‘Big debates about big ideas cannot be had in the abstract; they must be grounded in the real experience of the lives of ordinary people’
– Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork
Addressing the congregation at the annual Civic Service in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton, said that big debates in society, in communities and in institutions, such as that currently being had in Ireland in the run-up to the marriage referendum, ‘cannot be had in the abstract; they must be grounded in the real experience of the lives of our fellow human beings.’
He said that ‘Big concepts such as marriage, relationship, love, commitment, family, parenting are all rooted in, and given expression, in the lives of real people, made in the image of God. When we participate in the debate, formally or informally, publicly or privately, we are walking on the holy ground of other people’s lives.’
Bishop Colton said:
Big debates about big ideas cannot be had in the abstract; they must be grounded in the real experience of the lives of our fellow human beings. One of the risks of any big debate in any community, society or institution, is that we take to ourselves the luxury and relative safety – or we even draw the battle lines – by having the discussion without putting names, faces and human experience on the idea. Such is a risk as we approach the marriage referendum next May; we already are seeing too much of this in the public space.
When we allow ourselves to dislocate the people from ideas, we can all too easily dehumanise them, and objectify them, people who, like ourselves, are also children of God. And that’s not only a risk in this debate. Labels and categories, for example, are convenient ways of removing the faces and human experience from what is being said: ‘the unemployed’, ‘the sick’, ‘the disabled’, ‘the immigrants’, ‘the gays’, ‘the single mothers,’ ‘the homeless’, ‘the poor’, ‘the traditionalists’, ‘the liberals’, … the list is endless of the ways that we risk removing people and their experiences from our reflection about big ideas.
If the simple demands of a radically challenging Christianity – Love God; Love your neighbour as yourself – are to mean anything, then we ought to discuss big ideas by putting ourselves in other people’s – our neighbour’s – shoes. The words of the Catechism come to mind: ‘My duty towards my neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me …
Full sermon is available here.