30 thoughts on “Can We Agree on the Common Good Without Agreement on Common Values?”

  1. Another thoughtful and challenging post. In a country as diverse as the UK is nowadays, our presumptions on what exactly the common good might be, needs to be thought through in the light of the makeup of society and the cultural values exhibited from a community of people with either current or historical ethnic, racial, religious and cultural values. There is no lens that will give us a clear picture as the issues you describe will be thought morally right by some and totally immoral to others.

    I suspect that I stand in the position of wanting to respect the diversity, while expecting all to fit into the box of my individual world view. As someone from the East End of London, my childhood was spent in a mixture of Care, a Christian Upbringing (RC) and a single parent father, damaged by war service and a mother who disappeared, abandoning us when I was just 3.8 years old. Such a disturbed childhood involved a number of nuances from the different contexts I lived in, both care , school life and a fractured home life. The only time I found stability was when I left home to Join the Army.

    One thing that taught me was self respect, and respect for others and instilled, despite active service, an attitude of living well with others, a needed skill living in mixed communities, often out the UK. It exposed me to cultures and societies other than my own and demonstrated that intrinsically most people are good, kind, friendly and accepting of difference. I don’t profess to be perfect, but I feel that my return to faith as an Anglican, after a sojourn of some 20 plus years of agnosticism renewed my faith in my fellow humanity, although as no body is perfect, we accept the limitations that arise because of it.

    Everyone is different and comes with their own baggage, past life and experiences, often completely different to our own experience, they deserve careful listening and consideration to allow us to know and understand where they come from and perhaps where they are going. What we should not expect is conformity or false identity being forced onto them. If we did more listening instead of speaking, we would be a better society, more in unity of spirit, if not fact.

    We need to pray for patience, empathy and understanding from everyone, everywhere to allow the Gospel to lead us to God’s Grace and share it wider than our particular ghetto.

    • Thank you for that, Ernie. My biggest worry about this post (apart from the clumsiness with which I have written) is that many readers will home in on the three examples I’ve used rather than letting them be a spring-board for a more general reflection on how we can understand the common good today without doing injustice to anyone’s deeply cherished beliefs.

  2. The answer to the meaning of life is 42….
    Dear Sister Catherine, as a sociology undergraduate fifty years ago, l was tasked through studying social theory and ethics with defining how group theory and dynamics had led to the development of modern society and civilisation. The elephant in the room was the absence in our teaching of the cumulative effects of totalitarianism and war on the human psyche – we were and still are the product of so many different strands of lifestyle and circumstances. Many of us conform to social types and group dynamics, but some of us are individually independent.
    But deep down, we all need to love and be loved and for that to happen we need to espouse kindness, forgiveness and gentleness in our lives – all qualities expounded by our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    • Thank you, Tim. One of the things I remember thinking a great deal about when younger was the impact the Holocaust had on our understanding of Christology. I’m sure that the experience of global war and totalitarianism has also had an effect. I wonder what the lasting effect of the current pandemic will be.

  3. Thank you for sharing. It is something that I’ve been holding in prayer repeatedly. I think this year perhaps highlighted it more than usual and we saw in the early stages of the pandemic an overwhelming sense of people wanting to do for the ‘common good’, but over time has that sustained? Perhaps one of the examples I ponder on is the churches response to the current ban on public worship….it should not be classed as ‘non essential’ is the argument I’ve heard. And whilst I agree with that, I also feel that for the common good my ability to worship in church/cathedral buildings has to be sacrificed. I know that I am more at risk to others due to my work and visiting lots of different households. So I have chosen not to attend since March. I worship at home and have sacrificed receiving the sacrament.
    There is perhaps something all of us individually feel is ‘essential’ at the moment. And that is perhaps the crux of what I repeatedly find myself holding in prayer….how do we as a society learn to love as God loves us….how do we lay aside our own ‘essentials’ in love of our neighbour. It’s hard. We are human beings with our own needs and wants.
    I have found myself reflecting a lot on Exodus during this year….the desire of the people to follow Moses when they were brought out of Egypt and saved from slavery…..but how quickly as humans we waiver and get lost when asked to wait! When things don’t happen the way we expect or as quickly as we’d like. And in the individual struggle of waiting I wonder what gets lost in our ability to serve one another??

    This may have gone slightly off course, but just my musing

      • Government Exemptions from wearing a mask is there to protect those who would otherwise suffer from wearing a mask, it is irresponsible to suggest others with breathing difficulties should put up with the inconvenience of wearing a mask and to imply those who do not wear a mask know better is a staggering arrogance on your part, as for Islam, secular governments should stop trying to Abrogate Islam, and some Muslims should remember Allah the most merciful and Allah will reciprocate

        • You misunderstand me entirely. I could be exempt from wearing a mask myself but choose to wear one to protect others. That is my decision based on my assessment of the common good (which is what the post is about — not mask-wearing). Some people coming to this house, even though they are in good health and are aware I have stage 4 cancer and am clinically ‘extremely vulnerable’ (there’s a notice on the door) have refused to wear one. My joke about their possibly knowing better was clearly lost on you. I am not suggesting that people with breathing difficulties should follow my example. I’m not suggesting those without breathing difficulties should follow my example. So I don’t think the accusation of ‘staggering arrogance’ quite stands up, does it? As to my remarks about Islam, I checked with a Muslim friend that my phrasing would not give offence, and I sincerely hope it hasn’t. But there is still the question how far the British government and British people should accommodate any religion — not just Islam — and how that impacts on our understanding of the common good.

  4. Thank-you sister, I enjoy and love to read your blogs.
    Being brought up in a family of 9 children, ( Catholic Christian) I quickly learn that the common good of the family came first, self sacrifice’s had to be made. We just did it! I too, try do my best to be loving and positive for the commonwealth of the community I live in. It’s a no brainer for me to wear a mask in these times. I want to fight the good fight for the wellbeing of my Healthcare and others. Of course black lives matter, I would like it said as; all lives matter. Alot to think about… blessings

      • My reflections sister seem to also lead me back to
        this songs words, and suddenly I’m at home in peace again. You may think me odd, that’s OK, that you may like to hear,

        God Defend New Zealand –
        New Zealand National Anthem- Full Length
        6.25mins on YouTube.
        Amine Rutu

  5. Thank you for an insightful, challenging blog. I’ll need to go back to it again and again; but I do think we – as a race, a nation, a species, suffer from the increasing tendency to a knee-jerk reaction to whatever comes up. To spout rather than to watch and to listen – then it compounds itself, of course. In view of which, Thank you again for this.

    • Thank you, Sister. I think social media may have a lot to answer for, or rather, the way we have come to use it — as a vehicle for our own opinions first and foremost. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

  6. Thank you once again Sister. Your writing is never clumsy but it is thought provoking.

    To mind although we like to think we live in a Christian society or a society formed by the teachings of Jesus, increasingly our society is becoming secularised and being formed by other values. Schools are now required to teach British Values.

    As I read the thought that came to my mind is the way that society is driven my the individual, the individual’s freedom to do what they see is right, for individual to claim their right to live they way they want. Rights are there to protect so that people can live a life of dignity recognising that we are valued human beings.

    But with rights come responsibilities. I may have the right to choose not to wear a mask, although I think in the wearing of a face covering is mandatory inside a public place, but I do have a responsibility to others to protect them by choosing to wear a mask (other face coverings available).

    At the moment you would think that as a society we would have a common purpose to combat this virus, to keep the infection rate down, to protect those we love and also those we don’t know. And many people are doing so.

  7. Dear Sister Catherine

    Your examples seem to show the rapid change in society, perhaps another example
    Regarding the pandemic, is that although within this small UK, there is common purpose to control the virus, the government of UK cannot have a Uk wide approach as Wales and Scotland have taken their own individual approach, so one has to be open minded when considering motivation – I was wondering about working for a common purpose with differing motivation.

    I wonder if also we have access to so much information today which may be true, untrue factualy correct, or taken for granted beliefs that we are overwhelmed with so much ,so many purposes so perhaps no wonder “the loss of a sense of common purpose and therefore agreement on what constitutes the core values of society.”

    Or perhaps it does start with the individual and the choice they make and to what the believe they are accountable? In that choice comes common purpose for society dunno!

    As always thank you for your blogs which touches on things which makes me think but which I just can’t quite grasp. I wish you well

    • I don’t quite grasp them myself, which is why I write about them! One of the things I’m wondering about is the way in which an individual and subjective assessment of what is good has replaced the objective, communal idea of the good — an idea that, by its very nature, transcends national boundaries. Still thinking.

  8. Superb piece. I always like the way you take the ‘second order’ issues seriously. What’s behind the empirically observable and assumed presuppositions.

    I suppose I think the underlying problem is Relativism and the ‘Subjective Turn’, both initiated when Descartes sat in his little cupboard to keep warm with a bad cold…
    It’s turned our worldview upside down to the degree we’ve accepted his conclusions.

    As another example, it seems to me, even the ‘Rad Trad’ movement in the Church seems to have bought into the very ‘Modernism’ it despises for, it has a ‘thesis’, and that thesis is defended using reason and proof-texting: tools of the Enlightenment. With supreme irony, they *argue* for metaphysics. That is, Metaphysics (supernature) is defended by reason, rather than being the point of departure.

    That is, for me, before Descartes, moral good was ‘ontological good’: it was good by nature, as God created it. Evil/sin, as Augustine pointed out, was ‘privatio boni’ the absence, or privation, of that ontological, or perfect, goodness.

    So, it seems to me, like the Common Good – a transcendent value rather than immanent one – ‘goodness’ has been reduced from being ontologically – therefore an ‘everywhere the same’ – sort of good, to a moral, reasoned, one. The mind, rather than Being, as the foundation and point of departure. The Good is no longer discovered, ‘out there’, but in my thinking. ‘…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…’, as Hamlet says.

    One form uses a reason which is subject to Metaphysical presuppositions (pre-Descartes/Reformation), whereas post-Descartes/Reformation, Metaphysics became tacitly undermined by Theologians as much as the Rationalists. Metaphysics became one of the areas to be defended by the new foundation – reason – and no longer the source of reason.

    Such a subtle, yet devastating, shift in the position of reason in the schema of meaning. No longer simply the acceptance or assent of *being*in God’s image and likeness, but reduced to an argument for, and defence of, being in God’s image and likeness. In a sense, it seems this is when Apologetics was born as a replacement for evangelisation. We argue for truths of the faith using complex reasoning and logic, rather than share the good news salvation and of our creation in God’s image and likeness.

    To me, ‘the Good’ has gone the same way. It no longer ‘is’ but is merely subject to what the ‘experts’ and the supposedly best brains around, say it is. And that, by implication, leads to a cacophony of voices all insistent that their (subjective or group-think) view of the good, is good, because it ‘makes sense’ or it is shared. Being shared doesn’t make it common, but merely a coterie mentality, for it has to be so in all times and places to be ‘the’ Common Good.

    To me, Blessed Columba Marmion, as well as some more recent thinkers (including the fathers of Vatican II) got this, and have been trying to put the horse back in front of the cart since that great council.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking response. I think once we ‘argue for truths of the faith using complex reasoning and logic, rather than share the good news of salvation and of our creation in God’s image and likeness’, to use your own words, we have lost something infinitely precious, where the transcendent and the immanent meet — in God.

  9. Maz has very helpfully said much of what I was thinking about rights and responsibilities i.e. the one cannot exist without the other.

    I feel as if I am living in an age where anyone can make any claim, declare any belief and that it can never be challenged because – if you are not with me, then you must be against me. The cult of individualism is everywhere with no concern as to where that will end for society as a whole. Or was Margret Thatcher right when she said ‘…there is no such thing as society’ ? I hope not.

    • ‘No right; no wrong; all’s perfect evermore.’ If only. I think the fact that many people have expressed the concern that they do not feel they can challenge anything is a worrying trend. We’re not talking about hostile or rude comments but sincere and thoughtful reflections.

  10. Thank you again, Sr Catherine for your insightful and challenging blogs. I have sadly just lost my entire first response to your theme of the common good. I was waxing lyrical about freedom, choice, the second greatest commandment which resembles the totality of the first and Greatest, and then onto othering, difference and ultimately colour or race. And about how this year’s Mass readings have been so appropriate for our 2020 experiences.

    Then it just disappeared (and I hadn’t saved it in notes or anywhere but this comments box!). Serves me right.

    But perhaps there is a message from above in there. Sigh.

    The last remnant of my meditative offering was and remains this:

    “He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have *no ambition except to do good*.”

    From today’s reading from Titus. Which I was chuckling over, how apt in political terms but unnerving and controversial about our roles, when technology deemed fit to shut down my original comments post! All now filed under my “personal conversations with God”.

    May this day and time continue to be blessed!


  11. Brilliant blog as always, and I can think of so many examples of where the common good is forgotten in favour of individual ‘choice’. Buying privilege in health care and schooling being just two of them. It’s understandable that people feel compelled to prioritise their own family over ‘the others’ but the consequences are even more inequalities and social unrest.

    I’ve just returned to this comment after watching the news and the two appalling and profoundly distressing reports about the church here and in the USA and the Vatican. Perhaps it’s another subject but is it the same mindset? The ‘Church’ is far more important than the damage it has caused. Here it’s the institution as opposed to the individual. Or am I confused?

    My husband just shook his head and said ‘why are you still there?’ I have no answers.

    • Both the IICSA report on the Catholic Church in this country and the McCarrick report make grim reading. When sex abuse is seen as essentially a PR disaster for the institutional Church rather than sin or crime which does a terrible injustice (if that’s a strong enough word) to the victim, it beggars belief. It certainly does feed into my questioning whether we can talk about the common good anymore.

  12. Spot on as always!
    Two thoughts and the three of them are: As with all movements, after a while they take on a life of their own and are often hijacked by those who would use them for their own ends.
    People forget, or just don’t realise that black people have black slaves, so I don’t think it’s always a matter of skin colour, but always of power and greed.
    In regards to the wearing of masks, there are several official exemptions, including people who are autistic. I know someone who can’t wear a mask and because of that, they keep an extra distance and don’t speak to others unless necessary.

  13. In my more optimistic moments, I hang on to the “golden rule” – that all the major faiths teach that one should treat others as one would like to be treated. However, the rise of secularism has swept much of that away (though not all). I wondered at the time where Mrs T’s “look after yourself” policies would lead us, and they have led to both individualism and consumerism – whereby I can get what I want, hopefully when I want it. The digital age has fed that monster well. Common good? I have two adult children with very different political views. Both are kind, caring, compassionate individuals. How they would see the path to “the common good” would be very different I imagine, and that’s just within my small family!

    I’m with others about responsibility being as, if not more important than rights. And also with the fact that both my grey cells hurt, trying to grapple with the issue!

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