I caught the end of the inauguration speech of the newly sworn president of the United States, Joe Biden. I found myself wishing I had heard it from the start. At least to my ears, he was speaking words to try and uplift and inspire his listeners, primarily the people of the USA, divided as rarely before. Now words can be double-edged; I have seen the grainy footage of the dictators of the 1930s, using their speeches to whip up hatred. Perhaps we do not need to go back that far to see examples of the same trick; the people known to the ancient Greeks as demagogues, who roused a mob with false promises so as to win easy popularity. What is important is what the words are based on. President Biden had gone to mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral shortly before the inauguration. In his speech he quoted St Augustine, “a saint of my church”, to talk about what can unite a people. And he quite openly led a short time of silent prayer for those 400,000 Americans who had died from Covid. It seems to me that Joe Biden’s words were based on his Christian faith and he was speaking from that in an open way that no politician in this country would attempt.
None of this is to say that President Biden will be a good leader of his country; I am not competent to make any prediction about that. But I do think he is sure of his own moral compass; he knows the direction of travel he ought to be following and he has the courage to make that known. Perhaps there is something here that we can note; what is our compass based on and are we confident enough in that to declare it to others?