16 February 2011

Posted by DMC on 16 February 2011 in Diary |

Two highlights today-one affecting me personally and the other every other human being in United Kingdom. The first was Althea coming to cut my toe and fingernails and the second was a government announcement concerning their consideration of introducing our own Bill Of Rights and opting out of the European Human Rights Act and thus taking us out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. In any event, one thing that came out of this decision was that the government has been informed that they were not bound to follow the ruling of the European Court if our own Parliament decides otherwise. This sudden decision, on the part of David Cameron, almost makes me wonder whether he read my 31st of January entry on the subject!

Predictably, trouble is brewing in the Middle East following the overthrowing of Pres. Mubarak in Egypt. A number of other countries in the region, which had been run by dictatorship for so many years are now experiencing demonstrations from the public, most of which are being swiftly put down but I wonder how long they will be able to stem the tide and we see yet another dictatorship toppled.

During the long wee hours of the night, as the Scots would say, I heard fragments of a programme, on the radio, entitled Heart and Soul – Faith through disaster. How contemplating death in captivity challenges religious belief. The part, I was particularly interested in, was the testimony of two people who had been held captive by terrorists for prolonged periods, much of which had been in solitary confinement.

The first was John Peters  who was captured for  by Iraqi terrorists   and the second was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative, Terry Waite.

20 years ago John Peter’s was shot down a bombing mission, over Iraq, in the first Gulf War. He was kept in captivity for 7 weeks, paraded on television, kept in solitary confinement and tortured. At one stage, in his captivity, he found himself with his hands clasped together praying to God and then asked himself why he was doing it as he was an  agnostic. He made all sorts of promises to God if he was released unharmed but, in the event, when he was freed he failed to honour those promises and felt somewhat of a hypocrite for not doing so. He felt it was morally wrong. When asked if he attributed his release to the power of God he said no but he had a sense that he had been ‘looked after’ so he does now believe in a God. but does not go to church.

Terry Waite was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s peace envoy in Beirut, in 1987 and was there trying to negotiate the release of other hostages. He spent five years in captivity, four were in solitary confinement. He refused, during that time, to pray extemporarily, that is addressing personal prayers to God for his release etc. He did not want to plead with God, he felt that would be unsatisfactory but did find solace in reciting the traditional collects. Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee O Lord… etc. He felt this sort of thing, from the book of Common prayer, had more meaning when he was in complete darkness. He considers that the entire experience considerably enriched his life and one particular outcome of that was, whilst retaining his membership of the Anglican Church he has also become a member of the Quakers.. He did this because the Society of Friends, or Quakers, are one of the few religious groups who understand how to make constructive use of silence. The Quakers maintain that silence is an essential part of spiritual growth and development. (Indeed, my own children have both been on retreat weekends when, no doubt, they have indulged in complentative silence. Interestingly, Terry Waite did not consider that God had any  role in his release any more than he has in his everyday life.

The psychiatrist, on the programme, was asked if he felt that suffering helped people to grow. Yes, he believes that human beings do grow or, I suppose put another way mature, through adversity. Adversity, he said, can have positive effects as well as negative effects. He went on to say that  he has seen how adversity has had remarkable effects on the growth in certain human beings

One minister was asked how she explained that God allowed  inexplicably bad things to happen to people. Her rather trite answer was that God had given the human race incredible freedom to take risks and some things turn out well and some things inevitably turned out badly. She said that God could not intervene in a persons life to prevent bad things happening otherwise we could not lead normal lives. As God has given us this incredible freedom it inevitably means that sometimes tragic things will happen..or put into simpler vernacular, you can’t have your cake and eat it. She was not asked, nor therefore did she explain why innocent children are born deformed or suffer terrible illness for no apparent reason. They never lived long enough to exercise this so-called incredible freedom. It really cannot be very comforting to the parents of such children to be told that God moves in mysterious ways his miracles to perform.

Why am I bothered to recite so much of this short programme?. Well, all of us who are living under a death sentence, such as MND patients, are facing such adversity and all have their own way of dealing with it.

Mine is to try to live every day as it comes. I strive to get some enjoyment out of it whilst I’m still able but always being aware of the inevitable horrible end that I may have to face. Having said that I have absolutely no  fear of death. I am an atheist, as much as anything because I have read and considered the origins of the universe. The so-called ‘ Big Bang’ 13,500 billion years ago where a speck of dense matter, 1 billionth of a trillionth, of a trillionth 1 mm in diameter, expanded into the universe which we see in the heavens today, and indeed, we are told, continues to expand.  (I have to take the scientists finding on this and confess I have  not worked it out for myself!) Before this event apparently time did not exist. I have also read and considered the birth of this planet, 4500 billion years ago, and how, from the primaeval slime, a single cell life evolved by the presence of various chemicals and other factors and how from this beginning all forms of life evolved. . Where then is God’s role in this process other than perhaps being responsible for the presence of that speck in the first instance?

I can quite see that  belief in a God can give comfort to someone who is terminally ill, who like many faces death in the foreseeable future. Personally I really hope  that there is no afterlife. I’ve done my best here, have no regrets and when I go I want it to be for ever and not to find myself sitting on a cloud somewhere with an out of tune harp! Of course, the clever thing is to believe. That way you have a two-way bet if you are wrong you’ve lost nothing, butt if you are right clearly you will be at the front of the queue when you reach the pearly gates.


  • barbara says:

    In my opinion this is your finest entry thus far. Thank you for writing it, and sharing it.

  • caroldiane says:

    Dear Mark

    Regarding: Being “Saved,” the “Pearly Gates,” and the privilege you and I may enjoy: playing devout music on an ill-tuned Harp:

    “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.”
    Bertrand Russell (1953)

    And now I will go one step further and express my horror of, and disdain for the anthropocentric viewpoint. During a recent, heated exchange with a friend, my parting salvo was, “Drop dead, you anthropocentric lightweight!”

    I can be be very rude. I am betting I do not gain admittance.

  • DMC says:

    As always, dear Barbara, you’re encouraging comments inspire me to continue in the same vein,although I will mix these rather lengthy discursive entries with short punchy ones.



  • karl v says:

    On the subject of God’s apparent vanity – and having myself delved into Bertrand Russell’s book “Why I Am Not A Christian” – I remember being sufficiently dissatisfied that I was provoked rather confrontationally to ask my mother’s vicar as he visited to introduce himself to his new parishioners a few years back, “Why is God so vain that he has to be worshipped?”

    I didn’t receive a satisfactory response at the time, but I have since achieved an answer that I think satisfies me – namely that God acknowledges that all humans, in their very nature, are, to a greater or a lesser extent, “addicts”: we have to have SOMETHING to worship … for some it will be money, for others fame or power or achievement or alcohol or sex or drugs … and it is in that context that he demands our worship, not through vanity, but to replace an idolatry that may be intrinsically harmful to us with one that is intrinsically uplifting and positive.

    Hope that doesn’t sound too trite!

  • DMC says:

    Karl. Thank you for sharing your personal view on such a profound issue. I certainly do not think your answer is trite. However, forgive me, but I cannot share your clearly deeply considered conclusion on this seemingly incomprehensible question. I do not find it convincing. I can honestly say, to the best of my belief, I have never been addicted to anything. I just live. Perhaps this explains why I do not have a need to believe in God.
    However, having said that, I certainly agree that to substitute an addiction for one of the many things you mentioned, for a belief in God (which is not to say worship God), can only be of great benefit to the person previously addicted.

  • barbara says:

    Dear, Mark
    In case you didn’t know, \CarolDiane\ is my seldom-used nom de plume.
    Pretty fancy, eh?


  • DMC says:

    OK, Babs, I’ve got it!

  • John Garton-Jones says:

    My dear Mark,

    As you are no doubt aware I have had serious doubts about the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent omniscient God without moral flaw, with aseity and worthy of worship since my dear wife Mary’s illness and death. After three years of investigation and reading I have come to the conclusion that there is no means of knowing whether or not such a god exists, Indeed the evidence seems to be to the contrary. I have been surprised by the ignorance of those whose calling is to teach Christian beliefs and also of those who unquestionally believe in the existance of such a deity. In the many discussions I have had with members of the clergy all have failed to answers any of my questions falling back eventually on the claim “it is a matter of faith”. However, asked to explain the Biblical definition of faith there is usually silence, and none could quote it accurately and most not quote it at all. I quote it from Hebrews “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”, which is I suggest incoherent and meaningless. I have yet to be given a comprehensible explanation.

    All strength to you, Mark, for your courage in speaking what you perceive to be the truth, however uncomfortable it may be to others. You display a huge strength which believers lack as they need a god on whom to fall back.

    Mary and I never knew about your Bir Fukum incident in Aden!

    With very best wishes,


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