There’s something rather special about you people, though not many Hump readers get to express that in comments. I get around 100,000 hits a year, and particularly in the last few months those have been visits to posts mainly expressing dissidence to the mainstream narrative on COVID, on social justice and on world politics generally.
Yet unlike social media platforms, there are no algorithms spotting your predilections and shoving The Hump in your face every time you open the browser. Neither is it very likely that many people keep reading in order to disagree (that after all is why YouTube doesn’t dump channels you hate on you). Regular readers are here because they want to be, and for that I’m very grateful.
I’m also very aware, both from comments and personal e-mails, that on many of the issues aired here, readers feel pretty isolated in their views where they live, and value the chance to read things they relate too, when friends, colleagues and families may disagree to the point where they have to keep silent. I recognise that, because I feel the same way (though thank God for a wife who’s on the same wavelength – lockdown would be even more hellish otherwise!).
One of the things that gets me down is how much talk there is in Christian circles about “reaching out to the marginalised.” Don’t get me wrong – that’s absolutely central to the Christian message, following the Lord’s example, and of course before that to the religion of Israel. When James wrote that pure and faultless religion means “Look after orphans and widows in their distress” he was only echoing the Old Testament prophets. It’s just that I see too many easy assumptions being made about who actually is “marginalized” in our world, because the categories mentioned seem often to be those that mainstream media, politicians, and even the police compete to grant “protected” status.
But those whom I see being marginalized are often those on the butt-end of such “protection.” For example, the whole public narrative around COVID is about protecting the vulnerable. Students are locked up and fenced in to protect their grannies, and those grannies are locked up and barred from seeing their families to protect other grannies, but let’s not go there. As in so many other areas of life now, to dissent from that narrative because you express pity for those who are suffering because of it leads to your own marginalization. And that marginalization is the distress of an actual person, rather than of a hypothetical class of people like “the vulnerable.” To me, religion should be about actual people.
Here, for example, is an Irish GP who has spoken out against the wisdom of the COVID restrictions because of the harm he has seen them doing to his own patients, as I certainly would have done – and in comparable circumstances did – when I was working. In my case, speaking out might, positively, get me a letter published in the Telegraph, or, negatively, some adverse chat from colleagues at the GP’s co-operative or on Doctors.net. In his case, it got him condemned in the media and sacked from his out-of-hours board position, castigated by his professional colleagues. Other doctors across the world have, I am reliably informed, been struck off for similar stands.
The Irish doctor may not be a widow or an orphan, but he is one of the marginalized who should be the special concern of the churches. But he is not because their priorities are so often dictated by the BBC or Facebook trends. Especially whistleblowers should be supported because their standing up to be counted arises from the other half of James’s description of “pure religion”: “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” A white suit in a jungle is not good camouflage.
Elijah was not a widow, or an orphan – but he was marginalized. In fact, he was isolated although he was a public figure who had access to kings and a unique prophetic power. As a national celebrity, he had fashionably little going for him. He was outspoken, divisive, and disdainful of authority. And, what is worse, he was a conservative religionist who refused to keep up to speed on the progessive faith embraced by the real priests and all Right Thinking people. Nobody invited him to parties or appointed him as Chief Government Adviser.
After defeating the prophets of Baal on Carmel, he fled for his life to Mount Sinai, and complained to God that he was the only one left who was faithful to the Covenant. You will remember that God responded that he had reserved for himself 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal.
Now, many sermons have been preached on Elijah’s state of mind, and his faith or lack thereof. But I think his experience will resonate with many – it appeared to him that there was nobody to support him when he needed it most. I have little doubt that he had contacts who expressed to him opposition to the idolatry at court, in whispers. And of course when Yahweh sent fire from heaven on Carmel, all the people had chanted that he was the true God. But when push came to shove, none of them raised a hand to protect Elijah or endorse his message.
Now, God’s assurance that the covenant was not dead, and that 7,000 faithful souls remained in Israel, must have been a great comfort. But the population of the northern kingdom at that time was, according to estimates I’ve seen, probably around a million. That means that just seven in a thousand were keeping the faith, and surviving only by keeping their heads down. The chances of Elijah’s bumping into them by chance and forming a support group were pretty low: it looks as if he wouldn’t even have known his successor Elijah unless God had given him the name and address.
So maybe that’s a lesson for the times. It looks as though ploughing the furrow alone is the inevitable lot of many who want to serve God in times of trouble. Maybe it’s enough to know that God’s remnant is, as in Elijah’s time, out there somewhere, even if we don’t see much evidence for it when those we lean on turn out to be broken reeds. There seems to be a lot of that vibe behind Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
There are, then, some significant advantages to living on the margin.