One of my new year’s resolutions was to keep up with international news.
As part of that, I have been trying to follow events in Belarus where, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Belarussians have come out in large numbers against long-term dictator Alexander Lukashenko who was coronated president in a sham election just over a week ago.
One thing that has struck me is the juxtaposition of those in the streets of Minsk for whom the West is an important ideal and symbol of freedom and democracy, with the widespread embarrassment, and even hatred, among certain gatekeepers in the US and UK, for all that the West stands for. (By the West, I mean the coherent cultural entity that is comprised of nations that hold to values of the rule of law, self-determination, democratic elections, individual freedom, and I would add, the presence of an active1 Christian faith).
The West is, of course, going through its own moment of self-examination. This is all well, good and necessary if we are looking to have an honest debate about our past—whether that be on the empire, slavery or race. But the debate largely isn’t happening as we race to erase our past, the good and the ill.2 In all of this, it seems to me that we in the West just now suffer from a sense of historical and geographical myopia. We’ve lost sight of the fact that while the West is far from perfect, it has much to offer the world and is clearly a beacon of hope for those in Minsk, just as it has been for protestors in Hong Kong.
It’s almost as if the future of the West isn’t in the West but in places like Minsk or Hong Kong. The cries of protestors in East Asia and Eastern Europe hearken us back to those values which are part our collective heritage. They call forth the good in us by reminding us of what we should stand for and what we could be. We would do well to offer vocal support to those in Minsk and Hong Kong and even employ sanctions, where we are invited to do so by opposition leaders. We would do even better to reflect on that heritage, why it matters to so many across the world today and how we in the West might recover it anew.
1 Active is the operative word here. Research shows that where certain populist governments have used religious symbols without attending to the moral demands of the Christian faith, their attempts at appropriation have been ineffective for those who regularly attend church. In other words, active Christian faith (measured in terms of doctrinal awareness, belief in God, attendance of church and prayer) inoculates adherents to such types of folk religion. It was Andrew Sullivan, as far as I can tell, who coined the term Christianism to describe “those on the fringes of the religious right who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression: Christianists. They are as anathema to true Christians as the Islamists are to true Islam.”
2 I do think there is an argument for some statues to be moved to museums (for instance Colston in Bristol). But for the most part, I would prefer that statues be left where they are and contextualised, and, more positively, that new statues added of those who fought against the slave trade, including those with African heritage (Olaudah Equiano). Recovering lost voices, or voices we’ve ignored is the way forward. Adding to the canon of history is always more constructive, I think, than destroying it.
Image Credit: ABC News