The Four Quartets – BBC Radio Four read by Jeremy Irons

Four Quartets

The Four Quartets will be read by Jeremy Irons on BBC Radio Four on Saturday January 18th, 2014, at 14:30 – 15.45 pm with an introduction by Michael Symmons Roberts, Lord David Alton and Gail McDonald.https://myshare.box.com/s/jbtssur3j8qebn9oqcfe

Four Quartets

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2014/03/r4-saturday-drama.html

Saturday Drama: Four QuartetsJeremy Irons reads Four Quartets by TS Eliot.

Four Quartets is the crowning achievement of TS Eliot’s career as a poet. While containing some of the most musical and unforgettable passages in 20th century poetry, its four parts – ‘Burnt Norton’, ‘East Coker’, ‘The Dry Salvages’ and ‘Little Gidding’ – present a rigorous meditation on the spiritual, philosophical and personal themes which preoccupied the author.

It was the way in which a private voice was heard to speak for the concerns of an entire generation in the midst of war and doubt that confirmed it as an enduring masterpiece.

Producer/ Susan Roberts for the BBC

Four Quartets 3

T.S.Eliot: The Four Quartets

1. Where does it sit in the canon of English Literature?

In thinking about Eliot’s masterpiece I found Dr,.Paul Murray’s “T.S.Eliot and Mysticism: The Secret History of “Four Quartets” indispensable.

It’s over forty years since, as a school boy, I discovered Eliot, and it’s nearly 80 years since he began writing Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets. Perhaps the first thing to say is that the mere passage of time has not dulled the poems, having lost none of their status as strikingly ‘modern’ poetry.

I read the Quartets after I had read The Waste Land – Eliot’s very bleak view of a maimed and disfigured England – and they invite the reader to consider how the waste lands of our lives might be transformed.

They are devotional and meditative poems but just as John Donne and the devotional poets of the seventeenth century, replaced the language of the Elizabethan era, Eliot writes in a new and original way – displaying religious genius, amazing originality, and extraordinary learning and depth. His originality is central to this masterpiece.

Eliot, of course, draws on innumerable sources – theological, philosophical, mystical, mythical, and poetic – so much so that at times he has been accused of a sort of literary kleptomania. He countered this by saying that “true originality is merely development.”

More than any other source, I think we need to see The Quartets in parallel to Dante.

Ezra Pound said of Eliot “His was the true Dantean voice” while Eliot himself once remarked:”I regard his poetry as the most persistent and deepest influence on my own work.”

Dante’s imagery: the idea of the “refining fire” in the Four Quartets comes fromPurgatorio and the celestial rose and fire imagery of Paradiso are all incorporated into the poems. Those we meet in the Quartets, trapped in time, are like those stranded between life and death in Dante’sInferno.

Eliot’s own assessment of where he sits within the canon of English literature is revealing. He said: “My reputation in London is built upon one small volume of verse, and is kept up by printing two or three more poems in a year. The only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event.” That’s a pretty good yardstick against which to measure the blissful perfection of the Quartets.

He had an aversion to the emotionalism of the romantics and his poetry sparked a revival of interest in the metaphysical poets – infusing his own work with challenging psychological, sensual, and unique ideas.

Eliot, himself, regarded Four Quartets as his masterpiece, and it was the work which led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The vast number of learned articles and books of literary criticism about Eliot and his poetry underline the claim of genius.

T.S.Eliot at the BBC


2. The Historical Context?

Written just before and during the Second World War, the first poem, Burnt Norton was published in 1936, East Coker in 1940, The Dry Salvages in 1941, and Little Gidding in 1942.

Burnt Norton is named after a Manor House and he wrote it while working on his play, Murder in the Cathedral. For me, it conjures up the lost opportunities of those inter war years“Down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened, Into the rose garden.”

But this is deeper than simply mourning what might have been. In the preceding years we had lost our innocence; we had lost a blissful world just as mankind had lost humanity’s primeval home through our folly in the Garden.

The second Quartet, East Coker, was published just after the War began. Eliot passionately believed that Germany and Nazism had to be fought and defeated, and England, with its ancient lineage, vigorously defended.

He had visited East Coker, a small village in Somerset, two years earlier. It was where his own ancestors had lived. Some emigrated to America in the 17th century – and the poem has a flavour of the pilgrim father. East Coker is where Eliot asked for his own ashes to be buried. And the poem examines the cycles of life and death: “In my beginning is my end.”

It is the poem which inspires me the most – especially the link which Eliot makes between human suffering and the Good Friday cross; the poet’s own admission of his own helplessness; the procession of statesmen, rulers, merchant bankers and the rest who “all go into the dark” and the appearance of the wounded surgeon and the deep compassion of the healer’s art, needed by Eliot’s and every other generation.

Dry Salvages came a year later and was written during air raids on London. Eliot himself had volunteered as a night watchman to help during the air raids. The London Blitz had begun on September 7th, 1940 and Hitler’s intention was to demoralise the population. 348 German bombers and 617 fighters began a blitzkrieg that continued until the following May. Underground stations sheltered as many as 177,000 people each night – and in one incident alone 450 people were killed.

This was the backdrop to a poem which warns us that if we allow ourselves to simply drift like flotsam and jetsam we will be wrecked on the rocks – the dry salvages – which are a group of rocks of Cape Ann, in Massachusetts. More than anything else Eliot now tells us to pray.

A year earlier, in 1939, King George VI, in his Christmas broadcast quoted Minnie Haskins, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown, And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.”

In May 1940 King George then called the whole nation to prayer and to commit their cause to God, as 335,000 men were waiting to be evacuated from Dunkirk. Mirroring the King’s words, Eliot calls us to “prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action” invoking the “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory
and writing:
“Repeat a prayer also on behalf of women who have seen their sons or husbands setting forth, and not returning” and “ Also pray for those who were in ships, and Endeed their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lip.”
Little Gidding was completed in 1942, as Britain’s fortunes were turning. It was the year of El Alemain and came as America entered the war after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour.

Here Eliot is reminding us that the fire of bombs brings death but the fire of Pentecost brings life. He is saying that the enemy may be defeated and repeatedly uses the refrain of Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” if only we realise that alienation from God is more dangerous than Hitler; that we must come through the fire of purgation to new life and resurrection.

T.S.Eliot In My Beginning
Julian of Norwich


3. How does it relate to Eliot’s Christianity?

Eliot was received into the Church in 1927. An Anglo-Catholic, he was part of a generation of talented Christian writers – CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Dorothy L Sayers, G.K.Chesterton, Walter de La Mare and Evelyn Waugh among them. But Eliot was a Christian writing in an era of scepticism and atheism.

Virginia Woolf needled Eliot about religion and once asked him “did he got to church?” “did he hand round the collection plate?” “Yes, O really!” “did he pray, and what did he experience?”

In answer, Eliot apparently leaned forward, bowing his head prayerfully, and described how he attempted concentrate, to forget himself, seeking union with God.

And that I suppose is the essence of Four Quartets: it is his attempt to make music – what he called “the music of ideas” – it is a spiritual canticle with a number of central themes and subjects but they are all bound together in Eliot’s mysticism.

He draws heavily on the mystics such as St.John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich and writings such as “The Cloud of Unknowing.” In 1930 he wrote that “forest sages, desert sages, men like John of the Cross and Ignatius really mean what they say because they have looked into the abyss.” Simultaneously he rejects occultism, spiritualism and contrasts magic with mysticism.

But he is also influenced by Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish theologian and by his contemporary, Karl Barth – and he sides with them in their battle for a new Protestant orthodoxy against liberal Protestantism. From the Catholic tradition he had a love of Thomas Aquinas and had been influenced by Jacques Maritain, the Thomist theologian. And there are Buddhist and Brahmin influences – although he asserted that “Christian revelation is the only full revelation.”

While Eliot admits his knowledge of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises it is the more precise Augustinian method of establishing self knowledge which attracts him. There’s a groping into the darkness and depths of the soul; a delving into sensory memories; a desire to risk unbearable experiences – a willingness to “disturb the dust”; the pointing “to one end which is always present,” the use of the elements, air, earth, water and fire, to define his own spiritual journey.

Eliot takes us into what time means to him; then into the unsatisfactory nature of the world; then to purgation; into lyrical and intercessory prayer. Through the Annunciation, Incarnation, Redemption and Resurrection, he helps us find the way to God.

Contrast Eliot with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins believed in the Doctrine of Immanence – and saw God in all things: In “As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame” he wrote that“…Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.” he said “Glory be to God for dappled things.” –

Eliot, by contrast, believed in the Doctrine of Transcendence – insisting on a separation of the human and divine, of the temporal and eternal – which takes you into the way of interior darkness, self denial, purification, self exploration, self criticism (as in The Spiritual Exercises) and self discovery. George Orwell called this “a melancholy faith” and, although there is sometimes a

Puritan distaste for life, for me Eliot represents man’s yearning to find purpose and meaning in life. At times his voice is that of an Old Testament prophet. In fact, East Coker opens with a text which is largely based on the second chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “a time for every purpose under heaven”.

Eliot himself mediated n the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary – the agony of Jesus in the Garden; the scourging of Jesus at the pillar; the crowning with thorns; the carrying of the cross; and the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Having journeyed through these events, the poet arrives at his destination: “and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

T.S.Eliot
T.S.Eliot memorial stone

World War One – day of World War One Poetry in Liverpool – Remembering the First World War and 16.5 million deaths

Remarks made by David Alton at the launch of the “Merseyisde at War”  commemoration of World War One Poetry – hosted by Liverpool John Moores University on November 30th 2013 in Liverpool

Visit: http://www.merseyside-at-war.org/

Forthcoming Roscoe Lecture:

Thursday 13 November, 2014 2pm Bill Sergeant & Tony Wainwright “Two Stories of Heroism – Chavasse and the Liverpool PALS”  Tickets from Mrs.Barbara Mace: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk 

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

Every year in the month of November at cenotaphs up and down the land we say the words “We will remember them.” In this coming year we will remember the beginning of a war which has come to epitomise carnage and human sacrifice on a previously unimaginable scale. The war claimed more than16.5 million deaths, lives, both military and civilian. One and a quarter million of those who died originated from the United Kingdom and from what was then the British Empire. 230,000 deaths were among military personnel from countries now within the Commonwealth. 

Whist the conflict raged it was decided to build the Imperial War Museum and when it opened in 1920, Sir Alfred Mond, the financier and politician, described it as, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”.

 World War One

Beyond the national commemoration of toil and sacrifice, many will recall the personal stories which have been passed down by relatives who participated in that conflict. It was called a war to end all wars but at its culmination it was acerbically remarked that the hobbled peace agreement would be a peace to end all peace. And twenty years later, so it proved.   

 

As I child my grandfather gave me photographs which he had taken or collected during his own service – which saw him in action in Allenby’s army in the Middle East. Photographs of murdered Armenians, executed in Jerusalem by the retreating armies, still have a chilling effect on me. When I took my daughter to the genocide museum in Armenia I reminded her that the world’s indifference to the plight of the Armenians would lead Hitler to scornfully remark “Who now remembers the Armenians?”.

 

1915 Sussex Regiment - marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915 Sussex Regiment – marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah - and bathing in the River Jordan

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah – and bathing in the River Jordan

1917 Field medical card for William Alton - shrapnel wounds

1917 Field medical card for William Alton – shrapnel wounds

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00164)

We should always remember; and when we can bring ourselves to forgive we should never ever forget.

 

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00165)

Our memories of the Great War inevitably focus less on the events in Jerusalem, Mesopotamia, or Gallipoli and more on the trenches of Ypres and the Somme. For here was mechanised warfare on a scale previously unimaginable.

This was a war that saw millions go to their deaths – and which divided families and communities, churches and political parties.

 

Think for a moment of the conscientious objectors who opposed the war both on religious and political grounds. Many of them ended up in prison. Courage came in many kinds of clothes.

 

It was Alan Clarke who coined the phrase “lions led by donkeys”, to describe some of those who led the British Forces.

 

Accounts of hampers from Fortnum & Mason and  200 British generals driving their Rolls Royces behind the lines stand in stark contrast to the putrid stench of gas in the Flanders trenches – open graves which witnessed extraordinary bravery, courage, valour and suffering as more than 1.2 million allied servicemen lost their lives: 200,000 on one day alone at the Somme.  Over 2 million Germans would also die.

 World War One

In Westminster Abbey lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. He is there in memory of 100,000 men whose bodies are still unaccounted for at Passchendale and all those who have died on foreign fields in graves unknown and unmarked. The remains of several unknown soldiers were taken to a private room where a blindfolded officer chose the body to represent all those who had fallen but were unidentified.  An estimated 1,250,000 people visited Westminster Abbey to see the grave in only the first week.

 

When David Cameron launched the Government’s commemoration, he reminded us that in only 50 of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, were no deaths of parishioners recorded. Not a single parish in Scotland or Northern Ireland remained unscathed.

 

The Prime Minister identified 2014 as a moment “to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us”.

 

The twentieth century saw two wars which led to a calamitous loss of life. I doubt whether we have learned those lessons and in every generation we need to reflect on the failure which war represents. But there are other lessons for us to ponder during these commemorations.

 

The human spirit was assaulted but not crushed. Human endeavour matched the devastation and significant social and political change came in its wake. Patriotism, which was based on blind allegiance and acceptance of rigid social structures was replaced by a patriotism that yearned for a just and fairer society.

 World War One

The First World War dramatically changed Britain’s social structures. During the war an  immense contribution was made by around 1.5 million women in the workplace, not least the munitions factories, but they also ran government departments, public transport, post offices, and countless other jobs, paving the way for women’s emancipation in 1918.

 

 

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett put it like this:

 

 

“The war revolutionised the industrial position of women … It not only opened opportunities of employment in a number of skilled trades but, more important even than this, it revolutionised men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable”.

 

 

 

The War also saw a phenomenal contribution by countries inextricably linked to Britain through its Empire. More than 1.5 million people from the Indian subcontinent alone served with 70,000 fatalities. More than 9,000 Indian troops were decorated for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses.  More than 200,000 Irishmen voluntarily enlisted, and 30.000 perished.

The Supreme Allied Commander, Marshall Foch, would remark: “I saw Irishmen of the North and the South forget their age-long differences, and fight side by side, giving their lives freely for the common cause”. And it was a War which saw whole communities unite in sacrifice and grief .

Think of the Lancashire towns which produced the Pals who would all lose their lives . In Scotland alone, 26% of the men who enlisted never returned home.

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Think, too, of the courage of the non-combatants. Captain Noel Chavasse was the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. In 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross and in 1916 his first Victoria Cross.  As a doctor he went into no-man’s land to tend the wounded. The following day, ignoring shrapnel injuries, he brought back twenty men whose lives he had saved. A year later, at Passchendaele,  after carrying out a similar courageous act, he received  shrapnel injuries to his abdomen and crawled back to the trenches, dying of his wounds; receiving a second VC for his selfless bravery.

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

The horror of those events is captured in Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front – a story which originated on the other side of the trenches but tell the same story of  brutality and pain, or fear and terror, of a lost generation. Listen to these quotations from that remarkable book:

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

 “It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men.”

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.”

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
World War One

On the British side of the trenches our own writers were coming to the same conclusions.

Today we should especially recall the work of Wilfred  Owen who is regarded by many historians as the leading poet of the First World War. His war poetry records the horrors of trench and gas warfare.

Wilfred Owen - who was educated in Birkenhead

Wilfred Owen – who was educated in Birkenhead

Born on 18 March 1893, the eldest of four children, at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswesty in Shropshire, he was of mixed English and Welsh ancestry.

After the death of his grandfather, Edward Shaw, in January 1897, and the  sale of their family home the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while his father temporarily worked there for the railway company employing him.

In 1898, Thomas became stationmaster at Woodside Station and the family lived with him, at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907.

Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School.

He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire.

When war broke out, he did enlist immediately – and as he was living on the Continent he even considered joining the French army – but eventually returned to England. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment.

Once at the Front he quickly saw action and after falling into a shell hole, suffered concussion. He was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood, believed he was lying amidst the remains of a fellow officer.

Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent for treatment to Edinbugh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen’s life.

 Owen asked for Sassoon’s assistance in refining his poems’ rough drafts. It was Sassoon who named the start of the famous short poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth, “anthem”, and who also substituted “doomed” for “dead”; and added the famous epiphet of “patient minds”.  The amended manuscript copy, which is in both men’s handwriting, is still extant and may be viewed at the Wilfred Owen Manuscript Archive

 

Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth

Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth

In 14 short lines, in Anthem for Doomed Youth” Wilfred Owen takes us deep into the horror of the war…

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out3 their hasty orisons.4

No mockeries5 now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented6 choirs of wailing shells; 

And bugles7 calling for them from sad shires.8

What candles9 may be held to speed them all? 

Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes 

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 

The pallor10 of girls’ brows shall be their pall; 

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 

And each slow dusk11 a drawing-down of blinds.

 

  At the very end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front and on 1 October 1918 he led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt.

  However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, he was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents’ house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross. His poetry continues to challenge and to stand as a rebuke. Most memorably, at the conclusion of today’s readings of poetry we will hear his “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

World War One

Why are we having these readings? Why have we launched a living archive to record the memories of families whose loved ones went to war? It is simply that we owe it to that generation never to forget and to pledge ourselves anew in our own times and in our own generation to do all we can to avert the carnage and brutality  – the ultimate failure which war always represents. Although, one day,  we may be called upon to defend our liberties and our values, the events we will commemorate in 2014 should surely instil into us a deep and renewed commitment to work unstintingly for peaceful and rational solutions to man-made challenges and problems.

 Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

World War One 2World War One 2

world War One 3World War One 4

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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 What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Share this text …?

·Twitter

·Pinterest

 

Zdenka Fantlova’s The Tin Ring and Vasily Grossman’s The Road – remembering the realities of the Holocaust.

Before attending a performance of the powerful drama, The Tin Ring, brilliantly brought to life by Jane Arnfield in the intimacy of Mr.Speaker’s House at Westminster, I hadn’t known that Zdenka Fantlova would be in the audience.

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

It would be impossible not to be profoundly moved by the poignant and harrowing story of this now elderly woman. And where better to be challenged to affirm life over death and love over hate, than in the heart of the British Parliament – a building which also survived Nazi attempts to destroy it, along with the democratic values it represents.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

As The Tin Ring unfolds we learn that, somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the concentration camps, and somehow survived.

Somehow, she had retained and never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.

And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring takes us into Dante’s Hell but here is someone who has survived and emerged to give the lie to Hitler’s confident belief that he could act with impunity and never be held to account; someone who is able to speak for the countless mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers whose kith and kin were slaughtered; someone able to channel the suffering, pain, and their shocking loss into a defiant testimony.

Zdenka’s story reminds us how great is the power of true humanity; the greatness of the power of love; the triumph of life over the ideology and culture of death. Here is a love story to rebuke the evil hate story of the Shoah.

Arno’s tin ring comes to represent love, hope, truth and life itself.

The narrative reminds an all too easily forgetful world of the savagery of the Holocaust: the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.

The political and moral consequences of this collective amnesia – let alone the catastrophic human consequences – are appalling.

The Tin Ring uses the powerful medium of drama to address this danger of collective forgetfulness and obscene attempts to rewrite or minimise the history of those times.

But if collective memory is to have any purpose it must surely prompt us to reflect on reports, at home, of anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of minorities.

What, too, does it say to us about contemporary and horrific genocidal events overseas, from Sudan to North Korea, from Syria to Burma. Or do we mimic Neville Chamberlain’s infamous remark, as Hitler invaded Zdenka’s Czechoslovakia, that it was “a far away country about which we know very little.”

After the Holocaust world leaders declared “never again” – and after every subsequent genocide, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo, Burma, Kosovo, and the rest, they have said exactly the same thing.

We need to understand gross inhumanity precisely because it has, does, and will happen all over again.

Not long after watching the Tin Ring a friend gave me a copy of Vasily Grossman’s book, The Road.

It’s a collection of essays and short stories. Some were written after he had written first hand reports of the Battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press. Grossman – from a Russian secular Jewish background – sees the Communist USSR as the only hope in the struggle against Nazism. After Stalingrad he travels West with the Red Army and takes first hand accounts of the  industrial scale inhumanity which characterised Treblinka. My friend rightly says that The Road “should be compulsory reading for those for whom World War Two is ancient history – as a reminder of how lucky we are to be living in era of relative tranquillity.”

The Road is an amazingly powerful account of the sheer depths of evil to which man can sink. The Treblinka narrative is poignant and disturbing and Grossman’s belief in the Red Army and Lenin’s legacy, now entrusted to Stalin, is touched by a naively optimistic view of Communism. The later stories in his collection, affected by Stalin’s Great Terror and Purges, the Gulags, and the suppression of his own writing, leaves Grossman with a more realistic view of Stalin’s Soviet Union: and he was fortunate that Stalin died just before Grossman himself was about to be arrested.

Stalin died just before Grossman's intended arrest

Stalin died just before Grossman’s intended arrest

 

In reading The Road and watching The Tin Ring I was reminded of the remark of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, who said “do not ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man.” That same question is at the heart of Zdenka’s story, and Grossman story.

If we are to find the correct answer t0 Sack’s question “where was man?”  we will need to immerse ourselves in accounts like those contained in The Road and how good it would be if  plays like The Tin Ring were staged more widely and seen in universities, civic halls, churches and popular venues – prompting us to raise our voices and to take action on behalf of today’s Zdenkas and Arnos and challenging those who promote their own versions of twentieth century xenophobia and hatred of minorities.

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

  https://davidalton.net/media/  

Click on this link for the power pont presentation which accompanies this lecture and which is in the Media section of the web site.

Click on the linkbelow for a link to the video recording of the lecture:

http://maranathacommunity.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/maranatha-lecture/

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art

Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

David Alton

Thanks

I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this Maranatha Lecture tonight, especially as it gives me the opportunity to thank Dennis and Sheila Wrigley for their friendship and encouragement over these past 40 years.

Let me also thank Kevin McKenna for his work in organising tonight’s event.

Maranatha’s call for unity, renewal and healing has always been close to my heart and although all three of those words are each worth an entire lecture I have chosen tonight to concentrate on the damaged and wounded world in which we live and the need for healing in our own lives; in our families; in our communities and in our nation.

 

Explaining the title of the Lecture

 

For the lecture’s title I have used a phrase which appears in T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – the second of which is called East Coker.

East Coker is a village in Somerset, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and with evidence of Roman habitation.   Eliot’s ancestors came from the village and his ashes were brought there after his death in 1965.

Eliot, an American who took British citizenship and went on to win the Nobel Prize for poetry,  visited the village in 1940, as war raged throughout Europe; and it was against this fiery and chaotic background, and in this context of a nation facing catastrophe, that Eliot composed  East Coker:

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art”

The Four Quartets  (“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding”) are the clearest and richest exposition of Eliot’s Christianity and move us beyond the spiritual desiccation and sense of defeat represented in  his 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” and deftly take the reader from chaos to renewal, from damage to healing, from despair to hope.

The wounded, bleeding, surgeon capable of treating the distempers and afflictions visited upon us is Christ, the true physician: the wounded healer who applies the hard steel of the scalpel to cut away the infected and gangrenous decaying tissue.

Bloody and risky though it can be, exposing ourselves to this sharp compassion is the only way to new life and new hope.   East Coker is a call to put ourselves trustingly into God’s hands.

Anyone who has undergone surgery will concur – and I had surgery on my spine last year – the decision to place yourself in the healer’s hands requires careful deliberation and total trust. This is easier said than done in a world which encourages us to be autonomous and to believe that your destiny is in your own hands alone.

A twelfth century Welshman, Walter Map, understood that the hard sharpness of the surgeon’s implements is a prerequisite in the accomplishment of healing: “Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans:  The hand of the surgeon is hard, but healing.”

That Eliot had the healing of the nation in mind, as well as each of us as individuals, is clear from the war time context in which the poem was written. It contains profound insights into the human condition and the suffering from which none of us is immune.

East Coker is a poem about agonised redemption.

The Problem of Pain

 

It was written in the same year that his contemporary, C.S.Lewis, composed “The Problem of Pain”.   Like Eliot, Lewis, too, was trying to make sense of the troubling and unsettling perennial question of how belief in a loving and omnipotent God may be reconciled with the existence of suffering.

It was a problem which particularly disturbed my father, who fought at El Alemain and Monte Casino, and whose brother, an airman, was killed in 1942. How could God allow such terrible suffering? The temptation is always to blame God.

Why do some people die in car accidents and others do not? Why does a child get abducted or abused, and others do not?  Why do some families face starvation, civil war, life as refugees or become homeless, and others do not? Why were some of us among the tube passengers killed on July 7th 2005 by terrorists but others not?  Why Hitler, why Stalin, why Syria, or Congo?  Last week I stood at the River Tumen, in North East China. It’s the border with North Korea, where escapees are shot dead by border guards if they try to cross the river. Why them and not us? Why are Christians persecuted in Nigeria, Sudan, and 60 other countries, but not us?  Why do terrible things happen to good people but not others?

Straightforwardly, none of us know the answer to this “why” question. Our faith is simply incapable of giving us all the answers to these and other vexed questions.

In St.Matthew’s Gospel we are told He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt: 5, 45) and no explanation is given as to why this is so. Our faith simply gives us the strength to live with the unanswered and unmediated questions which besiege us.

Even if we did know the answers, our loved ones would still be sick or dead, others would be hungry or living in fear, and evil would still be stalking the world.

It could be that we have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.

Asking the Right Questions

Discovering the healer and His art enables us to find peace about the questions which cannot be resolved while questions like “what”, “how” and “who” – as in “what can I do to help?; “how should I put my private faith into public action?” and “who is my brother and my sister?” will deliver answers worth having.

It is against a questioning and doubting backdrop that Eliot writes the memorable stanzas of The Four Quartets – his last poem.

East Coker encourages us to spend less time wrestling with the question “why?” and to place ourselves instead in the hands of a “wounded surgeon” who is bloodied and wounded so that we might experience healing. The powerful metaphor of Christ as the wounded surgeon is accompanied by the metaphor of “the dying nurse” to   describe a Church which helps us pass through birth, life and death into Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Eliot understands that “time is no healer: the patient is no longer here” and that some questions are beyond answer.

Against the loss and pain experienced by so many, Eliot tells us that “in my beginning is my end” and that “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again”.

None of this may seem propitious but the poet reflects that “perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Eliot concludes East Coker with words drawn from the fourteenth century English mystic and anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who at the age of 31, while suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions of Jesus. Eliot writes that despite the unanswered questions:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one”

 

East Coker was written at a time of utter uncertainty for this nation.It was composed as Winston Churchill was telling the House of Commons, on June 18th 1940, that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

It was written as the German High Command announced that ‘The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation’.

It was written as King George VI, on May 26th called the nation to prayer and repentance – following which Hitler ended his general advance; a storm of great fury grounded the Luftwaffe; and, as calm settled on the Channel, some 335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk.

It was written as the German Air Force, that summer,  would send 800 aircraft to begin their systematic and lethal bombardment of our cities.

The survival of Christian civilisation.

 

In preparing the nation for the battle which lay ahead, Churchill cast up what he called “this dread balance sheet” which pulled no punches in carefully assessing the scale and the nature of the threat which faced our country at the hands of the Nazis:

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In every generation new battles have to fought; new enemies to be faced.  Eliot wrote that “Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation.”  Healing and renewal will go together.

Facing Today’s Challenges

The challenge today may not be aerial bombardment  but what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation, our British way of life, the freedoms and liberties which we cherish, must be defended in our own and in every time.

In the debris of wrecked and ruined homes, of prematurely ended lives, of embattled and frightened communities, must come the same desire to move towards the sunlit uplands and to do this we will need more than ever “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Only then shall in Mother Julian’s phrase shall“all manner of things be well.”

So much, then, for the ispiration behind the title of this lecture. What if, like Churchill, we were to examine the dread balance sheet of Britain today?

 

Christianity and Social Order

 

In 1942, while we remained at war, Archbishop William Temple published his “Christianity and Social Order”.  He insisted that “The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens…the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles.”

That is the challenge, too, for this generation.

The Dread Balance Sheet in 2012

 

To utilise Churchill’s phrase, if we carried out an evaluation of Britain today how would our Dread Balance Sheet appear?

A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti depressants. How has this made us freer or happier? In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that “The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe.”   It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket.

 

The Children Test

A good place to begin in examining the Dread Balance Sheet would be to ask how British children fare in Britain 2012.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”
The Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships.

A quarter of our children live with one parent, not two, and a third of these live below the poverty line. Many single parents struggle valiantly – and some very successfully – to bring up their children. But I doubt that many believe their situation is better than having two parents to shoulder the responsibility.

Men particularly need to understand that you may be able to walk away from your girlfriend or to divorce your wife but you can’t divorce your children and to them you have an unending responsibility.

In 2002 the think tank, Civitas, in a report entitled “Experiments in living: the fatherless family”, found that children being brought up without a father are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation; to have emotional or mental problems; to have trouble at school; to have trouble getting along with others; to have a higher risk of health problems; that they are more likely to run away from home and are likely to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that, according to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year.

Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

The Child In The Womb

Before they are born, each day we abort 600 of our children, some up to birth if they have a disability or defect such as a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome. Blessed John Paul II once observed that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” and that “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,”

The latest abortion statistics reveal that taxpayers spent £118m on abortions in 2010, of which £75m went to private clinics; that of 6.3 million abortions, just 143 were where a woman’s life was in danger; and that 48,000 people have had more than one abortion– some as many as eight. In the north west of England 24,933 people had between 2 and 10 abortions.

And consider three recent reports.

The first concerns a group of ethicists linked to Oxford University who argue that newborn babies are not “actual persons”, don’t have “a moral right to life” and can legitimately be killed after they are born. It’s called infanticide although they prefer the euphemism “after birth abortion.” A child is then represented as a threat rather than as a blessing:  

 

   The second, the result of investigative journalism at its best, revealed how nine British abortion clinics were willing to abort babies on the grounds of their gender. The Health Secretary branded it immoral and illegal but The British Medical Journal blog carried an article stating that sex-selection abortions were justified on the grounds of “choice”.

   The blog asserts that “health professionals, and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion, should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 “Our Kingdom” – a group which includes doctors, writes supporting this view: “… sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. Gender discrimination applies only to living people.”

 

   Once more there’s a chilling logic. It just a question of “my right to choose” – the slogan against which all our values are now shaped. The mantra puts “me” centre stage, not the needs of another; it promotes “rights” not duties; and it admires “choice” without a thought for the consequences. 

 

  Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to care for two patients, the child and its mother, and to unfailingly uphold the sanctity of human life.  Gender abortions are justified by this choice-driven, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.  

  The third story concerns a Court ruling that Catholic midwives may not object, on grounds of conscience, to being required to supervise or assist staff involved in abortions.

For me, forcing unwilling people to be complicit in the taking of innocent life smacks of neo-fascism, not intelligent or tolerant liberalism.

All we need to comprehend about abortion can be found in the words of the Fifth Commandment.

Apply those words to the eugenics used to kill 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome in the womb – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births. Now we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals.

Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

As we rush pell-mell into Nietzschean-style eugenics and ethics, we should recall those inspirational moments, remembering that people with Down’s Syndrome are human beings – not “a drain on public finances”; that disabled people would not be “better off dead” and that by allowing the elimination of the weak it is we who expose ourselves as the truly weak

Remember the sharp compassion of the healer’s art not the surgeon’s knife, or hypodermic syringe, used to hunt you down and kill you. Doctors should always be defenders of life not its destroyers.

Victor Frankl in The Doctor and the Soul said “sometimes the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies.”  One in five of our children remain“unfinished”, not making it to birth and many of those who do, never experience the beauty of innocence or hope.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that if you abuse and kill the child in the womb you are unlikely to have much respect for the child after birth.

Life After Birth

 

Consider that five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. In Edinburgh, figures published in 2010 showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers’ addiction.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds.  Samaritans say that ‘A conservative estimate is that there are 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents (10-19 years) each year in England and Wales, which is one attempt every 20 minutes” As they grow up suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that more than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year; that 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed in one recent year – a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million; that 7 million are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history.

26% of British households comprise just one person and on present trends, by 2016, 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person – a trend accelerated by family breakdown and phenomenal divorce rates – the highest in Europe.

This has led to huge pressures for additional accommodation and to toxic loneliness.

 

How we treat the elderly: better off dead

 

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet also reveals that our treatment of elderly people is fast becoming a national scandal, with an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

I was in China last week a country which still shows respect for the elderly. Here we talk endlessly about making it easier to kill the elderly by legalising euthanasia.

Instead of the sharp compassion of the healer’s art many legislators now believe that a lethal injection would be preferable.

A new Bill to legalise assisted dying is to come before Parliament and last week the Liberal Democrats said that we should introduce Dutch and Belgian style euthanasia laws.

Consider what this will mean.

In Belgium there are calls for euthanasia for prisoners and it is reported that they have been harvesting organs from people who have been euthanized.

In Holland statistics indicate that the number of euthanasia deaths in 2011 in the Netherlands increased by 18% to 3,695. This follows increases of 13% in 2009 and 19% in 2010. Euthanasia now accounts for 2.8% of all Dutch deaths. A House of Lords Inquiry in 2005 predicted  that Dutch-style Liberal Democrat laws would lead to 13,000 euthanasia deaths annually in Britain.

The proposed new British law would use the framework and provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act as a template – paving the way for the same outcomes. Instead of approaching seven million unborn children, it will be legions of disabled, sick and elderly people whose lives will be ended.

The proposals will be disguised with words like compassion and dignity but the reality will be doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people made to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians using the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Far from providing dignity in dying these proposals will sound the death knell for Britain’s outstanding hospice movement and palliative care. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us. The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die quickly!
The Bill is to be based on the findings of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.
Hopelessly biased and distorted, the Falconer Commission was stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers and was established by Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society).
The British Medical Association (BMA) – who oppose any change in the law – passed a 5 point resolution that undermined the Commission credibility by questioning its impartiality and independence.

The euthanasia lobby decided to set up their Commission because when two genuinely independent Parliamentary Select Committees carefully examined the issue they did not recommend a change of law.

When votes were then taken in the House of Lords it resulted in large defeats for their proposals (148-100 and 194-141). The last attempt at legalization in Scotland also resulted in a heavy defeat (85-16) for Margo Macdonald’s Bill in 2010.

For the record, and to give some idea of the scale of the parliamentary Inquiry, the Select Committee covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. Compare the coverage given by the BBC and others to the parliamentary Inquiry with the media circus and feeding frenzy generated by the Falconer Commission.

An unbiased and impartial account of this debate might mention the opposition to a change in the law expressed in Parliament – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – and by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law.

There is a systematic propaganda campaign being orchestrated by the media aimed at changing the law and for several years we have been treated to a barrage of propaganda. Even the BBC’s Radio Times joined the pack, claiming on its cover that watching a man die in Switzerland would be “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”.

The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life.

The BBC are in danger of being reduced to the role of mere cheerleaders, producing five programmes in the past three years in favour of a change, while signally failing to present the other side of the argument. But this isn’t just about bias.
The BBC’s recent programmes celebrating assisted suicide not only break their own Code about providing balance when discussing ethical issues but, even more seriously, they also breach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, published in 2000.
The WHO clearly set out the responsibilities and duties of the media. Consider some of these strictures in the context of the programme featuring Terry Pratchett and the euthanasia centre in Switzerland.
The WHO begin by reminding the media of the incredible impact which it can have in informing attitudes and behaviour:
“Media strongly influence community attitudes… media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”

The WHO points to the way in which television can negatively influence suicidal behaviour. One study showed an increase in the number of suicides for up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide.

They also warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved and warn against sensational coverage – which they argue should be assiduously avoided. The coverage should be minimized to the greatest possible extent possible. The WHO is right when it says:
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”

A person’s death should not be a form of prime time entertainment, part of the battle for programme ratings – dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.

In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage?

Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign.

Consider what is at stake.
Chillingly, Baroness Warnock, who shaped the laws which have led to the destruction of millions of human embryos, has said that the sick are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.

In case you think “putting people down” just “couldn’t happen here” consider the situation in Holland.

Just before Christmas the Dutch announced that they are considering mobile units to kill people in their own homes. 1,000 of the 4,000 euthanasia deaths in Holland each year are now done without the patient’s consent.

Not content with this, the Dutch say that 80% of people with dementia or mental illnesses are being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws. They say that the death-on-wheels mobile units are necessary because some GPs have refused to administer lethal drugs to their patients.  And, in March this year euthanasia clinic launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the anticipation that they will achieve 1,000 deaths per year.

These mobile death units are targeted at “unmet need” including people with chronic depression, disabilities, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and those whose request to be killed has been refused by their doctors. It’s as if the Dutch have forgotten the last time mobile death squads were deployed in Europe.
This isn’t giving people “dignity in dying”. Sending out mobile units to administer lethal injections, to “put people down”, will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable.

It diminishes the dignity and humanity of the sick and elderly and diminishes those of us who condone it.
Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

How many relatives would put an inheritance before a life? One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives and it would inevitably increase if we change the law. And health ministers, counting their pennies in a recession, will be tempted to go for the cheaper option – one Conservative Health Minister has already announced her support for assisted dying. A Bill allowing assisted suicide will carry the seeds of its own extension. If we allow it for some why deny it to others?

So how long before the Dutch mobile killing units arrive in a street near you?

To imitate Holland is unnecessary, dangerous and unethical.

As the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, puts it we have “a hard law, with a kind face.” We should keep it that way.

Lord Carlile says: “The real concern was, and remains, public safety — the potential for collateral harm to the great majority of terminally ill people from giving a few individuals a “right” to prescription suicide pills. The so-called safeguards… were paper thin.”
Baroness (Ilora) Finlay – herself a professor of palliative says we don’t understand the difference between euthanasia and indefinitely continuing inappropriate treatment:
“Doctors regularly discontinue futile treatment. But they don’t do it in order to end a patient’s life: they are simply recognising that death cannot be prevented by treatment… end-of-life decisions, which are made every day by doctors, aren’t the same thing as ending-life decisions.”
When the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient are met, requests for euthanasia are actually extremely rare. Less than 1,000 people persistently ask for it. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists are opposed to a change in the law. The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying  and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards.

There will be no requirement that either of the two doctors should have any knowledge of the patient concerned. It isn’t required that they should have seen the patient’s case notes – or even examined the patient. The whole casual process could take place over the phone.

There is no requirement that either of these doctors should have any expertise in, or experience of, the medical condition in question. And yet this is an essential pre-requisite for determining the presence of a terminal illness and for giving a prognosis of its course.

There are no arrangements for seeking an expert opinion in cases of doubt – what will happen, for instance, if a patient is suffering from cognitive impairment or their judgement is clouded by depression?

To suggest that vulnerable people could be protected by two doctors being “of the opinion in good faith” is dangerously naïve at best and deceptive at worst.

Such a casual system of assessment is totally out of proportion with the gravity of the decision that is being taken.
Proponents of change insist that public opinion favours such a change. But public opinion probably would re-introduce capital punishment, too, and are we to suspend prudent judgement in that case too?
Rather than imitating the Dutch, we need to get behind groups like the admirable Care Not Killing Alliance, to defend and care for the sick and elderly and to put our energy into extending compassionate palliative care and hospice provision, and practical loving support – let’s demand “dignity in living” with the same fervour as those who want to license the routine killing of the most vulnerable in society

Recall, too, the story that when Mother Teresa was the guest of the White House at the National Prayer Breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

She received the reply “It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them”. Care and kill should never be used as synonyms and have no place in the healer’s art.

 

The loss of human dignity and corrupted values

 

If we have scandalous concern for human dignity at the beginning and end of life Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet shows that the deficit is not much better when it comes to other vulnerable groups. 2,000 people  are sleeping rough in England the number increased by a fifth last year;  84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) are classified as homeless; the prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993 with 87,673 men and women are in our jails; gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day; the average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years; that one woman in every four will be the victim of violence in her own home during the course of her lifetime.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet   reveals that individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year.  At the end of July 2012 total UK personal debt stood at a revised £1.410 trillion – up from £1.406 trillion at the end of July 2011.

331 people every day of the year will be declared insolvent or bankrupt. This is equivalent to 1 person every 60 seconds during a working day.  Almost 30 of every 10,000 people living in the north west of England are destined for insolvency.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals a society where too many people think they owe nothing to anyone except the pursuit of their own desires.  We increasingly fail to participate.

Opting Out of Society

 

The Caravan Club and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have more members than all of the UK’s political parties combined. Just 1% of the population are members of a political party in the UK. We have come a long way since the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Club sat in the heart of every community. Trimdon Labour Club – the scene of Tony Blair’s Sedgefield triumphs – closed a year ago.

In 1951 the Conservative Party had 2.9 million members, Labour, 876,000; today they have 177,000 and 190,000 respectively and the Liberal Democrats have seen a reduction of their membership by 30,000 to 66,000.

Involvement in church life has also declined. While almost 2 out of 3 still identify themselves as Christians around 15%, 4 million people, go to church at least once a month – the fourth lowest attendance rate in Europe. Intriguingly many still claim a personal relationship with God but decline to make the effort to take part in church life. They believe without belonging; believe without participating.

There has also been a decline in membership of trades unions from 13million to 7 million in little over 30 years; and representative organisations, such as Women’s Leagues and the Mother’s Unions, also experiencing significant falls.

For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state.

Living and partly living: the abolition of man

TS Eliot could have had our diminished and dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are “living and partly living”, while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see what he famously called “The Abolition of Man”.

And how do we intend to address the deficit on Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet?

What can we learn from what has gone before?

During the eighteenth century men like John and Charles Wesley, their hearts warmed, as they said, by the Holy Spirit, stepped into the quagmire that was Britain then. Their new enthusiasm so alarmed the church authorities that church doors were literally barred against them.

In the fields and at make shift venues the re-evangelisation of England began.  The Wesleys, George Whitfield, and others, deepened the religious renewal – followed in the nineteenth century by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and then by the Catholic Spring and Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Manning.  The religious awakening was accompanied by a commensurate awakening of social virtue and work for the common good,and among the achievements of Christian social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labour, public health legislation, ragged free schools, and significant social progress.

A century later, in 1904, Joseph Jenkins led an extraordinary Welsh religious revival which brought 100,000 converts in a year. Many became the flag bearers for political and social activism. The chapel spearheaded reform and deterred revolution.

Through these examples of religious and spiritual revival we can trace personal renewal and then national reconstruction.  We can also see the path we need to take.  Having understood the Dread Balance Sheet and analysed the root causes we then need to commit ourselves to act.

Be clear: a nation or State will not survive for long if its communities and civil structures are decaying or if its rulers do not pursue civic virtues. A society where individual autonomy and individual choice become trump cards in every game lives dangerously close to the edge.   A respect for law, a sense of personal responsibility, public spirit and munificence, firmness of purpose, discernment and foresight, perseverance, and a sense of duty might be chief among the civic qualities to which we aspire; and our gifts must be used for the common good.

It is self evident that our civil society has become increasingly uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone and with a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue, and with no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.

We have created a dehumanised society where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

And what will be the fate of those who are only for themselves?  Eliot puts it like this in East Coker:

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…

…And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”

 

Does it have to be like this?

When Europe was facing the challenge of Nazism the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prophetically wrote: “The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”    

And to meet this challenge Bonhoeffer argued that we each have a duty to take a stand:  “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”

 Bonheoffer also warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself” while Dr.Matin Luther King said Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

In every sphere of life today we need plain, honest, straightforward men and women willing to speak up about the condition of our nation.

Like Bonhoeffer, St.Edith Stein died at the hands of the Nazis.

A German-Jewish philosopher, who became a Catholic nun she died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. At a time when the Nazi State was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill; and about  the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the State in which they live. Both society and the State consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities.  They are made up of men, women and children whose strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs, are all too real.

“The state is not an abstract entity. It acts and suffers only as those individual agents through whose actions the functions of the state are discharged act and suffer… Moral predicates apply to the state only insofar as they apply to the relevant individuals.’  

The State, then, takes its inspiration from the values of its citizens.

If Britain is to be remade it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the commons good.Out of the present malaise and crisis is an opportunity to proclaim a belief in human dignity, the worth of each life; the duty we each have to the communities of which we are a part: a call for an outpouring for the common good.

Crisis or Opportunity?

The Chinese calligraphy for the word crisis can also be used for the word opportunity.  Dire situations can be turned around.

Winston Churchill wept when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment. He understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause:  “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

Today, our nation faces a new common enemy and a new peril. It is both external and internal.  But it can also become a common cause; and one of the best weapons we have remains Churchill’s belief in those single words which we in Great Britain cherish: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

Britain urgently needs to feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art – and think what our country would be like if healing became a central mission of the Church in every family, neighbourhood and across the nation.

In the Four Quartets Eliot tells us that “The only hope, or else despair, Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

He is referring to the fire of the Holy Spirit and to “The dove descending breaks the air,  With flame of incandescent terror,  Of which the tongues declare,  The one discharge from sin and error … Love is the unfamiliar Name, Behind the hands that wove, The intolerable shirt of flame, Which human power cannot remove, We only live, only suspire, Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Touched by the sharp compassion of the healer’s art our hearts can be repaired and as we are healed we may then heal our families, our communities and our nation.

There is no other way and our task must surely be to persuade our fellow citizens to join us in seeking the balm of the wounded healer.