Dave Snowden

fides caritate formata

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The daily Gaping Void cartoon is one of the ways I keep sane.  Every now and then one of them is especially apposite to something I am doing or thinking about.  This has never been more true that yesterday’s gift which is opens this post.  The essence of managing complexity is action; advocating a panglossian future is the abrogation of responsibility.  Thinking about this one the plane to New York (hugely frustrated by failing to book a window seat to capture sunrise over Mount Rainer) I realised that this position goes back a long way to University days when I made a choice for Catholicism over Protestantism.  One of the main reasons for that was one of the fundamental divisions of the reformation namely the question of justification.  In the catholic tradition justification is by faith and works, relying on a text from James 2:24-26, while Luther and subsequently Calvin and others argued for justification by faith alone.

Now before anyone takes offence, I can see the reason for the change and historical context is key to understanding anything (come to think of it that was another reason for my choice, namely the need for the teaching of the Church to evolve, not be be pre given).  Justification by works had resulted in the selling of indulgences and all manner of abuse in the pre-reformation period and had I been around the time I suspect I would have been with Müntzer not Luther.  When it came to the crunch the latter sided with the Princes over the Peasants.  However in the 70s, that same text is now revolutionary and was the basis for Liberation Theology post the Mendelin Conference of the Catholic Bishops and there is little doubt which side I was on then (and now).  Its all tied in with free will and moral responsibility by the way, Sola fide allows one to escape both.

Then and now my objection was to a focus on individual change as opposed to systemic change (actually that is a third reason for my choice).  The focus on individual change seemed to provide an excuse for inaction in the present.   What mattered seemed to be the salvation of souls rather than action.  If you change the interactions between people within systems then change happens far faster than if you depend on first winning everyone around to your point of view.  In a complex system the dynamics of interaction are key, changing the density of the coupling, seeing what patterns emerge.  We act, but we act with parallel, theory informed, coherent safe-to-fail experiments to discover the evolutionary potential of the situated present.