I cannot help but wonder if one of the reasons why there appears to be a growth in right-wing extremism is consequent to the loss of the Christian narrative that influenced the way in which European societies have developed. By ‘Christian narrative’ I don’t mean ‘what the Church teaches’. Rather that story which has encouraged people to live beyond the confines of humanity’s primitive instincts which drive our desire for, amongst other things, safety and security. Richard Dawkins named this as the ‘selfish gene’ and claimed it dominated the evolutionary process, but others have argued that this is not a correct understanding of the process and believe we evolved as social rather than individual creatures.
Whichever is correct it does seem clear that, at present, a selfish current is at work deep within the psyche of our society and there is occurring a major shift in our cultural identity. After 2000 years of Christian formation which has, arguably, shaped us and our society in conscious and sub-conscious ways, the past 50 years have seen an erosion of that process which appears to be speeding up. The Christian narrative is hardly heard in our formative development and, whilst many may not have given it conscious attention, exposure to the telling and retelling of that narrative has given expression to the best in how we perceived our human calling. It has offered something that has inspired generations of people to seek to transcend themselves. The Parables of Jesus have been formative in our cultural development – the Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, Widows Mite etc… Now they are no longer normative in shaping our culture, what is replacing them? How can we counter the selfish traits that can, so easily, be determinative? What stories constantly remind us of the need to forgive? To know that we are loved in spite of who and what we might be? To welcome the stranger and see a ‘higher being’ in the foreigner? To be generous. To beware the lure of wealth etc … What common narratives now form us?
Arguably the vote for Brexit was driven by a desire to be rid of foreigners and separate ourselves from others – both desires being ones which the Christian narrative warns against. The hatred that has erupted both here and in the USA has not been fueled by the Christian narrative, far from it. Rather the worse in our humanity is being given permission to express itself by those who peddle the Brexit narrative. And to ignore the consequences of the narrative that is now being offered, as history shows us, is deeply dangerous. At present too many of our leaders are ignoring this and seeking to focus our attention simply on perceived financial advantages whilst neglecting more important concerns. And just as Jesus was deeply critical of those who ignored the ‘weightier demands of the Law’ (cf. Mt. 23) those of us who call ourselves Christians should be pleased that some politicians are clearly warning us of the dangers of the populist fable gripping so many:
“We are at an ugly international crossroads. What’s happening in Britain is appalling. What’s happening across Europe is appalling. It has echoes from the 1930's. And America, the most powerful country in the world, has just elected a fascist! … I don’t use the term fascist lightly, (but) What else would you call someone who threatens to imprison his political opponents? What else would you call somebody who threatens to not allow people of a certain political faith into their country? What would you say, or what would you call somebody who was threatening to deport 10 million people?” (Senator Aodhán O'Riordáin addresses the Taoiseach 10.xi.16)
A counter-narrative needs to be offered that appeals to our social as opposed to selfish genes and reminds us that simplistic solutions cannot answer our deeper needs. The Scriptures offer a narrative that is increasingly counter-cultural: where story after story deals with the lure and corruption of power, the need to beware hatred of the Other and to learn to love the stranger. The Christian narrative is not easy to hear and the Church, besotted with issues of sexuality, hardly seems in a place to proclaim it. Yet I believe that is what we need to do, in season and – more importantly – at this time when the dark forces of Evil (and, yes, the Christian narrative presents us with the reality of evil and how to overcome it) have been welcomed into our midst in the shape of those who offer lies, trade in fear of the foreigner and seek to place the acquisition of wealth above the creation of a just society. Whether they realise it or not the likes of Farage, Trump and their ilk are the heralds of darkness not of light – and by their fruits we will know them.