Over New Year we watched the six episodes of the TV version of State of Play - way much better than the Hollywood version. Whatever we think causes the moral malaise and public cynicism surrounding current politics and journalism, this drama tackles some of the underlying causes of that dangerous disillusion with the capacity of public figures to be trusted. It also explores the fankled mess of divided loyalty, blackmail, betrayal, the ruthlessness of the ambitious self, the ease with which relationships are peddled in the marketplace where power is brokered; and it does so against the background of corporate business, government, energy policy and those unprincipled decisions that shatter lives.
All in all, a satisfying confirmation that all have sinned, and that the insatiable appetite for power and self preservation drives human beings to deeds and dispositions that do indeed fall far short of the glory of God. And yet the series portrays human behaviour and its consequences as tragic, the broken lives and inflicted anguish as not in the end what was intended, but rather the consequences of actions which if they could have been foreseen.....
But of course foresight isn't in our gift as human beings; we can't foresee all the consequences of our compromises, betrayals, lies, power games. Not so. Foresight isn't a crystal ball we don't have access to; it is that creative process of moral imagination, awareness that actions have consequences for those near and distant to us. And foresight, in the ethical sense is to be responsible and responsive to that inner voice we call conscience, because when conscience is persistently shouted down by the claims of the strident self-determined ego, it is gradually silenced. But John Stuart Mill wasn't far wrong when he spoke of the conscience as that web of moral feeling which when violated is later encountered as remorse. And remorse is brilliantly portrayed by David Morrissey in this drama.
Running parallel with my viewing of State of Play, my reading of Hilary mantel's Wolf Hall. Take most of the above review of human cruelty and cynicism, and the description of the State and the individual in ruthless pursuit of power, and the parallels become fascinatingly close. Especially when it is very clear that power is not grasped and wielded for its own sake, but for the sake of the person who pursues it and cultivates it. Yet both State of Play and Wolf Hall have characters who act within a recognised code of honour; the journalist in pursuit of the story, protecting sources, upholding the public right to know; Thomas Cromwel's rise as advisor to Henry VIII, making and breaking lives as he orchestrates the court intrigue and lethal alliances of Tudor politics. In Wolf Hall the question of morally generated foresight and the slow reorientation of conscience to the service of the self is also explored in the relationships and conflicts between political expediency and moral consequence. Mantel's novel is a partial rehabilitation of Cromwell, a sympathetic portrayal of the English Machiavelli whose volume The Prince is Cromwell's textbook on political survival and required ruthlessness.
All in all, a few days of enjoyment - laced with reflections on how power, tragedy, human ambition and failure, love and betrayal, cruelty and compassion, manifest themselves differently in different historical periods. But it is the same tragedy, the same broken glory of the human being, lacking moral foresight yet culpably ignoring their best lights, human life unredeemed but not unredeemable. Because against the bleak sense of the inevitability of the tragic, and the contemporary loss of faith in the goodness of life, the Christian story is of God entering into the full tragic consequences of human sin. And not as Machiavellian Prince bent on violent re-ordering and manipulative exploitation of the world, but as Prince of Peace. As self-giving love the Prince of Peace contradicts the will to power, and in his death all that makes for implacable death is crucified; and as the life and love and light of God, hope is resurrected as He is risen with healing, embodying the promise of a new kind of humanity, signal of a renewed creation, the beginning of the reconciling of all things.