The Need for Co-Operation

This could be called a political post, but it is not a party political post. The distinction is important because there are those who argue that the Church (meaning usually clergy and religious) should never express any opinion, either as individuals or as an organization, about the way in which society functions, the laws that govern it or the values it seeks to express. I don’t subscribe to that view for the simple reason that the Church (which is more than just clergy and religious) is concerned with life on earth as much as life hereafter. Those familiar with the political thought of St Thomas Aquinas know that he called the state societas christiana. In other words, the fundamental relationship between citizens is meant to be what is implied by the word ‘society’ — friendly, companionable, mutually beneficial. Sadly, I’m not sure we can say that British society reflects that; we definitely cannot assert it of international relations.

You do not need me to list all the matters that contribute to widespread unease about where we are going either as a country or as a world. Different factors affect us in different degree, according to our personal experience or feelings of vulnerability, and there are a host of proposed solutions vying for our attention. I think, however, one need stands out above all others: the need for co-operation. At a time when many are pursuing ‘go it alone’ policies, it is increasingly clear that we cannot actually do that. We cannot solve the problem of climate change without action on a global scale. We cannot maintain the economic structures of America and Europe without reference to Asia or Africa. Perhaps most important of all, we cannot retain our own humanity without acknowledging and valuing the humanity of others.

This morning, as I glanced at the BBC headlines, I was struck by how much pain and suffering is caused by our wanting to dominate rather than co-operate. Those who live in community know how hard it can be to co-operate with others, but is there really any alternative? Do we want a world in which a few grab all there is to grab and the rest are condemned to a form of slavery? Don’t we want to live as friends to each other, despite our differences? That is not a mere rhetorical question. It is one we must ask ourselves every day because the answer we give will determine our conduct and the shape of the society — remember that word! — in which we live. For Christians, it also has an eschatalogical dimension: it should make us uncomfortable; it should make us act.

I began with Aristotle, mediated by Aquinas, but I’ll end with Plato: ‘it is no mean topic that engages us, for our subject is, how we should order our life.’ (Republic, 352.D)


8 thoughts on “The Need for Co-Operation”

  1. GFC, greed, are largely responsible for Asia & Africa’s pictures of emacipated children. Yes Prayer & Action by Christians, Hindu, Muslims, All faiths – but they ALL need to express OUTRAGE for the lack of Action to end this lack of Co-Operation & inhumanity.

  2. There is also the need to manage short term v long term, in other words is society (oh dear that means me, and anyone else on this post) willing to accept an impact on our lives for the sake of future generations. Climate change is an example. Modern humans (well at least me) find this a challenge given modern technology / smart phones which feeds into the short-term.

    Sometimes in history you do see examples of a more altruistic approach (albeit there may still be some realpolitik involved). The 1947 Marshall Plan is a prime example – without that Europe could have collapsed post WW2.

  3. I am constantly reminded of various writings by C.S.Lewis, particularly The Screwtape Letters and the final volume of the Narnia series, The Last Battle. The latter is far deeper than a children’s novel and is frighteningly prophetic.

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