I was happily driving along the M25 the other morning (don’t laugh) when I heard Evan Davis interviewing Gilbert & George on Radio 4. The interview had that smug ‘aren’t we all really clever’ feel to it that the Today programme does so well. Any possibility of critique or challenge flies out of the window as everyone wallows in their sense of artistic and intellectual superiority.
The heart of the interview was the invitation to Gilbert & George to share their manifesto for the Twenty First Century – they were participating in the Manifesto Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery. What was this great manifesto from these icons of the art world? BAN RELIGION x 3. They repeated this over and over with inane comments along the ‘religion is responsible for all the evil in the world’ lines. Here are a few of their gems: Religion should be banned because it’s criminal activity. The rate of suicide and murder is enormous because of religion. Religious people are wicked people committing crimes all over the world. We do believe that religions are just lies and that’s it. It was the stuff of fourth form debating chamber nightmares and I was astounded by the sheer inanity of these claims exposed to the most gentle of questioning from Davis. It made Davis’ questioning of Dragon’s Den participants sound like Torquemada.
Now I am no expert on the work of Gilbert and George but there are two things that stick in my mind. Many of their works are in the style of cathedral like large stain glass windows and these works frequently explore religious themes, images and symbols. So, much of their work in both style and substance is dependent on the very thing they want to ban. The 3 Minute Theologian nails the sheer vacuity of Gilbert and George’s manifesto in his piece Thank God for artists. The piece also explores their claims about freedom and politics, also expressed during the interview. I won’t bother to comment on those statements here, except to say they displayed the same intellectual rigour and depth as their wittering about religion.
One final irony was that the piece began by stating that the Manifesto Marathon was taking place near Speaker’s Corner because that was the place associated with freedom of speech!
How come Gilbert & George want to ban the very thing that they have based their career upon?
As a curate I played rugby for an old boys club. Each Saturday a converted van would draw up beside the pitch and the back would be opened. Inside sat a young man in a wheelchair, paralysed from the shoulders down and dependent on his full time carers to assist with his needs. This young man had broken his neck in the scrum while playing for the old boys and could only watch from his chair the game he had loved to play. The club did all they could to help him along with family and friends but not surprisingly occasionally the young man had severe bouts of depression.
The young man mentioned above came to mind as I heard the news reports of the assisted suicide of Daniel James the 23 year old paralysed rugby player. Daniel was taken to a Swiss euthanasia clinic in order to fulfil his stated desire to die. I can’t imagine what Daniel went through in the time following his accident, nor the pain and turmoil experienced by his loving parents, which led to the decision to end his life. I pray for them as they seek to live with the choices they have made.
However, I was surprised to read an article in The Observer last Sunday by Mary Warnock entitled Legalise Assisted Suicide, For Pity’s Sake. The first part of the article was a consideration of the legal implications of the James’ case and was a fairly straightforward rehearsal of the issues. And then came this statement: But the more crucial argument is this: we have a moral obligation to take other people's seriously reached decisions with regard to their own lives equally seriously, not putting our judgment of the value of their life above theirs. Mr and Mrs James have sadly and dramatically carried out this moral obligation.
Why is it a moral obligation? What is the ethical framework within which Warnock expresses this obligation? Warnock’s argument is the ultimate retreat to relativism – there is no objective moral framework simply the belief that each person should be free to decide what’s best for them. I say belief but it seems to me to be nothing more than an assertion. No explanation is given as to the basis of this opinion and this is pretty worrying coming from someone who for so long has been involved in framing the debate and law on a wide variety of moral issues in our country.
I first studied Warnock’s approach to ethics as a student when I wrote a paper on the Warnock Report (1984). I was looking particularly at what the report had to say about surrogate motherhood but it led to a wider exploration of the methods and assumptions underlying the report’s findings and recommendations. My conclusion was that the report was characterized by a secular, utilitarian and technological world view. The report came out against surrogate motherhood but only on the grounds that there was a danger of commercial exploitation.
I shouldn’t be surprised at Warnock’s article in The Observer. This is what she said in an interview for Life and Work, the Church of Scotland Magazine.
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.
I'm absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there's a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they're a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.
So let’s be clear. The reason for supporting assisted suicide/dying is that the person is wasting other people’s lives and wasting the NHS’s resources by continuing to live. A person’s worth is measured by nothing more than this. It’s one small step from saying that people have an obligation to die when they become a burden and another short step to saying that the state has an obligation to get rid of those who have become a burden. Let’s go all the way and make Soylent Green our blue print for the future. Soylent Green is the Charlton Heston film in which people were encouraged to embrace suicide so that their bodies could be turned into food for the masses.
But there is another way of determining a person’s worth. A person’s worth is not defined by their abilities or faculties but by the truth that they are created and loved by God and precious to him and we will be held accountable by God for how we treat them.
Judith Schultz is currently taking a degree in Pastoral Care & Psychology and one of her assignments for the next module is to conduct a small research paper on a chosen topic. She has decided to look at why clergy, in particular, blog. I have been tagged by Jonathan to give my responses so here are my answers to her questions in relation to her research paper entitled ‘WHY DO YOU BLOG?’:
1. Why do you blog?
For a variety of reasons:
to share information & news
comment on subjects that interest me
engage in debate on current issues
attempt to stimulate thought and elicit responses via comments
2. What do you blog?
Main areas: music, film, theology, work, current affairs, family news, sport, popular culture and faith.
3. When do you blog? (Is it every day, once a month etc)
On average twice a week.
4. Where do you blog? (From home, office, anywhere)
Mainly from home and occasionally office when there are work related issues. Also on holiday much to my wife's dismay!
5. Who are you blogging for? (Your intended audience)
Friends, family, colleagues and fellow bloggers.
6. Do you publicise your blogs?
No, except by word of mouth and via other blogs.
7. Do you check your blogs for comments? if yes - do you find the comments helpful?
Yes and yes. I always enjoy the comments and often they will give useful information, insights and links.
8. By blogging Sermons etc - do you feel that this makes the time spent in preparation more worthwhile by being able to reproduce it and hopefully to wider audience?
Unlike some colleagues I don't post my sermons mainly because, as I have commented previously, I don't believe a sermon is to be read but heard in a particular context. I prefer to talk about the preaching event because it should be an encounter and engagment; hopefully between preacher, congregation and God. I have less of a problem with a sermon being taped or video recorded - though it is still a second hand experience. Still I do enjoy reading colleagues sermons.
I've been tagged by Sam and asked "to list five people, living or dead, who influenced my spiritual path in a positive way."
1. Sam Ritchie, my dad. His infectious enthusiasm for the Gospel has never been diminished. He has taught me what grace is all about, not least through his ministry as a prison chaplain to some of the most hardened and dangerous of offenders.
2. May Ritchie, my mum. Her steadfast faith and love of God is at the heart of her life and ministry alongside my father. She taught me how to pray.
3. Chris Hingley, my tutor while I was an ordinand at Wycliffe Hall (85-87). I learnt so much from him and the rest of the staff about Christian community (which makes what has happened at Wycliffe all the more painful).
4. Justin Rees. Justin, the son of Tom Rees (famous for his Albert Hall evangelistic campaigns) headed up the evangelistic work at Hildenborough Hall where I was based in 1980/81. A gifted evangelist who encouraged my emerging ministry and showed me that there was more to life than playing drums in a rock band.
5. Various friends and colleagues in the Diocese of Chelmsford - whenever I am tempted to despair of the church their faithful service and commitment remind me of what it is all about.
I am looking forward to beginning a sabbatical in a couple of weeks. The main problem is trying to sort out three months worth of work before I go away.
The main components of the sabbatical are: taking part in a leadership programme called The Undefended Leader, studying at St. George’s College in Jerusalem during Advent, catching up on reading theology for pleasure rather than work and enjoying time with the family. The approach I’m taking with the reading is to look at a couple of books that take very different views on a subject e.g. on Ethics looking at Richard Burridge’s Imitating Jesus and Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality; other subjects include Richard Dawkins and Theology and Film. I have been trying to do some thinking about violence in film and how we respond as Christians, prompted by films such as In The Valley Of Elah and No Country For Old Men, and plan to get something down on paper / hard drive.
I’ll be blogging from time to time during the sabbatical and I am trying to work out the best way to post photographs from Israel so any suggestions gratefully received.
Living in Essex with a very understanding family (understanding of my mood swings relative to Man Utd's fortunes), a dog named Branoc, rabbits and chickens (when the fox doesn't eat them). Team Rector of the Great Baddow Team Ministry in the Diocese of Chelmsford. I'm also a non-residentiary Canon of Chelmsford Cathedral and I enjoy hitting and kicking things, which I call drumming. The picture in the header is by Nathan Brisk.