Anglican Newsletter for May
Since my April letter was published I have received a letter from a reader. It was addressed to me, not to The Editor and so it is not for publication. However, it did take issue with some of my comments – more than that the reader did not just disagree with me but was offended by some of what I said. I have replied apologising not so much for the content of my comments but for having upset him. I am pleased that someone has read what I have written – I am also pleased that it did not come over as just bland nothingness. On the other hand it is not for me to go around casually hurting people’s feelings, nor to purport to pontificate on anything and everything in the name of the Anglican Church. I can only say that it is not my wish or intention to do those things. I do not speak for the Anglican Church but from it. Nor do I wish to suppress my own opinions about things, especially if they have the effect of making readers think about their positions and, if appropriate, to take up (verbal) arms against me.
I am sure The Editor would welcome hearty discussion on most topics, even if, at some stage, he had to call a halt to impending fisticuffs.
Aw I write, there is a minor spat going on over the BBC’s decision to ban a recording of a song which reviles the late Lady Thatcher, issued within a day or two of her death and days before her funeral. I have heard the name of the song, but it was pretty horrible and I have forgotten it and do not want to be reminded of it nor of the band which sings it. I understand it is in the Top 40 and Paul Gambiccini has expressed the view that it is therefore part of the ‘News’ and for that reason it should be mentioned and possibly the first line played, even if no more.
There is no doubt that in her years as an active politician Thatcher earned fans and enemies, with not many in between. In these days of bland politics, it is remarkable that we can generate politicians like Thatcher and Blair who are loved and hated in almost equal measure – interestingly both of them are very highly respected out of the UK! BUT, we live in a society where we do have a large measure of free speech, despite recent press scandals (too much free speech!) and despite the way our politicians are now effectively muzzled by the aggressive interviewing they are exposed to (Mr Day, what did you start?!) – and that’s the way I personally want it to continue.
So, until The Editor or my wife or my increasingly aged condition pull the plug on me, I hope to continue to express opinions that may well be ill-informed (but if we all waited to be well informed before speaking out, there would be NO speech), or wrong, but at least are honest and hopefully not too pedantic or oppressive. It is more difficult for me to monitor the way in which I express myself and that is what causes offence more often that what it is I actually want to say. I am, as most of us, locked into the habits of a lifetime and I am usually unaware of my wife’s and colleagues’ winces as I speak out too carelessly at the expense of the hurt feelings of others. So a shotgun scattering of apologies to all those whose toes I attack from time to time.
My conclusion is that the BBC is wrong to suppress what is probably merely horrible and in awful taste, so long as no laws are being broken. I also think they are right (but I am still very poorly informed about the full circumstances!) to broadcast on Panorama the film about North Korea, which the LSE wishes to suppress, because they feel the BBC recklessly placed and are placing some of their students in danger. The film is important, even if the BBC did it all wrong and should be brought to book on that account – have to wait and see on that count, as the full facts are far from being public knowledge yet. I also think they are right to want to put long hours of the Thatcher funeral on TV, not that I personally shall be wanting to watch, because she was very important in the affairs of this country in the second half of the twentieth century, however much some people would like her name struck out of history – can’t do that, she is part of history, like it or not.
I am afraid I finish up fully aware that I am prepared to hurt feelings or see feelings hurt (sometimes quite badly) in order to ensure that we have full access to truth. There are inevitable casualties as life carries on. What is important is that we keep the level of damage to acceptable levels (no phone hacking of private individuals who are really not important in the big scheme of things) and that, when damage is done, we compensate appropriately and comfort the damaged in meaningful ways.
These appear to come over as platitudes unfortunately. But they are not to be dismissed so easily. Thatcher may have said ‘there is no society’, but that it quite wrong whether taken out of context or not. Our humanity lies only in our relationships. The ancient divines who sat for 20 years on the top of a pole in the middle of a desert, dropping a basket down for the occasional bun and water were not really doing much good for anyone, least of all for themselves. None of us is an island. You do not have to be a Christian (but it helps!) to understand that we have a real, ongoing and never-ending responsibility for every other human being, including the memory of those long gone and the lives and comforts of those yet to come. ‘Love your neighbour’ is the Christian way of expressing this and those three words are an excellent summary of this ‘law’. So we are obliged not to needlessly cause pain, but we are also obliged to do what is necessary (and possibly hurtful) from time to time. I can’t, and I am confident no one else can, define the line between these two positions – every person and situation is unique.
As human beings, we are clever enough and compassionate enough to get this right. Most members of most of the big international religions are especially focussed on how to get this right. The arguments against the fundamental beliefs of those religions are presented by fulminating atheists, but that does not undermine and should not condemn the very real contribution of the religious and their religions to the need for us all to love our neighbours. In a country which is increasingly unaware of and uninterested in religion, I think that Christians at least would do well to concentrate on presenting and living out this vital aspect of our beliefs (our commitment to the well-being of others, including the Thatchers and Blairs and BBCs that we all love to hate from time to time) and to major less on the well publicised spats over dogma, which in future centuries will be derided as much as we now sneer at the learned debates between divines of the past over such pressing issues as how many angels could party together on the head of a pin.