Monday, 2 May 2011

St Thomas: Patron Saint for the Age of Me

We live in an age of scepticism where people are abandoning their -ologies.

For centuries the prevailing -ology was theology, as the teaching of the Church shaped everything from the law to the ordering of society. Not always well admittedly, but nonetheless it was the dominant paradigm.

For much of the twentieth century political ideology captured the imagination and aspirations of millions. Socialism, Communism, Fascism were causes worth fighting and dying for.

And in the 50s and 60s people placed their hope in technology and science to solve humanity's problems, cure our ills and take us to new levels of achievement.

But in the 21st century the hopes invested in these -ologies lie shattered by the disappointments and failures of these movements.

Church attendance has plummeted as scepticism rises towards an institution that is perceived as archaic and out of touch. There is the scandal around sexual abuse by clergy. The rise of the toxic and intolerant religious right. The bad taste left by the perceived cultural imperialism of missionary work. And besides, who in their right mind believes in something you can't prove?

The rot set in for political ideology when Fascism led to holocaust, and Communism was corrupted by greed, fear and domination. More recently the absence of conviction politicians, the expenses scandal in parliament and the era of soundbite and spin have led to voter apathy.

And who trusts their GP anymore? Once a pillar of the community whose opinion was never questioned, the controversy over the MMR vaccine, the tragedy of Thalidomide and the unscrupulous practices of pharmaceutical companies have left some patients wondering whom they can trust.

So what does today's generation believe in if not the priest, politician or doctor? The answer is, of course, themselves. Like St Thomas, who would only believe in the risen Christ if he could touch his wounds, Generations X and Y will only believe what they know to be true from their own experience. The notion that one might invest trust or hope in an institution without personally verifying it's authenticity is regarded as immensely naive. The Age of Me is driven by scepticism, conspiracy theory and distrust.

But putting the Self at the heart of one's experience or opinions means elevating the very thing that corrupted the institutions that are the focus of scepticism. The drive for money, sex and power by individuals within Church, Government, and Science are what sullied their reputations. The Age of Me idolises that same self-centredness, and conveniently side steps the examples of those who set aside their own needs for the greater good.

The Christians who took on vows of poverty and chastity to better serve the needs of the poor. The missionaries who lived among lepers. The volunteers who joined Brigades to fight fascism in Spain. The campaigners for freedom who languish in a Chinese prison. The medics who experimented on themselves to find cures or push the boundaries of science.

When Jesus says to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen but have come to believe," he once again challenges us to take our selves out of the centre of our existence and place God there. When we do so, like others before have done, we become outward-facing and better able to look our neighbours in the eye while stretching out a hand of generosity.