We are a society in confusion. More deaths in the shooting war among young people over the weekend bring more tragedy, more questioning, more blaming of absentee fathers, more wondering if Britain really is the worst country in the developed world in which to bring up children.
I believe that where people suggest that there is a single answer to this problem, they are wrong. When they suggest that this is a problem limited to one particular place and culture – and that we shouldn’t ask wider questions about our society – I think they are wrong too.
One of the things I learnt when I lived in the gun culture of Northern Ireland was that the gunmen and bombers did not come from Mars. They were not disconnected from the rest of society. People of violence were a tiny minority of that society. But their violent actions played out in brutal fashion the hard thoughts and hard words of people – who themselves would never consider committing an act of violence. Everything connected and everybody in some measure shared responsibility.
Britain is of course a much bigger, more diverse and more secular society. It would be hopelessly simplistic to say simply that ‘God is the answer’ to these very complex problems. But I do believe that there are two things which become more difficult when a society loses the language of religion and faith.
The first is that it seems to become harder to take responsibility – politicians apportion blame and reach for answers – but they don’t say ‘This is a symptom of a troubled society and it involves us all.’ And the second is this. We find it hard to express a common set of values – so it becomes difficult to talk about the inter-laced strands of care, commitment, inclusiveness and obligation which will build a new kind of society and a better future for alienated young people.