As many of us struggle to cope with the seemingly never-ending restrictions and isolation, there are two immediate risks; The first is that we sink within ourselves, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or even just helplessly fed up. The second risk is that we allow our frustrations, our pent up (or should that be penned up) anger, our fears to take over and we lash out. Certainly the last twelve months have seen a rapid rise in vitriol, poisonous trolling and polarisation. Shop workers and service providers report a marked increase in tension as a growing number of people verbally and even physically assault staff members who are simply trying to do their job and keep everyone safe. At the extremes of polarisation you will always find those truly committed to division and hatred, those who will harass and ridicule ‘the other’ (ie, those who don’t agree with them). The rise of such fundamentalism in our society is worrying as division is stoked by conspiracy theories that seem ludicrous to many, and yet absolute truth to others. The growth of momentum around anti-vaccination, Covid-deniers, and increasingly outlandish false claims may make us feel that this is a war between common sense and extremism, with social media being the ‘virtual’ battlefield. It can be all to easy for us to ‘write off’ those who believe such things as ‘unintelligent, misguided and idiotic’. For those on the extremes it is simply a ‘them’ or ‘us’ situation. Conflict and attempts at dialogue are dismissed as buying into ‘fake news’ and ends up confirming their rigid belief rather than changing it. This mindset isn’t helped by the inability to have a sensible conversation about these things, as passion turns to aggression and vitriol. One of our latent assumptions is that ‘they’ are stupid, just as many might assume that trumpism is for uneducated morons who don’t know much about anything (75 million voters can’t all be idiots). If we learn how to listen to those nearer the extremes we realise that many are actually highly intelligent, well-reasoned people who have come to their view point after long and careful thought. This may surprise you because your assumption, just like theirs, is flawed. Learning to truly listen is critical to our turning the tide on polarisation and deep division. Studies have shown that the untried method of seeing the value in the ‘other’ rather than focussing on their extreme viewpoints is a much better starting place for true dialogue to become possible. In other words, the ‘other’ is not the enemy; Neither is the government, nor the unions, nor the myriad of other groups or political parties. The enemy we face at the moment is a nasty little virus which can adapt rapidly both to identify physical vulnerabilities in the human hosts; and can change to survive in the form of emerging variants. All the time we spend blaming or attacking others distracts us from the critical priority that we keep adhering to the restrictions. It has been proven time and again, when we wash our hands, keep our distance, observe sneezing and coughing protocols and restrict our movements the case numbers, even with the variants, come down. It is too facile to forget that mere weeks ago, our daily figures were as high as 8-9,000, now they are under 1,000. This is what can be achieved when we work together while keeping apart. Yes there are people who openly flaunt the restrictions, who put themselves and others at risk; but they are not the enemy, the virus is. We cannot neither control them nor how we feel about them. Like us, they are scared, overwhelmed and loved by God. It’s not at all easy to overcome enmity but it is required in the commandment that we ‘love one another’. This doesn’t mean we can’t differ, disagree or even dislike; it means we must do so through Love.
Most people today believe in the existence of Evil; we see its impact everywhere in our broken and tortured world. Many do not, however, place that awareness of evil into the ‘person’ that Christians call the Devil or Satan. I believe this is a mistake because it generalises evil so much that we assume evil is solely a human construct. Jesus (who was God in human form) was very much aware of the reality of the fallen angel, Lucifer; he encountered and fought him numerous times during his life. He spoke of him, he recognised him in the temptations he faced in the wilderness. Interestingly it is possible that he wasn’t initially sure within the temptation to turn stones into bread, throw himself off the temple, who was tempting him. He seems wary in his responses to those temptations, perhaps wondering were they constructs of his own physical fatigue and hunger. It is when the devil offers Jesus all the ‘glory’ of the cities of the world in return for bowing down and worshipping him that Jesus identifies him and rejects him so completely that the devil departs.
‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the (spiritual) authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ Ephesians 6:12. When Jesus declared from the cross ‘It is finished’, he wasn’t just talking about the end of his life, he was proclaiming that the titanic battle between the devil and God was over, finished, complete. This truth, allows us to have a deep deep confidence that nothing (or no one) can separate us from the love of God. I leave you to look up and enjoy Romans 8: 31-39 as we use our brains as well as our hearts to recognise who our real enemy is.