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A Good Society: When we differ

24 July 2019

How could we ever have a Good Society when there are so many competing voices for how society should be? That is why people reject out of hand the notion of a Good Society.

One of the chief arguments against finding a way towards a common way of living is that such an idea is paternalisitic; that such is fraught will all sorts of male control to focus the allegiance of all. This immediate distrust by many in society who operate life according to a postmodern mindset will always reject any overarching project, any grand story to which we should adhere. Instead, such folks wish to intentionally construct their own reality but not in tune with any dominant melody or rhythm. There is some merit in such approaches: imagine if what is rolled out in ‘the national interest’ is a plan which is an aggrandisement of the super rich and powerful? All oppressive regimes and societies have rightly identified grave problems with the way we live, but as we know, their solutions were amiss.

The church in its many expressions can sympathise with such groups as we ourselves seek to demonstrate a very different way of life to cultural zeitgeists. As such, I believe that in this day it is essential that we rehearse and refine our case for our version of the Good Life. Assuming that we are making our case respectfully, we need not be bashful about being public about what we think is better.

We need to exemplify patience in a time when our influence is small. But patience need not be inactive. It is important that we bear with visions of society that we disagree with. Let these visions burn out over time. Allow the populace to see poor versions of society unfold. Patience is required for this to happen.

Patience also includes finding common ground when we differ. We work over and over again with people on particular social issues with whom we agree. Simultaneously, however, we are strongly opposed on many other areas of life. Nevertheless we are both able to acknowledge our great differences and work together where it is possible. There’s something honest and upfront about such convergences and divergences with one another.

Homogeneity will not work out this side of the new heavens and new earth, I’m convinced of that. But if we learn how to navigate strong differences as a society we’ll find ourselves somewhere on the right path. It is said that married couples take about six years to learn how to fight fairly. Learning this craft is crucial because the relationship will ultimately breakdown if such lessons are not addressed. In like manner, societies which recognise that dealing with areas of profound disagreement will be much more stable than those who throw knifes at one another because conflict helps to release tensions. When the bleed-off valve is released such tensions turn out to create a deeper unity as our expressed views are spread out clearly on the table.

We need to work together towards a Good Society. Why? Because I live beside you and you live beside me. Not one of us is an atom. Our Golden Rule is to do to others as we would have them done to ourselves (Matt. 7.12). Let’s get to it.

Dr Stuart Weir is CARE for Scotland's Director. He has written a series of blogs on a Good Society. You can read his other articles here.

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