Tuesday 28 October 2014

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity...

These are lines from W B Yeats' poem The Second Coming. They describe a society disintegrating into ruin and chaos. And they have a prophetic sound to them, don't they? They were first published in 1921, yet they could be describing our time. We see with horror the passionate intensity of those who think they are serving God by murdering people who have never harmed them, butchering even children with unbelievable cruelty, raping women and selling them as slaves, looting and destroying everywhere they go. They kill blasphemers, but what greater blasphemy than to proclaim that God is pleased with such wickedness? I mean, if they were worshipping Satan rather than God, what would they do differently? Who could want to get to heaven if it meant living with a blood-soaked  God like theirs?

But this goes hand in glove with Yeats' other line - the best lack all conviction. It is natural for young, idealistic people to search for meaning and purpose in their lives. What's going to happen when society constantly tells them that there is no point in our existence? That we are just animals who have arrived by accident in a random universe? We have made people who are hungry for reality ripe for indoctrination. It is the converts who are carrying out the worst atrocities and it is our moral and spiritual vacuum that is driving the conversions.

Sadly the religion that has become naturalised on these shores for nearly two millennia has been so denigrated, maligned and slighted that it is not seen as an alternative. Jesus' values – show mercy, do not judge, forgive your enemies and pray for them, love your neighbour as you love yourself, take care of those who are different from you, have compassion on those in need – these are the diametric opposite of the sickening news stories coming out of Iraq. What a different world it would be if young converts flocked to Jesus instead of to jihad. If you want to change the world, do it in the name of love!

But the young and zealous look at our unending river of porn, our deep problems with drugs and alcohol, perhaps above all the Gadarene disintegration of our family life, and they don't think Christianity is an alternative. It's not because Jesus has been tried and found wanting. It's because the Gospel isn't wanted, so it hasn't been tried. They see that Christians don't really speak out, so they assume we have nothing to say. And we don't! We have become self-censoring. We've given in to the constant pressure, we've accepted that the name of Jesus or the sight of his cross might cause somebody to be offended, so we've keep quiet while Christianity has been suppressed. The best lack all conviction… Sadly the harvest of this may turn out not be easy-going secularism (if there is such a thing - it's becoming more and more strident) but hard-edged fanaticism.

What's the answer? Not yet more abandonment of convictions, but standing up for the right ones: speaking out for truth, living for love, bringing peace, declaring in word and action that the Kingdom of the God of love is near. I dare you.

Here's the full text of Yeat's amazing poem:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again: but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?