The only thing I thought I knew about Francis Fukuyama was that he said the fall of Eastern Bloc communism was ‘the end of history’ - and that he was wrong. A brief and narrow perception or hope that liberal western democracy was the only remaining game in town now seems to be a hubristic confusing of our own quite local passing context with eternal truth. Any sense that subsequent events and fresh developments would not open up new directions simply seems daft, especially in the face of the reassertion (in our immediate context) and continuation (in the context of swathes of other) of religious and national self assertions.
But I read this week that he didn’t mean that at all. He wasn’t speaking about ‘end’ in the sense of ‘finish’ but in the sense of ‘ultimate direction’. He wasn’t predicting that nothing new would happen. He was sensing and expressing a shift in where our hope was now focussed - not in imposed shared ownership but in chosen shared responsibility. He was asserting that it was by this criterion that we would be judging things like those religious and national self assertions.
Perhaps there was a touch of President Obama’s ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’ in what he saw. Obama was quoting Martin Luther King, who was in turn quoting a popular contraction of a passage in a nineteenth century abolitionist sermon. Theodore Parker was not saying everything will work out for good in the long-term. He was expressing, despite the moral confusion and setbacks which he could not understand, a deeper certainty and faith that justice was the criterion by which this all would eventually be judged. The rightness of emancipation remains clear even as modern slavery is endemic.
So I’ve returned to the concluding words of the scriptures set for Harvest Festival today: ‘seek first the kingdom and righteousness of the Father and all the things you need will be given as well’. (Tom Wright’s newly published translation simply offers ‘God’s way of life’ for ‘righteousness’ in this particular text; he says ‘we want a word which can pack ‘justice’, ‘covenant faithfulness’ and ‘right standing or relationship’ all into the same hold; ... there isn’t such a word’.)
‘Seek’ isn’t a casual word. There are touches of ‘search’ and ‘pursue’ about it. Chase determinedly anything consistent with a final goal of justice, chosen shared responsibility and being in the right place before God. It is towards there that our universal moral compass swings. That is our end. Everything else follows – even when so much of what we experience seems to contradict this.
Meanwhile, the flocks of birds apparently flying around St James’, Cross Road’s for the Harvest Festival this morning were created by the young people there to reflect an earlier part of the reading: ‘Have a good look at the birds in the sky – they don’t plant seeds, they don’t bring in the harvest, they don’t store things in barns – but your father in heaven feeds them’.