Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Charlie Hebdo, polarisation, Quakers, Orthodox

The Charlie Hebdo murders have sparked off widely-differing reactions around the world, and ripples of solidarity and hostility that go way beyond the original event.

It seems that people are being friended and unfriended on the basis of Je suis Charlie and Je ne suis pas Charlie. I had two such opposite reactions to one of my blog posts on the subject.

A few days ago I posted a blog article Je ne suis pas Charlie.

One person posted a comment saying

Thank you Steve for your post. It has given me courage to post my own views on Facebook which I copy below. On Facebook, I can be found as Brigid O’Carroll Walsh. I am also interested in your comments, Steve, about modernity and fundamentalism and think that this is an idea well worth exploring. Anyway, thank you and here is what I said on Facebook:

Dear Facebookies, All the stuff I am reading about the protests of the dreadful killings in France seems to me to leave so much unsaid. My own view, I think, is a minority view and I did not want to air it because I fear a thoughtless howling down. However, this post by my oldest internet friend, Steve Hayes, has given me courage.

Another, an old friend I have known for nearly 50 years, not only online but also face-to-face, wrote in a very different vein, on Facebook:

Steve Hayes, I find your whole attitude offensive in the face of such sad events. I think you are being deliberately bloody-minded. You are very close to being unfriended so please keep your comments on this issue to yourself from now on, or at least don’t post them on my page.

So the events of last week have certainly polarised people, and seem to have lost me an old friend, which makes me very sad.

And that would be the end of my sad story, but for one thing that strikes me as curious. Both the friends who reacted in such very different ways are Quakers, and I wondered about other Quakers’ views. Someone posted some links in a comment on  my encouraging/offending blog post, which included this one from a Quaker. I find myself in broad agreement with it.

QuakersI have quite a number of Quaker friends, including some linked on Facebook, but not many of them have posted anything directly on this issue. But some of those who have have seemed to wonder how one can do peacemaking in this kind of situation.

Most of us are a long way from Paris, and it is impractical to do anything there, but the division seems to have spread so widely that it would be worsh looking to see what it is that is causing it. How is it that two Quakers can have such radically different views?

One thing that strikes me is that it could be a misunderstanding, and that instead of “unfriending” and breaking off relations in other ways, we should be talking through our differences. Modern technology has made communication much easier in many ways. This should, in theory, make it easier to discuss and resolve differences, clear up misunderstandings etc.

But very often it has the opposite effect. If you had a friend on another continent before about 1990, you could send one another Christmas cards once a year, and not be aware of any fundamental differences of opinion. Modern communications technology makes it more obvi0us and immediate. In some ways, ignorance was bliss. As one person put it, we live in an  age of communicati0n without community.

So one of the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding is to see how we can use the advances in communications technology to build community, and try to reduce misunderstandings.

I’m not a Quaker, but an Orthodox Christian, and some see the two as very far apart. Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian of the last century, told of attending an ecumenical conference as an Orthodox delegate. One of the organisers offered to seat him with the “high church” group — Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the like. He saw this as the organisers puting him in a box of their own making, and he said Why not with the Quakers? They share our emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

Fr Alexander went on to say:

The important fact of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and in the encounter – after so many centuries of almost total separation – between Orthodox and the West is precisely that the Orthodox were not given a choice; that from the very beginning they were assigned, not only seats at a certain place, role and function within the ecumenical movement. These ‘assignments’ were based onWestern theological and ecclesiological presuppositions and categories, and they reflected the purely Western origin of the ecumenical idea itself. We joined a movement, entered a debate, took part in a search whose basic terms of reference were already defined and taken for granted. Thus, even before we could realize it,we were caught up in the essentially Western dichotomies – Catholic versus Protestant, horizontal versus vertical, authority versus freedom, hierarchical versus congregational – and we were made into representatives and bearers of attitudes and positions, which we hardly recognized as ours, and which were deeply alien to our tradition. All of this was due not to any Machiavellian conspiracy or ill will, but precisely to the main and all-embracing Western presupposition that the Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal and therefore constitute the self-evident framework and terms of reference for the entire ecumenical endeavor

And perhaps that illustrates the kind of assumptions we make about each other, that leads to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and, sometimes, hostility.

I think that is one of the obstacles to attempts at peacemaking. And perhaps it is something that Quakers and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship could work on together.

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