They were, as one might expect, confident, articulate, and oddly free of the kind of acne you’d see in your average comprehensive (expensive dermatologists?). We had a lively discussion about the underpinning moral visions of various political positions and what it means to seek a flourishing society.
The area that they found hardest to grasp was the idea of particularity and my assertion that no-one is truly objective. Leaning back in their chairs, able to argue from any side of a debate, they were the picture of cool- headed ‘neutrality’. I believe that in our embarrassment about speaking morally we’ve made idols of ‘evidence-based’ policy, independence and objectivity. This is not of course to argue that we don’t need to challenge our own presuppositions, nor abandon a commitment to rigorous research and deep thought. It is to argue that ‘disinterest’ and ‘detachment’ are not straightforwardly good things. For the same reason that many people have argued that you can’t make use of the social capital of faith groups while forcing them to privatise their primary motivation, our allergy to passion and sincerity is counter-productive.
I want people to be interested, not disinterested – particularly those influential in our public life. We all care about things, or we should. There is no ‘view from nowhere’ and as much as we try and pretend otherwise we all have agendas. These are our deep seated passions, the things that motivate us. They will be different, and sometimes in conflict, but that’s better than this pretence of homogeneity and distance. Theos is unashamed of its particularity- we believe you can come from a committed perspective like Christianity and still engage meaningfully and productively in the shaping of our life together. We have to believe this; otherwise no-one can make a difference, because we all have a committed perspective.
Suzanne Moore has written in the Guardian about her irony fatigue. She says: “What strikes me increasingly is that the most subversive thing anyone can do in this time of all-encompassing irony, is to care about something and do it well.” Passion and commitment are out of fashion and it’s bad for all of us. Let’s take off the masks, risk sounding a bit earnest and nail our colours to the mast. Even those boys at Eton.