9780141009544Cultural assumptions have historical roots.  It is incumbent upon anyone who takes part in public debate or social engagement to explore them.  In the current moment there is a growing appreciation that when it comes to the self-evident truths of the Western world – things like human rights and democratic values – our roots are firmly and inextricably embedded in our Christian heritage.

This conclusion is not simply the stuff of political rhetoric of the Christian Concern variety, nor even of decent apologetics like that of CPX or the recently released Jesus the Gamer Changer series.  It’s the stuff of thorough historiography.  Larry Siedentop, formerly professor of Intellectual History at Sussex University, and fellow of Keble College, Oxford, and Lecturer in Political Thought, gives us this stimulating monograph.

Like any careful teacher, Siedentop précises himself throughout.  His epilogue, “Christianity and Secularism” contains a summary of the basic building block of his argument:

More than anything else, I think, Christianity changed the ground of human identity.  It was able to do that because of the way it combined Jewish monotheism with an abstract universalism that had roots in later Greek philosophy.  By emphasizing the moral equality of humans, quite apart from any social roles they might occupy, Christianity changed ‘the name of the game’.  Social rules became secondary. They followed and, in a crucial sense, had to be understood as subordinate to a God-given human identity, something all humans share equally…  In one sense Paul’s conception of the Christ introduces the individual, by giving conscience a universal dimension… Through its emphasis on human equality the New Testament stands out against the primary thrust of the ancient world, with its dominant assumption of ‘natural’ inequality. (pp352-3)

Siedentop is not, nor does he read like, a New Testament exegete or biblical theologian; he’s a political philosopher.  But his grappling with biblical texts is robust and fair and his understanding of early and middle Christian history is useful as a history text in its own right.

His last chapter, “Dispensing with the Renaissance” reveals his programme.  The fundamental tenets of Western liberalism (moral equality and “natural rights” of individuals, representative government and institutions, and freedom of enquiry) were not novel discoveries of the modern age.

…I am not suggesting that the Renaissance did not matter, that it did not channel human thought, feeling and expression into new forms… But what I am maintaining is that as an historiographical concept the Renaissance has been grossly inflated.  It has been used to create a gap between early modern Europe and the preceding centuries – to introduce a discontinuity which is misleading. (p337)

His preceding chapters justify a continuity.  Upon the Pauline building block of the salvation of “individual souls”, which counters the priority of aristocratic or familial obligations, he notes the “demolition of ancient rationalism” that was eventually completed by Augustine (p104).  Early monasticism avoids compromise with the “aristocratic world” (p93) and implements an “utterly new form of social organisation” based on “voluntary association, in individual acts of will” (p94).  By the time Charlemagne attempts to reprise a Roman-like imperial rule, the “individual began to emerge as the unit of subjection, a social role as well as a moral status” (p154).

It is intriguing to see how the role of the church in the post-Carolingian feudal period prevents a recourse to an aristocratic illiberal world.  Concepts that might now be caricatured as theocratic overreach were actually forms of emancipation.  The church’s insistence of marriage as a sacrament undoes the last vestiges of absolute slavery (p171) by preventing men and women being bartered and bred.  The sense of “divine right” of kings is actually a great leveller (p174); the king is not king by some ontological natural attribute, but by divine providence, and is therefore obligated to God as much as any other individual.

It’s a flip-side consideration that has contemporary impact. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a thoughtful person who was well versed in anti-discrimination law.  In conversation about how I would approach a certain subject I began with the words, “Well, we’re all sinners.”  To her look of dismay at such an unfortunate premise, I noted that that this understanding is fundamentally egalitarian:  No one can claim moral authority in and of themselves, we are all sinners.  The crescendo of self-righteousness on all sides of contemporary debates indicates the value of humility that a mutual recognition of the divine could bring.

Siedentop’s consideration takes us through the Cluniac reforms, in which the “purity” of monastic houses, and the freedoms of their volitional, individual members, were reinforced against local, feudal pressures.  He demonstrates how the developing sense of papal sovereignty extended the moral sense of the “individual” such that it became a primary social role “shared equally by all persons” (p219).  This inherently “bottom-up” conception shaped the development of canon law, as it grew to support the centralised papacy, bringing a form of universality of rights and obligations.  Civil structures were only later to catch up and, in so doing, moved the social framework away from realms towards nation-states with an embryonic social contract.  And finally, the philosophical pieces of liberalism are fully in place as the Franciscan movement, countering the scholastic infatuation with Aristotelian rationalism, emphasised divine freedom (free from the constraint of a more fundamental essence or ideal) and a consequent human agency.

And all of this before the Renaissance!

It is only in the tumult of the Reformation, as the enforcement of belief becomes a prevalent political and social reality, that Siedentop sees the liberal ideas becoming manifest as an anti-clericalism, sowing the seeds that germinate and grow throughout the modern period and even bear fruit today.

Sidentop’s history-telling is compelling and convincing.  All would do well to ingest it, certainly before rejecting fait accompli the Christian world view as inherently repressive and totalitarian.

But the bigger question this raises for me is something of a “so what?”  There are two aspects to this:

Firstly, to the extent that liberalism is virtuous, how much does the current irreligious age put our liberalism at risk?  Christian origins might be apparent, but not conceptually necessary for many thoughtful liberals.  What do we lose if we lose the understanding of origins?  What difference does it make?

I suspect the difference at this point is not sociological but epistemological, and we must perhaps consider different instantiations of liberalism in the contemporary setting.  You can have multiple points of view that share Siedentop’s liberal characteristics, but which vary greatly in application.  The current differences on gender and sexuality are the prime example.  For some, (ironically both traditional conservative and classical feminist), individual freedom is found in embracing and defending the biological aspects of human being as an essential part of identity. For others, individual freedom is to transcend or reject not just social constructions but the biological realities to which they attach.  Both are “liberal” in their own internal sense, but are also at odds.  From either point of view, the other constrains individual freedom.

I can therefore understand the argument by which the rejection of the Christian epistemological ground is seen as a path toward an illiberal “liberalism.”  This is evident in current popular rhetoric (the “intolerance of tolerance,” “slippery slope” etc).

Secondly, to the extent that liberalism is not the gospel, what correctives are needed?  We do well to focus on individualism, and recognise its primordial rejection of familial aristocracy.  But where do concepts such as community and family and plurality enter in?  There is power in introspection, but the gospel is more than just alleviating the anxiety of the introspective conscience, it is about the commencement and completion of a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” in which there is an interdependence of persons.

The postmodern reprise of both relationship and experience is a necessary corrective within the grand flow of philosophical history, and one that the Christian worldview is yet to adequately inform or harness.  Any attempt needs a view of history that would learn a great deal from Siedentop.

1280px-salar_uyuni_bolivieWe have an ongoing task of considering the culture around us for the sake of the gospel.  We “live in the world” but do not act like the world.  Rather, we “take every thought captive”, which is not about our inner thought-life and has more to do with the task of simultaneously participating in and pushing-back at our surrounding culture.

The task involves this: What are some of the defining characteristics of the West?  Where is the church capitulating to or, alternatively, subverting our cultural narrative with the gospel?  They are the rubbing points of our mission, our proclamation, our relevance.

One Western characteristic we have encountered is the prevalence of fear.  The fear of falling, particularly in the middle classes, is a point of contact for the gospel of trust and hope.

A second characteristic is a peculiar individualism with an honour-shame shape.  You’re individually placed within a herd in which you are ranked by some descriptor such as school results, bank balance, or postcode.  Honour and shame pertains to perceived movement in that rank.  Perceptions as to where you stand matter as much as reality, and poor presentation can become self-fulfilling.  This a point of contact for the gospel which honours individuals as image-bearers of God and values the body life of a renewed Jesus-shaped community.

A third characteristic is the subject of this post:  It is a collective sense of parentlessness.  Our society exhibits aspects of orphanhood.  And the greatest concern is the extent to which the church which prays “Our Father…” readily adopts this same sense in thought and practice.

What do we mean by it?

In vague and limited terms, some observations that describe this characteristic are:

You are on your own.”  The community spirit, that vague but certain sense that we each belong to a “team” of some sort has waned.  This does not preclude interaction, or times and places where people can connect and share in anything from frivolities to more serious causes; but in the end I am not my brother’s keeper, and my neighbour and I owe each other nothing.  “Pulling together” is only of utilitarian value, and not an end in itself.

Cynical Leadership.  Political leadership is a stark example.  Here, leadership is not about inspiration, it is simply an algorithm, a feedback loop of wedge issues, focus groups, and the bartering of winners and losers in which principle is irrelevant.  We have ideology but no ideals.  We are called to self-interest but not to shared identity or purpose.  Statesmanship has been deconstructed.  Our debates and votes have become mechanical spins of a sloganeered poker machine.

Fearful Silence.  Perhaps as an overreaction to bygone paternalism, we lurch between fear of ourselves (that we might impose and control) and fear of rejection (that our pearls will be treated as swill).  And so we tend to simply stop saying anything, one generation to another and each to their own.   No one is raised up to purpose or vocation.  Rather than being covered and nurtured and raised up into their potential, all must fight for their place, seek their own sustenance, and justify their value. Elders are just old people, and young people have a divine right to not only “find their way” but to do so from first principles, standing at the feet of fading giants.  Withholding insight, we hold unthinking belligerence to be self-evident.  The concept of “Founding Father” is extinct.

The end result has society bearing the hallmarks of orphanhood:  An uncertain identity, an unanswered questioning of who we are; and a fear of rejection lingering as a subtle self-centredness that orbits the numbing false-comfort of entertainments.  Our world is uncontrollable, and so we curl up into passivity, only bothering to be moved when there’s something that “they” should do.

Now this is social commentary, not an observation of how well or otherwise mothers and fathers raise their children. Nevertheless, it does inform how family-life is pressured by prevailing assumptions of how things should be.

And it also informs the church’s application of the gospel.

The gospel begins with a good good Father, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and sends his Spirit by which we can respond with the rejuvenating childlike cry of “Abba, Father.”  The gospel invites us to turn to Christ, and so enter into the spiritual family that he heads.  There we have a certain identity, love that overcomes fear, and a call to purposeful action.  Our heavenly Father knows us, takes risks for us, calls us into the fullness of ourselves in him, and so binds his people together with love, affection, mutual recognition and godly provocation.

The most inspiring Christian movements model this family.  Irish band Rend Collective grabs hold of the Great Commission, and as family they go.  We’ve seen people try to emulate the energy of youth festival Soul Survivor – big music and loud lights – and fail to see that it only works because those who make it happen do it as family.

Families share life, spur one another on, and know one another.  Parents don’t just instruct and teach, they breathe life, they feel the wellbeing of each member in their own bones.  They pour themselves out and are wearied, for sure, but they delight and are rewarded by the family’s growth.  And all the while they hold their Father’s hand.

Read Paul’s letters and you see his apostolic father heart beating the whole time.  He never goes alone.  And he speaks of his people:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 1 Thessalonians 2:19

Yet for so many, the loneliest place on earth is the church pew.  Church can be many things – a product to buy, a message to contemplate, a program in which to participate.  Our strategies can be clever, and our structures professional and proper.  Our job descriptions can be precise, and our line management clear and fair.  But without a sense of family, our Christianity is paint-layer thin, deep gets swallowed up by shallow, and we are yet another dusty bowl in the world’s wilderness.

The recent re-attention on discipleship steps towards the deeps we need to recover and re-dig.  Discipleship involves a recognition of “household”, the sharing of life, and training through apprenticeship.  It invokes the “band of brothers” family as the outward mission is pursued.

The next step perhaps, is deeper yet; it is towards an apostolic adoptive heart, which doesn’t just train, but calls and covers.  This next step can’t be manufactured.  Perhaps it’s simply what happens when the Father heart of God stirs us anew.  But we know we need it, this world and ourselves.

[Image by Olywyer used under CC BY-SA]

fofThe reality that there was a man of God, Jesus, who lived, died, rose again, and is spiritually at work in the world, is good news.  We can theorise about it this way and that, but the longer I live the more I realise that the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” pierces the insulation of human societal subsistence and touches the live wires of our feeblest condition together with our most optimistic hopes.  Jesus Christ, Saviour and King above all powers and winds and waves of human cunning, must be proclaimed not just for the transformation of individual lives, but of communities, societies, entire cultures.  What else might his commission to disciple and baptise nations mean, if not to seek to teach and immerse them in the ways of divine life?

For better or worse, Gill and I have found ourselves embedded near the “Middle” of Western society.  This is not to say that our immediate context is monochrome.  But it is “Middle England” and the prevalent communal mode and manner is professional and middle class.  It is not something to be disparaged, even by a farm-boy like myself from out the back of Deloraine, but it something for us to come to understand and, in the sense described above, to learn to evangelise.

How, then, could I go past a book that spruiks to speak of the Inner Life of the Middle Class?  And how could I not seize upon the title: The Fear of Falling.  Because if there was one characteristic we have observed time and time again in our Western world wanderings it is the prevalance of fear: fear of slipping down the scale, of falling off the class edge; fear of life-defining numbers, from bank balances, and returns on investment, to school results and performance indicators.  Gill and I have a comparitor: In Australia these numbers matter, but on something of a sliding scale; in the UK’s herd-management mentality, they define thresholds and binary ups and downs.  It is starker here, and more indicative of the broader western world I think.  And it’s life-sapping. Even the literature from my children’s school cautioned against student’s having an after-school job by appealing to numbers: please consider if £20 extra per week now is worth losing £200 extra per week in one’s career down the track.  It contains some wisdom I guess, but it’s such a flaccidly fearful form of assessing life’s experiences.

So would Ehrenreich’s book help me understand?  It is American. It is a bit old. It was written in the very late ’80s and basically provides sociological commentary for the baby boomers into their middle age.  But if, as they say, the currently middle-aged Generation X, is an amorphous bridging generation, here are the cracked foundations upon which one end of the bridge rests.  Our children define the other end, and will learn to speak of it, in time.

And so the book is helpful. Ehrenreich’s argument is a journey, from a post-war class that presumed ubiquity and had little self-consciousness, and then “an emerging middle-class awareness of being a class among others and, ultimately, of being an elite above others.” (p11).  She tells her story using not only categories of wealth and capital, but also of freedoms and control, and the ability to find life’s purpose.  The common denominators throughout are of a class that can never rest in itself, which requires exertion to maintain capital and prestige from generation to generation, in which life’s place, being neither secure at the top, nor can’t-fall-any-further at the bottom, are always tenuous.

If this is an elite, then, it is an insecure and deeply anxious one.  It is afraid, like any class below the most securely wealthy, of misfortunes that might lead to a downward slide.  But in the middle class there is another anxiety: a fear of inner weakness, of growing soft, of failing to strive, of losing discipline and will. Even the affluence that is so often the goal of all this striving becomes a threat, for it holds out the possibility of hedonism and self-indulgence. Whether the middle class looks down toward the realm of less, or up toward the realm of more, there is the fear, always, of falling. (p15)

There is much in this book’s journey that raises some of my hackles at the state of the western world.  Ehrenreich progresses from the 1950’s aversion to affluence, to the psychology of student uprisings in the 1960’s, and a growing self-awareness of elitism with respect to the working class of the 1970’s.  Throughout it all the well-worn paths of western endeavour: academic, professional and financial endeavour, are shown to be based on artificialiaties. Why, for instance, do we expect our children to go through the time and often unreachable expense of obtaining a degree? “So that they can have a decent career” is an insipid, and self-defined answer that speaks nothing about the value of education and free thought, let alone true merit, and fulfilling success.

As Ehrenreich’s journey continued I began to sense my resentment at the pseudo-sacred game that is foisted on us.  Anything that makes not only women’s liberation, but decent work-life balance, and the seizing of life’s deeper purposes, compete with housing (and sometimes food!) affordability is simply a mug’s game: a cacophony of stressors with diminishing returns.  My parent’s generation either dropped out of the game, or played to win and turned into yuppies.  That misses the missiological trick: to be in it, but not of it, if that is at all possible.

It is Ehrenreich’s sixth chapter, on one half of that generational response, the rise of the yuppies in the ’80s, that had the most resonance for me.  Here there is a picture that has not only refused to fade, but has become even more amplified by the tech and financial bubbles and busts that came later.  Here we read of a growing gap between rich and poor as the economics failed to trickle-down, and as the status (and remuneration) of the traditional professions waned before the rise of a corporate elite (p200).  The tension between mid-level income and mid-level lifestyle (p206) bolstered the anxiety.  And the determinators of class, just like now, came down to accidents of fortune (e.g. the timing of the purchase of one’s first home, parental wealth), or the impact of basic human realities such as having children, or investing in or forgoing a vocation (p210).

Many of the college students I talked to in the mid-eighties were suffering from what might be called “premature pragmatism.” They were putting aside, at far too early an age, their idealism and intellectual curiosity in favor of economic security, which was increasingly defined as wealth.  A young woman interviewed by Newsweek had switched from social work to sales because “I realized that I would have to make a commitment to being poor to be a social worker.” (p209-210)

The result was a deadening: a pervasive busyness (p232) and an un-intellectual pragmatism (p241).  Consumerism took its place in a vicious guilt-reward cycle (p232).  In my own words, one could summarise it, echoed in today’s world as a non-thinking generation trying to assuage its regret.

At the end, Ehrenreich longs for an expansion of the middle class, an egalatarian “welcoming of everyone” (p263) until there is no other class.  This is pure unrealistic idealism, although I am sympathetic.  Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer famously made a similar, and more applicable point in 2014 as he ably argued for middle class investment (based on high income taxes) as shrewd.

But our project is of a different kind.  Journeys like Ehrenreich’s can leave us resentful and frustrated, and stressed as the pressures of this world are distilled and unpacked.  We have touched on our fears.  Now wherein lies our hope?

The Sunday School answer, of course, is “Jesus is our hope.”  It’s in the application that it gets more grown-up. To move against the spirit of this age and work in the opposite direction of the abounding fear involves many things.  Against consumerism we embrace holiness.  But that means facing our fears of losing out; it means repenting of self-satisfaction.  Against dehumanising pragmatism, we embrace vocation in the priorities for how we use our wealth and time, and how we count the cost.  But that means facing the fears of invalidation and inferiority, it means repenting of our protectionism.  Against self-referential self-actualising individualism, we seek to worship, which brings us unmade before God, to hear his word, recognise our brothers and sisters, and receive forgiveness.  But that means facing the fears of what we will see in God’s light, it means confessing our sins, daring to heed divine truth, and turning from our passivity and infantilism.  In short, it means faith and repentance.

It’s this hope for which the new monasticism embraces the threefold mode and manner of life: purity, simplicity, and accountability.  I can think of few better antidotes to the middle class malaise.

In the end there is no hope in Ehrenreich’s book.  But there is hope in Jesus, because, if nothing else, for our society to face it’s fear of falling, it will take a miracle.

Pedagogy of the OppressedIt’s a classic that I’ve not had the opportunity to read.  Others will be familiar with the Brazilian author, Paulo Freire, and will be able to do a better job than I in placing him in the social volatility and the fomenting revolutionary thought of South America in the late 20th Century.  You know, Che Guevara and all that.

My reasons for picking it up are different:  It was partly due to an interlocutor on the internet who “encouraged” me to read it (I think as a defence of his position, which is strange because I don’t think Freire would approve of either his manner or method); but it was mostly due to my ongoing search for understanding as to the warps and wefts of Western political philosophy, and particularly that of progressive politics.

The reading of this book has brought me to two conclusions:

  1. Western progressives do revolution really really badly.
  2. Church (in the right mode) has the potential to  do revolution (transformation?) really really well, as an expression of God’s project (= mission).

These are the matter of substance, and my ready point of application throughout the book.

Freire is an educator, and this is a pedagogy, a method or theory of teaching.  The focus in this book is the context of an oppressed class within an oppressive societal framework.  The implicit goal of the book is to so educate the oppressed that they are no longer that.

But this does not mean freeing the oppressed as just an exchange of places within the oppressive regime – the oppressed learns to “win” at the oppression game, so to speak – but towards a revolution that doesn’t just eliminate the oppressor, but the oppression itself.  If there were a broad brush-stroke critique of Western progressives from this book it is this – they are seeking to win the oppressing game, not transcend it; Western progressivism looks more like sectarianism – a reaction against “conservative” than anything that is likely to bring freedom and bring life.

Even in his initial broad terms, contemporary Western progressivism falls afoul of Freire’s fundamental pedagogical project – the promotion of dialogical interaction, and the eschewing of objectifying didacticism.  That is, there is no seeking to engage, there is a “telling what to do” in which a supposed “alignment with the oppressed” is grounds for pontification by a growing elite.

…a sectarian of whatever persuasion, blinded by his irrationality, does not (or cannot) perceive the dynamic of reality – or else he misinterprets it. (Page 17)

This is the error of both Left and Right.  It’s just that the Right are blind to others, and the Left are blind to themselves.  Freire wants, rather, the “radical”:

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a ‘circle of certainty’ within which he also imprisons reality.  On the contrary, the more radical he is, the more fully he enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he can transform it.  He is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.  He is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them.  He does not consider himself the proprietor of history or of men, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he does commit himself, within history, to fight at their side. (Pages 18-19)

This radicalism is at the heart of Freire’s pedagogy (and therefore his revolution).  Like all good revolutionary theories, it is applicable at the small scale (in families, communities, church growth theories!) to the large scale (cultural revolution).  It achieves this by being thoroughly humanistic, in the good sense of the word – engaged in the “humanisation” (we might say “flourishing”) that liberates both oppressed and oppressor, through transformation of both lives and the historical contextual surroundings of those lives.

As I progressed through Pedagogy I realised that some of the concepts were familiar; in my world they are picked up in movements such as that of Missional Communities that are inherently dialogical in their mechanism and transformative (revolutionary?) in their intention. Moreover, there is a necessarily similar attitude with regard to their method.  We might say “discipleship” –  Freire talks about a pedagogy that must be “forged with, not for, the oppressed” (Page 25).  His is a method in which the oppressed find themselves, and therefore find that the surrounding system is reliant upon them, dependent on them, indeed, found “within” them – and is therefore graspable, changeable, and transformable.

There are even some common words to describe this means of transformation – action-reflection.  For the church leader, this is the fundamental building block of discipleship.  For Freire, it is the fundamentals of effective political action.  I don’t think the too are mutually exclusive.

Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.  At all stages in their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human…

The insistence that the oppressed engage in reflection on their concrete situation is not a call to armchair revolution.  On the contrary, reflection – true reflection – leads to action.  On the other hand, when the situation calls for action, that action will constitute an authentic praxis only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection. (Page 41)

In the face of progressive (and other) politics that slip into sloganeering (imposing and asserting a predetermined culture, rather than walking with the people – oppressed and asleep alike – to allow them to discover, and act upon, the truth) here is an incentive for gospel-hearted people and the church.  It is a thoroughly biblical framework of acting in the world, and reflecting it.  The “reflection” aspect that is the natural locus of the church at work brings orthodoxy to practice and so foments and encourages and validates orthopraxy – right, revolutionary, world-changing actions.  This is the stuff of discipleship.

The rest of Freire’s book flows from this basis.  In particular, his further work applies to the “teacher” or “leader” in the revolutionary context.  This is invaluable for those engaged in church and the Western World.  Freire’s force is to move leaders/teachers away from imposition and “bank deposit” teaching to dialogical teaching based on problem-solving – not mere academic problems, but problems in reality – in which reality itself mediates the disjointed approaches and different perspectives that are brought.

Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information…  Indeed, problem-posing education, breaking the vertical patterns characteristic of banking education, can fulfill its function of being the practice of freedom only if it can overcome the [teacher-student] contradiction.  Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers… The become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow…  Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught (Page 53)

This is an image that is antagonistic to much Western progressivism, which has become expert at “talking down.”  But it is a wonderfully pastoral image that should be (but often isn’t of course) naturally embraced by church leadership.  In fact, Freire remarks on the qualities of such a leadership – “love” (page 62), “humility” (page 63), “faith” albeit of a humanistic sort (page 63), “trust” (page 64), “hope” (page 64), and “critical thinking” (page 64).  These are not the hallmarks of Western progressivism, or the manner of rhetoric deployed in progressive politics in recent times.  They should heed Freire:

Manipulation, sloganizing, ‘depositing’, regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are the components of of the praxis of domination.” (Page 97)

Consider the emotive manipulation in the euthanasia debate, the sloganeering in every debate reduced to the cry of “bigot”, the regimentation needed to keep people “on message” and away from dialoguing about reality, and the tools of anti-discrimination law and other litigiousness to win the day.  This is progressive politics at the moment.  And it is oppressive.

When Freire talks about the anti-dialogical methods of “conquest” (page 109), “divide and rule” (page 111), “manipulation” (page 116), and “cultural invasion (page 116) – I think not only of the domination of the currently entrenched conservatives, but on the equal readiness for domination on the left.  In the last few years of the political arc, people ran to what they thought was freedom, got imposition and “cultural invasion” and have run back.  We live in an endless cycle of back and forth between two ends of the same oppression.

Towards the end Freire puts forward dialogical motivators – “cooperation” (page 135), “unity for liberation” (not for it’s own sake, note) (page 140), “organisation” (page 143), and, of most interest to me, “cultural synthesis” (page 146).

Here is the DNA of Christian mission – being in the world but not of it, not imposing, nor ignoring, nor objectifying, but incarnatingparticipating, engaging

In cultural synthesis, the actors who come from ‘another world’ to the world of the people do so not as invaders.  They do not come to teach or to transmit or to give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the people’s world…  the actors become integrated with the people, who are co-authors of the action that both perform upon the world… there are no spectators; the object of the actors’ action is the reality to be transformed for the liberation of men.

Cultural synthesis is thus a mode of action for confronting culture itself, as the preserver of the very structures  by which it was formed.  Cultural action, as historical action, is an instrument for superseding the dominant alienated and alienating culture.  In this sense, every authentic revolution is a cultural revolution. (page 147)

I don’t see any of that in progressive (or conservative) politics.  I just see more and more self-made people, imposing their world-view.

It isn’t surprising, because in the end I don’t think Freire’s project is possible without divine intervention.  It relies on rehumanising, rebirthing, regenerating, reengaging.  And these are, without doubt, gospel applications and divine imperatives.

God help us.