Living in the North in the 1990s, I attended meetings of a committee which included a diverse group of people. It was mostly a cordial gathering, but the atmosphere would change completely if one person was there. He constantly hounded the chairman, questioned every item on the agenda, asked for the detail of every minute. There were times when he could be downright obnoxious. There was a general sense of relief when he decided he was leaving the committee.
Only after he was gone did I realize how valuable he had been. He stopped drifts into inanity. He ensured business was relevant. He made sure that every penny was used to maximum effect. His departure allowed scope for laziness and ineffectiveness. Those most pleased at his departure were those who most needed his presence.
The committee became intellectually flabby, bad practices were tolerated, inefficiency went unchallenged, the edge was lost.
Conspiracies of “niceness”exist among people who think they are acting for the best. If we all behave in a pleasant manner then the world will be nice and all the bad things will go away.
The committee was merely a microcosm of a society where political correctness says that no-one should say anything that’s not nice; where gatherings of like-minded people share platitudes and sincerely believe the world corresponds to their earnest desires.
The politically correct hound anyone who doesn’t conform. If they can silence voices they don’t want to hear, then nasty things will go away. Like the committee in the 1990s, an intellectual flabbiness creeps in. When no-one is allowed to challenge the conventional wisdom, when dissenting voices are banished by illiberal liberalism, no-one remains to ask the awkward questions.
Absorbing the wisdom of the world, the church can talk itself into an entire detachment from anything that does not accord with its own views; right words become more important than right actions; as long as one has adopted the right policies and made the right statements, then one has fulfilled all righteousness.
The church, that organization that purports to have the deepest understanding of human sinfulness, too often adopts an entirely optimistic view of human nature. When what is most needed is a forthright condemnation of wrongdoing, the church too often hides behind platitudes.
As the Church of Ireland General Synod gathers in Armagh on Friday, will there be anyone to make us sit uneasily in our seats? Will there be a single church leader prepared to reflect on the past year and unambiguously condemn the greed and corruption that have brought misery to hundreds of thousands of people on this island?
Perhaps an Old Testament prophet would be too much to expect, but might there be an ecclesiastical Michael O’Leary, someone prepared to call things as they see them, without fear of what anyone might think?
Scripture says “the truth shall set you free”. What freedom can there be if there is no truth spoken?