Social cohesion

Hate speech legislation is seen is some by some as a "fix" to evils such as the Christchurch massacre. I believe those proposing such an act have short-term memories and have failed to learn from history - or from George Orwell's Animal Farm. I have been pro-active in a very minority group. It has cost some opprobrium from complete strangers, and also from some who I had thought of as friends. My thick skin means I might able to handle this, but some others not so much.

Hate speech laws are supposedly aimed at stopping discrimination primarily on the grounds of race and religion. Being white, I have only recently started my journey of understanding a tiny bit of how unnecessarily hard life is at times for non-whites. Even in this "enlightened: time, still many white-skinned people who are not obvious racists show by the way they talk they have not spent much time listening (really listening - that is always the start) to Maori (and others). But it's not that specific words are problematic - it's the thoughts they convey.

I was shocked to hear some black people using the word "nigger" with apparent pride. I'm not even going to get into that debate - how can I? My point here is that an undoubtedly offensive word has been partially reclaimed by at least some of its victims. Trying to define which words are and aren't offensive is doomed to fail in our ever and faster-changing world.

I could say so much more on this topic, but I'm still on the introduction to the main topic and need to move on to the second issue before then moving on to the main argument. Religion is the other area, and a cursory glance at history shows trying to legislate respect in this area is prone to even bigger issues. I don't know much about Islam, but getting agreement within the different branches of Islam is unlikely. Of course, our own Christianity is not like that - just ask the people of Northern Ireland and many others.

I became a Christian in 1973, and am forever grateful to those who played a part. But I've spent the last three decades or more unlearning all the stuff I learned in the first decade or so. Today many might not call me a Christian at all - no church, no priest or pastor, no liturgy etc. When people ask if I am a Christian I first ask them to define what that word means to them.

I love God more than ever. I am amazed at His love - especially His love for me - and you. I so often take the friendship we have for granted, but unlike my friend who died far too young, He's always there (and not "up there") and ready to talk. I used to think it would be so good to be able to ask Him questions. Now I find my original expectations were far short of His, and the questions I have are far more than what step to take next (although it is always helpful to be listening - He has shown me that too).

Obviously, I could talk for a long time on this subject, but need to get on to the main subject. In terms of religion, I have come to see that all religions (including the Christian religion) are doomed to failure. They lead away from God rather than toward God.

You may think that sounds strange coming from a supposed Christian (what is your definition), but I'm not denying that Christians have done and still do wonderful things. I'm saying these things are in spite of rather than because of their religion. If you saw the wheelchair-bound Muslim forgiving the Australian murderer of his wife and friends in Christchurch, was he faking it? Or was he showing a glimpse of the nature of God in the midst of great personal tragedy?

Which is the true picture of his religion: his example, or that of say the attacks against Charlie Hebdo cartoons? While I love humour and have little time for religion, where is the balance between freedom of speech and freedom to ridicule and hate? Nothing excuses the killings, but what excuses the hateful intolerance towards others?

The Royal Commission into the March 15 Christchurch attack recommends a "revolutionary" approach to counter-extremism, based on tightening the social bonds of inclusivity and diversity. Revolutionary is perhaps not the best word. Social inclusion was key to Portugal's reaction to tackling its drug problem. Last century the leader of a small but enthusiastic group encouraged us to enjoy our common ground and celebrate our differences. Even before large-scale immigration apart from from the UK when we seemed a more inclusive society, ask Maori if they felt welcome and valued (apart from the haka) in society.

The report uses a definition created by demographer Paul Spoonley, Robin Peace, Andrew Butcher and Damian O'Neill. A socially cohesive society, they write, is one in which all people and groups "have a sense of belonging," "inclusion," "participation," "recognition" and "legitimacy".

"Social cohesion exists where people feel part of society, family and personal relationships are strong, differences among people are respected and people feel safe and supported by others. Social cohesion is an ideal rather than a goal to be achieved and must continually be nurtured and grown," the report states.

"It is not possible or desirable to expect everyone in society to think and behave in the same way. That sort of uniformity is not what we mean when we talk about social cohesion," the report states.

"Nor do we mean that marginalised communities should conform to majority cultural values and practices - in other words, to assimilate. Instead, we see social cohesion as enabling everyone to belong, participate and have confidence in public institutions."

I won't repeat the whole of the article - there's not much point, plus I haven't had time to ponder on it fully. There are bound to be points where I take a different viewpoint. Some of these may change over time as new understandings emerge. And that is surely the point. As soon as we systematise anything, we sooner or later encounter a situation which does not fit the system. So often we try and make it fit the system, and the individual suffers. Sooner or later we have people who don't quite our neat and tidy rules, and we say goodbye to social cohesion.

 

Last Modified

Last modified: 10 April 2021.