A Perplexing Silence

As we come to the end of 2022, I want to share a series of three posts with you.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s writings have been swirling in my mind, as has a single tweet from a few weeks ago.  A massive body of work and a lengthy sentence separated by a few decades yet resonating together.

As you may have noticed, there is always something going on in the news.  Of course, not every story is genuinely momentous.  Perhaps you can remember the end of 1989? The Tiananmen Square protest and massacre had happened earlier in the year.  As the end of the year approached, Hungary proclaimed the end of communist rule, the Berlin Wall came down, and Bulgaria’s long-serving leader resigned.  Apartheid rules were changing in South Africa.  Student demonstrations in Prague started the velvet revolution.  President Bush (senior) and Gorbachev declared the cold war over. Romanian dictator Ceausescu was ousted and then executed on Christmas Day.  The news was fascinating, and everyone knew we were watching history unfold.

How will we look back on our current time?  There have always been news stories, but some news cycles feel more significant. We live in a season of swirling stories – some are featured and polished for maximum coverage.  In contrast, others seem to be painstakingly discounted, twisted or buried.  For instance, and in no particular order:

  • The Ukraine war is stirring the threatening language of Armageddon from global leaders.  At the same time, celebrities fly into Kyiv for photoshoots with the president.
  • Many social media platforms restrict free speech.  However, the media dismiss new revelations of illegal government influence on Twitter as irrelevant.
  • Critical Race Theory is fundamentally shifting every academic discipline, business practice and even whole Christian denominations.
  • Excess deaths remain way above the pre-covid five-year average, or even the pandemic year, when daily and total death counts were constantly before our eyes.  And yet, asking why this is happening seems to be socially unacceptable.
  • Protests and legal wrangling over possible election fraud rumble away in various countries.  Reporting suspicious behaviour results in being labelled an election denier and a threat to democracy.
  • “Fourth Industrial Revolution” ideas derided as conspiracy theories only two years ago are explicitly promoted by proponents today.
  • One western government is confiscating thousands of farms because of the climate crisis.  And we are all required to pay the bill for Net Zero plans that may or may not make any difference to the projected catastrophe.  Again, don’t question it, or you will be labelled a denier!
  • There is a push for digital id and digital currency, a checkpoint society with a Chinese-style social credit system that will replace fundamental freedoms with earned privileges.
  • In another western country, Euthanasia is being promoted, celebrated and normalised with increasingly ineffective controls.
  • Children are being sexualised and offered life-changing surgery and puberty blockers. At the same time, parents are increasingly pushed out of the conversation.
  • And in the last few days, a woman was arrested and questioned by police about whether she was silently praying in a particular location here in England.  

There are many swirling issues, but we must step back and ask about underlying issues. We are living through a fundamental reshaping of the ethical foundations and the nature of the society built on them.  In the past, there was rebellion against the generally accepted Judeo-Christian ethic underlying western civilisation (e.g. think of the sexual liberation movement of the 60s/70s).  Today we see the replacement of that ethic with an entirely new moral code.  We also observe the culture militantly enforcing compliance so that everyone is required to not only tolerate but also proactively participate in and promote the new moral order.  A dictator enforces their will by sheer power, but a totalitarian tyranny seeks to control everything, even what subjects think.

Solzhenitsyn is both enlightening and provocative.  He warned the students of Harvard in 1978: “There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society.  Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen.” I am no art critic, but I suspect many would agree that we are experiencing something of a decline.  And when did we last see a political leader in that category?  We live in a threatened, perhaps even perishing society.

I mentioned a tweet at the start of this post.  On November 18th, Owen Strachan wrote, “Christian men: it’s not Tucker Carlson, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Elon Musk or other conservative (or just not super-left) voices who should be known for speaking the hard truths, fighting what is evil, taking unpopular stands, and promoting what is good. It’s us.” (We might add a few more names in the UK, like Calvin Robinson, Neil Oliver, Douglas Murray, etc.)

I’ve been pondering that tweet.  I know one of these men I added is a clergyman, but the point is well made.  I also know that merely stating any of these names will cause some to react negatively to this post.  That shows society’s shift from yesteryear, when people used to think and discuss provocative ideas, to today’s hair-trigger dismissal and antagonism.  I might disagree with soundbites from all of these people because of their content or tone. Still, I must be willing actually to hear the points they are making and engage thoughtfully. 

Honestly, I find myself regularly prompted to think, investigate, pray and take action based on monologues by Neil Oliver, interviews by Joe Rogan, books by Douglas Murray, and tweets from Jordan Peterson.  But then, when I look at my feed of Christian leaders?  Honestly, with some exceptions, it can often feel disengaged, out of touch and sometimes eerily silent on contemporary concerns.  It makes me think of that famous quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.  One word of truth outweighs the world.”  Yes, there is plenty of biblical truth in the social media voices of Christian leaders that I follow.  But I fear our silence on some matters might mean we are inadvertently starting to take part in the lie.

In part two I will share some reasons for this perplexing silence.

5 thoughts on “A Perplexing Silence

  1. Great post Peter,

    I had been wondering just this week that by ducking our heads under the parapet to stay safe we are not living the clear calling on our lives to speak truth over the lies. Being jailed for believing gospel truths has reared its ugly head again, not that we get burned at the stake or our heads chopped off in the West, but our tongues are subtly silenced and even our thoughts censored, so that our zeal for proclaiming gospel truth is sorely tested in the light of how much there is to lose if we do.

    I’m not sure I would use the word ‘inadvertently’ involved in the lie. Christian’s know the truth, and we speak it as far as we are immersed in scripture, and moving in the Holy Spirit. ‘Complacently’ or by sinful omission may be nearer to the situation don’t you think? But no doubt you will pick up on that next time.

  2. Peter, thanks so much for shining a light on these issues and clarifying the mind as to what is going on. Very thought provoking. I look forward to the next instalment.

    God bless.

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