Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
In the early 1970’s Eric Von Daniken, a Swiss journalist wrote a series of books describing his theory that we are all either descended from aliens from space, or that space aliens significantly influenced early human history. He cited evidence as wide ranging as the Nazca lines in Peru (these were apparently landing markers for flying saucers), non-corroding pillars in India, and even the opening chapters of Ezekiel’s vision. These were clearly descriptions of flying saucers with their rotating wheels within wheels. A primitive middle eastern person could only describe such a technological marvel in these terms. Describing it now, I can barely keep a straight face, but as a 14 year old, atheist teenager I lapped it up, as did many of my contemporaries. This sort of nonsense is still alive and well in programmes like Ancient Aliens, which you can find if you have a spare moment on digital and satellite TV channels. Indeed, much to my surprise, Mr. Von Daniken is occasionally interviewed as the father of the theory, his statements being regarded as authoritative. This is somewhat bizarre in that some years after he made a great deal of money from these books, he admitted in an interview that he made the whole thing up as a sort of joke that got out of hand – a rather lucrative joke in this case.
As I look back, I wonder how I could have been so gullible. I think in part it was the attraction of feeling you were in possession of some secret information to which others were not privy. It gave a sense of power to a person with feelings of insecurity, especially to someone who didn’t feel they had a great deal of control over the circumstances of their life. I wonder whether this explains the attraction of books like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Here the assault is on the foundations of Christian faith. I recognise it is a work of fiction; all the historical claims made in the books have been debunked by historians of many religious stripes. None the less, they still have an appeal. People seem to be looking for any chance they can not to take the truth claims of Christ seriously. With the advent of social media, such gullibility is exploited to lethal effect. Why is it that people pay a fortune online for invermectin, a drug with no reliable scientific evidence of efficacy against COVID, whilst steadfastly refusing to get vaccinated? Why is that these spurious claims are accepted almost without question, when reliable scientific evidence is dismissed as being part of a secret conspiracy? Why is there such an epidemic of distrust against those in leadership and authority? Several times over the last few months I have spoken to people who have made ridiculous claims to me about the venal nature of politicians – only in it for their own ends! When I ask the not unreasonable question, as to whether they actually know any politicians, on which they could base such an assertion – they looked rather sheepish, and a little angry, resentful that I didn’t collude immediately with their nonsense. These underlying attitudes are toxic to civil society.
It looks like the man who murdered David Amess last week was motivated by Islamic extremism, but the daily torrent of abuse and threats many politicians experience on social media is very real indeed. It is not true that sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me. Such relentless, unwarranted abuse is soul destroying.
In the current climate, we need the spiritual gift of discernment more than ever. Discernment is both an individual and a collective activity. Silly conspiracy theories fester in a self-referential social media bubble where you only listen to those who agree with you. Paul prayed for the Philippians that their ‘love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they might be able to discern what is best.” Discernment is about seeing beneath that which presents. Its not just about making right judgements so we act wisely, its also about really listening to try to understand people’s deeper motivation. I need to resist the temptation to judge vaccine or climate change deniers as silly for example, and understand what experiences have brought them to that position. I need to be more sympathetic to the economic and cultural factors that lead people to such a distrust of authority that they dismiss sensible science in favour of conspiracy theories. In our current conversations in the Living in Love and Faith process we will need to be attentive to the experiences that have led people to take up positions on issues, not just to arid intellectual arguments about the issues themselves – as if such things could be detached from experience in the first place. Our judgements are always based on inadequate information. We tend to judge the quality of other’s decisions on the information we have available to us. It is a good rule of life that if well-meaning people seem to take terrible decisions, we are probably not privy to all the information they had when they made them. Discernment is about the head and the heart. In these times may God granted us the wisdom we need to choose wisely.