Reclaiming the Common Good – Review
Reclaiming the Common Good: How Christians Can Help Rebuild our Broken World, Edited by Virginia Moffat, August 2017. Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT), ISBN 9780232533156, 207 pages. RRP £14.99 (paperback)
This is an inspiring collection of essays dealing with history, politics, environment, society, community, religion and the mission and purpose of the church. The common good, for which we pray, has a long history, beginning with the virtues of Aristotle through twentieth century Catholic social thought and action to the controversial Universal Basic Income. This book does not avoid left wing politics, criticism of recent governments or Jesus’ concern for the poor. Chapters cover the question “what is the common good?”, the uncommon good, the safety net and “a new vision for welfare; rolling back the state and the market”. The People and Planet chapters discuss migration, population, the “threat of the Anthropocene”, bioregionalism, peace and security and a world without war. The final section, Our Mission, discusses a New Jerusalem, saying that,”this is not about building a new building or even a new community, it is about building a new world”.
This book is about the ethics of our contemporary society, its important material needs, community and deprivations. It offers a spiritual, religious and Christian vision of what the common good is now and what it could be. The common good is seen as the mission of the church in a climate where both political and religious movements are parading its absence. The community of the common good is under stress from disagreement, fake news and conflicts. Austerity and penury shame the visions of our time, offering society, including the church, the challenge of a neglected economy which could be so different. It could be a shared common good.
The essays’ criticism of our contemporary society is offset by visions of what was good in the past, what is practical now and what could be achieved in the future. It describes a simultaneously new and old approach to the problems of our time, one that is spiritual, religious and practical. Most, if not all, of these visions are tested, arising from the vision of compassion, where caring for our neighbour, and the question of who that neighbour is are both fundamental tenets of our faith. This is a “how to do it” political discourse for the spiritual and the religious.
It blends environmental with social concerns and asks, “can they be separated?” It asks, “what is the church for?” and answers, not buildings but the common good. Aristotle sought virtue, but Jesus came to bring a new vision of a good society, a community of the good, common to all but under threat from our greed and ignorance. We know most of the answers; they are not easy, but we have visionaries able to analyse the challenges of the Anthropocene. There are common good arguments to be made and there are good people who make them. This book could begin a political debate as to what Christianity, the churches and their mission are really for.
(One criticism. I shall use this book again and again, so an index would have been very useful.)