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Repentance and Fractured Societies

September 9, 2013

On Saturday 7th September – Shabbat Shuvah the sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – we welcomed the Reverend Jude Bullock from St Anne’s Church in Chingford Hatch to our Shabbat service to talk about the Christian view of repentance.  As he spoke, I wished that I had taken notes in order to capture the breadth of his thoughts and the way that he developed his ideas on the meaning of repentance.  This note, pulled together afterwards and from memory, can only try to capture some of what he said – it will probably also fail to fully to reflect or justify all that he had to say.

Reverend Bullock started his talk by making it clear that Christianity was in fact a number of Christianity’s and he could only speak from his own very liberal viewpoint of Christianity – not for all the viewpoints within the Christian faith.  His emerging theses was that all humans are individuals within wider societies – our earliest memories are formed once we have the words to identify and name things.  Language is something we learn from our families and families are in fact a form of society.  Our understanding develops within an ever expanding societal framework – family, friends, neighbours, and other societal associations including nation-states, which define our place within the world.  Our understanding of what is good or bad, morality and ethics are developed within the shared viewpoint of the societies that we grow up within.

In this context, therefore, repentance has to be more than simply admitting our sins (or mistakes) whether just to ourselves or to others, and more than just seeking someway to make amends with others.  We need to accept that individual’s make mistakes but often do so in the context of society, and if mistakes are made then society fractures.  Therefore, to make amends it is necessary to take actions that heal the fractures in society.

Science is making great progress at solving problems – Reverend Bullock looked forward to the day that all cancers are curable, or nuclear fusion removes the need to rely on fossil fuels if not in his lifetime then certainly within that of his children – but no matter what progress was being made by science the major fractures in society remain; we are no nearer to finding a solution to world poverty or ending wars.  Society – scientist, politicians, theologians, etc – have to come together to solve these issues.  However, first we have to remember that each of us is a member of the society that is humankind and, in doing so, come to realise that repentance – the act of reviewing our actions, feeling contrition, and making amends – will only succeed when we work together to repair the fractures.

It was noted that in the latest crisis facing the world – the situation in Syria – the calls by some for military action against the Assad regime fails to address the fact that dropping bombs from far away has never solved similar crises.  The increasing use of drones (or remote controlled weapons) operated in dark rooms thousands of miles away – as if it were some of sort of video game played on an electronic gaming console – dehumanises the act of war.  Those who make the order to attack and those who carry-out the orders will not see the victims or the effect that their actions have on the people under attack.  And yet, it was noted that faith-based leaders have been silent on the issue – where are the voices of religious leaders speaking out against military action?

Could it be that the fractures are so wide and so embedded that even those of faith within our society have lost hope?  And yet faith based communities, it was argued, have an advantage because by definition faith means believing and religion is the believe in a divine plan – a hope for a better future.  It is also the religious who will find the need to seek repentance and it is therefore the role of those with faith – whatever their faith – to mend the fractures through repentance.

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