“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ puts his finger on a major issue. Words can mean exactly what you want them to mean. And when it comes to the political landscape and current world affairs the euphemism ‘We live in interesting times’ seems to apply.
Fundamental to so much of what has been happening has been the way in which words are used, often with threat and intent, and yet often we’re not sure what it is that has actually been said at times. I don’t think we can blame Brexit for this or lay all the blame at the door of the White House. I think, rather, that it’s the other way round – that recent events in the world are the product of a shift in culture and the way we live and view the world.
Something strange happens when the Internet becomes synonymous with your world. If you only inhabit a digitized space of memes and rage, where partisan expression is the lingua franca of the realm and being on the “right side” is a badge of honour, then bothersome things like evidence, data, and knowledge are steamrolled by ideological fervour. We trust the right to express our feelings above everything else; and since we all have feelings, what we think and feel is equally important and worthy. We’re all somehow experts of expression.
But that is a world where expertise means nothing – where wisdom, skill and knowledge are treated as irrelevant. It’s also a world that gives cover to corrosive ignorance.
We live in a time where ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ seem to have an equal currency with anything based on what I would see as core values like honesty, integrity and justice.
And, paradoxically, when we see every opinion as equally valid and with equal merit – rather than seeing an increase in democracy and freedom we actually cease to have a framework with any values, meaning, morals or truth at all.
The Christian faith is about God honouring every human being and loving each with an equal love. And yet it is also about recognising within that framework of love that some people are better at some things than others. If we are to honour God fully it is about recognising the gifts that each has been given and using them to the full for the benefit of all; not denying the gift to create a sort of false equality.
The political system works on this basis. Every adult gets a vote which is equally valuable. And yet there is an assumption that that some people are better at some things than others, and so we delegate our responsibilities and decisions to them. The heart of good democracy is not about everybody having an equal say on every issue (we could be in danger of seeking a referendum for every major decision if we’re not careful) but rather recognising that we vote, empower and then trust others to get on with making those decisions wisely and well.
As we approach a General Election, my prayer is that we would return to a time when what is said is what is meant, and that what is meant honours the value of every human being. I believe in a God who cares passionately about every person – this is the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that what unfolds in the coming weeks would be truthful and honourable and that whoever is elected would actually want to serve all people, and not just their own. And that it would be a time where the voices and the needs of the most vulnerable are equally heard and valued and responded to. This really would be Good News.