Monday, 12 August 2019


A friend said recently “I wonder how history will judge 2019”. The answer, of course, is in much the same way history judged 1919, 1819 or 1719. A year in which reason was cast aside and – as usual - folly prevailed. A hundred years ago there was a devastating flu pandemic, a disastrous Paris Peace Conference, and spontaneous outbreaks of violence in the Midlands and elsewhere. In 1819 there was the Peterloo Massacre (so you think Brexit is divisive?) whilst in 1719 France invaded Spain and Russia devastated the Swedish coast.

Human beings are, and always were, aggressive and irrational. As Teresa May once said “nothing has changed, nothing has changed”.  Perhaps it’s because of disruption that we  often hear a cry of despair that there’s so little common sense around nowadays. “Common sense” was most famously used by Thomas Paine in the 18th century when arguing for the Independence of America meaning that it was “self-evident” that this should happen.

Before that “common sense” described the 6th sense unifying the five other human senses. So its origins define it as a really big deal. Nowadays its use seems to mean what is obvious to anyone of average intelligence and as such, in a democracy, is irrefutable. This would mean Brexit is common sense. But this surely won’t do, will it?

Similarly that most dangerous remark “it stands to reason” is usually made when reason and facts have been discarded. When opinion has taken over from analysis and thought. It’s a phrase like “let’s be fair” which is most commonly used meaning just the opposite.

I spent much of my life in advertising and obviously appreciate and applaud the power of slogans. Thus “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” ; “Persil washes whiter”; “British Airways. The World’s Favourite Airline”.  But maybe the most potent in my life has been “Take back control” because it changed the political and cultural landscape for good (or, as many think, for bad).

In America Donald Trump and in the UK Dominic Cummings  have proved the rousing slogan works. ”Make America Great Again” and “Take Back Control” are both action-focused unlike more passive slogans like “Labour isn’t Working”. They assume we’ve had something taken away we owned and must restore.

In the midst of this people have been losing their faith in all the institutions, Police, Judiciary, Doctors, Schools and Clergy. Yet whilst Sunday attendance in churches has declined by 15% since 2007,  attendance in Cathedrals has grown by nearly 20%. So it’s odd Rochester and Norwich  Cathedrals have put  in their aisles, respectively,  a crazy golf course  and a helter-skelter.

As tribalism grows so too does faith. Rationality has taken a kicking but faith in areas from sport to fitness gurus to community groups has grown. Maybe the church should tap into that rather than indulge in low grade gimmickry.

People need to believe in something – in the midst of the current confusion something solid, reliable and unchanging.

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