Maundy Thursday

The compassionate touch of Christ

 This is the first of 4 podcasts for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, designed to speak to the global pandemic crisis that we all face together. I’ve uploaded this instalment first, just to make sure it’s working. The rest will follow in good time for people to read and use them as a resource for next week.

Lent – What It’s Not

I would like to think that Lent will correspond with what is going on in my veg garden. A time to be weeded of old attitudes of mind and of the things that obstruct love.

I have decided this year, that Lent should focus on what it’s not about. In case anyone is wondering whether that means forget about giving things up, you’re right – in a way. I’m going to focus on not giving up in order to arrive, by grace, at a place where I can begin to give things up, specifically those attitudes of mind and ingrained habits of control that normally govern the business of giving things up for Lent, leaving no space whatsoever for seeking a deeper relationship with God.

Since these attitudes are largely governed by anxiety, as they no doubt are for many people, I shall try to live from within a single short text: ‘Do not be anxious. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Matt 6:33) I do not think that the things that are being promised have much to do with mastering the art of self-control, although that might eventually reveal itself to be directly related to them, as a benefit or by-product.

Rather, they have everything to do with letting go of obsessive control in order to allow God to simply love us as his own, in his own way and on his own terms. Anxiety about giving things up and trying to be a better person gets in the way of this allowing, especially when the two appear to be interdependent. In other words, when you believe that you are only good when you give up the things you said you would, and when you can only manage this giving up if you are an inherently strong, spiritual, self-aware person – or any or all of the above. When this happens Lent turns into a cycle of self-recrimination leading to self-hatred and a sense of hopelessness.

Lent can be very conducive to self-hatred, and even to self-abuse. There is a vaguely punitive sub-agenda that can take over when it comes to giving things up or taking things on. It is as if God will be appeased in some way by our narrowly obsessive attitudes to foregoing chocolate, wine or cake, or that he will be gratified by our guilt-driven acts of false kindness to people we don’t like or relatives we’ve neglected.  

It’s also as if getting through the 40 days of Lent by giving something up, or striving to do something that requires some careful self-examination before embarking on it, is going to somehow make the world a happier place. That will only happen when these things are undertaken in love, and love is not something that can be summoned from nowhere, through rigorous acts of wrong headed self-denial.  It’s also as well to know from the start that we will fail at most of them and thereby end up hating ourselves while experiencing a mixture of shame and anger in regard to a God who is the cause of all this giving up in the first place.

All of these negative and conflicted feelings will be felt closer to home by those we live and work with. Failure brings shame and self-recrimination often expressed in ill temper and resentment, which is in turn fuelled by anxiety and loss of sleep. It seems to me that all this shame and anger-inducing activity is not what Lent is for.

I like to think of Lent as I contemplate the state of my vegetable garden at this time of year. There are a few weeds that need digging up. Most of them have been left by the birds. Given the heavy rain that we’ve had, a great deal of pre-seasonal care and attention is going to be needed if the garden is going to be able to produce anything at all this summer. The soil is sodden and, as a result, utterly starved of nutrients. If I can find enough black plastic I shall cover it over for the next few weeks (keeping the plastic to use again next year) until these vicious storms have passed and it has had a chance to dry out a bit. This will also protect it from rabbits and birds, as well as providing refuge for the frogs and toads who may have become disorientated in the surrounding wet, and wandered from the pond.

I would like to think that Lent will correspond in some measure to what is going on in the veg garden. Might it be a time for allowing myself to be weeded of old attitudes of mind which have, in any case, become rather worn and sodden with the passing of time and with the vicissitudes of this rather difficult year? As St. Paul says, we are God’s garden, so it is not us who do the weeding. (1 Cor. 3:9) From this, I think it is safe to deduce that the order for Lent ought to be one of allowing ourselves to be tended to and thus, the hardest thing of all for many of us, to live constantly in a place of vulnerability to God’s love.

By this I mean that we should consciously ‘will’ ourselves into a place of openness to that love. Many of us find this hard, which is why I say it should be done consciously and wilfully. It is hard because it brings us to a place of having to own that as far as God is concerned, we are worthy of love, not because we have done anything, or given anything up, but simply because we are seen in exactly the same light as God sees His Christ. He sees Christ in us. And we bear Christ in us to the extent that we allow him entry to the deepest and most secret place of our own personhood. Only in allowing him entry can we begin to be transformed in our attitudes to ourselves and to others.

At first, this will be a conscious and deliberate exercise in getting out of the way, in not obstructing God’s love out of a general sense of unworthiness, shame or even anger. Another name for this non-obstruction might be self-denial. Later this act of self-denial will become so much a part of us that it will be no more noticeable than our breathing. It will transform us. This transformation process will be painful only as and when it needs to be, but the pain will be lessened in inverse proportion to the extent that we allow ourselves to know that we are loved, that we have always been loved, and always will be, whatever we decide to give up.

You could say, then, that this gives us permission to be and do whatever we like with ourselves, our lives and the lives of other people, not to mention the planet we inhabit. But the snag here is that if you are consciously allowing, or taking in, the love of another, it would be ridiculous to pretend that in that same moment you would wilfully exploit or destroy those other people and living things that are precious to that person. In the moment of allowing ourselves to be loved by God, at the deepest level of our inner being, we literally ‘give up’ the things that make for violence and hatred in all its manifestations. This, I believe is the meaning and purpose of Lent.

Individualism. Is It About Fear?

Abuse always robs a person of their selfhood. It will place a person in a defensive position in regard to all their interactions with others and how they view their place and obligations to society and to the wider planet.

‘The age of the individual must end – our world depends on it’ writes Tom Oliver in today’s online Guardian[1]. I have a problem with this, not because I don’t agree with Professor Oliver’s basic premise, but because it passes over, a little too hastily, the real problem. In fact it almost avoids it.

The individual is really an artificial construct, its significance and relevance for our particular times hailing from those of Margaret Thatcher, as Professor Oliver rightly points out. But the individual is not the true person. It is not even the person who wrote the article, or the one who is writing this one. This is because the true person is a far more complex emotional being than the individual.

The true person is a self, known to their Creator and known to those whom she or he can entrust with the truth of that selfhood. So for those who have known unconditional acceptance from another person, the self is already rooted in the ‘other’. Over time, the self learns to ‘forget’ itself, so that it can find itself again in helping another person become their true self. The process works itself out in any relational engagement that takes place between one or more human beings and, as a result, becomes the substrata of a civilised and compassionate society.

All of this suggests that the idea of ‘selfishness’ is an oxymoron. It is a denial of what the self, as opposed to the individual, truly is. Selfishness is easily confused with individualism, which we all beat ourselves up about quite a lot of the time, because we do not fully understand what is going on in our true selves.

Individualism, and selfishness, are in fact the manifestation of a fundamental state of alienation, or of distrust. Individualism is a manifestation of fear. The individual is one who must defend themselves from the danger of being robbed of what little has been left to them of their true selfhood. In other words, they are likely to be people who have experienced abuse of some kind at some point in their lives.

Abuse, whether sexual or emotional, always robs a person of their selfhood. Unless abuse is addressed properly at source – at the time when it originally happened, it will place that person in a defensive position in regard to all their interactions with others, and how they view their place and obligations to society and to the wider planet. It may also turn them into abusers, people who need to control others in order to deflect any possible further wounding to their already wounded selves.

All of this suggests that there is work to be done in regard to how we discern and then relate to people who may be the victims of an affliction, an affliction that we could describe as individualism. ‘Individuals’, seen in this light, are a danger to others, as well as to themselves. In its most extreme form individualism manifests itself as a narcissistic personality disorder which can also bestow that individual with a certain charisma, especially potent in those whose individualism is driven by the will to power.

The will to power is fundamental to the abuser’s way of life. The sexual predator’s will to power is its own aphrodisiac and therefore highly addictive. This is what we saw being played out in the decades of power-driven abuse perpetrated by Peter Ball, the erotic power drive fusing with the sensuality of a distorted spirituality. But, as with other kinds of abuse, it may also have been driven by fear and the religious delusions needed to deal with that fear.

This returns me to the original point being made by Professor Oliver in his Guardian article, that the survival of the world depends on our working together to end the age of individualism. Perhaps there is a collective sub-conscious denial about the amount of damage that has been done to the collective self over the years, by politicians and religious people alike – to our sense of worth as a society or nation and that as a single people we are capable, and have the power between us to make things better. The Thatcherite maxim which denies this creatively empowered sociality is perhaps one of the most dangerous lies that has been served to us this century – the last being the justification for the first World War, supported at the time by the Church of England. If we believe the lie – that in fact we are not persons in the fullest sense, but only individuals battling for control or power over others and over the earth, then the future looks bleak.

As a Christian, I do not believe that it has to be this way. There is something about God’s own will to disempowerment as we see it in the crucified and subsequently risen Christ which calls us out of our fearful individual enclaves, including the power bases of tribal religion on the one hand, and of the institutional Church on the other, into a place of belonging together as a people.  This is where the work of ‘renewing the face of the earth’ begins (Ps.104).  So we need to reach out to one another, across the barriers of fear and distrust that we have created, knowing that we are all called and truly empowered to be a part of it.


[1] Downloaded 20th January, 2020

The Meaning of the Moment

The journey of the Magi acquires a particular significance for us in the ordinariness of our everyday lives, in all the things that need to be done or got through.

Prophecy is not an easily digested concept. The idea that things are foretold and then happen, possibly centuries later, tempts us to draw easy conclusions about the events going on around us right now, in particular the extreme weather phenomena associated with climate change. Human beings do not have the necessary patience to wait for the fulfillment of prophecy, to see the present moment in the context of the bigger picture of the past, as well as of the predicted future.

Fake news depends on our predilection for jumping to easy conclusions and, in doing so, also ignores the tiny truths revealed over the centuries in what I would call prophetic ordinariness. On the whole, prophetic ordinariness is about a build-up of significant moments, culminating in what can only be described as the ultimate moment, or destiny for humanity. It is this destiny that the Christian Church is celebrating in the Holy season of Epiphany, the unconditional manifestation of the Christ to all people without exception.

So the journey of the Magi acquires a particular significance for us in the ordinariness of our everyday lives, in all the things that need to be done or got through. We can assume, for one thing, that these important men had a retinue, a host of minor operatives who were there to make the journey go as smoothly as possible, and it is their individual journeys which are significant for each of us. They were there to attend to detail.

T.S. Eliot writes in his poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’ that there was much to complain of.  They had ‘a hard time coming of it’. Accommodation was scarce and expensive. It was the wrong time of year. The camels were going lame and becoming increasingly disgruntled and uncooperative. Troop morale was at an all time low, but having come thus far it was too late to turn back. So they kept going, believing, rather desperately, that there was a point to this madness.

We can only imagine that the three wise ones at the front seemed oblivious to all this, their attention fixed on their star – perhaps on their own inner star as well. Their journey, and that of their followers, depended on them being continually present to their vision, so that their sense of meaning and purpose, (even if they did not entirely understand it, since it would seem they had no previous knowledge of this new king), lent a military cohesiveness to the whole venture. As a result, the men trusted their three leaders and, since trust ultimately depends on love, they must have loved them as well.

We know the end of the story. They arrive, gifts are given, homage is paid and something greater than homage – something like adoration – happens spontaneously. Neither the wise ones or their retinue are expecting to be so profoundly moved and yet it seems that, for all the madness of the journey undertaken, this coming together in adoration is its supreme meaning.  All the hardship and inconveniences are brought together, offered, and redeemed in this most unlikely of regal settings, and blessed by the young king. Despite the incongruous surroundings, there is not the slightest sense of gene, of unease or embarrassment, such is the king’s humility in the deep silence of the moment.

There are times when we too are brought up short in this way, when for no apparent reason, perhaps, there is an instinctive need for deep silence, or a sense of it overwhelming us and the concerns of the moment. This is the silence of which St. John speaks at the beginning of his gospel. It is the silence that was before ‘anything that was made came into being’. It is the silence of love responding to Love in which human beings find their proper level and in which, if we can engage with it more deeply and more easily, the world may yet be saved from itself.

O Sapientia!

The point of the Christmas season has to do with owning a need, or want, that is unnameable because it encompasses human destiny.

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In the liturgical calendar, the first of the eight days before Christmas is marked by a short hymn to Wisdom and known as ‘O Sapientia’.

‘Give me Wisdom, O Lord, that sitteth by Thy Throne, that she may be with me and labour with me’. I have these words, in what is now very faded writing, on a card on my desk. The card is positioned so that my eyes alight on it whenever I take them off the computer monitor. On the reverse of the card, less faded, are the words ‘Joy be always with you’. The person who gave me the card, and wrote out the words, died many years ago. I did not know her all that well, so the fact that I think of her when I look at the card is of some significance. She must have known something about me, that I wanted something that these words could supply.

Today, I find myself wondering what on earth I could possibly ‘want’ for Christmas, given that kind family members have been asking. I feel almost embarrassed to own to the one or two little practical things that it might be nice to have, but by no means essential. The truth is, I want for nothing. And yet I still want.

The wanting seems to have something to do with the words on the card, which are taken from the book of the Wisdom of Solomon.  I want that Wisdom – not cleverness, or common sense, or even a more agile and creative mind. I want something that defies description. On the inside of the card is a painting of the Virgin and the child Jesus. The genre of the painting is not one I particularly like. It is a little too mannerist, too florid. But it serves as a pointer to what it is I think I want. I also think that my own ‘wanting’ is part of a far greater wanting that we all share but can seldom name.

This, I think, is the point of the Christmas season. It has to do with owning a need, or want, that is unnameable because it encompasses human destiny, holds it in some way, so that we don’t slide into chaos and oblivion, even if in a couple of centuries or so, we will have ceased to exist altogether as a species and as a planet. Christmas is about paradox. It is about frailty and innocence holding together what is brittle, broken and spoiled.

The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew describes how the infant Jesus was given his name. It is told entirely from the vantage point of Joseph, the man chosen to be his earthly father and protector. We are told that Joseph is a righteous man, but what matters most to us is not his righteousness so much as that he should have agreed to the child being given the name Jesus, or Yeshua, which means saviour. We are told that this Yeshua ‘will save his people from their sins.’

Christmas reminds us of the paradox of joy that seems to sit alongside sin, and of the suffering that sin brings with it. Christmas is often far from happy. So it is essential that we understand these two concepts of ‘saving’ and ‘sin’ anew if we are to make sense of the joy of Christmas. Irrespective of the way sin manifests itself, it is invariably about separation and brokenness, the tearing apart of the human person, through addiction, or the ‘drivenness’ of the need to succeed at all costs. Sin is about the breaking, or rendering brittle, of good relationships, and of the things that make for a compassionate society, and it is about the brittle relationships that persist between nations and peoples who are unable to forgive one another as they remember and hold on to a shared history of war or injustice.

At Christmas we are invited to contemplate innocence, even as we are experiencing or remembering suffering. The innocence we contemplate in the face of the Christ child is not sentimentality, neither is it peculiar to a particular style of painting. It is not necessarily pretty. In fact, it is best seen in people and circumstances that are ugly and dirty – in the refugee, the child (poor or wealthy) growing up in a violent or abusive home, in the lonely of all ages, in the addict. All of these situations return us, inexplicably, to the face of innocence as we see it in the infant Christ. And that face returns us to Wisdom.

Wisdom is ‘Sapientia’, or pure intelligence as we see it manifested in this royal baby who, as the result of some bureaucratic edict, has been born in a cattle shed. It is about being willing to come to terms with the reality of our spiritual poverty, when we want for nothing, so that we can also come to terms with the reality of the love of God, and of our own need for it.  

Maranatha

Image result for busy shopping street at christmas free download
Economics of Christmas – Wikipedia

Now that December has arrived, you could say that it’s perfectly reasonable for the whistle to be blown and the retail scrum to officially begin, along with piped carols in streets and shops, tinsel on a warmish sunny day and the release of the floodgates when it comes to appeals for money from numerous deserving charities. The pressure is on to buy, buy, buy.

I say this as someone who is fortunate enough not to have to choose between heating my house and feeding my children, or even between buying them a Christmas present as opposed to laying on Christmas dinner. At no other time of the year do we feel the poverty-wealth gap in our country more acutely than in the run-up to Christmas and in its debt-laden aftermath.

Given all of this, I find myself wondering if anyone finds it possible to associate this season with the idea of hope, which is what Christmas is really all about. I don’t think hope is something you can simply whistle up from nowhere, by forcing yourself to get into a hopeful frame of mind, despite the social and political realities of the day and possibly the anxiety and stress dominating your own life situation at this time. If it were, then hope would amount to no more than wishful thinking. And yet, hope does involve a kind of wishing.

As children, we used to make wishes on a star or, more prosaically, while pulling on the wishbone of the roast chicken we’d just eaten. Adults do something similar. We invest significance in actions that have no intrinsic worth or meaning, like buying a lottery ticket, in the hope, or wish, that we might become overnight billionaires. This is not the kind of hope which I believe is intrinsic to Christmas, although, paradoxically, the glitz and bling of the pre-Christmas season can transform our ‘wishing’ into something which is not unlike it.

Somewhere in the Christmas wishing we sense a deep yearning for something greater and beyond us, if we can bear to stop and own it for even a single moment. From recognising that a wish is just a wish, we move into the yearning I experience in the context of the newly decorated high street.

When we yearn for something, it is often for something remembered, something good that we have known, however briefly. But the kind of deep yearning I am talking about is not sentimentality. Looking back on the magic of childhood Christmases evokes all sorts of good and comforting feelings, but these sentimental memories must remain where they are – which is in the past. At best, we can only replicate them for our own children, but we cannot re-inhabit them ourselves.

So the yearning I experience in the run-up to Christmas must have to do with something greater. It has to do with belonging to a people or family, with being part of the community of the human race, a belonging which reaches back to our earliest beginnings and forward to the end of our individual and collective life. Being part of the whole human race, both past and present, entails a fundamental human longing for love, for a love which is complete and whole, unconditional and utterly real. We yearn for this love in situations which are often rife with sentiment. We yearn deeply, in the flicker of tinsel caught in a passing moment, as we might suddenly yearn to be with a friend who we have not seen for many years.

And here there is paradox. The yearning that we experience at Christmastide is both its reward and its fulfilment. In the moment of recognition of need, we already have the thing, or the one, whom we most need. The yearning is met and fulfilled in the moment of our recognising that it is there. Sometimes, using a special word to articulate such a feeling can be helpful. It gives it shape and meaning. The Aramaic word maranatha allows us to yearn the words of the Advent hymn ‘O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear’.

Allowing these words to surface in the midst of the tinkle and glitz of the pre-Christmas season speaks to our ‘captivity’ here, in the affluent West. It speaks to our particular state of exile, to our wilderness. It speaks to us in a wilderness of false values, both commercial and moral, a wilderness of isolation and loneliness, even if we are popular and successful, a wilderness of cynicism and despair, in our instinctive desire to break or destroy those things that until now have enabled us to function as a free and compassionate society. In all of these wildernesses we yearn for the coming of Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’ and in all of them, if we will only yearn with necessary tears, we are already met.  

When Will There Be Good News?

The heart of the post I’ve just written: Our humanity is the spirit that makes us the persons we are. It is the line we draw between right and wrong, wisdom rather than cleverness, compassion rather than pragmatism.

The first thing I read or listen to tends to set my emotional course for the day ahead. By this I mean that whatever bit of news first appears on my screen, and my instinctive reaction to it, will, in some measure, define all my other emotions for the day, along with the thoughts and decisions which these emotions will affect.

Today, it happened to be William Bell’s article in the Comment section of the current issue of the Church Times. Bell’s is a factually sustained account of why we still ought to feel a deep sense of outrage at the ongoing injustices being perpetrated in regard to the Palestinians by the continuing appropriation of their land, and denial of their basic human rights, specifically in the context of East Jerusalem. Yesterday, it was the murder of two young Cambridge graduates by a crazed individual wielding a knife during a seminar designed to bring people together through shared learning.

Many of those who read this post will have experienced similar feelings to mine in regard to the news of the day, and possibly a degree of helplessness in the face of all this evil. But does it have to be like this? Might it be possible to turn our feelings of helplessness and anger to good use, or to ‘convert’ them? I understand this ‘converting’ as a kind of composting, as when biodegradable material is sufficiently concentrated and rendered down that it becomes a nutrient, a source of life and growth for the soil it feeds.

Perhaps our feelings of anger in regard to the events going on around us, not to mention our distrust of politicians and increasing disillusion with the political system itself, need to be rendered down and converted in a similar way. Positive anger may not always translate into writing newspaper articles, but it can fuel hope. For one thing it strengthens resistance, as it has been proved to do in wartime situations when there is a common enemy to defeat. Resistance is not just about defending oneself against danger. It is about being proactive in the face of evil, a proactivity which both defines and tests our humanity.

Our humanity is really the spirit that makes us the persons we are. You could also describe this spirit as ‘will’ or ‘conscience’. It reveals itself as the line we draw between right and wrong, or which defines those situations that require wisdom rather than cleverness, compassion rather than pragmatism. In politics, mistakes are made when decisions taken by politicians are the product of delusion, because they are self-serving or part of a wider power-mongering agenda, as is the case with Trump’s support of Israeli settlements.

The human spirit learns through wisdom to discern motive. So the human spirit is tested not only in how a person or nation responds to the evil being done to others, and to the duplicity and lies of the powerful, but in how that person lives a ‘just’ life, to use a rather biblical expression. Living a just life will involve anger, but it will need to be ‘converted’ anger, anger which is fuelled by compassion and the desire for wisdom and understanding. For the person of faith, this particular kind of understanding, the understanding which ‘bears fruit that will last’ (John 15:16) begins in the life of the spirit.

There is nothing nebulous or abstract about this life. On the contrary, it is a conscious ongoing and deliberate willing of ourselves into any given set of circumstances that are affecting people’s lives. Right now, the greatest of these, and the one with the most enduring consequences, is the accelerated rate of climate change. Getting into this situation, from that place of wisdom and compassion, involves a willingness to become, in a sense, those whose lives are most affected by extreme and long-term changes in climate. It is not hard to imagine who they are. We read about them every day. When we become who they are, when we see their faces from within our own spirit, we begin the work of resistance, because it is in this place of deep compassion that anger becomes ‘converted’, and so changes the way we think and the way we do things.

If we remain in this place, at a sub-conscious level, we will find ourselves questioning our every action, insofar as any given action is likely to make the world a safer or happier place for other human beings and other species. Small actions count most because they are within the reach of all of us. How long to leave the hot tap running, whether to drive when, with better planning, we could easily have walked or cycled, opting for loose vegetables rather than packaged, or, better still, growing your own if you have a bit of garden space.

All these decisions are made in and by the human spirit, but they are only made possible by an encounter with the face of Love itself.

Time To Take Stock

Just about every day I seriously consider coming off social media. I vaguely envy those who’ve managed to make the break. I’m beginning to think there’s a stigma attached to even trying to do this. Why is it so difficult? There are of course all sorts of valid reasons for staying with it and, to be honest, the fear of isolation and loneliness is one of them, but I also realise that being caught up with facebook and twitter, neither increases or diminishes that particular state of mind, or perhaps it does both. Therein lies the confusion many of us experience in regard to social media.

The illusion of freedom that social media bestows makes us all vulnerable – and hence hurtable. We may feel impregnable, behind a computer screen alone against the world, but there is no telling who is out there, or how they will read us, what tender vulnerability we will touch on, wittingly or unwittingly, and how they will reciprocate, when we have taken one too many risks with a tweet or a post, and left ourselves momentarily exposed.

So the media, and social media especially, is encouraging a kind of ghetto mentality, one with which people can identify by being part of a group which will keep them safe, or at least provide support and refuge when what is said or half said hits them where they are most vulnerable. But we are all vulnerable to being hit, or excluded from the group, one way or another. We are all on the defensive. As a result of this none of us is truly free.

As I ponder whether or not to come off social media, I also have to ask myself what this fundamentally defensive attitude of mind does to us as a society. What kind of society are we becoming? Are we truly free? Embodied in the idea of freedom is that of liberality, which also means generosity, generosity of spirit. There is a growing antipathy towards these two ‘graces’ which are often cynically conflated and written off as ‘liberal elitism’.  Bearing in mind that November is the month of remembrance, it is worth recalling the sacrifices made in recent history by two generations in the name of this very freedom, this liberality, this generosity of spirit.  

How do our notions of being a free society sit with theirs? Perhaps it was easier for them to think of themselves as a free society, one which was about belonging together in freedom of spirit, because they had a visible common enemy to defeat. We have many enemies, but they are not visible in the same way as those of our grandparents and great grandparents. Our enemies thrive on isolationism, on the sovereign power of the individual. Without a visible common enemy they translate into nationalism, identity politics and the cult of celebrity leadership.

As a result of this we allow ourselves to be identified with the kind of people who embody our fantasies. We want stardom, because it is the opposite of vulnerability and of wisdom. It makes few demands on our intelligence or sense of right and wrong. It evokes a certain kind of impregnability, often pertaining to an imagined past. But in reality it speaks of rootlessness and of a people which seems to have lost all sense of purpose, because it has lost sight of its own history. It does not seem to be rooted in anything that gives meaning or shape to its life, still less to its future as one of a wider global society.

The celebrity leader appeals to the rootless because, like any other celebrity, he has no time for anyone or anything other than himself and his immediate short-term objectives. Stay focused on him and on his fantasies and all will be well. Celebrity leaders seem to be largely male, perhaps because the male leader, when he is intoxicated by power, plays to our fantasies, and feeds on our complacency, as he persuades us that his objectives are all that we could possibly need or want.

The celebrity leader succeeds through lies and duplicity because we have given up on the real meaning of freedom, on the kind of liberality which allows us to believe in our capacity for right judgment and goodness. We have given up on ourselves. More importantly, the celebrity leader succeeds, and will succeed again, because we, as a society, have little sense of belonging to the wider sociality which makes up the planet we inhabit, and of the responsibilities we bear to it. We have also given up on the infinite source of goodness itself. Perhaps it is time to take stock of these things and turn back before it is too late.