Glaswegians of a certain vintage may recall a well-dressed gent who used to stand at the bottom of Buchanan Street, being ignored by all the shoppers he was calling to repent, while wearing a huge sandwich board which read ‘The End Is Nigh!’ in reference to his expected Biblical Apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation.
These days, you don’t see such evangelicals around the city centre, which is ironic considering these billboard-wearing Christians were correct: the end is indeed ‘nigh’. Especially according to a report by the National Centre for Climate Restoration think-tank in Australia which suggests a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end starting in 2050.
Depressingly, and much like Glasgow shoppers ignoring street preachers, most of us, including our governments, don’t seem bothered by the terrifying flood of pessimistic (and scientific) predictions of climate catastrophe. Subsequently, Extinction Rebellion has been forced to come into existence and take direct action.
Similarly, a recent UN study blaming austerity for increasing poverty levels seems to have barely registered. The report states that a fifth of the UK population, 14 million people, live in poverty, and 1.5 million experience destitution.
Yet, not only has this shocking report been ignored, it has also been denied by Chancellor Philip Hammond who simply rejected the claim that vast numbers of Britons are living in poverty.
For me, the two worst aspects of this are to be found in our passive acceptance of austerity and food banks as the new norm; and the advent of post-truth politics which allows the likes of Philip Hammond to dismiss obscene levels of poverty as ‘fake news’.
Don’t get me wrong, food banks are needed but they are no substitute for a decent welfare state. We are duty-bound as Catholics to engage in action against the root causes of poverty. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said -
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
In modern parlance we might say that our Christian charity is incomplete without a pursuit of justice and for us in 21st century Scotland, this pursuit of justice must include the restoration of a fair national living wage.
Bonhoeffer knew exactly what the ‘Banality of Evil’ looked like; he’d seen how easily we Christians could be scandalised through our submission to tyranny.
Therefore, in this post-truth age, it is vitally important for us not succumb to a passive acceptance of injustice. Rather, we Christians must discern everything together, pray and defer to Church teachings.
In doing so, we may well be out of step with wider society. Anyone familiar with the pro-life movement will recognise that sense of being at odds with the prevailing culture of the age.
In his book The Audacity of Hope, even Barack Obama ponders the idea that those holding the reasonable centre ground are rarely vindicated by history. Rather, Obama suggests that it is often the radicals who over time, are proved correct, slavery being a case in point.
Perhaps elderly Glaswegians wearing sandwich boards are prophets too.