Unity, diversity and mercy
A panorama of the city of Leicester here in the United Kingdom (UK) with a rainbow in the sky was one of the pictures that Mayor Peter Soulsby showed in a presentation three days ago, when he welcomed delegates to the 2016 Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research.
The photograph aptly symbolizes this enclave of diversity, the mayor said at De Montfort Hall, University of Leicester. The city’s residents voted against a British exit or “Brexit” from the European Union — an ongoing process triggered by the triumph of last month’s departure vote that, several analysts say, signaled isolationism or xenophobia among most Brits.
As I write on the third morn of the conference, I realize that my time here, with copresenting classmates from Kenya and Denmark has been an opportunity to revisit the ancient philosophical debate over the oneness versus the multiplicity of being and rediscover heaven’s call for the children of Adam and Eve to unite.
Days ago, headlines in evening papers distributed for free in London’s underground screamed hedonistic and sadistic nihilism. Hundreds came to a “sex pool party” then ran away when among them a man was shot dead and a woman sustained a gunshot wound to her leg. Across the channel, jihadists broke into a French church during Mass, took hostage a group of laity and nuns and murdered priest Jacques Hamel, slitting his throat.
These events are twin episodes of selfishness: the first unfolding within a context of uncaring, unbridled, godless freedom; the second occurring as a consequence of freedom turned lethal under a deity made in the image and likeness of man’s self-righteous mercilessness.
There is evidence that man is increasingly turning in on himself. In our first conference plenary lecture titled “Communication and Crisis: Economies, Polities, Ecologies,” Prof. Graham Murdock of Loughborough University, UK, cited a study showing that since the 1970s, social discourse, at least in the West, has become less and less about “giving” and more and more about “getting.”
This selfishness, Murdock implied, has resulted in a breakdown in sociality everywhere, manifested for instance among Pokemon Go enthusiasts. They hunt with their cameras for virtual monsters at the expense of being absent to real people in public spaces where they take pictures. Meanwhile, many narcissists not only take selfies prolifically but also buy toasters customized to brand bread slices with images of their faces.
In response to Murdock, Dr. Shakuntala Banaji of the London School of Economics and Political Science dwelt, among others, on Western navel-gazing in international journalism. Scribes highlight the consequences of a Donald Trump presidency in the United States or of Brexit but pay scant attention to the repercussions of Indian premier Narendra Modi’s demagoguery. Similarly, she said, world historians behave as if everything began during the Enlightenment and prior history has no contribution to current thought.
Not far away, Pope Francis has exhorted Poles to open their country to refugees. According to Catholic teaching, sheltering the traveler is one of the corporal works of mercy. The Pope drew praise from one of the presenters at our Religion, Communication and Culture working group here in Leicester. Dr. Yoke-Sim Gunarante of Cultural Diversity Resources, Minnesota, told me that although she is Buddhist, she counts the Holy Father among those who live well the principle of the interconnection of everything and everyone without subjecting all to base self-interest.
To shelter the homeless means that I make an effort to become a home to the other, that we make our milieu a site of welcome, of other- rather than self-centeredness. No one is mere meat to relieve my lust. No one is but a target of my self-righteous, murderous rage. The West is not the only arena where politicians exist who merit global journalistic critique. Wisdom dwelt in the world long before the Enlightenment. I am not meant to live in a prosperous land only to shut out those robbed of the chance to prosper in theirs. Outside my narrow self-focus, perspectives await the welcome of my mind, people await my hospitality, my self as gift, not as naked appetite.
Before going to Leicester, we joined a British lady, mother to a friend for evensong — an Anglican liturgy that combined evening and night prayers — at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. There, hallowed halls were open arms. The choir admitted us — a Catholic, an Adventist and a Lutheran — into the lamp-studded sanctuary pews. Psalms, the song of Mary, organ pipes and sacred reading reverberated beneath the guilded dome. Prayers, whispered in stained glass-tinted light, reached out to France across the channel, for a change of heart in the sowers of terror, to martyred Father Hamel across the Reformation’s breach, for his eternal repose, to the world outside the light of the Incarnation, that it may find rest in the One who gives us our daily bread.
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