The Scriptures of the last days of the year are full of references to great upheavals in the natural world and the body politic, signs in the sun and moon, wars and revolutions. Some see these signs being fulfilled before our very eyes, but Jesus tells us it is not that simple.
The signs of the times from America are worrying, not because, as some claim, a Trump presidency brings the end of the world a step nearer, but because what the US election shows us is the increasing fragility of democracy and the rise of the dictatorship of relativism so accurately analysed by Pope Emeritus Benedict.
It seems to me highly significant that both Brexit and Trump’s victory confounded the polls. This can only mean that voters no longer feel comfortable telling pollsters their voting intentions. People have become fearful of expressing certain views in a democracy. This is a contradiction in terms: the power of a governing class or a media machine to impose a collective consensus in its image is getting stronger and stronger. It has to. You cannot drive a coach and horses through the right to life, freedom of conscience, natural marriage or the biological reality of gender without a degree of coercion.
The strength of that coercion began with the manipulation of language. Twenty-five years ago we all threw up our hands in amused disbelief at stories of how you were “no longer allowed” to speak of blackboards or sing Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, as this was offensive to a minority. This seemed so absurd to any rational person who had ever seen either of the objects in question, or who knew that the meaning of a word was the sum of its contexts, that the strength of the threat could be missed. Now it has become apparent that this was a pre-emptive attack by self-appointed promoters of minority rights to gain power by demonising the character and motives of anyone who did not share their interests.
Such power is then used not to oppose by engaging with the issues, but to make alternative views unthinkable or certainly unsayable. (Remember how Mr Cameron’s government held a “consultation” on the proposal for gay marriage which precluded opposition to gay marriage?) It is the final irony that to avoid reasoned debate with those who oppose you, a whole list of “phobias” have been invented to stigmatise anyone who disagrees, for whatever reason.
Scenes from the US of those who claim the moral high ground of tolerance, liberalism and inclusivity engaged in rioting, or tweeting to call for the assassination of a democratically elected politician because they are so opposed to “hate”, suggest that the silent majority are safe as long as they remain just so. “Tolerance” now seeks to oppose the will of a democratic majority.
As Catholics, we believe that truth is not the expression either of a minority or majority interest. Truth is not democratic. No exercise of power can coerce it and it is not derived from following the prevailing consensus. It derives from our friendship with Christ, the Logos, which, as Benedict XVI preached, “Opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false and deceit from truth.” Our goals for society and for the flourishing of true humanism must be informed by our learning and living of the Gospel, and this must dictate engagement in the democratic process. True tolerance cannot extend to cooperating with evil or calling it good, nor can it fall short of loving everyone with whom we disagree. This is a tall order.
When we hear of wars and rumours of wars, and when the world around us seems beset with disaster and a sense that there are no certainties, Jesus is telling us to look elsewhere for our certainty, to look beyond this world for the fulfilment of God’s perfect plan. When we worry that we have lunatics in charge or that the planet is collapsing, or that human violence and corruption are rampant, we must hold firm to the promise that Truth is what will remain when the meltdown is over.
The chaos of the End Times is necessary to remind us that the only drama worth worrying about is our eternal salvation and that of those we love. Everything else will pass away and we will stand before the Judge who once stood before Pilate and told him: “All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”