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Polarising the polarisers

from the archive, 2018

Just because ICR's Vision Statement includes the sentence, 'Our vision is of a world where there is only "us" rather than "us versus them"', does not mean I've sailed quietly into polite waters, beyond the choppy seas of controversial debate.

Truth be told, I am as capable of polarisation as the next mouth vying to deliver an earful over the internet, and now's the time to prove it : because I have been privately challenged to declare a more differentiated position; to take the fight to my opponents; to show what side I'm on!

Having waxed lyrical about non-polarised, heart-centred approaches, I am yet not above polarisation.

So I say to my challenger (and his constituency) : I'll polarise the polarisers. I'll be against all those who push the "us versus them" line.

My challenger believes the best way to energise and educate an audience in public discourse is through " a competitive marketplace of ideas". He likes the form of the debate. I'll take up the challenge, even if it means going contra mundum initially; until I can muster some interest for or against the "us-versus-them" stance.

I am against a form of parochialism that is anti-globalist.

Love of one's locality I wholeheartedly approve. And I am comfortable with a certain affection and loyalty towards all intermediate regions, like the nation. But I disagree with those who think there is something bad or evil per se with globalism. They may be conspiracy theorists stumbling across the ultimate bogey man. Or they may be nativists with an irrational fear of immigrants. You can't solve problems like environmental problems, and peace and security problems without a global approach. You also need more coordination between national authorities to smooth out financial disturbances and derangements.

To seek more integration or unification at an economic, political or religious level is the smart, caring thing to do for humanity and the other species who share the planet.

On the religious score, I object to the disingenuous characterisation of this as diabolical. Missionary religion has always been inherently globalist. A Catholic believes the Church to be a universal thing, transcending national boundaries. There's a view in Islam for the ideal order to be organised under a caliphate that is not bound by existing lines on a political map.

The great faith traditions that come down to us from the classical age (c. 660BCE to 660CE) espouse universal values, potentially meant for the whole of humanity.

For example, I notice there is a Japanese philosopher - Daisaku Ikeda - who makes the universalist case for Buddhism. It too seeks to influence all humanity for the better. When it comes to the relatively modern Baha'i faith, its globalist credentials are clear. Over the last 200 years it has called for a harmonious blending of races and cultures, an extension of human rights, and an appreciation of the kinship of revelatory faith traditions.

Even non-proselytising religions like Judaism and Zoroastrianism far from stand in the way of globalism. Both have lived through diasporas. Judaism has had historical associations with cosmopolitanism, international socialism and international finance.

A cohort of the misguided believe that globalists must be seeking some mongrelised blending of all religions into some monstrosity called One World Religion.

As a Catholic, I’m familiar with this species of narrow-mindedness. It’s the same attitude that can’t understand why Pope Francis went and prayed in a mosque. (Perhaps for the same reason he washed the feet of a Muslim woman on Holy Thursday.) If you do not embrace the ecumenical and interreligious developments flowing from the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, how could you consider yourself a relevant contemporary Catholic?

From another sceptical tack, I’ve encountered an opinion from Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir, rejecting interfaith dialogue as a Western tool of forcing non-Islamic policies onto Islam. Whoever may hold such a simplistic view is wrong - especially about the forcing bit. Given my particular religious identity, the most that could be alleged is that this interfaith mission is a covert attempt to bring diversely religious people closer to Jesus. Let me counter the sophisticated rather than the simplistic accusation, in the interests of productivity.

Many people have an understandable caution around too-raucous identity politics. Just because I do not wear my particular religious affiliation on my sleeve in this interfaith mission, am I necessarily covert?

I say now plainly I’m a follower of Jesus. And I view being a follower of Jesus in an inclusive sense - anyone who looks to Jesus as a model. For this mission, the bar is low because the church is broad and extensive. The Catholic, the Orthodox, the Protestant who enjoy an intimacy of fellowship with their Saviour, naturally want to follow a discipline that makes them a disciple of Jesus. Messianic Jews, or “Jews for Jesus”, also give him pride of place. The Muslim who looks to Jesus as a great prophet and reveres his characteristic teaching is also a follower of Jesus by this definition. Again, the commonalities are more important than the differences. The Hindu who values Jesus as an avatar or the Buddhist who sees in Jesus an Enlightened One who lights the way beyond suffering are also followers of Jesus. So too is the atheistic humanist who practices Jesus’ ethical teachings.

This “broad church” is my extensive community : that is, the community I recognise when I look outwards or publicly. And the public is a multicultural milieu, both nationally and globally.

I must be willing constantly to test the limits of such a communion - which appear to be where Jesus is not followed; whether he be not known, misrepresented or outrightly rejected.

I'd like, next time, to explain why I consider myself a centrist, and reject the easy labelling or pigeon-holing of leftist or rightist; of being a mainstream establishment apologist or a revolutionary; of being a secularist or a theocrat.

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