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Visions Of Hope: Society

"Two people—a man and a woman for whom I have the greatest respect—have spoken warmly of society today. They both feel it is an exciting time to be alive. They have jobs they find fulfilling and enjoy the fruits of applied science and technology,'' writes William Sykes.

Society—social mode of life, the customs and organization of a civilized nation—any social community

Two people—a man and a woman for whom I have the greatest respect—have spoken warmly of society today. They both feel it is an exciting time to be alive. They have jobs they find fulfilling and enjoy the fruits of applied science and technology. On the whole they feel most people are happy and content with their lot.

I have certain reservations, possibly because of the nature of the work I do, and feel a certain sympathy with the words of F.R. Barry in this section. I wonder if the source of all our troubles comes from society being undermined by endemic spiritual malnutrition. Let's just take one illustration—crime. If the statistics are correct we have, in Britain, comparatively speaking, the largest prison population in Europe, and every indication that crime is on the increase. Law and order seem to be on the verge of breaking down. The rise of a vigilante movement suggests people have lost confidence in the police and the legal system, and are taking the law into their own hands. This seems to coincide with a lack of respect for people and property and a breakdown in morals.

I don't think we can improve this situation by patching up the framework. I think something more fundamental is needed—a spiritual revolution. I don't see this coming from the Church as constituted at present. This institution is also the victim of endemic spiritual malnutrition. Something new is needed, from the very centre of society—a spiritual rebirth.

Am I my brother's keeper? Genesis 4:9

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
Exodus 20:12

... as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
Luke 6:31

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.
Hebrews 13:3

Society is being undermined by endemic spiritual malnutrition.
F.R. Barry, Secular and Supernatural, SCM Press, 1969, page 9
Widespread dissipation is the result rather than the cause of social decadence.
Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, Seeker & Warburg, 1956, page 119

Life in cheap and ugly homes cannot fail to give their inmates a corresponding bent of mind.
Norman Douglas, An Almanac, Chatto & Windus in association with Martin Seeker & Warburg, 1945, page 47

The great want of society to-day is the habit of adhering to absolute truth and reliable honesty.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 97

In the long run what any society is to become will depend on what it believes, or disbelieves, about the eternal things.
Charles Gore,/es«s of Nazareth, Thornton Butterworth, 1929, page 250

The Gospel itself loses its integrity unless it is able in significant measure to call into question the cultural context in which it is to be interpreted.
F.R. Barry, Secular and Supernatural, SCM Press, 1969, page 83

That which lowers the sacredness of man is the greatest evil that can visit a nation; for a nation is made rich by its manhood, and is poor when manhood is at a discount.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 19

Wickedness in society is all the time seeking to gain ascendency; and there is nothing to keep it down but the hatred of it which the educated conscience of society gives.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 191

In refusing to do our best to improve and purify the social order, we are refusing the religious obligation to make it so far as we can a fit vehicle of the Spirit of God.
Evelyn Underhill, in John Stobbart, editor, The Wisdom of Evelyn Underbill, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1951, page 27

So long as society is absolutely divided as milk is, the cream being at the top and the impoverished milk at the bottom, so long will society be unbalanced, and liable to be thrown into convulsions out of which spring wars. A circulation throughout keeps it in health.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 47

There is no calamity that can befall the exterior fabric of society so great as benumbing the national conscience, deadening the spirit of humanity, and teaching men to be contented with the degradation of mankind.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 61

As the blood forever courses through the body, so for the Hebrew spiritual values were linked with what was occurring in the body politic—that is, in their ordinary ongoing history. And just as if you separate blood from body the blood dries and the body dies, so if you separate spiritual concerns from social the former become vacuous and the latter crack up. It is our failure to think in these terms that makes us imagine, quite erroneously, that you can deal with the Gospel first and that the rest will follow.
George Macleod, Only One Way Left, The Iona Community, 1956, page 62

Technology can elevate and improve man's life only on one condition: that it remains subservient to his real interests; that it respects his true being; that it remembers that the origin and goal of all being is in God. But when technology merely takes over all being for its own purposes, merely exploits and uses up all things in the pursuit of its own ends, and makes everything, including man himself, subservient to its processes, then it degrades man, despoils the world, ravages life, and leads to ruin.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Burns & Oates, 1968, page 230

One of the reasons, perhaps, why there has been a widespread ethical disintegration in our whole civilization is that we have created an interlocking machinery of schools, factories, newspapers, and armies that have artificially destroyed the higher centres, have impaired the power of choice, have reduced the symbol functions to an almost reflex level, and have removed the capacity to co-ordinate from the person to the machine process: the whole system powerfully re-enforced by narcotics and other drugs, from alcohol and tobacco to marijuana, cocaine, phenobarbital and aspirin. The Utopia of the conditioned reflex.
Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life, Seeker & Warburg, 1952, page 144

Technology is the harnessing of scientific knowledge to practical use. It can be used for great good or for great evil. It has transformed the kind of life that we lead. It has reduced drudgery, increased consumption of goods, aided health, enabled mass communication and mass transport. At the same time it is likely to reduce paid employment (by automation), cause population explosion (by reducing infant mortality and extending life expectancy) and increase war risks (by sophisticated weapons systems). It is possible for machines to dominate us, instead of us controlling machines. We need to be responsible in the ends for which we use technology and in our choice of appropriate technology. God gave to human beings power and wisdom to use aright.
Hugh Montefiore, Confirmation Notebook, Fifth Edition, SPCK, 1985, page 8

Society cannot exist without sacrifice.
The ethics which start from individuals try to distribute this in such a way that through the devotion of individuals as many as possible are voluntary sacrifices, and that the individuals who are most severely hit are relieved of their burden as far as possible by others. This is the doctrine of self-sacrifice.
The sociological ethics which no longer reach back to individual ethics can only lay down that the progress of society advances according to inexorable laws at the price of the freedom and prosperity of individuals and groups of individuals. This is the doctrine of being sacrificed by others.
Albert Schweitzer, in George Seaver, Albert Schweitzer: Christian Revolutionary, James Clarke & Co., 1944, page 96

When I am in a great city, I know that I despair.
I know there is no hope for us, death awaits, it is useless to care.
For oh the poor people, that are flesh of my flesh,
I, that am flesh of their flesh.
when I see the iron hooked into their faces
their poor, their fearful faces
I scream in my soul, for I know I cannot
take the hook out of their faces, that makes them so drawn,
nor cut the invisible wires of steel that pull them
back and forth, to work,
back and forth to work,
like fearful and corpse-like fishes hooked and being played by some malignant fisherman on an unseen shore
where he does not choose to land them yet, hooked fishes of the factory floor.
D.H. Lawrence, 'City Life', in The Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, editors, William Heinemann, 1967, volume II, page 632

Look at these drugs! Hard drugs—heroin, morphine, and cocaine are addictive because when used frequently life becomes unlivable without their support. Soft drugs— marihuana (pot, hemp, hashish) is less harmful but none the less narcotic in its effect. The third group consist of psychedelic drugs like mescalin and L.S.D., which bring pleasant dreams and hallucinations, but can also bring hellish experiences. The fourth group are the purple hearts and amphetamines, which play a perfectly proper part in the medical treatment of anxiety states, but can only increase dependence upon stimulants for those who use them in place of normal bodily, mental, and spiritual training. When life is demanding and difficult, as it can be today when pressures like 'getting-on', mobility, success, 'keeping up with the Joneses', passing examinations, constantly claim our attention, the weak very easily go to the wall. It is so much simpler to opt out and sit about in a pleasant half-existence, thinking 'beautiful' or 'diabolic' thoughts, as the case may be. If you have forgotten, or never learnt, that life can have a meaning—a motivation and an end, if you have never come to grips with the great Other—the numinous, the divine love, the Christ of the gospels, or realized that within you is 'the Kingdom'waiting to be discovered, then you have not yet lived and drugs may seem a quick and easy way through. A drug, as the name suggests, is something that saps a person's ability to be positive, accepting, and involved in life, in a healthy and normal way. As a healing agent it can be useful; as an addiction it is hell. The addict becomes increasingly useless in society—a parasite clinging fearfully until he drops off, dead!
Norman W. Goodacre, Layman's Lent, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1969, page 19

Life in industrialised countries has become artificial, its patterns far from nature. Houses are full of electric gadgets; leisure activities are limited to television and the cinema; cities are noisy, stifling and polluted; people are exhausted by long hours of travel in subway, train and car—when they aren't equally exhausted by crawling through traffic jams. The films they watch and the news they listen to concentrate on violence. They cannot possibly integrate all that is happening over the world— earthquakes in Azerbaijan, famine in the Sahel, fighting in the Middle East, disruption in Northern Ireland, censorship of the press, tyranny, torture, people being condemned to prison without trial, or to a psychiatric hospital when they are not ill. It is overwhelming. And people are overwhelmed by it all. They are not equipped to assimilate all this dramatic information. That is why they latch on to new myths which announce the salvation of the world, or rigid sects which claim to have a monopoly of the truth. The more anguish people feel, the more they seek out new saviours—whether these are political, psychological, religious, or mystical. Or else they throw everything over in the race for instant stimulation, wealth and prestige.
Communities are a sign that it is possible to live on a human scale, even in the present world. They are a sign that we do not have to be slaves to work, to inhuman economics, or to the stimulations of artificial leisure. A community is essentially a place where we learn to live at the pace of humanity and nature. We are part of the earth and we need the heat of the sun, the water of the sea, and the air we breathe. We are part of nature and its laws are written in our flesh. That doesn't mean that scientific discoveries aren't useful too. But they have to be at the service of life, applied to create an environment in which human beings can truly grow—whether in town or country, middle-class areas or slums.
A community should be primarily not a grouping of shock-troops, commandos or heroes, but a gathering of people who want to be a sign that it is possible for people to live together, love each other, celebrate and work for a better world and a fellowship of peace. A community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy—in fact, the opposite. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful gave us a lot to think about. In our l'Arche communities, we have to put still more thought into the quality of life. We have to learn to live each day and find our own internal and external rhythms.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991, page 309


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