2. Hardened Hearts and Dividing Walls of Hostility: Examining the Roots of Tribalism with St Paul of Tarsus

This post is part two in a series on Christianity and tribalism. I explore what the Christian scriptures and the Christian tradition might have to contribute to the conversation around tribes and tribalism. The first post, which provides a rosier account of tribal life (or group belonging), can be read here. The introduction to the series can be read here

***

A Scot is rescued after many years on a desert island. 

As he stands on the deck of the rescue vessel, the captain says to him, “I thought you were stranded alone. Why do I see three huts on the beach?”

“Well,” replies the castaway, “that one there is my house and that one there is where I go to church.”

“And the third one?” asks the skipper.

“Oh, that’s the church I don’t go to.”

***

All My Friends (Must) Think Like Me

I remember the day well, because it happened to be my birthday. In my Facebook messages, I read a message that instantly made my heart sink. I glanced over the message countless times, rubbing my eyes in disbelief: “I can’t be a friend with someone who holds to the view that you do”. I kept thinking that there must have been a mistake. I had been asked by this individual about my views on a particular topic—the precise details of the topic need not detain us here—and I did my best to articulate my view on the matter, respectfully and clearly. Now, weeks later, here I was reading the news that this person, who I had counted a friend, would no longer consider me a friend because of our difference of opinion. 

I tell this story not to gain some kind of sympathy or to bathe in a well of self-pity. Such stories, are, sadly, rather common and I suspect they are becoming increasingly so. And I would be lying if I said that I have never been the one dishing out this kind of treatment. Rather, I share this tale because it offers an insight into the subject of this blog series on tribalism. 

For some reading my experience above, the very presence of disagreement shows that tribalism was present. That is, the disagreement was the problem that must be overcome. For others, the disagreement is so keenly felt that this kind of cancellation is completely normal and natural—there are some views that are simply beyond the pale and which no acquaintance of yours should hold to. The purity of the tribe must be maintained.

For me, the problem was not the existence of disagreement. The problem was that lurking in the subconscious of this individual’s thinking was the unquestioned assumption that to be friends we had to agree. 

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Mary Harrington (Politics at the Cross+Roads, Episode 2)

In the second episode of Politics of the Cross+Roads, I spoke with the writer Mary Harrington. Mary is a columnist for Unherd and her work has appeared in, among other places, the Spectator, the Plough, the Conservative Woman and SDPTalk. Mary’s writing has had a big influence on my own thinking around liberal individualism, freedom of speech and the need for reconstruction in the late-modern west.    

Mary spoke a great deal in our conversation about her experience of motherhood and how this has shaped her politics. Mary also discussed limits and progress, how humans are inherently religious creatures and how her local church community roots her in something bigger than herself. I hope that you enjoy listening. 

You can also listen to a shortened version of this on iTunes here or in its entirety here.

Two New ResPublica Seminars on Post-Liberalism

With a Summer and Autumn of cultural upheaval in the Anglosphere (as a result of Covid, fiery protests of various sorts, Brexit debates and, now, an ongoing US election that will perpetuate the liberal order, whether economically with Trump or socially and economically with Biden), there’s certainly appetite for considering fresh ideas that might take us forward with the crucial task of re-constructing community and society.

It’s just as well, then, that the UK think-tank ResPublica have recently produced two instructive seminars on post-liberalism, that political philosophy which, in broad terms, advocates moving to the left on the economy, to the right on culture and identity and to the local and particular in governance. Identifying the overarching assumption of liberalism as unmitigated autonomy—the human person unmoored form ties to person or place—post-liberals seek to offer a positive vision that prioritises relationships, community and belonging in our cultural, economic and social life.

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Why Conservatives Need to Be Constructionists

One of the important lessons of 2020 is that it is relatively easy to dismantle and deconstruct history, culture and institutions. Conversely, it is far more difficult to build-bridges, construct things and move forward with solutions. We desperately need the latter kind of person in Western society.

Now, we need such people across the political and cultural spectrum, of course. But we particularly need them among small c-conservatives, which is, broadly speaking, how I would describe myself.

As recent articles by Mary Harrington and Niall Gooch have shown, those on the right have, in recent years, become sucked into the culture wars of the day, often mirroring and mimicking the style and tone of cultural warriors on the left. While there are some notable exceptions, conservative public intellectuals of the last decade or so have been more characterised by their polemical prowess than their philosophical powers, as Ben Sixsmith has recently highlighted. In the wake of the death of Sir Roger Scruton (who, it must be said, wielded the pen of the pugilist and philosopher in equal measure), the question of who will take up the mantle of conservative philosophy, casting a vision of the good and beautiful for society at large, remains largely unanswered. Where are the constructionists?

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In Praise of Unherd’s Coverage of Lockdown

According to a recent Sky/YouGov poll, trust in journalists is at an all time low. In the results of the poll, which surveyed 1652 British adults, journalists fared the worst in terms of public faith, with TV journalists receiving a net score of minus 40 and newspaper journalists, minus 55.

The issue of public trust in journalism is certainly complex. There’s clearly a massive debate to be had about the limits of this data (extent), where the data is and isn’t pointing in this direction (demographics), why people are thinking this way (cause) and why all of this matters (significance).

But in the face of this story, I want to focus on an example of journalism that I have greatly appreciated. In all of this, I have been most impressed by the coverage of the lockdown offered by the team at Unherd.

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