Comment Opinion & Features

Systems of oppression? We baldies know all about that

William Hartnell (1908 - 1975), the first incarnation of TV's 'Doctor Who', feels the hairless pates of two ticklish co-stars (B. Powell/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Compare and contrast. On the one hand, you have the eternal verities contained in the Bible – like the past two Sundays’ Mass readings, the prophet Amos and Jesus’ parable of Dives and Lazarus.

On the other hand, you have today’s secular template for virtue – “diversity and inclusion”, celebrated by British corporations and the Civil Service last week with National Inclusion Week (#EverydayInclusion).

Douglas Murray examines this politics of identity in his new book The Madness of Crowds, which is praised in the Herald’s books pages this week.

The cult of Diversity & Inclusion slices and dices humanity into narrow categories, encouraging people to brood on their differences (race, sex, etc) and to nurture resentments about how they have been mistreated by the privileged.

D&I appeals more to the under-40s, not to bog-standard white males approaching 50 like me, unless they long to be down with the kids.

I and others like me feel baffled, even troubled, since on this understanding of the world, I belong to an oppressor category. How would we, the privileged, fare in an unsympathetic totalitarian regime that follows this philosophy?

And what if you do not want to be defined by the accident of your skin pigmentation or any other characteristic, but prefer to be simply a human being?

You don’t have to read far into this area before you encounter the “Oppression Olympics” – or, as it’s properly known, intersectionality. This is a feminist sociological theory which resembles a competition to add up all the minority identities that affect you. You could think of it as a sort of Venn diagram of overlapping oppressions, of race, sexuality, class and so on.

Writings on intersectionality use phrases like “systems of power” and “systems of oppression”, which in their vagueness remind me of Liberation Theology and its concept of “structural sin”.

(There is in fact one picked-on group to which many of us oldsters belong: the bald. My own children, especially when young, mocked my deficiency and would think it hilarious to slap my smooth pate, relishing the satisfying noise. So I am entitled to take offence at mockery – and to complain, as a number of BBC viewers did, when Gary Lineker made a joke on Match of the Day about his chrome-domed fellow presenters the other day. As it happens I am also forced to endure fattist jibes, about “moobs” and double chins, from the same tormentors. But I am only joking: of course this is not real persecution.)

The Church insists that there is an alternative guide to living, for those who are willing to hear it, based in revealed truth, in Scripture, in the tradition of the Church, and in the sifted and accumulated wisdom of the Church Fathers.

This does not play well, on the whole, with the young. They probably do not realise that the prophet Amos, for example, a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, was a kind of Old Testament lefty, obsessed with social justice and convinced that the Lord cares more about good behaviour than about ceremonial.

In those passages we heard at Mass, he presents a terrifying picture of the dangers of inward-looking hedonism, luxury, greed and selfishness.

Not surprisingly, however, many young people have the impression that the Church’s main purpose is to dictate to them what they’re not allowed to do, particularly in the realm of sex. This was borne out by what I heard from a newly ordained young priest about the questions put to him by teenagers at a parish away-day.

Perhaps it was to correct this impression that YouCat, the Youth Catechism, a typically far-sighted initiative of Benedict XVI, contains, among the many quotations with which its text is sprinkled, a startling one from CS Lewis.

Christians are wrong to be concerned with sexual sin above all, Lewis wrote: “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising… the pleasures of power, of hatred… That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

Pope Benedict seized the imagination of the young. I saw this thrillingly for myself at the Hyde Park vigil during his visit to Britain in 2010. He knew in his heart that the key to happiness for the young (and the old) is in the “pearl of great price”, which is to be found in those recent Mass readings.

The rich man in that famous parable, tormented in Hades, is told that the answer is in revelation (in Moses and the prophets).

And St Paul tells Timothy that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all”. Surely that is the real meaning of inclusion.

Andrew M Brown is obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph