As the posters go up for the elections in our streets, and unwanted bits of paper are thrust through our doors, I ask the hardly new question: Why does nothing seem to change?
There are doubtlessly passionate commitments from all parties to various concepts: Unionism, Republicanism, Environmentalism, ‘Shared Future’ and so on. But it all seems so incredibly negative and oppositional, and progress is almost entirely absent. Switch on coverage of Stormont, and it is always the same old, same old. Why does such passion not seem to translate into action?
There is a clear case of psychological inflation in the political graffiti around the elections – the politician presented as Messiah, with pseudo-religious iconography inserted to support his/her claim to deity. Each one represents a clear, delineated commitment to a prospective future, in which we are led across Jordan to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Not that they know this, of course; the symbolism is being lived, but not experienced – it is unconscious. The true content of their own political desire is unknown to the politicians, because it has been unconsciously devoted to non-ultimate ends, and therefore takes on this poisonous quasi-religious appearance. The Union, the Republic, the Environment, the Shared Future – none of them necessarily bad, but none of them ultimate, and all of them wanting us to hand over the complexity of human individuality and meaning to regimes based on things that are purely political constructs, but which are incapable of doing what I believe is actually in the heart of each politician.
Because all of these political categories (Unionism etc.) are fundamentally about unity. With whom? is the tricky question. But by investing this symbolic yearning in secondary categories, we are left foundering in the shallows of an uneasy present which does not lead into a transformational future that is about the reality of human individuality and collectivity.
In part, this is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘… seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ (Matthew 6.33). One dimension of the ‘kingdom of God’ is the ultimate unity of all that is, not only in the human realm, but within the cosmos. The ultimate must be sought – only then can all the rest actually begin to fall into place.
Speaking to culture in general, it must be said that primary commitment to Union, Republic or any such category will never result in a future that is transformed and transforming. As Christ lived out this seeking, he had to tread the path of sacrifice, suffering, and death – of ideals and earthly expectation, as well as of his body – before experiencing the new life that opened up before him.
The political population of Northern Ireland have shown that they cannot bring about meaningful change. But it isn’t their fault – no-one, including the churches, including ministers like me – has taught politicians to sacrifice, suffer and to die, so that the people might live.
Simon Richardson has been an Anglican minister in England and Northern Ireland for 11 years. He has just begun postgraduate research into the relationship between Jung’s theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious, and the theology of the Image of God, and how a new metalanguage of faith might arise from this.