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Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?

Right now, I’m re-watching The Bletchley Circle. I was initially drawn to it because I thought it would take me back to the original World War II Bletchley story, about a group of singularly gifted women who intercepted and decoded vital enemy information and thereby saved countless numbers of lives. The relatively new drama, which was originally released in 2012, is set in 1952. It picks up on the only possible common denominator with the wartime story; that solving problems, and possibly saving the world, is so much more straightforward when you work together and when you only have one enemy to deal with at a time.

Or perhaps that is an oversimplification of what foiling the enemy in wartime really entails. Most of us have not known armed conflict at home, but it seems we are no nearer to solving the problems that divide us as nations and as societies than we were over 70 years ago.

For one thing, if we start from the premise that there is a common enemy, the enemy appears in so many guises that it is hard to name. Whatever it is, it sets us against each other, fomenting distrust and hatred in subtle and various ways. Sometimes, the enemy takes the form of a question which might determine a nation’s future, like Brexit. At other times, it embeds itself in the issue itself, so that the question becomes a vehicle for distrust and hatred. What you believe about Europe defines you in the minds of those who think differently, as a potential threat, a latent enemy. It can also hide unpalatable truths about how we think of our fellow human beings, whichever side of the question you come down on.

Twitter, and other instantaneous forms of pseudo-communication, foment this kind of distrust. A thread may begin as an invitation to exchange ideas, and even to find common cause, but this is seldom where it ultimately leads. Too often it degenerates into a platform for verbal abuse. Twitter is not for the faint hearted, but neither does it afford much help to those who are simply seeking the common good, including perhaps, a solution to the problem of climate change.

But, working on the assumption that most people feel that the risk to the planet posed by human-induced climate change is having a detrimental effect on the common good, social media becomes the primary motivator for change in this crucial area of concern. It is not that we all agree on how, whether, or when the slide to extinction needs to be reversed. It is simply that we seem to be of one mind about the need for it to happen. Could this signal the return of Wisdom?

Wisdom, if not outdated, is certainly misunderstood. It is usually coupled with a rather pedestrian idea of common sense.  But common sense makes no sense at all if it is not held in a deeper place of commonality, apart from humanity’s proclivity for auto-destruction. In other words, apart from what used to be called sin. We should have learned by now that we, as a species, are incapable of halting our own relatively imminent destruction (within the next century, if not much sooner), not to mention the destruction of countless thousands of other species with whom we share this planet and for whom we are accountable before Wisdom, the ultimate Good that embodies all other good, through Whom and in Whom all things were ‘made’, and here I refer to the beginning of the gospel of St. John.

The idea that we are accountable to a good which embodies all that has ever been good from ‘before the beginning’ puts a different slant on how we might confront together the enemy that threatens us. It is as much an existential enemy as it is a physical one. Being accountable to Wisdom, to the One ‘through whom all things were made’, means that we share in that life force. You could say that the life force of Wisdom is at one with all that is good and true about human beings, so that human nature is essentially good. This is what the mediaeval spiritual writer, Julian of Norwich taught for times which were as turbulent, in their own way, as ours.

If Julian was right about how Wisdom conceives of human beings, then the cardinal sin of our times is one of despair about the human condition, despairing in our will and capacity to the good. On the whole, despair comes in the shabbiest forms of disguise. Cynicism, apathy and procrastination, when it comes to the need for change in the way we feed ourselves and go about our daily lives, are perhaps the most common to all of us. It is not that difficult to stop using cling film, for example, or to insist that supermarkets only use bio-degradable bags for loose vegetables. It is also often possible to walk to wherever we need to get to by allowing sufficient extra time.

Overcrowded days and over busy schedules are significant, if indirect, contributing factors to global warming. And this takes us to the heart of the problem, or enemy, that we face. The enemy is nihilism, destructive purposelessness brought about by not having the will or the time to simply be at one with Wisdom, the source of Life itself.

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