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The Rector: Enough is Enough

Sunday 22 May 2022
Rogation Sunday
Revd Nicholas Mercer

At Christmas, I received an unexpected present from my wife

It was a book entitled “Human Kind” “A hopeful history” and was written by a Dutchman called Rutger Bregman

The book posed a simple question

“How would your life and view of the world change if you knew that people were good”

As the title suggests, the book tries to examine the world through the lens of human kindness

And sets out to be a radical reappraisal on how we see the world

The Book starts by examining the novel “The Lord of the Flies”

We all know the story – a group of school boys get stranded on a desert island and soon descend into barbarism

It is, of course, a work of fiction but sold millions of copies around the world

Its success is based on the notion that it reveals a fundamental truth about the human condition

Namely, that the veneer of civilisation is only wafer thin

And it has proved immensely popular even to this day

However, the author of the book wanted to examine this proposition in greater detail

And found his own real life story of a group of boys stranded on an island

In the 1970’s, six schoolboys had decided to run away by taking a fishing vessel and became marooned on an island south of Tonga

However, rather than descend into barbarism, the opposite happened

The boy co-operated with each other instead

They set up a commune, worked in teams to keep the fire alight and to collect rain water etc

They tended a garden, ran a communal kitchen and even adopted a system for settling disputes

When they were rescued a year later, they were found to be in excellent physical condition

Although we all like to buy into the narrative of the Lord of the Flies, the reality is, perhaps, very different?

I was fascinated with the approach of the book

The author sought to overturn our preconceptions about the world and look at it afresh

However, the book also recognised that we are fed a constant diet of stories about how base the human condition really is

He observed that this constant feeding creates a false appetite,

Which then becomes part of the problem itself

When it comes to false appetites, I have long had a problem with consumption and consumerism

It might have something to do with my age but I often rail at the television

I don’t want to buy a car at 9/10pm at night

I don’t want a sofa or some pro-biotic when I sit down in the evening

It is not about the individual product per se, but about the constant pounding

To buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume

It is on the television, the radio, plastered over walls, roads, railways and airports

The internet is now also saturated with advertisements

And such is the ingenuity of advertisers that they can now track your browsing preferences and target you specifically

They create a false appetite -an appetite which constantly needs feeding

And to generate even more money, the goods we purchase are designed to have what is termed dynamic obsolescence

In other words, they are designed to go wrong after a certain amount of use

And then we have to buy again

Capitalism is a voracious beast that is never satisfied

To this end, the author of the book told a parable about an old man and his grandson

The old man says to his grandson

There’s a fight going on inside me. It’s a terrible fight between two wolves

One is evil angry, greedy jealous and arrogant, the other is good, peaceful, loving, modest, generous and trustworthy

The grandson said to his grandfather, which wolf will win?

The old man smiles and says “the one you feed”

I recently picked up another book called “Enough is enough”

Fifty years ago a group of academics from the MIT realised that the endless appetite for consumption would end in tears

They realised that the interplay of factors such as population, industrial capital, environmental pollution and finite resources

Would eventually lead to disaster

As the authors said “Virtually no one will argue that material growth can go on for ever”

Yet we go and and on, plundering the earth, and trying to generate yet more and more wealth to consume

And, as result, we have polluted the planet to such a degree, that just one more degree could lead to economic and environmental disaster

They were right fifty years ago but we have only just bumped into that reality

I just hope that it is not too late…

Today is Rogation Sunday

When we asking for God’s intercessions for agriculture and offer prayer “For God’s blessing upon the earth and human labour”

The reading from the Book of Joel describes a world where we are so immeasurably blessed

Where the soil rejoices, the tree bears fruit and the vine gives its full yield

But this is now all in jeopardy because of our greed and our insatiable desire for consumption

Like a plague of locust we are in danger of bringing famine to our land

But I return however to the story of the boys at the beginning of my sermon

Are we like the boys in Lord of Flies or those Tongan Island?

Are we hell bent on destruction or co-operation?

If the author of the book on human kindness is right, then rather than drive ourselves to destruction the opposite might be true

If he is then, like Joel, then we can proclaim with certainty “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things”

If he is wrong, then I leave it to you to decide our fate

After all, we are all on this Island together