Lost Faith in Institutions

As an Englishwoman, I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the situation in Ferguson. What is clear, even to me, is that the Grand Jury’s decision not to prosecute the police officer who killed Michael Brown has been rejected by many as unjust. That word is significant. It suggests a lack of faith in one of the very institutions meant to guarantee justice. Whether those who have rejected the Grand Jury’s decision have heard all the evidence in the case, or whether the Jury itself was prejudiced in Darren Wilson’s favour is, in a way, beside the point. As Aldous Huxley remarked in another context, there is a difference between being sincere and appearing sincere. There is a widely-held perception that something is wrong, and it is fast becoming a many-headed hydra feeding on itself. The lack of trust in the law and the way it is administered is palpable, so too is the fear on both sides. It is particularly sad that the U.S.A. should be undergoing such a trial on the eve of Thanksgiving, when people all over the world, not just its own citizens, give thanks for the many good things that have come from ‘the land of the free’.

It isn’t difficult to find parallels nearer home here in the U.K. or in the Church. It is impossible, for example, to talk of integrity and banking in the same breath without someone smiling a little cynically. Some of our Westminster politicians have done a very good job of discrediting themselves, alas; and while I grieve for the sins of the Church, I can’t help admitting that some of her members have behaved so badly that it is a wonder we haven’t all been torched. What has caused this negativity, this loss of faith?

I think myself a partial answer may be found in the experience of war, totalitarianism and untramelled capitalism during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The huge loss of life, the sacrifice of the individual to a very uncertain good, the sheer dreariness of everything, only fleetingly alleviated by the modern equivalents of bread and circuses, have taken their toll. The individual has often felt helpless and alone. Add to this the breaking down of supportive structures like the family and old allegiances, e.g. to Church, and we have a piquant mix. It is not the whole story, of course, but we see the working out of it in the protest movements and sporadic violence now troubling us. We have lost faith. We have lost trust. And because we have lost trust, we may have ended up becoming less trustworthy.

May have. It is an important distinction. Here, therefore, is a question for myself and for anyone who bothers to read this post. What grounds would anyone have for trusting me (us)? Are they adequate, or is there a grey area that invites disbelief? The answer we give may be sobering, but there is something to cling to, even if we feel hopeless. The astonishing fact is that we have been trusted by God — infinitely. He has given the world into our care; he has entrusted life itself to us; and He does so over and over again. We may be disbelieving, but we know He will never lose faith. I think we should be encouraged, don’t you?

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15 thoughts on “Lost Faith in Institutions”

  1. I hear what you’re saying Sister Catherine, and when I say that, I mean that I hear it not with just my ears, but also with my heart as well. I’ll not say that I agree with the decision that was handed down in Ferguson. In fact. I don’t at all. But what I do feel in my heart is that no matter how anyone feels about said decision, the grand jury has spoken, and all the rioting and destruction that is currently going on in Ferguson is not going to change it, nor will it help anyone’s cause. That, more than anything else, is what is upsetting to me.

  2. I have just had the same conversation on the doorstep with a Jehovah’s Witness which is strange. Put not your trust in princes is clearly the message of the day.

  3. I have just had the most wonderful experience in hospital where my life was placed in the hands of others.
    Just prior to a high risk operation I was told
    I was a glass half full sort of person, which was only partly true, because at that life threatening moment my cup literally overflowed. I try my best, but often get things wrong, so can you imagine if God has so much love for me, what sort of love he must have for our spiritually older and wiser brothers and sisters who are called to work so much harder. Encouraged? I just wish I could convey to you and your readers the love I experienced, not as I should be, but just as I am.

  4. As part of her sermon on Sunday, the vicar commented that we expect to be able to fix things , since we consider ourselves very able in so many ways. Yet there are so many things that appear to be difficult/impossible to change. I thought of “To Kill a mocking Bird” and wondered how far humans have changed. That God trusts us is amazing.

  5. What is overwhelming to me is that the situation in Ferguson, and now many American cities, is the “parallel universe” that is evident. Officer Wilson may have been completely correct in shooting at a citizen behaving aggressively and threatening his life. The Grand Jury believes so. And it is also correct to say that local police have become much more militarized in America and that there continues to be an imbalance in the scales of justice toward minorities-especially young black men. And now there’s just anger about a legal and social system that’s so broken it’s feeding on itself. I try to follow Mother Theresa’s prayer and “do good anyway.” I just don’t know that that’s enough.

  6. An interesting viewpoint sister. I believe that Ferguson is a collective PTSD from racial injustice made worse by evil stepping into that wound and calling itself “justice.” Darren Wilson was just a trigger for all the Michael Browns who were ever pulled over for “driving while black.” With PTSD,”the past is present.” When we resort to making it about “us versus them” we lose any chance for reconciliation and healing that might come from dialogue and understanding.

  7. I hope my U.S. readers will not take it amiss if I point out that, although I have used events in Ferguson by way of topical allusion, my real argument touches on something much broader and which I consider fundamental — the relationship between law and justice, the individual and society, trust, etc. I have written in jottings only. It is for the reader to do the really hard work!

  8. I’ll just have to trust that money donated digitally reaches the place its meant to go! 😀

    Honestly though, I emailed a Diocese office today to point out that the registered charity number they are giving on their website is actually for an different organisation with a different address. Could they please clarify which organisation they are meant to be, and whether money given to them will reach the church its meant to support.

    I felt like asking if they were able to “get with the times”, but managed to restrain myself. So many people in our congregation have found it a nightmare to set up direct debits and standing orders, let alone any more sophisticated methods of donating. How can churches complain about a lack of generosity if they make it so hard to get the cash to them using modern technology?

    So thank goodness for technology savvy nuns, that restore my trust and faith in this particular system! 🙂

  9. I’ve been percolating all day, SR, on your thoughts from this morning. While I was cleaning and washing the fridge I remembered this bit of writing from years ago. Perhaps this is still not quite what you had in mind, but I will keep on pondering.

    “One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places… For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”–James Baldwin

  10. I’m probably way off the point but I often wonder about the concept of trusting someone. I almost always trust people to act with integrity – the issue is when their integrity leads them to a different conclusion. This is particularly apparent In the small sphere. It can simply be a different view of what constitutes bad manners. For me it’s the small everyday niggles that really challenge my perception of trust.

  11. A person with whom I had been discussing the Furgeson decision felt the decision to be unjust. I responded that in these matters, justice seeks the truth. The evidence revealed the truth which led to the jury’s decision. Any other decision would have been unjust. She was still unhappy, so I asked if what she sought was not justice but vengeance.
    But you asked about trust. I think when we allow those in charge to lead us, we trust that they will make decisions that we believe to be correct. But sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t it makes the headlines. But when they do make the right decisions, like nuns who trudge on day after day doing the work of God, we don’t take notice. Because that is what we expect them to do. Unless they go a bit above and beyond, reaching a wider audience through a social media format or attracting a headline.
    Perhaps if the news media noticed the hundreds of officials, secular or church, who daily do the right thing, who earn our trust, those who don’t would better be seen as the anomalies they truly are.

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