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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