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All miserable LiGWaiMers

04 December 2015

Philip Welsh assesses a study of the human condition today

A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting again in a cynical world
Mark Meynell
Zondervan £11.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.80


MARK MEYNELL provides a lively survey of the contemporary world’s loss of trust, both in private and in public life: "We seem inured to betrayals of trust and fear commitments of any kind, whether personal or political."

He has an enviable ability in cultural scene-setting, and in pulling together an impressive range of commentators. The analysis may not be particularly nuanced or break new ground, but it makes for engaging reading, albeit with a sense at times of intellectual speed-dating.

Part 1 outlines "the last century’s legacy of mistrust" in the ruling authorities, in the media, and in care-givers (including the Church). In Part 2, he finds the social consequences of this to be a pervasive climate of alienation and paranoia. In Part 3, he moves steadily towards a constructive Christian response, starting from the persuasive contention that "The central reason the Christian worldview is coherent and sufficiently broad to encompass and respond to the culture of suspicion is its commitment to the principle of paradox" — a primary instance of which is humankind both created in God’s image and radically sinful.

He finds the term "sin", however, "so overburdened with cultural baggage as to be virtually unusable", and substitutes for it "living in God’s world as if [it was] mine", which thereafter throughout the book he bizarrely abbreviates to LiGWaiM.

He grounds his case theologically in Christ the servant Lord and crucified God who overturns all assumptions about power, and heis clear that Christ "is the only bulwark against the ultimate decline into a culture of suspicion, alienation, and paranoia". The Church is called to be "a community of grace", but with a crucial corollary: "Being inclusive is never enough by itself. It must be accompanied by a culture of confession and forgiveness."

This leads to the conclusion that Christianity alone can provide the overarching story that is big enough to contain the post-modern suspicion of all metanarratives. This latter section of the book features Powerpoint-style diagrams, reflecting what some may find an over-determined resolution.

A Wilderness of Mirrors is a thought-provoking book on a critically important theme — and it’s always helpful to be reminded that "human DNA is 50 per cent identical to that of the banana."


The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the London diocese.

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