Our third World Traders breakfast meeting took place on Zoom, not this time because of Covid but because the speaker, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, had to be in the US on the agreed date. (He was speaking from ‘Sundance Valley’ – a location it turned out to be, unsurprisingly, owned by Robert Redford!) This actually worked to our advantage because, although yet again we had to forgo the Danish Pastries in the Byeward cafe, it meant that more people were able to join us, and we were delighted to welcome guests from the Worshipful Companies of Glaziers, Haberdashers, Management Consultants, Tax Advisors, and Shipwrights as well as our own members and their guests.
At these breakfast meetings, we have explored the role of faith in the public square by asking leaders in politics, industry and the armed services to share their experiences and thoughts with us. Previous speakers have been Lord Dannatt who spoke about the spiritual dimension of leadership and the Right Honourable Alistair Burt who addressed faith issues at home, in the Middle East and the wider world.
Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick is Chancellor of Regents University London and Professor of Leadership at the Huntsman Business School in the US. He was Head of Public Affairs at the BBC for 12 years before moving to KPMG as Head of Global Citizenship. His subject was: ‘The global phenomenon of untruth and the search for wisdom’.
Starting with the famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld about known unknowns and unknown unknowns, he posed the question ‘What is truth?’ Misinformation about the Covid vaccination abounds in the US he told us, and one in seven Americans believe there is something suspicious in the Covid vaccines. Many Americans are signed up to and believe in the QAnon far right conspiracies. Referring to a recent cartoon in the Economist about the market place of ideas, Lord Hastings said that reasoned debate is in short supply these days – and alternatives are much more enticing. This had been predicted by HG Wells, many years ago. In the era of alternative facts, we are facing a massive battle for the truth.
Indeed ‘truth’ has become ‘how I feel’ and people are reluctant to acknowledge these days that to say one thing is true is to say that the opposite thing is untrue. This is, he said, deeply dangerous and disturbing.
Referring to his own faith, Lord Hastings quoted Jesus who said, ‘the truth will set you free’ and said that this was demonstrated in the life of ‘Jesus’.
The talk clearly stimulated a lot of interest as there were many questions including:
How was the BBC managing its role in the crossfire of the culture wars? Has truth now become negotiable, depending on the objectives of a group, whatever the nature of the subject? How did Lord Hastings see the fall in Christian congregations affecting our national life?
‘Facts in and of themselves only get you a little way. They need interpretation and application so how do we decide who the trusted interpreters are? What are the criteria? How do we create them?’
The discussion could have gone on and on but as it was now 2.30 am in the US. The Master thanked Lord Hastings warmly and he retired gratefully.