When I was a student for priesthood, living in seminary in the 1960s, the rector at the time used to preach a favourite line to us – keep the rule and the rule will keep you. I always felt instinctively that this was a killer of the spirit. Whatever good it was trying to say, namely, – be obedient to the system and to the status quo and all will be well, – such a mantra would do nothing for the burning desire inside all human beings to live life to the full.
When I was a priest in the 1980s, I was a part time chaplain to Canterbury Prison, and I never enjoyed going in there. Built on the monastic plan of single cells and long cloisters, a prison holds too many people who should not be in there. They are there because they did not keep the rule, the rule that society demands of us all. When people do not keep the rule it is very easy to condemn them and to remove from our daily sight.
A recent article in the Guardian by Andy West (January 2nd) talks about anger in children’s prisons and about the importance of anger about prisons that is sadly lacking in most of us most of the time. Andy teaches philosophy in prison to help the incarcerated to understand their anger and to understand life.
In response to this article a Dr Brid Connolly has written a fine letter today (January 11) in which she uses the word ‘agentic’. ‘All philosophy has to become agentic, not accepting.’ I had never met the word before today, but its meaning is clear. All our education, be it in philosophy or theology, must so change us into better human beings that we will seek to change our world for the better and not simply adapt to the way things are.
I often ask myself, ‘what was Jesus trying to do when he set out on his preaching and public life? What did he think he was doing? What did he think he could possibly do to influence this world?’ He taught people how to understand life, its meaning and its purpose and its journey to a great destination. Jesus is agentic. He acts and he changes lives all the time.
He was accused of not keeping the law, of not obeying the rules and because he did not obey the rules they killed him. But the rules we make are often so poor and unjust, helpful to us and cruel on others. Simply following the rules is deadly advice. Saving lives is far more important.
11 January 2023