Being resolute in 2020

People who know me well will smile when they read that I am talking about New Year Resolutions. After all, my most successful (and longest-lasting) resolution was a decision not to make New Year’s resolutions. Nevertheless let me suggest that this year we should all make at least one: to think critically and act decisively.

No, that’s not two New Year resolutions but one divided into two parts. To think critically means here to examine all claims with a healthy scepticism. Are claims about the world we live in – including our religious worlds – based on sound reasoning and solid evidence? Are the ‘solutions’ that are offered actually workable – or do they make things worse? Should we even bother to trust leaders who make astonishing claims, often offering ‘feel good’ solutions that appeal to our desire for certainty?

There’s a lot of the latter about. Take for example the state of global democracy including our own. The trend in the last few years is towards populists offering solutions that range from the crazy (see under: Donald Trump) to the hopelessly naïve (that Brexit will actually make Britain richer, despite overwhelming economic evidence). In our context we see attempts to hold on to failed state enterprises (mainly to appease the unions) or introducing economic policies that scare away foreign and domestic investment. We see commissions of inquiry rather than actually putting corrupt public figures in jail. And we see regular use of xenophobia and ‘race card’ politics to distract the public from the fact that we are heading to ‘junk’ economic status and social collapse.

In religion too we see similar morbid symptoms. Instead of facing the fact that many ideas on sexuality, to use one example, contradict scientific evidence, many still hold superstitiously to old ways of thinking. Scriptural illiteracy is high – instead of seeing sacred texts for what they are, the best human responses to Divine Mystery rooted in the available knowledge of the world the authors had at the time, texts become godlike oracles taken literally. I call this idolatry. Many religious people are also obsessed with demons and evil spirits, seeing all kinds of woes from mental illness to changing social circumstances as demonic. I must add that many see those who wish to change religious practice as demonic too. (No doubt for some I am one of the latter). At worst, we see religion taking on the form of violent fanaticism.

Critical thinking must challenge all this nonsense – in public life and religion alike.

But that is not enough. We must act decisively. We must challenge the lies and false solutions, the empty rhetoric and poor reasoning. We must offer better answers and live by them. At very least we must be willing to examine questions more thoroughly, aware that real life is complex. That solutions do not offer easy ‘feel good’ answers. We must be willing to tell authority figures who peddle nonsense calmly and clearly, “I’m sorry. You are talking **^@?&**!”. Then we must act decisively so that our thinking and critique actually does make a qualitative difference to our lives and our societies.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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