The Questions


Luke Bretherton, baby-faced Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University in the US, has written a powerful article describing Brexit and Trump as responses to the “sense of precariousness and disorder we experience now.”

This view which politicians like to make use of – that we are living in a more uncertain world – sometimes brings me up short. I think,

What? Compared to living through world war? Compared to living before penicillin? Compared to living in Dickens’s London, or the Ireland of the potato famine? Compared to when exactly? Aren’t we living in a time where the possibility of imminent death has never been so distant, so unreal?

And then someone like Bretherton comes along and spells out with beautiful clarity why it is that “this sense of disorder is no illusion.” Here are some of the questions he says we are confronting in the current moment:

  1. When we can manipulate the basic structures of life at a genetic and planetary level, we are forced to ask what does it mean to be human? What is our relationship to the land, the sea and the air? And what are our responsibilities to the planet as a whole?
  2. As we become more ethnically and morally diverse as societies and some states collapse – even while historic wounds fester and erupt in others – we are confronting questions about how to remember the past and whether a common life is even possible?
  3. Amid economic crises and the dominance of the plutocratic 1%, we are asking whether there are limits to the market or is the market the only reality we all share?
  4. Through debates about gender and sexuality, we are asking what does it mean to be a man or woman?
  5. Amid changing patterns of work and the incursion of information technology into every area of life, we are asking what is work? What is social life? And what should be the relationship between humans and machines?
  6. With changes in medical technology, we ask what is health? And how are we going to care for the elderly?
  7. In a globalised world made up of networks and flows of people, information, goods and services, we are debating what the role and form of the state should be? And is democracy fit for purpose?

It’s a great article and I urge you to read it (see the link to the article at the end of the post). Following are some further highlights.

On institutions

Institutions, whether they are part of civil society, state or market, are tools for solving collective problems and pursuing, fulfilling and ordering the goods necessary to sustain a common life over time. We no longer trust the institutions we have, yet we cannot imagine the institutions we need for the problems we face. For example, we know we have to educate our children, but there are basic disagreements about what schools are for, how to teach, who should be in the classroom, and how to train teachers.

Obsessed with technique

We also ignore questions of ends by obsessing over what are the right means. We focus on producing potable water rather than what we are morally obligated to do with it. We focus on techniques of education rather than its purpose and meaning. We focus on sustaining life rather than asking what is the meaning of life … And we focus on the means of mastery: economics, science, technology, politics. We are obsessed with the means of mastery …

“Weaponised nostalgia”

Trump, the campaigners for Brexit and the populist parties (on both left and right) on the rise across Europe trade in weaponised forms of nostalgia. They present faux solutions for a world that no longer exists …

The condition of possibility for a common life

Attentiveness and reception – characterised by a posture of listening or contemplation – is the precursor of shared speech and action, and thence the coming into being of a common life …

To read the article, click here: Brexit as Theodicy and Idolatry



12 thoughts on “The Questions

  1. Interesting article–thanks for sharing. What struck me was the first paragraph:

    When the world is out of control, the absurd can begin to feel like common sense to those who have the absurd notion that the world should be controlled for their benefit alone.

    I think that all previous generations (e.g., Dickens’s London, Great Depression, WWII) were not the product of 40+ years of unprecedented prosperity and proliferation of consumer goods which has created the impression and expectation that the world does indeed operate for the benefit of the current occupants.
    Here’s an anecdote to illustrate. In the 1950s and 60s in NZ the power company erected towers and high voltage wires across private land to take power out to remote areas. They offered the landowners compensation for the towers being on their property but most people declined, saying that they felt that they were contributing to the well being of fellow citizens and helping the development of the country. Today, the power company representatives often have trouble getting onto properties to inspect the towers because owners don’t want others on their private property.


    • That’s a compelling anecdote, and very sad. The proliferation of “private” property, “private” wealth, is pernicious. It seems as soon as human beings have more than they need, the rot sets in because then they feel they have to defend it from others. I’m glad there are people like Bretherton thinking and speaking about ways to create a new common life, and people like you and Marukh creating your haven for the common good.


  2. Thank you for posting bits of this article. It makes perfect sense to me. Take a country like Japan . . .a manufacturing powerhouse but in economic decline for some time. They are isolationists in many ways, tight immigration, homogeneous in general . . .and still quite obedient to old ways. Their schools have changed little so for the most part young people eventually fall in to line. They survive, but it is precarious for them and not really healthy. I wrote not too long ago, that they had become a “a was museum geisha.”


    • Dear Stacy, thanks for reading and commenting. I get what you say about Japan, and the isolationalist attitude. In media reports of Japan, I see young women, and maybe middle-aged women too, resolutely rejecting the roles and expectations of the past. Is that so? Or do they too eventually fall into line?

      Your story and blog are fascinating, and your video testimony is very moving. I’m so glad you’ve found peace. May God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your kind words Curly! The interview you posted yesterday really moved me and I wish my daughter would read it. She is a non-believer and thinks Christianity is a cult and likens it to the brainwashing she experienced as a child with her Japanese father. She outright rejects the idea of God. But the story you presented of a strong woman believer to me spoke to the logic of Him.

        To answer your question about Japanese women these days, I can say that since the early eighties or so there has been progress. My own sister Yuki (my first Japanese friend who stayed with my family and a year later I with hers . . .) is actually the most modern Japanese woman I know. She became pregnant soon after graduating from college and against her parents kept the child. In fact she never married and raised the boy completely on her own while achieving a high position within her company and eventually a masters degree! (Someday I’ll post about her . . .). However, Yuki is extraordinary and an exception. She was the oldest of two girls and her parents exposed her to the American culture at a young age. For the most part, women do fall into line. The Japanese Diet (congress/parliament) has only a small number of women and that is a fairly recent turn of events. The social programs supporting women and children are sorely lacking.


      • Very inspiring to hear about Yuki. Human beings can be extraordinary! I get it about your daughter. It’s painful not to be able to share a major part of one’s life with your dearest and nearest, and to see someone you love not having access to transformation.

        PS. You can call me Curly Gold :) Thank you.


  3. ((((( Curly Gold! ))))))
    Indeed, you are pure gold, Narelle.
    Each time I click here, I get a bit more informed, a bit more intelligent!
    I thank you for that, darling.
    I also agree “This Too Shall Pass,”
    …but only when we take our last breath.
    Much love flowing from Duluth. xxoo


Your comment will be an adornment to this blog ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s