Societal Heart Health

How To Serve as a Peacemaker in a Society that Has Lost Its Core

Paul Kingsnorth is an exceptionally deep thinker. After travelling a philosophical course that ran from atheism to environmental activism to Wiccan priesthood, he was baptized into the Romanian Orthodox Church, where he “found the answers I had sought, in the one place I never thought to look.”

More recently, he’s observed current-day social dynamics and has had a change of perspective toward Covid mitigation efforts as well. He talked about it with Freddie Sayers of UnHerd.com.

He analyzes the ever widening divide this way: there is a “thesis” side and an “antithesis” side. To the thesis side, the measures being imposed in an attempt to limit the spread of Covid are not only acceptable but are appropriate, good, and necessary. This view tends to be held by elites, the institutional establishment class, and those who trust them. The antithesis side consists of anyone who dissents from the that.

Kingsnorth recognizes that there are good people in both groups and that most people aren’t hardened into either extreme but are only trying to go about their lives with minimal disruption. The people running the institutions, however, are heavily engaged, and we’ve reached a point where both sides are acting as if their world is collapsing and that it is the fault of the other side. This does not auger well for anyone.

Early on, he was on board with the thesis, but after seeing what he thought was a reasonable response to a threat harden into scientistic, authoritarian control, he has changed sides. The pivotal moment for him came when the Austrian government interned a third of its population as a danger to public health:

I look at the news photos of armed, masked, black-clad police stopping people in the streets to ask for their digital papers, and I read stories of others arrested for leaving their own house more than the permitted once a day, and I hear Austrian politicians intoning that those who refuse to accede to the injection are to be shunned and scapegoated until they acquiesce.

It’s not that he’s suggesting a blasé attitude toward the virus. It’s not even about the vaccines, per se. Rather, he is troubled by what people are now accepting in order to be “protected.” Divisions in Western culture have existed for some time, but Covid has blown them into the stratosphere and radicalized formerly peaceable people:

I watch interviews with “ordinary people”, and they say that the “unvaxxed” had it coming. Some of them say that they should all be jailed, these enemies of the people. At best, the “anti-vaxxers” are paranoid and misinformed. At worst they are malicious, and should be punished.

Then I look across the border at Germany. I see that in Germany, politicians are also considering interning the “vaccine hesitant”, and are also discussing enforcing vaccination upon every citizen. By the end of the winter, says Germany’s refreshingly honest health minister, Germans will be “vaccinated, cured or dead”. There is apparently no fourth option.

He and Sayers talked about the societal fractures Covid has revealed. What drives people to turn on one another this way? While individuals will always have their own reasons, Kingsnorth identified two related underlying factors: spiritual emptiness and the loss of Western Christendom’s religious story. For centuries in the West, we had Christianity as the symbolic story that tied us together. In the eighteenth century, that story was abandoned for a materialist replacement flying under the banner of Progress. It held science and reason as supreme, but then it broke down in the twentieth century when science was put to use to serve horrific ends. “It wasn’t really sustainable to talk about ‘Progress’ after the Holocaust,” he noted dryly. Indeed.

So, with Christendom abandoned as a source of symbolic meaning, and Progress having failed:

We’re a society in the West that doesn’t have a source. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know what to believe in. … We haven’t got a core.

While he recognizes the need for reasonable government and social responsibility, Kingsnorth said it was the specter of “galloping authoritarian control” that moved him from thesis to antithesis. If you have to carry around a QR code to prove you aren’t sick, what other data will be added to your card?

It’s a good question, but rather than speculate about it, he made two recommendations. First, decide where you draw the line. While noting that it’s a personal question for everyone, he said he has decided to draw his line at lockdowns of the unvaccinated, vaccine passports, and things that segregate people.

The second thing he recommends is that we come out from behind our ramparts and start having conversations. Important conversation. He says he senses an “inchoate yearning” among the growing antithesis dissenters for some other way of “doing society,” and I think I agree.

That’s where Christians, or anyone of good will conversant with Judeo-Christian precepts, can come in. What’s needed is a spiritual-cultural language to engage in conversations over the deeper existential questions. What are we here for? What is the higher value of a society? Does life have a higher meaning than merely staying alive as long as possible? The biblical worldview addresses these questions and offers robust, satisfying answers. We need to learn to talk again on that level.

The pandemic and reactions to it have shown that there is a great spiritual void where the heart of a society should be. This is a time for Christians to step up and engage. As much as possible, live at peace with everyone. Be kind and listen to fears, Kingsnorth says, but resist the temptation to go down rabbit holes. Instead resist anger, reframe discussions, and raise the debate.

Raise the debate. I cannot think of a better way to engage in Christian peacemaking in an era of escalating conflict. For more on practical peacemaking and reframing discussions in worldview terms, see Whirled Views: A Framework for Mapping Reality & Engaging Ideological Confusion, from Salvo 41. To see the discussion between Sayers and Kingsnorth click below.

has a BS in Computer Science and worked in software development with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, where she works as Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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