Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London Burning

London is quiet again after the riots of the last few nights.  With 16,000 police on the streets last night the vandals didn't take a chance on rioting or looting in the capital, though the same cannot be said for young thugs in other cities in England.   I was watching Newsnight last evening and a panel was trying to figure out what was the cause of this dreadful behaviour.  As expected there were two quasi apologists who blamed society, the lack of funding and few opportunities: young people frustrated and rejected resort to violence in order to be heard.   That raised the shackles of some of the other panelists and if it wasn't for the host we might have had a riot in the BBC studios (no harm maybe!).

Well I have to say I agree in part with the "quasi-apologists" - there are many deprived people in London, as in many other cities in the world including Dublin, and deprivation and injustice can lead people to desperate measures.  However one has to also bear in mind that we are not dealing with a subspecies of human being - those engaged in this senseless violence in England are intelligent human beings (for the most part) and so their turning to mindless violence, thuggery and theft is not completely due to deprivation - there is something more.  When you look at social policies in the UK and other European countries you see a tremendous amount of resources and time going into disadvantaged social groups.  You see "minorities" receiving grants and special projects and even subject to "positive discrimination" in order to help them, but they still remain disadvantaged, still victims.  One has to ask why with all that we still see scenes like those in England?

Part of the reason for these riots, I believe, is the breakdown of morality and responsibility.  This generation, and the generation before them, have grown up with relativism and have been told that whatever they think is right is right - they have to honour their own truth.  Programmes have sought to instill a sense of self-affirmation, but in a way which has diluted responsibility and the moral imperative.  These youngsters do not know that they owe society a debt and must play their part in building it up - for them society owes them and so they nurse a grievance which turns to violence very easily when they do not get what they want: they do not have the moral resources to question themselves nor perhaps even the desire to serve others, and yet as responsible human beings this is part of life.  All of this emerges from the dilution of Christian values in the UK and other places, and so, in a sense, this rioting is the child born of anti-religious secularisation.

Another reason is the breakdown of family life and authority.  So imbued with the sense of their own autonomy, these young people do not accept any form of authority, and certainly not the rule of law as represented by the police.  Liberal attempts to transfer power and rights over children from the family to the state have neutered the family and with it destroyed the forum within which children learn to become moral and social beings.  While the state may put countless policies and measures in place to care for these children, and sometimes these are necessary for children in situations where their parents cannot or will not look after them properly, these measures cannot replace a father and a mother and the lessons they teach their children in the context of loving relationships.  A child growing up in a family must come to honour his parents and in this way develop a proper understanding of authority, of its place in society and the need to respect it.  Parents should give a human and loving face to authority, and when that is understood by the child, they do not harbour an automatic hatred of authority in the world.  They will need discernment of course, but they will not resort to violence as soon as an authority says "no" to them.

That said there are injustices in society and many are suffering from them.  But responsible human beings, and I am not even talking about religious people, will respond in a civilised way.  And here, I think we come to the issue: what we are seeing in these riots is the breakdown of civilisation - we have a young generation who have not been civilised - they are the modern equivalent of the barbarian - although the barbarian did have some values.  As post-modern ideology has sought to re-mould society and human beings in it attempts to establish a new world order, here it is on the streets of London.  Alasdair MacIntyre's prophecy in After Virtue is coming true: we are entering the Dark Ages where civilisation will collapse.  The social experiment has failed and now we have to pay the price.

But there is hope and that hope, I believe, is to be found in faith and in the Church.  MacIntyre says in his book that in the Middle Ages St Benedict, his order emerged and they preserved Western civilisation - the Church of the Dark Ages was not that of the Enlightenment philosophers's myth, but one which a repository for all that is good in human culture - she may need to be again.   As for those young people, well we will have to give them to Don Bosco, and seek to find ways to reach them: that is the job of the New Evangelisation, and watching the images of rioting and violence, you realise how big a task lies ahead of us.  But as Jesus says, for God all things are possible, so I suppose we just listen to Him, push the sleeves up and stuck in!

UPDATE: Just surfing the net to catch up on news.  Fr Tim Finigan has a wonderful blog post on the riots.  He is in Blackfen in London, so he's in the middle of it all.  He has some insights to share not unlike my own, but he has a bit of humour too and it has made my day!  I love what the rep from Waterstones had to say about the riots:   "We'll stay open; if they steal some books they might learn something!"  Excellent! Though I imagine Waterstones would be the safest shop in the city!   But Fr Finigan's own observation is priceless: "Witty, but to the point when you consider that in Peckham the Pound Shop was looted (seriously!) If only there were footage of someone swaggering triumphantly down Elm Grove waving a five-pack of sellotape and a bumper bag of wine gums."


  1. The bankers at the City of London have been robbing the world for centuries. If it looks more civilized, it's only because they're sufficiently wealthy to do so 'politely'. But the effect is just as destructive (actually even more so). Of course that's not to absolve the rioters of culpability for their actions. Both are symptomatic of a very sick society.

  2. Don Bosco my eye, Father, they need a couple of hours in a locked cell with a few tough guys with baseball bats - that will teach them some responsibility.

  3. Of higher things... Gospel commentary