Lent Course 2007: Magnificat

Unit Six - Power Point

"He, remembering His mercy".

In this final Unit we will try to gather together all that we have learned, and learned about ourselves, in order to arrive at an objective assessment of our position in the society in which we live.

To do this, we need to think about the word "objective". To use the ideas in Units One and Two:

Quite often self assessment contains delusions of grandeur, thinking that we have far more influence or power than we really have, but what about the danger of under estimating our power which sets the context for indifference or passivity?

We will start by examining the statements of our four prototypes. The Preacher says what we all say at the end of the Lord's Prayer but does this mean that we must leave all that happens in our world to the heavenly power? Does this justify inaction? Do we really accept the caricature of Luther that in proclaiming that we lived by faith and not good works the matter of good works was irrelevant to salvation? How far do we accept the idea of the exercise of free will in the context of God's Grace?

The Philosopher's quotation from Lord Acton is usually hurled at all political leaders regardless of their conduct but is it such a universal phenomenon that it applies to all those who hold power? Does it, for example, apply to us when we hold power or do we think that we can resist the inevitable advance of corruption? If this power-induced corruption is inevitable, should ethical people in general and Christians in particular refuse to take any kind of power and become communally passive, leaving political office and the governance of community organisations in the hands of non Christians? In which case, are we saying that non Christians are less prone to corruption or that we don't mind if they run that risk as long as we keep our hands clean?

Thinking back to Unit Two, what do we know about people in power? When we say that our politicians are corrupt, what do we mean? Are we, putting the question in a slightly different way, saying that all the politicians we know of are corrupt or that every politician is corrupt? How do we know? What do we know of our own politicians? When they make decisions are take actions which are deemed to be corrupt, how much trouble do we take to find out the precise circumstances of actions and decisions? Are politicians, for example, less or more powerful and less or more corrupt than the media through which we learn about them?

Politicians who cannot hold office without being elected almost inevitably - this is a theory on its way to being a paradigm - pretend to more actual power than they really have. This is because we expect them to fix things that we cannot fix on an individual basis but also because they are usually being asked to fix things which are incompatible, i.e. more spending on road and railway building while levying lower taxes. Is it true that they never answer the question and they always say one thing and do something else? If so, how fair and sensible are the questions and how much consistency do we expect in a complex world?

The reason why all of these questions are important is that we need to apply them to ourselves acting as politicians. If we think back to Unit Three, most of us will have concluded that we possess power through our income, wealth and social position. In that case, how tenable is Pilgrim's position? Is it really true that even people with modest incomes and social positions are powerless? In Unit Three the scores show that Mustaq Khan's Pakistan family have least power, with their England based cousins having more; our Grunge Park teenagers would probably have slightly more power than the England based Khans but less than the national average and most of us would probably be above the national average.

If it is true that most of us have power above the national average, is it therefore true that we are dangerously open to corruption and what might that mean? Of course many of us might be reluctant to accept that we have power at all. We might just accept the idea of (benign) influence but shy away from the negative connotations we have already noted. Yet the ability individually or collectively to undertake the following or to persuade others to do as we have decided to do is the exercise of power:

In drawing our thoughts towards a close, we need to ask the question, might our danger of corruption lie not in doing too much but in doing too little? Might we be more guilty of saying nothing than speaking out unfairly? Might we be more likely to influence events too little rather than too much? Far from influencing the lives of the poor in our own country and abroad through excessive pressure, might we not be more likely to sit back and care and give too little?

In other words, might our central failing be abdication rather than oppression?

If we conclude that we are more powerful than we would like to think or than is convenient for individual and community peace and quiet, what might we want to say in conclusion about the power that, according to the Preacher, comes to us through God?

The last question of all is whether we think we have changed while considering these issues?

Finally, in showing ourselves to be willing to take risks, to move out of our safe zone or our comfort zone, we need not worry. We simply need to consider the last section of the Magnificat. If we believe that God will keep His promises to us then we can be his eyes, hands and feet here on earth without fear. The greater risk is to do nothing.