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

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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.

Yanbian University of Science and Technology Lecture, September 2012. Turning Dreams Into Realities.

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“Turning Visions Into Reality – Dream, Plan, Achieve.” Yanbian University of Science and Technology, Jilin, September 2012. Delivered on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the university at Yanji in North East China.

 https://davidalton.net/media/  – click here for power point presentation to accompany talk (scroll down list to Yanbian (YUST)  Lecture.

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/index_124527.htm

It is a great pleasure for me to be at Yanbian today at the invitation of your founder and President, Dr. James Kim – for whom I have the highest admiration.

Dr.Kim says “I believe in the power of education”– and so do I. Dr.Kim believes that “education can plant seeds of the values that are critical in reaching our desired end. These values include understanding; respect; sacrifice and reconciliation.” I believe that too.

We also both know the truth of the Chinese proverb that says “if you want to plant for one season, plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, give a young man or woman an education.”

 The purpose of education must be – as my own university in Liverpool puts it – to help young people dream, plan and achieve – to turn your dreams into realities.

What Has Gone Before

Almost three thousand years ago, in the Book of Joel (2:28) comes the prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.”

   And in the Book of Proverbs (29:18) it states that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

   What those sentiments anticipate is a generation of leaders who will speak with insight, have a clear vision of the future, govern wisely and act justly in both promoting the common good and in providing security and protection for their people.

Writing in the same millennium as Joel, Confucius offered sage advice about how anyone hoping to enter public life should first prepare:

  “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

A similar thought was captured by Mahatma Gandhi who said:You must be the change you want to see in the world”

   The Nobel Peace Laureate and eighth President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, understood the importance of personal transformation as the preparation for political life. In his Prison Letters, he wrote that:

“We have to be reborn every day and make fresh progress every day. The object of our conquest is ourselves. We have to fight and conquer that self that is complacent, the self that tries to escape, the self that is arrogant and the self that is carried away by a single moment of success.”  

   For tomorrow’s leaders – that is your generation – facing today’s challenges – what Gandhi was signifying was the centrality of personal transformation.

 

Life Without Values

  Without such change, political life can be a game of charades where its participants are seduced by the allure of power; where, in a Faustian Pact to obtain self advancement, they trade the principles they once espoused and the ideals they once embraced.

  A key objective for tomorrow’s leaders must be the promotion of harmony: harmony in our world, between nations, between cultures, between beliefs, between mankind and the natural world. When we bring together of our thoughts, our words and our actions, that is harmony.

Harmony and Peace

The Asian belief in the centrality of harmony is something which the West needs to understand and embrace. In ancient Chinese Taoist thought all reality is determined by constantly changing relationships and by the harmonious complementarity of the two primal principles of Ying (the receptive, feminine, the earth) and Yang (the creative, masculine, heaven).

Hinduism sees the idea of ahimsa as pivotal.  Ahimsa proclaims a rejection of the use of force and all that is harmful. For Mahatma Gandhi the ancient ahimsa was promoted as non-violence in all spheres of life including the political realm.

A second objective must be compassion and the promotion of peace.

For the Buddhist all life is suffering.  But karuna – the concept of compassion in Buddhism – mitigates the suffering through an outpouring of compassion and encourages each encounter with humanity and nature to be based on loving-kindness.

For Jews the Hebrew word shalom (like the Arabic word salaam derived from the same word stem) has a more substantive meaning than the English word peace. Jews use the word as a benediction or a blessing and the implicit prayer that the person so greeted will reach a place of contentment, happiness wholeness and inner peace.

The New Testament develops this understanding of the Old Testament message of peace.  Jesus’ nativity is proclaimed as peace on earth; God’s kingdom is to be the kingdom of peace and righteousness; the Beatitudes praise the peacemakers as blessed and Jesus intensifies this message through the command to love one’s enemies. The disciples are told to speak peace in the name of Jesus after His Resurrection He greets the disciples with the words:”Peace be with you!”

Without this inner peace, and inner calm, which so many of the world religions foster, it is not possible to promote peace among the nations or within a nation; or to forestall chaotic anarchy and conflict.  But, once you have experienced this inner pace and inner harmony the challenge is to take it into the service of the world.

Service Not Power

 Political life should revolve around the concept of service, not power.

  Politics needn’t be a dirty game of power hungry self-seeking, personal gain, manipulation and deceit. If it does become an avaricious dirty game it will be because those who are playing it do not have clean hands. Politics is only as good as the people who enter it; only as good as their vision; only as good as their conduct.  The quality of what they do will depend on their willingness and capacity to become the change they wish to see in the world. 

  The sophistry is sometimes offered to the aspiring politician that, if only they can climb a little higher up what the nineteenth century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli described as “the greasy pole” of politics (“I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”), and then they will be in a position to change things.   But, by then, usually, the only thing which has changed is the would-be leader him or herself – and not in the manner which Ghandi had in mind.   If they have failed to master themselves, the effect of power on an individual can be disastrous.  

 

 

 

 

Politics As A High Calling

Aristotle, the author of the classical work “Politics”, saw political leadership as a high calling and the father of democracy held that shame would attach to those who refuse to play their part.

Aristotle insisted that that everyone should pursue virtue and work for the common good – koinonia – a rich word which implies active participation, common unity, relationships and sharing of gifts.

 Koinonia is not about constitutions or civic structures of government but about the qualities in mankind which made civic co-existence a possibility. It is about our inter-connectedness with Aristotle writing in “Politics” we are “not like solitary pieces in chequers”.

 

 

 

The Ancient Virtues

Aristotle’s ancient virtues remain for me the key to building a civil society:

Justice

Wisdom

Temperance

Courage

Magnanimity

Tolerance

Munificence

Prudence; and

Gentleness

But these were not theoretical qualities. Koinoinia requires action and through engagement and deeds we both learn and change.

From Virtue To Action

Let me give an example from British history of one man who entered political life and who, although he never became Prime Minister or the leader of a political party, made a profound difference to the koinonia – to the common good.William Wilberforce lived from 1759 to 1833 and entered Parliament as the youngest MP. Wilberforce was motivated by his religious beliefs but once said that “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

He identified the slave trade – traffic in human beings, sold for profit into lives of abject misery – as the greatest humanitarian cause of the day.  For forty years he dedicated himself to the abolition, first, of the Trans Atlantic slave trade and then to slavery itself. When he was on his death bed he was finally brought the news that the law had been changed by Parliament and that the trade had been abolished.

By and large, those who led the campaign for abolition of the trade were men and women of deep religious conviction, notably the Quakers, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe, Olaudah Equiano, Josiah Wedgewood – who created the medallion “Am I Not a Man and Brother”, John Newton, the Liverpool ship’s captain and slave trader who changed his mind and last composed “Amazing Grace” – the Liverpool MP William Roscoe and William Wilberforce himself.

Estimates of the numbers of Africans sold into slavery vary but over nearly four centuries about 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage.

 Between 1701 and 1810 around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the Slave Coast, where Benin is situated.  Around 39% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 17% to South America and 6% to North America.

 Many of the slaves shipped out of Africa from the Bight of Benin were taken to the port of Ouidah, which is situated near Cotonou, the present capital and which I visited .Not since I visited the holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel had I experienced such harrowing emotions.

 In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves.

 In his Journal of a Slave-trader, John Newton wrote:  “I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships.”

 The last letter written by the great John Wesley was to Wilberforce and asked “what villainy is this?” which allowed the enslavement of Africans. Wesley told Wilberforce to put his trust in God and to work for an end to such evil – “a scandal of England of religion and of human nature.”He told him to be a force for change and an “Athanasius contra mundum”literally to be like the 4th century Christian Bishop, Athanasius, “Athanasius against the world.”  Take a stand: be willing to pay a price. Take on the whole world if necessary. Be a sign of contradiction.

 What We Can Learn From Wilberforce

 

  Wilberforce’s story has great relevance to anyone interested in entering public or political life. His was the first great campaign for human rights and human dignity. It involved painstaking research; the production of newsletters and leaflets; fundraising; the creation of logos and eye-catching public awareness; posters; press reports;  public meetings; marketing and publicity; lobbying; petitions; boycotts; and parliamentary and political action at every level.

Wilberforce needed persistence – it took 40 years – and tempted though he was, he didn’t give up at the first discouragement and defeat. He couldn’t have done it by himself – it needed coalitions and alliances. It needed intelligence and passion. He invoked the importance of combining pressure and prayer. Wilberforce identified a priority – what he believed to be the greatest injustice and a cause to which he should give his life in political service and he made it his chief concern – rather than the gadfly’s approach, jumping from one fashionable or faddish cause to another.

The Relevance Of This Story For Today

 

If we want to put principles of common humanity and the pursuit of the common good into practice today we should first identify the cause to which we should devote ourselves. For some it will be the freeing of people’s held in oppression; for others it will be the safeguarding of the created world; for others it will be standing up for the dignity and sanctity of human life or opposition to the capricious use of capital punishment, arbitrary detentions or corrupted legal processes; for some it will be the championing of people with disabilities, or a despised minority, or an economically or socially disadvantaged group; for others it will be holding leaders to account, opposing corruption, working for democracy or freedom of expression, belief or conscience.

Wilberforce once said “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

If he were here today he would return to the cause of the suffering of his fellow creatures and to the question of slavery. Consider the following:

  • 27 million people enslaved today
  • ILO say this includes 8.4 million children
  • 700,000 trafficked every year
  • Debt Bondage affects 20 million people
  • Forced labour, child labour, economic servitude, racially motivated and caste based slavery all still persist throughout the world At least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide
  • 80% of the 700,000 people trafficked annually are women and children
  • Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organised crime (after arms and drugs)
  • Trafficking generates  an average of $7 billion per year: one year it was put at $32 billion

The popular myth is that slavery is a thing of the past, but more people are trafficked today than were enslaved in the entire history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most people assume that the slave trade was long since consigned to the dustbin of history by William Wilberforce.

In reality the trade in human beings is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent.

Those trafficked may be forced into prostitution or to work as domestics, as labourers, or market traders and in a variety of other jobs. Recent research suggests that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.

The UN believes it is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling; that it nets $36 billion a year to the traffickers; and that 100,000 Modern Day Slaves are trafficked around the European Union each year.

. People have been transported into many forms of slavery and not from choice.

They include children who are pawns in debt bondage whose alcoholic or drug dependent parents get a lump sum payment from traffickers to take their children to London or other cities to ‘educate them’. In fact the education is in how to commit ATM theft, pick-pocketing and shop lifting.

Then there is sex trafficking. Girls mostly, with threats of violence to themselves and their families if they try to escape or keep money from their ‘clients’ (2,200 brothels in London alone); and the cannabis factory boys – many brought in from Vietnam.

Of the 15,000 domestic workers coming to Britain a year, approaching 700 are likely to have been abused in some way.

Without political pressure from the highest level, fighting human trafficking will continue to be a low priority for the police. If the police find a gang that deals with arms or drugs, they are likely to be dealing with human trafficking as well. The criminal gangs are sophisticated, flexible, and not short of money. Demand and abuse go hand in hand. There is big money to be made by trading in people who – unlike drugs or arms – are recyclable.

 

Human Rights, Human Life, Human Dignity

 

But human rights abuses come in many forms and closer to home, in China there will be situations crying out for a twenty first century William Wilberforce- champions of human dignity, of good ethics, of the safeguarding of precious resources, of the principle of duty, and many other noble and good causes which promote the common good. Your task is to find the cause which needs you to champion it.

While you are students at YUST you must be equipped to reach beyond academic attainment. Young people must have the opportunity to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation. They need to have lain before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living – and world crises, ranging from hunger, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

Education of the citizen must above all underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of individual moral responsibility for their actions.

Unless we are able to conceive of ourselves as an agent or agents with regard to how we behave, it will be impossible to develop any sense of responsibility or judgement in the way in which we use science.

Gaining that sense is important, for it is often the case that a new scientific discovery can be put to good, ethical uses that can improve our lives, but will also have more sinister, unethical applications that will cause harm. In other cases a technology may be clearly beneficial in principal, but must be deployed with care, lest unintended side effects end up doing more harm than good. This is why it is important that the next generation of scientists are given a good moral education, so that they can be mindful of and differentiate between the different applications of their work, and carefully consider the ethical implications of the discoveries they make.

Let me give one example of what I mean.

In the last few decades, climate change has become a serious issue for the international community. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the planet is changing in ways that will adversely affect lives everywhere, but particularly those in less well developed countries, such as the equatorial African states where droughts are set to increase in frequency – we need only consider the events of this year, where many lives have been lost in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa – where I have travelled  – to understand the devastation this will cause – or the island nations of the Pacific, who could be swallowed up by the ocean entirely if sea levels rise as many scientists predict they will. Make no mistake, this is an issue that respects no borders and that all nations ignore at their peril.

Climate change is an unfortunate side-effect of the industrial age, a product of our short-sightedness in seizing short term benefits at the expense of the future. But just as it arose from the products of scientific progress, so the answers will come from the scientific community and from your generation. But you must always guard against corruption and the debasing of ethics.

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s so very easy to be corrupted.

In other cases, scientists may feel that what they are doing will lead to a useful outcome – a new treatment, a better understanding of the disease. Yet this does not mean that all methods are acceptable.

The seductive scientific argument that “if only” you would permit us to do this or that experiment we might make any number of useful discoveries gets dangerously close to a form of blackmail. It relies on the old canard that the end will justify the means; that unethical experiments may be used for seemingly ethical reasons. There is also an assumption that modern man is far too sophisticated and far too decent to fall into the sort of monstrosities characterised by the Nazi scientists. Yet, history teaches us that vain gloriousness and hubris attended by vanity and conceit are often the trump cards when men seek to justify their unethical actions.

So, you need to be champions of change whilst preserving the highest ethical standards and ideals. Nothing in science – whether it be physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology or neuroscience – can lead to the conclusion that the universe is bereft of meaning or intelligence or that we can be other than guardians and custodians during our brief sojourn on our small part of this great creation.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

The first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, says that “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

That love of the “the great learning” at the service of humanity should inform all that you do at YUST and inform your lives as you seek to turn your visions into reality and to change the world.

Let me draw to a conclusion.

Change doesn’t just happen by itself; and it may come at a price.

 

Change Doesn’t Happen By Itself

As a teenager I felt especially challenged by the killing at Memphis on April 4th 1968 of Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who five years earlier had given his landmark speech – “I Have a Dream” – in which he described the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence as a promissory note:

“A promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “inalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned.”

Fundamental change in the USA, Europe, and in South Africa’s apartheid regime – how we view colour and race – was ushered in by King’s sacrificial entry into political life. But he understood the price that would be paid to bring change:

“Change,”he said, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

Those who believe that politics is about grandstanding, sound-bites, personal aggrandisement, the pursuit of power, or a charmed life will rarely develop King’s bent back but nor will they have the satisfaction of bringing an idea or a great cause to birth.

Two months after Dr.King’s assassination Robert Kennedy also paid the ultimate price in championing civil rights and opposing racial segregation. Kennedy’s religious faith led him to a profound belief in the importance of individual actions, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth, and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face:       

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Robert Kennedy).

Looking at the world today, there are no shortage of great challenges:  – 800 million people racked by starvation or despair, living below any definition of human decency; at egregious violations of human rights,  from Iran to North Korea – where I have travelled several times; famine in Somalia and the Sahel; unspeakable violence in Syria and Nigeria, Congo and the Sudan; and at the domestic challenges in Britain which I describe in a lecture entitled “The Condition of England Question”, which include 1 million young people not in education, employment , or training,  and over 2.6 million without work – a 17 year high in a flat-lining economy and 1 million elderly living in toxic loneliness who don’t see a friend or a neighbour during the course of a typical week.

 We can very easily overawed – like the boy in Louis Stephenson’s rhyme who is dejected by the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of life and despairs that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all at all”.   As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “In this life, we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love.”

I often remark that we are not great boulders but small stones – and that it is small stones that must first move for a landslide to happen.  To take up this challenge, as Gandhi had it, we must become the change that we desire to see; and be encouraged by Winston Churchill’s observation that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Politics should always be a campaign of service where the love of power is replaced by the power to love. Politics should always be about service not self-seeking; virtue not vanity; speaking up for the powerless, not narrow partisanship; respectful of opponents, not the silencing of dissent; tolerant of difference, not the crushing conscience and not blindly accept the dog whistle of people who want you to follow them.

 

A Price To Be Paid

There may also be a price to be paid if you commit yourself to political service. Think of Kim Dae Jung’s years in prison. In the end he was not executed but political leaders may well have to pay the ultimate price.

Think of the fate, 18 months ago, of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer. One was a Christian, the other a Muslim. They stood together in opposing prejudice, terror and intolerance. Both were murdered.

Bhatti sensed the almost inevitable consequence of his courageous words and actions.

He said that his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.”

 The story of Shahbaz Bhatti is a one which should inspire us all. He was called to a political life and in the end he laid down his life for his friends: standing against a world which he knew to be unjust and which needs to change.

Shahbaz Bhatti life and death reminds us that change comes at a price. John Henry Newman captured this though when he reflected that:

 “Good is never accomplished except at the cost of those who do it, truth never breaks through except through the sacrifice of those who spread it.” 

  Like Dr.King and Robert Kennedy or Kim Dae Jung, Shahbaz Bhatti sacrificed himself for his beliefs and in the service of others.  Like Gandhi, his own life represented the change he wanted to see.  Most of us will never be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice but let us never forget Aristotle’s warning that shame will attach to those who refuse to play their part; and that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.  As Dr.Martin Luther King once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” while Dietrich Bonheoffer, who died at the hands of the Nazis warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

So, to turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s realities you will need courage and determination; you may need to go against the tide; to speak out and behave with intelligence and compassion.

You will need to cherish your dreams: to dream; to plan; and then to achieve.   I can think of few places where you will receive a better preparation to meet those challenges than Yanbian University of Science and Technology.

 

Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and has served in both Houses of the British parliament for the past 33 years. Image

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Minister’s reply on food being used as a weapon of war in North Korea

Hunger in North Korea – children suffer the most

Food Should Never Be Used As A Weapon Of War

Around 2 million died during the last famine in North Korea.

Food Security Summit

Question July 25th 2012

11.30 am

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, in the context where a malnourished child is eight times more likely to die than a child of normal weight, and where 3 million children are estimated to die of malnutrition every year, will the Minister undertake to look at the reports of our previous ambassador in North Korea, Peter Hughes, and our present ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme, who have reported on stunted growth, especially among children, in a country where 2 million died during the famine in the 1990s? Will she accept that, however much we may despise a particular ideology, it should be no part of our policy, or indeed that of the United States or any other nation, to try to drive a country into submission by using food as a weapon of war?

Baroness Northover

The noble Lord is right to say that there is a very high level of malnutrition across the world, which has a terrible impact upon the health of children. That is why the Government have focused very much on trying to ensure that this issue is addressed. I take on board what he says about this report. I will make sure that DfID sees it, if it has not already done so; I should think it is highly likely that it has already. It is extremely important that we ensure that food—and support for the ability of people to feed themselves—is available worldwide, whatever the regime.

Letter from Baroness Northover about Food Scarcity in North Korea – and food being used as a weapon of war

Malnutrition In North Korea – Question in the House of Lords

Food Security Summit
Question July 25th 2012
11.30 am

Asked By

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the agenda for the Food Security Summit that the Prime Minister has called during the 2012 Olympic Games and who will attend.

Baroness Northover:

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will host a major event on hunger during the London Olympics. He will bring together leaders of Governments, business and civil society organisations to galvanise global efforts to tackle undernutrition.

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, in the context where a malnourished child is eight times more likely to die than a child of normal weight, and where 3 million children are estimated to die of malnutrition every year, will the Minister undertake to look at the reports of our previous ambassador in North Korea, Peter Hughes, and our present ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme, who have reported on stunted growth, especially among children, in a country where 2 million died during the famine in the 1990s? Will she accept that, however much we may despise a particular ideology, it should be no part of our policy, or indeed that of the United States or any other nation, to try to drive a country into submission by using food as a weapon of war?

Baroness Northover:

The noble Lord is right to say that there is a very high level of malnutrition across the world, which has a terrible impact upon the health of children. That is why the Government have focused very much on trying to ensure that this issue is addressed. I take on board what he says about this report. I will make sure that DfID sees it, if it has not already done so; I should think it is highly likely that it has already. It is extremely important that we ensure that food—and support for the ability of people to feed themselves—is available worldwide, whatever the regime.

Korea’s Suffering Christians

Universe Column

By David Alton

Pope John Paul II has described the church in Korea as “a community unique in the history of the church.” Founded in the late eighteenth century the Korean Church is unique because it alone is the only local Church to have been founded solely by lay people. It is a church founded without missionaries and it is a Church which continues to suffer.

200 years ago young Korean intellectuals, such as Yi Pyok, read about Christianity from Chinese books circulating among a group of friends. In 1777 he brought them together to make further study. They met in a Buddhist monastery happily known as the Hermitage of Heavenly Truth.

One of Yi Pyok’s young associates, Yi Sunghun, travelled to China and met French missionaries. They baptised him with the name of Peter, and he returned to Korea in 1785. Within a year a secret church was established in Seoul (now part of the Cathedral campus). The authorities raided it and discovered a prayer group. The owner of the house, Thomas Kim, was so badly injured during interrogation that he died of the injuries. He became the first of 10,000 witnesses for the faith. In 1801 alone more than 300 Christians were executed.

Intermittently, itinerant priests arrived in the country – most were executed. For 35 years the fledgling church was without a single priest. Only one sacrament could be given – and thousands came forward to be baptised.

In 1837 a French priest, Laurent Imbert became the first bishop of the Korean diocese. Within weeks 2,000  had been baptised bringing the total number of Korean Christians to 9,000. Two years later he was decapitated, with two other priests. Hundreds of Korean Christian suffered the same brutal fate, including many members of the same family: fathers along with their sons and daughters, wives and mothers.

Typical was Peter Yu, aged 13, who was tortured on 14 occasions. In his defiance he even picked up shreds of his own flesh and threw them before his interrogators. He was strangled in the prison in October 1839. 150 years later he would be canonised.

In 1845 the first Korean-born priest, Andrew Kim, aged just 25 was arrested, stripped and decapitated.

The persecution continued until 1886 – with four generations of martyrs in one family alone. In a moving CTS Pamphlet, “Martyrs of Korea”, Canon Richard Rutt eloquently tells their story.

Today, in North Korea persecution has returned – initiated by its dictator, Kim Il Sung.

Becoming a Christian is a serious crime. Some who have escaped say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country.  Many are in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions, fed on starvation rations. Deprived of sleep they are crammed into overcrowded cells. They are unable to even lie down straight.

Meanwhile, China continues to repatriate refugees who have fled across the border. They return to torture, interrogation and humiliation. Any woman who became pregnant in China will be forcibly aborted to avoid the birth of babies “contaminated” by foreign influences. There are also reliable reports of infanticide. There are reports of repatriated North Koreans being corralled and bound together with wire being passed through their wrists or noses.

So Korea’s suffering continues and Korean blood continues to be spilt. Before we all get too worked up about American “aggression” towards North Korea we should be clear about the nature of this regime and the history of a people who have already endured suffering enough.

Speech on North Korea

Text of a speech given in the House of Lords on March 13th 2003.

For full text of the debate, click here.

North Korea.

Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy on the threat posed by North Korea to international security and to the human rights of its citizens.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity to ask a Question that I tabled last November. It allows us to consider the international crisis sparked by North Korea’s decision to reopen its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and its continued serial abuse of human rights. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who will participate in this debate, particularly the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who must be under great pressure at the moment. Many of us greatly admire the way in which she is handling her onerous responsibilities during the present international crisis.

Unfolding events in Iraq have inevitably distracted us from the arguably even more dangerous crisis posed by North Korea. If North Korea reactivates its plutonium reprocessing plant, also located at Yongbyon, it could reprocess 8,000 spent fuel rods and would be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium within weeks, accumulating enough material for about six bombs before the end of the year. The United States Government believe that North Korea may already have such nuclear weapons.

Some noble Lords may have heard the report on the BBC this morning from its state department correspondent, Jon Leyne. He reported that experts believe that the north could soon have a production line that could produce up to a bomb a month. The BBC also reported that sources in Tokyo believe that Pyongyang may be preparing to test a Rodong medium-range ballistic missile that is capable of reaching most of Japan.

As the former US Defense Secretary William Perry recently remarked:

“I believe that Korea is the most dangerous spot in the world today”.

In 1994, the Clinton administration concluded the Agreed Framework with Pyongyang. From its inception, the accord, which had a price tag of some 5 billion dollars, fell significantly behind its schedule, most notably in failing to deliver two light-water reactors in return for the abandonment of the highly enriched uranium—HEU—nuclear programme.

By 2000, while the North Korean missile talks were collapsing, North Korea had clandestinely recommenced the HEU programme. That was exposed by US intelligence in July 2002. Kim Jong-il conceded that he had broken the agreement. He expelled the International Atomic Energy Authority monitors and pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Since then, Pyongyang has been demanding bilateral negotiations with the Bush Administration, characterised in Washington as “reward for bad behaviour”. The belief is that giving in to blackmail leads only to more blackmail. So far, the US response has been very measured not only to the provocation of the recommencement of the HEU programme and the recent intimidation of a US plane in international airspace but also to this week’s ballistic tests in the Sea of Japan.

This evening, given the Prime Minister’s declaration that he sees North Korea as the next challenge for the international community, I hope that the Government will share with us their view of this crisis. Do they, for instance, believe that there is any realistic prospect of a new comprehensive mechanism to replace the 1994 Agreed Framework and a commensurate abandonment of the HEU programme and any possible plutonium-based programmes in return for a non-aggression pact? Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made in engaging regional players, most obviously China, Japan and Russia? Following the recent visit of Mr Bill Rammell to the region, what role are Her Majesty’s Government and the EU playing in creating conditions for negotiations? What is our view of the demands by North Korea for bilateral talks in contrast with the insistence by the US and others on a multilateral approach?

The Minister will have seen the view expressed earlier this week by Yoriko Kawaguchi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, that the UK could play the role of an honest broker. What is the Government’s view of that and of the use of sanctions and isolation, containment and negotiation? I hope that she will share with us an analysis of the events that would pave the way for the use of force. For instance, does the Minister believe that the United States would be forced to intervene if North Korea attempted to export nuclear weapons or directly threatened the US mainland? Can she give us an assessment of the dangers that she believes are posed to South Korea and Japan? Could she also explain what Mr Rammell meant when he said last week:

“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better”?

The threat to international security posed by North Korea may best be considered by way of pernicious actions against its own citizens. North Korea’s Stalinist dictatorship has treated its own people with unbelievable brutality and viciousness. The people are starving, the hospitals are without medicine and a whole generation has grown up stunted and mentally retarded because of malnutrition. Sixty per cent of the people starve. During the past decade, up to 3 million people are estimated to have died of famine, and aid agencies estimate that 70,000 children will die in the next few months. Those who dare to dissent are sent to re-education camps or to prisons.

I tabled this Unstarred Question because last October a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the country came to see me here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing. He told me how he had seen his wife, and all bar one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong-il’s militia. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route.

He encouraged me to read the prison memoirs of Soon Ok Lee. In them she describes in detail the brutality and barbarism of the system in North Korea. Anyone who believes it is right to appease this dictator should read Eyes of the Tailless Animals. It is Soon Ok Lee’s account of the sham judicial system, the show trials, the starvation, the forced labour, the degradation, humiliation and rape of prisoners. Through her eyes we get a glimpse of this corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical regime. I will place a copy in the Library.

Other noble Lords will return to the plight of refugees repatriated by the Chinese into North Korea. Some have been executed. Up to 300,000 North Koreans are now living in China. When returned, they face torture, interrogation and humiliation. Any woman who is returned and became pregnant while in China is forcibly aborted, supposedly to avoid the birth of babies “contaminated” by foreign influences. There are reports of repatriated North Koreans being corralled and bound together, with wire being passed around their wrists and through their noses.

In January, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jack Straw, about the failure of the UNHCR to enforce the 1995 agreement on refugees made with China. Mr. Rammell replied on February 12th saying that it was for,

“the parties involved to interpret their obligations under this agreement”.

I am sure that I am not alone in not being entirely clear what this means.

I am sorry that we have not taken a more robust position on refugees. I hope the Government will also review their rejection of the suggestion I made to them that the United Kingdom should designate part of the funds that it provides to the UNHCR specifically for North Korean refugees in China. Organisations such as Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have done us all a service by carefully documenting what is known about their plight. CSW’s president, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, had hoped to speak tonight but her commitments elsewhere have prevented her from being here. She wishes very much to be associated with what will be said about the plight of Christians in that country by my noble friends Lord Chan and Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.

Becoming a Christian in North Korea is a serious crime. Many are thrown into camps or prison, where they are kept in horrific conditions. There is evidence of water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and violation, as well as psychological and verbal abuse. Up to 1 million people are incarcerated in the gulags of North Korea. On 2nd March at the 4th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees held in Prague, the catalogue of human rights abuses was systematically documented. Professor Man-ho Heo, Professor of Law at Kyungpook National University, listed the human rights abuses in the detention camps. Again, I will place a copy of this report in the Library. According to the Sunday Times of 9th March, children of the elite, and, bizarrely, children born as triplets, are taken from their parents by the age of two. They are placed in special schools to break family bonds and to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the regime.

The regime teaches its children to hate the outside world, especially the United States. Simultaneously, the late Kim Il-sung has been elevated and is revered as a god to be followed with unswerving devotion. In 1998, Médecins Sans Frontières pulled out of North Korea because aid agencies were denied access to the so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children were dumped under a decree issued by Kim to “normalise” the country.

This repressive and powerfully armed communist regime has subjugated its own people and now threatens and blackmails the world’s democracies. It does so by threatening nuclear war unless the free world accedes to its demands. In particular, it insists that the international community recognises the permanence of its borders and continues to pay Danegeld. In any agreements made with this regime, human rights practices must be established and subsequently monitored. This was the process which was used by the US Government in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1972, and it should form an integral part of any political security negotiations with Kim Jong-il.

By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea, the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy. The creation of secure borders to the Soviet Union in 1975, as the Helsinki process ensured, led to free exchange of people, open borders and family reunification. The people very quickly learned the true nature of their repressive government. Helsinki’s animating genius was to elevate human rights into the most lethal weapon targeted at totalitarianism. The victims of the gulags became the icons for hope and liberation. This was also a standard around which the free world was able to unite.

Learning the lessons of Helsinki, we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties. We must also do more to promote democracy. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about what we can do to help, for example, through BBC World Service broadcasts to promote democracy.

By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.