Wednesday 6 March 2013

Power and Truth

One of the reasons that positive change, the power to do good, is often ignored is that change can revolutionise the way we live and the way we think. Change can alter the status quo; undermine power and privilege. People who hold power are generally always sensitive to the risk that changes can often bring. For example, when the mathematician, Nicholas Copernicus published his book in 1543, De Revolutionibus showing that the sun was the centre of the planetary system and not the planet Earth his book was banned by the Catholic Church. 16 years later, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for saying the same thing. Later, Galileo published his own views in support of the Copernican theory. The Inquisition responded by threatening him with torture, he recanted his views and was then placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Dr Joseph Bronoski in his famous book, The Ascent of Man, commented that, 'Galileo seems to have been strangely innocent about the world of politics and most innocent in thinking that he could outwit it because he was clever.' But the Roman Catholic Church was a church that held power, that believed 'faith should dominate' whereas Galileo believed that 'truth should persuade'. The Catholic Church was a totalitarian, ecclesiastical power and as we have seen, it would brook no opposition to its doctrine.

Today, we have our own political juggernauts and those who stand outside of the main parties or the political consensus are often ignored and marginalised. One who is not listened to or does not have access to the 'corridors of power' is often referred to as a 'voice in the wilderness' as though that voice or that person is of no consequence. But just because one person, or a minority holds a point of view or has an idea that is not supported by the majority it doesn't necessarily mean that that idea is wrong. Someone once said, 'If 50 million people think a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing'.

In the gospel of Mark, that lone voice of 'one crying in the wilderness' opens the story of Jesus' ministry.

Behold, I send my message before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness - prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.

Here was John the Baptist at the River Jordan, bringing a message to those who were seeking a new beginning, baptising them with water but Jesus of Nazareth he said 'would baptise with the Holy Spirit.' The voice crying in the wilderness proclaimed not himself, but a new message that would turn the world upside down, where the first would be last and the last would be first. There is this story where the disciples of Jesus are all arguing and bickering amongst themselves, trying to outdo each other, scoring points, so to speak but Jesus gets them all to sit down and says to them, 'If you really want the place of honour, you must become a slave and serve others.' Later, he told them of the need to 'forgive what others have done to you' as an essential practice in the spiritual life.

But in his own life, the message he brought and the ideas he conveyed were rejected and rejected not least by the people who knew him in his own town of Nazareth. He said, 'Prophets are honoured by everyone except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family'. However, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, they also dismissed his teachings and in response to their disbelief, he quoted these words from Isaiah:

The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all.

You can imagine that it did not go down well. Prophets are often without honour in their hometown and amongst their closest family, because often the prophet brings an uncomfortable message that challenges power, self-interest and tradition. The words of a prophet can bring all sorts of consequences and insecurities the whole thing is problematic. Jesus said (in the gospel of John) 'and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free'. But as we know men are often more interested in the power of their own authority than being persuaded by the truth.