There was a lot of publicity before Christmas about the decision of cinemas to ban the Church of England advert based on the Lord’s Prayer, and various of my friends wrote very well about the importance, radicalism and simplicity of that text.
My new year’s resolution is to be better at “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
The discipline of that line is that to forgive, you have to understand, and empathy, when you are angry or hurt, is difficult.
I have always tried to maintain this discipline – I think Tower Hamlets politics would have broken me by now if I had remained angry about every threat, insult or lie. It is sometimes harder when the pain is more personal. I will do better.
There is something liberating about reading a book which explains something you had on some level always known.
“Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism”, by Larry Siedentop, has just done exactly that.
He sets out how the radical message of Christianity, that we are all of equal value before God, was built on through Paul and Augustine and many others through the ages, until it shaped the way the Catholic church reformed, with a representative structure that recognised that church authority lay with the collective membership, not just the Pope. That then informed that way in which nation states in Europe were constituted, and gave us the framework for western liberalism – equal status leads to the assertion of natural law, basic human rights, and then the case for self government.
The importance of free will and human agency in Christianity also led to secularism – because Christianity should teach us to value every individual, and individuals must choose their own faith, nation states created space for a public sphere where those who had not chosen Christianity could live freely alongside those who had. This is important because, too often, the European tolerance of others faiths is portrayed as a lack of commitment to faith. For some, it may be, but peaceful co existence with and respect for those of all faiths and none is not a compromise for Christianity, it is at its heart. Love your neighbour, who ever they are.
This book is an extraordinary account of the history of how Christian theology shapes how we live.