I greatly admire my friends who don’t use Facebook. They live a life of dignified self-reliance, contacting friends by phone or letter, or by meeting them in the pub. They are not bombarded by a flow of inane announcements that were uninvited and not always welcome.
And yet, although I despise and fear Facebook’s ubiquity, it does stimulating and informative things for me and can be useful from time to time.
So the other day, Facebook flashed up a memory from ten years ago. Who would have thought times could change with such rapidity that a decade suddenly felt like a century.
I have a fondness for eccentric or inspirational memes. I had put up a quote by Thomas Jefferson. It had a picture of his profile and then these highlighted words:
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Jefferson had written this to an old friend in a letter in 1800. William Hamilton had got the hump, felt neglected and written to complain that Jefferson had dumped him as a friend because they had taken opposing sides in a political argument.
“That’s great,” I thought.
I have often told my friends how much I value them, and how I believe that friendship is one of the most important kinds of relationship we were capable of. Perhaps the most important. Even within the family, to be friends with one’s spouse or children in addition to being married to them or being their parent is to be aspired to.
The saints have always thought so too.
St John Paul II wrote: “Friendship consist in the full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good”.
“God sends us friends to be a firm support in the whirlpool of trouble. In the company of friends we will find strength to attain to our highest idea,” wrotes St Maximilian Kolbe.
St Thomas Aquinas joins in with: “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship”.
St Claire writes with exquisite tenderness and insight.
“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.”
But there, embedded in the Facebook memory was the response of my progressive friend to Jefferson’s words. She asked me if I intended to keep being friends with her despite her radical and a heretical view.
“Of course,” I had reassured her. What is more important than our long standing friendship? Look how committed to it we both are, I said. Look at how many ups and downs it has survived.
But it hasn’t. In fact that may even have been the last exchange we ever had. She has gone. Did I defriend her – or did she defriend me? It doesn’t matter much now. But I suddenly felt the sadness and the failure of it sharply for a moment. I even accused myself of being a hypocrite.
And then I moved beyond the sense of pity – self or otherwise – to think a bit. Things were not so clear ten years ago. Trajectories were fuzzy. But not anymore.
Ideas that seemed to be just a radical alternative have taken on a different character.
‘Second-Wave’ Feminism which offered itself as providing a mandate and template for justice turned into ‘Third-Wave’, and helped ignite the movement that prioritised the imagination over biology, and the attack on all things binary. Masculinity suddenly became not just annoying, but “toxic”.
Both of these ideologies had disturbing political but also theological implications. Giving the disturbed and unbalanced imagination the power to recalibrate and redefine our sexuality has led to identity anarchy and a terrible trans epidemic in our children. The attempted suicide rates have rocketed; and not from any outburst of transphobia, but because the mental landscape has become too painful and incoherent a place to live peacefully in.
If Jesus came to introduce us to and reconcile us to the Father, and yet all masculinity becomes tainted with associations of poisonous patriarchy, does the loving fatherhood of God become more or less accessible? Can we continue to say “Our Father” without creating a chill of anxiety or worse, suspicious fear, to a generation programmed to despise masculinity and contemptuous of absent or vilified fathers?
When equal marriage was announced as an act of equity and fairness, did they warn us that anyone who continued to believe in the Christian narrative of marriage being between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating children would become ineligible for work in academia, or the Health service, or the police or the judiciary – that they would run the risk of losing their job and becoming unemployable?
It turns out that perhaps you can’t be friends with someone who takes up a series of views that have as their ultimate aim, disclosed or not, the destruction of the Church, the outlawing of faith and the obscuring of the face of God.
Friendship needs to “will the good of the other”, not conspire, contemplate or foster their destruction.
During these ideologically polarised days, the stakes have been raised so high that space for non-aligned friendship is evaporating fast. It is as if we have reached the point that Jesus described when he said “He who is not for me is against me”.(Matt 12.30)
It has become harder to have friends where the ideas they hold appear to have the capacity (as Jordan Peterson describes it) to possess people.
Where the narratives that dominate popular culture contain within them, like unexploded bombs, the seeds of the destruction of the faithful and the Church, amicable neutrality may no longer be possible.