to speak.
My sense is that in 2020 we have crossed the Rubicon and while it may be interesting to dig over how and why we got to where we are, none of what we find will change the past. What we have is the present and this is where we live and this where we do and say things which may in a small way have some influence for good. The future belongs to others. It is not a concept it is a reality but we are seldom ever given a vision of what it will be. There are of course prophets but there are false prophets too and sometimes it will only take time to discover which is which.
What I grapple with is the strong conviction that we are coming into a time of trouble which we have never seen for more than half a century. I have the uneasy feeling that we are not prepared for it and we have not prepared the next generation for it either. So, in what little time we have left, I feel a heavy burden to do what we can to prepare those who follow for a different world than the one we have known.
I don’t think it is a matter of imparting a strategy, setting out an approach, adopting a policy, or even offering advice. There could be lots of advice we could offer though. One thing would be to learn not to be dependant on what is given, another to think for yourself, (gosh I am beginning to sound like Jordan Peterson) to question perceived wisdom, to be as wise and serpents and as harmless a doves, to hold on to and guard what we know is true, to see that things are not what they seem, to find out and discover what the ancients said and to seek wisdom because it is more precious than any other thing. But I was never much into dishing out unsolicited advice and don’t intend to start now.
I was struck, however, on hearing about the Jesuit priest Tomislav Kolakovič who taught in Bratislava towards the end of the second world war. He recognised that Stalin’s red army would soon be victorious in the east and while others would be soon rejoicing at the demise of Hitler and the end of fascism, he recognised that Stalin’s soviet empire would present an even darker spectre and inevitably lead to the persecution of Christians. He also knew that the established church would not be able to withstand communism but would acquiesce with the authorities and be controlled be their new masters, which was, in fact, what happened. So he went about teaching young Slovak believers and establishing cells of faithful Catholics, entreating them to give themselves totally to Christ and to resist evil, so that when the time came they would be prepared to stand. These cells and groups were not only gatherings for prayer, study and fellowship but became the centres for underground dissidents active in the eventual overthrow of communism in the velvet revolution.
There may well be a parallel in the situation we face today. The similarities may be stronger than we care to believe. The march of soft totalitarianism is hard to ignore and maybe the best we can offer is to prepare for the dissident life. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially as all that we, as baby boomers, have known is a culture of comfort and ease, a general trusting in truth, a time when wisdom, integrity, justice and compassion were the virtues we valued and aspired to and a baseless belief that things will work out ok in the end. Learning to live in a different way will be challenging. Learning to live within the law without aligning yourselves to the spirit of it will require a sea change inattitude. It will compel what Solzhenitsyn called “Personal non-participation in lies.” “Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, we will be obstinate in this smallest of matters: Let them embrace everything, but not with any help from me.”
Am I being over excited? Is it all seriously over the top? Am I simply away on my own wee tuppeny thing? I don’t think so. If anything, the past year has shown us that we seem perfectly relaxed at trading in our personal freedom and responsibility for our health and security. For a peaceful life we have sacrificed our soul. Solzhenitsyn puts it bluntly in his devastating 1974 essay “Live not by lies”
“And he who is not sufficiently courageous to defend his soul – don’t let him be proud of his ‘progressive’ views, and don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a distinguished figure or a general. Let him say to himself: I am a part of the herd and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and kept warm.”