ACW

ACW

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Who is the Other?



We have made our peace with Hallowe’en, with our own interpretation of the pumpkin! We decided that having happy children coming to our door was an opportunity, not a problem, so we take turns giving out sweets and congratulating costume-makers. These kids are our neighbours, as are their parents.

But many Christians will criticise, perceiving the event as a celebration of evil. As a society we love attaching labels. The most striking current example is the US election, now almost upon us. I have been astonished by the degree of vituperation; the amazing tribalism.

The Brexit campaign was not that edifying either.

On both sides of the water we seem gripped by a fear of the ‘other’. We look for excuses to exclude. A wall to keep out the Mexicans is the least of it. Since the Brexit vote Britain has seen a sharp rise in racist attacks. At a recent concert I could not bear to sing ‘Land of hope and glory’: I am ashamed to belong to the land in question. There has been a recent surge in applications to move to Eire.

There is a lot of fear in the books I receive for assessment. The evangelical world – the aspect of the Christian faith with which I am most familiar – has any number of bogeymen: liberals, Muslims, anyone who questions that the Bible condemns gays. Readers may remember the hostility shown to charismatics. Fear is a habit.

The power of disapproval remains strong. Sometimes I have to defend my choice to worship in an Anglican church. When, a few years ago, my company published a book offering a Christian view on environmental matters, one of our sales team (our American sales team, to be fair) refused to carry the title on the grounds that environmentalism was anti-Christian. When I turned down a book arguing that the World Council of Churches is demonic, I received a barrage of abuse from the author and her husband. Christians are good at condemning.

Fear and hatred should be given no place. It is a favourite tactic amongst politicians to redirect public attention to the enemy without, as a means of distracting voters from the government’s own deficiencies. A juicy external threat is a great opportunity to unify the masses (those Mexicans again). Christians have adopted the tactic. It is common amongst us to think of ourselves as the persecuted minority, Lifeboat Church – the blessed few bobbing above the waves of iniquity. A spiky little quatrain summarises the matter well:

We are the chosen few

             You are the many damned

There is no place in heaven for you

We can’t have heaven crammed.

I would rather be known for what I affirm, rather than what I decry; for what I love, rather than what I fear. I extend this conviction to the books I recommend to my colleagues. I look for the positive, the encouraging, and the genuine. Jesus chose to spend time with people such as the woman of Samaria, who had three strikes against her (female, Samaritan and a lifestyle many would question). The theme runs right through Scripture: we are to welcome the stranger, to stand up for justice, to see beyond the category to the individual. The gospel priorities are clear. Jesus did not spend his time rooting out heresy, and neither will I.

I have no problem with strong argument, with passion, with conviction. There is a place for debate and shrewdness, for humour and subtlety. I love the work of Andy Bannister, whose wit and bracing intellect absolutely fillet Messrs Dawkins & Co in The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. I don’t require serpents to metamorphose to doves. If someone is talking tosh, then it is a service to the rest of us to point it out.

But please, send me books that exalt the truth. The more we value what is good, the weaker and shabbier will become the appeal of the alternative.

 

Tony Collins is an editor with Lion Hudson plc and founder of the Monarch and Lion Fiction imprints. He is author of Taking My God for a Walk.



 

 


14 comments:

  1. Did you see the BBC3 programme, Tony, about hate preachers in America? I was so shocked at that, I couldn't get it off my mind. I didn't know there were such extremists and it put the American election furore in a whole new light for me. Here's the link if you didn't catch it. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p049v0dm/americas-hate-preachers?suggid=p049v0dm

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    1. Thanks Fran, I'll take a look. How did they do this to Jesus?

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  2. Well said Tony. I wholeheartedly endorse this. The New Testament is inclusive from beginning to end. Whether someone or some group of people is in Christ or not is not for us to judge. We need not fear, just trust God, and love everyone. This is not namby-pamby stuff - you need courage to love in the face of hate. It is not for us to defend God, He is more than capable of looking after Himself.

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  3. Your words are always an encouragement, this post not least. Thank you.

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  4. Good stuff. The demonisation of all sorts of groups is shocking. The calls to violence by groups, 'if we don't get our own way' is amazing (especially in this country. Personally I find it hard to write fiction right now, simply because it is as if our society has suddenly changed, almost overnight, and to write about 'contemporary' things (taking place in 2007) I am having to think how we thought 'back then'! How to give hope towards a future which I now know was doing this approx 10 years further along ... how does one put in a 'theme of redemption' when one knows how much hatred was going to jump out of its box around the corner? So, struggling with that at p resent, but agreeing with your points here. (Though have personal dislike of Hallowe'en because it has been commercialised so much ...)

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    1. Thanks Mari. Signs of redemption: good theme for an article somewhere. Greetings Tony

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  5. I love this. Thank you. Re Halloween we do exactly the same. When we worked in Turkey we handed out sweets at Bayram (the end of Ramadan) to be culturally appropriate. I feel that doing it at Halloween is similar.

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  6. Very well said, Tony. We are to love, not hate. I also give sweets out at Halloween. I am astonished at the way many are condemning those of an opposite viewpoint, many of them Christian

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  7. Hi Wendy (and Deborah) - thanks for these comments. Glad to find other Christians taking the same approach! Round our way the event has morphed from an excuse for teenagers to throw eggs at our house to a family-friendly event with parents accompanying children, all in costume!

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  8. So very well said, Tony. Thank you.

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