Politics and sport together make up most of what we call ‘news’. Most of us feel that we need to keep in touch with what’s going on. Yet, sometimes, we somehow get hooked addictively to the global stream of consciousness that the media keeps flowing constantly. Not only our opinions but even our emotions are then manipulated or injected into our passively receptive minds that become increasingly less capable of thinking for themselves. We get the news we like to hear to keep the dose of stimulation high. Critical thinking even seems subversive in some societies. Reacting against this we may then reject ‘news’ and media altogether, like parents who opt for home-learning.
As always the best is the mean, the medium, the moderate. This, Lent remind us, is not the primrose path of the easy option, the route of compromise or the evasion of hard questions. It is a knife-edge, a high-tension tightrope, a fragile rope bridge across a deep abyss. Jesus called it a ‘narrow path that leads to life’ and he added the unpopular remark, ‘and few they are who find it’.
Somehow that added disclaimer has always made me feel reassured. Not because I can dance on the wire of moderation for very long before wobbling dangerously or falling off, because I can’t, but because it shows me there is a true way. It does actually exist. Oddly, it is because I can’t properly find it, that I know it exists. Even if I can’t walk this path very well, at least it is there and even if I lose it periodically, like dropping the mantra during meditation and solving the problems of the world instead, I find it again. Or, perhaps, it finds me again.
Politics and sport and ‘other news’ are uncomfortably similar to our psyches and unconscious. We project onto the screen of ‘local or world news’ what is happening in our own inarticulate depths. All politics is psychic politics, which is why it is so easy to psychoanalyze politicians – no wonder we don’t trust them anymore – but also why we find it so hard to know ourselves as we really are.
This week we have been thinking about beauty – how the asceticism (spiritual exercise) of Lent – awakens and refines our sense of beauty. Fear is the great enemy of beauty – perhaps because fear is the antithesis of love and we cannot perceive beauty without loving it. So, whenever we see the rise of a politics of fear (and hatred is always hidden in fear), we should sound the alarm, because it spells the desecration of the beauty of life and, with it, the innocence, the readiness to be taken by surprise, the childlikeness that is our way – however imperfectly followed – to the fullness and meaning of our short human life.