Friday, 23 April 2010

Remembering the dead

Recently I was driving the support vehicle for a charity cycle ride in France. It was a sunny day, I had time to spare, and I saw a sign to a nearby British Commonwealth War Grave site. I decided to pay it a visit. It was a small site, with maybe 50 or so graves in an immaculately tended grassy dip between two nondescript fields. Amongst the 50 graves were those of South Africans, Indians, Canadians and individuals from all parts of the UK. There were Christian, Jewish and Hindu symbols. The plaque explained that this was the site of a Field Dressing Station (a temporary military hospital set up on the battlefield). The dates of death closely correlated with some of the largest battles in the area in 1915 and 1916.

Clearly I did not know any of these people, and their relatives will all be long dead, and yet here in this little cemetery their graves are still tended with great dedication, and in the record book kept at the site the details of the date and cause of death are recorded, for all to see for many years to come.

A little further along the road was a civilian peacetime graveyard. Each memorial seemed designed to try to outdo the others, and many were like small houses. Many of those remembered by these impressive tombs would probably now have no living descendents, and yet their tombs continue to stand across the centuries to mark a life otherwise forgotten.

Contrast this with the remebrance of my mother's father. He was a senior and decorated Army officer in the First World War who survived, and died in 1935 when my mother was 12. They had survived largely on a small Army pension since the War, and there was no money for a memorial. I know the graveyard where he is buried, but there is no trace of his grave, or even a record. Since my mother died, his memory lives on only in my mind. Mychidren wiill remember only the small fragments of information I can pass on, and within a few generations it will be as if he never existed. Whether a human's life is physically commemorated for future generations remains arbitrary.

I can understand the sadness people might feel at death as the end of everything, with the knowledge that with few exceptions memories of them will fade to nothing within a few generations.

Is it this that has prompted humans to create a supreme being, and an afterlife where their minds continue to exist, and to know that they exist? The thought of nothingness is too awful for many people, and this belief in an "afterlife" is comforting.  It would perhaps explain the fervour of many people's belief.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Let's stop fighting religion with religion!

In so many conflicts, religion is used as the pretext for conflict, and tribes are divided along religious lines.  All too often those in other parts of the World rally to the side of those who appear to share the same religion. Frankly this is muddleheaded.  What on earth does a Catholic in Boston have in common with a Catholic in Belfast, or a Jew in Kansas have with a Jew in Tel Aviv.  The simple response might be that they share a fundamental belief.  But so often, were these people to meet, they would realise just how far apart they really are, both culturally, and in their political and religious views. 

In the UK at the moment there is a frequently articulated fear of Islam taking over from Christianity as the dominant religion.  Often the reaction by Christians is to re-double their efforts to strengthen the hold that Christianity enjoys in this country, and to discourgae multi-culturalism. The thinking is presumably that by opposing it in this way, the spread of Islam can be halted.

Surely fighting the spread of Islam in this way is like fighting fire with fire.  Wouldn't it be wiser to break the cycle of defending one religion aganst another by instead promoting a fully secular society, where religion itself is marginalised and removed from mainstream decision-making?
Its time we stopped pitching one skygod against another skygod, and instead encouraged human beings to behave towards other human beings just as fellow humans, and not as alien creatures under the influence of a fictitious supernatural being in conflict with our currently resident supernatural being.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The S Word...

I see that Suicide is becoming a hot topic again on a few of the blogs I follow.  It's another of those emotive issues that is almost guaranteed to polarise opinions.  Having been around suicide and those who have attempted it, some successfully, it is odd to find people with no personal experience writing as if they fully understood the motives that people have for taking their own life.  Further these "experts" all to easily jump to an assumption that the perpetrator has full control of their faculties, is rational, and is fully aware of the implications of what they are doing. 
As I recently wrote on another blog, suicide was deemed a sin at a time in history when almost nothing was understood about mental illness, and it was commonly viewed as possession by demons/devils/evil spirits.  It seems that some people have not moved on. 
I find it shocking that these self appointed arbiters of right and wrong can burden the surviving members of the family and loved ones with such guilt and shame that one of their relatives/loved ones has ended his/her life in this way.  Again, where is the compassion, understanding, sensitivity and plain common decency!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Christians and Homosexuality

It's sad to see the Christian Church so torn by the homosexual issue.  There's recently been an interesting exchange between a liberal and conservative Christian at the 'eChurch' website; which I follow, and to which I contribute.  I was particularly taken by the following extract from a post by the liberal, in response to my question as to why homosexuality was singled out with such venom:

"...Your question as to why homosexuality tends to be ’singled out’ makes me stop and think. I’m a Mennonite and not an Anglican but from a distance what is happening in the Anglican Communion grieves me. Effectively Anglicanism is in schism over the issue. I certainly don’t envy Rowan Williams’ position. A sentence including ‘rock’ and ‘hard place’ springs to mind. I suspect homosexuality raises such ire because it appears to strike at the heart of social and religious stability. It’s natural for heterosexuals to react with revulsion to an orientation that runs against our grain. Further, at a time when culture is in a state of flux and the Christian Churches are wrestling with their own marginality in a Post-Christendom setting the acceptance of homosexuality seems to be a sign of just how much has changed. I believe one reason why the churches are having such a hard time with the issue is that we have spent so much time focusing on ‘family values’ that we have forgotten to value singleness. As a divorced and currently single man I feel this acutely. In the end I see sexuality as a test of the Christian Church’s hospitality, generosity and vision. I believe that centuries from now, if Christ hasn’t returned by then, the ‘homosexuality issue’ will be regarded as something like the abolition of slavery. Nearly everyone will say, ‘how did people not see that’. Right now it’s deeply uncomfortable for people like me, who refuse either to let go of Christian authenticity or a passionate commitment to social and sexual justice. Deeply hurtful comments in this thread questioning my Christian commitment and eternal salvation are an illustration. Of course it’s even worse for Gay Christians who are often treated as if the remainder of the Christian Church would like to have them ’surgically removed’. ..."