Shaping debate on religion in public life.

One Month In: Looking For Meaning and Hope in 2017

8 Feb 2017

Guest blogger Ruth Wilde works as Faith in Action Project Worker for the Student Christian Movement, as well as working freelance for Christian Peacemaker Teams UK. In her spare time, Ruth studies Theology at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham. 

After so many shocks and plot twists, 2016 felt more like a dark and disturbing thriller than real life at times. Last year’s seismic political changes have left us with a divided UK down pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit lines, and a misogynistic, racist, narcissistic authoritarian President in the US. There are many reasons for these two separate but linked situations, and not everyone will agree on what the reasons are. For my part, I believe there are two major themes: the total failure and moral bankruptcy of the neoliberal, capitalist worldview and the scapegoating which occurs when people are angry and/or afraid.

Figures show that Barack Obama was a fairly successful president in economic terms. He lowered unemployment to 4.9% and the US economy recovered following the 2008 crash under his leadership. The UK economy was also fairly steady and unemployment figures looked good on the surface before the Brexit vote. Unfortunately, underneath these figures there is another truth that hurts working people: low wage and low security jobs. Despite a growing economy and low unemployment since 2010, poverty in the UK has got worse. In the United States, the situation is similar: the gap between rich and poor is widening and many people are afraid of being stuck in dead end jobs with ‘crap wages’. Many of the new ‘jobs’ created on both sides of the Atlantic are self-employed or part-time (and part-time often means zero hour or very low hour contracts). We knew all of this before Brexit and Trump, but we still didn’t read the signs of the times.

Neoliberalism, capitalism’s aggressive sibling, is out of control. As Cornel West puts it in his analysis of Obama’s legacy: ‘Our… world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.’ The commentator George Monbiot says that the main problem with neoliberalism is that the only ‘good’ it defends is competition- in a neoliberal world, you fight for what you want and you get what you deserve. If you don’t do well or you’re poor, it’s your own fault. This ideology leads to a multitude of evils: loneliness (the UK is the loneliness capital of Europe), self-harm and depression. It also leads to scapegoating, because when you’ve had enough of blaming yourself, you easily slip into blaming someone else. Sadly, those who are scapegoated are rarely to blame.

Christians should know a thing or two about scapegoating. After all, our entire religion is founded on someone who was scapegoated by the authorities and society. The French philosopher René Girard is famous for having developed ideas about ‘mimetic rivalry’ and the ‘scapegoat mechanism’. Mimetic rivalry is a theory which says that we all copy one another’s desires, including the violent ones. Therefore, throughout human evolution, in order to keep society in check, there has been sacrifice and scapegoating. Girard says that the Bible- and the story of Jesus specifically- exposes this mechanism for what it is.

The violence of the neoliberal ideology, which has created a situation of growing desperation and poverty for an increasing number of people, has led to the scapegoating of minority ethnic people, just as at other points in history. Many people who felt their lives were better before are trying to recreate the past and recapture the privileges they feel they once had. The poverty which has always affected people of colour, women and minorities disproportionately is now beginning to affect white men on a big scale too. The anger at having a job which is ‘crap’ compared to the job you had before is understandable. Sadly, this anger has led to racism and misogyny, because a) many (subconsciously) want their privilege back, and b) they want to blame someone. The bad attitudes which simmered under the surface in better times have spilled over now that poverty is affecting more people.

The good news is that, despite all of the negative things that happened in 2016 and seem to be escalating under Trump in 2017, God continues to work for justice and peace in the world. If we must live in a neoliberal, capitalist world for now, we need to at least use our spending power to our advantage and start investing in things which will benefit the planet and people. We must join in with the building of God’s kingdom wherever we see it, and there are plenty of reasons to be positive in 2017, despite the imminent triggering of article 50 and the horror of President Trump’s actions so far.

On the environmental front, solar power is now the cheapest form of energy, and Google is leading the way on renewable energy – it will most likely become 100% renewable by the end of 2017. Electric cars are becoming cheaper and more practical every year- it won’t be long before the amount of miles they can do on one charge and the cost of buying one make them very attractive to customers. China- one of the world’s worst polluters- is fast becoming a world leader in renewable energy, and the International Energy Agency said in December 2016 that China’s coal-fired power plants “make no economic sense”. It is likely that Trump will find his dream of resurrecting the coal industry impossible.

Added to this, and bringing much needed competition (pun intended) to the capitalist model, the cooperative movement continues to grow and thrive throughout the world. Cooperatives are often found to be more resilient than other business models, because customers ‘buy in’ to the organisation and therefore have an added incentive to use it. Of course, on an ethical level, it is likely that workers who part-own a business will not exploit themselves in the way that they are being exploited in the capitalist world! This is why we must support cooperatives wherever we can.

If you would like more reasons to be positive, Positive.News online has produced a list of twenty ‘things that went right in 2016’. Even when we feel despondent about the political happenings here and across the pond, we must remember that we have the power to change things locally and nationally. So be prepared to fight against injustice in 2017, but seek out and celebrate the positive things too.


More on religion and public life:

 

The Trump of God: Should Evangelicals Rejoice?
by Greg Smith

A New Temple? Theology for the Christian Social Renaissance
by Philip Krinks

We Need To Talk About Unbelief
by Rosie Dawson

Occupy Five Years On: A Squandered Moment or a Lasting Movement?
by Chris Baker

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