From Power To Peace

This quote and insight from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr still resonates today with the threat of a new arms race on the horizon:

“Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a ‘peace race.’ If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.”

Celebrating Robert Burns: The People’s Poet

“Is There for Honest Poverty”, frequently referred to as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, is a Scots song published in 1795 by Robert Burns, Scotland’s pre-eminent poet and lyricist.  It is a classic, and timeless expression of egalitarianism. It has long been one of my favourite pieces; its critique of pretentiousness is clear, as is its reminder of the innate worth of each individual, regardless of ‘class’ or any other labels we may burden them with.
Tonight is Burn’s Night, celebrated all over the world in memory of Burns’ life and contribution to poetry.
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

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If you’re struggling to work out what Burns is saying and the wider meaning, have a look at https://allpoetry.com/A-Man’s-A-Man-For-A’-That, where you’ll find a synopsis……in English! There are many other sites too that provide line by line translations – just google it……..

I would also recommend this short article by Patrick J Walsh entitled ‘Robert Burns – Winter’s Poet of the People’; it provides a Christian perspective on Burns’ poetry and song: http://www.thechristianreview.com/robert-burns-winters-poet-of-the-people/

Walsh finishes his article with these words with which I concur: ‘There is a mystery and eternal element to poetry. Burns needs no defense. Poetry defends itself by surviving. Listening at my window. I hear winter still whispering in its own white way as it did in Burns’s time. And in a fallen world such as ours, mankind will continue to seek the echoes of their own fallen greatness in his rhymes’.

Faith & Wealth

‘Every form of wealth acquired at the cost of other nations, and every kind of economic imperialism, debases the dignity of men and women, and is an infringement of God’s glory.’ Jürgen Moltmann.

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The view of wealth articulated by Moltmann, has a solid biblical foundation.  Specifically, Jesus’ teachings emphasise stewardship and the true value of wealth –  as a means of serving others and preserving, or indeed augmenting, their dignity. Consider Matthew 25:34-45 as an example:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

And then there is, as another example, the strongly worded warning found in the first Johannine epistle (1 John 3:17):

17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Against this biblical backdrop it is perhaps worth remembering the extent of wealth inequality in contemporary society. Drawing on the 2017 Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report, published in 2017, Rupert Neate wrote in The Guardian:

‘The globe’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, according to a new report highlighting the growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else.

The world’s richest people have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increased from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn)’.

That this is neither just, nor sustainable, is self-evident; the real test comes in developing strategies that ensure and facilitate a more equal distribution of wealth.

Holocaust Memorial Day & Mental Health

Friday past marked Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, and the International Holocaust Memorial Day across the globe. Each year people come together, from across religious and cultural divides to remember the genocides that have scarred humanity deeply and irrevocably.

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Many moving commemorative events have taken place; some have been very public events, whilst others have been very private.  I watched Auschwitz survivors gather at the former camp in Poland on the 72nd anniversary of its liberation, and I marvelled at the stoicism and dignity of those elderly survivors.  Having visited Auschwitz several years ago – an experience that I will never forget – I simply cannot understand why seemingly ordinary people can inflict such horrors upon their fellow human beings.  But then darkness and unfathomable cruelty are part of our collective human nature; for those that committed such atrocities, I am reminded of Proverbs 6:18 where it is written that there are those with ‘a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil’.

We now know the staggering statistics for the Holocaust, where six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered in ghettos, mass-shootings, in forced work camps and extermination camps. The scale of the suffering was, and still is, incomprehensible.

There were other groups of people that were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.  Consider political opponents, priests, ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsy people, Slavic people and gay people amongst others.  But there is one group that is sometimes overlooked: the mentally ill.

The Mental Health Foundation website published a powerful article to remind us that those with psychiatric conditions were deemed, in that most egregious of phrases, to be ‘life unworthy of life.’  The prevailing eugenic ideology in Nazi circles was driven by defective science and woeful ignorance.  The consequence of this was that an estimated quarter of a million people living with varying degrees of mental illness were murdered. That few people spoke up against this outrageous programme is chilling.

As we reflect on the voiceless and the persecuted, the question of speaking up and speaking out against injustice comes to mind.  As the Holocaust Survivor and Author Elie Wisel once wrote: ‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest’. This maxim is applicable today as it was before and during the Holocaust. Our world does not want for examples of injustice and persecution; it is therefore our duty as Christians to raise our voices, to challenge and cajole, and to remain informed and vigilant as to what is going on, on our doorsteps and in the world around us.

Every blessing,

Scott

Understanding The Former Bishop of Durham, Dr. David Jenkins

The former Bishop of Durham, Dr. David Jenkins, has died.  His theological viewpoints were always much more nuanced than were reported, or misreported, in the press at the time.  Nonetheless, what I thought was always rather striking was his espousal of a very publicly engaged form of Christianity, where the questions and answers were worked out ‘on the ground’.  As such he challenged unfeeling market economics and argued that people with the least power and influence should always be at the centre of government policy.

This balanced insight into the man and his approach was produced in 1994 to mark his retirement and is well worth watching. In my opinion we need more Christian leaders that are willing to challenge unjust social structures in such a tenacious and consistent manner.

Examining The Cost of Non-Violent Resistance: The Case Of Sophie Scholl

Bust of Sophie Scholl in the White_Rose_Memorial_Room, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich (Source: Adam Jones)
Bust of Sophie Scholl in the White Rose Memorial Room, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich (Source: Adam Jones)

The iconic and heroic figure of Sophie Scholl still speaks to those of us who espouse non-violence in the modern age.  Scholl, who was a member of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany, paid for her activism with her life. Her implacable opposition to the nihilistic ideals of the Nazi party led to the guillotine, a fate she met with dignity.

 The White Rose was comprised of University of Munich students and a member of the philosophy faculty there. The group’s modus operandi centred round an anti-Nazi leafleting and graffiti writing campaign, which began in June 1942 and finished just under a year later.

 Six of the most prominent members of the group, including Sophie and her brother Hans, were arrested by the Gestapo, tried for treason by a Nazi court, found guilty and beheaded shortly thereafter.

Playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag said of the White Rose: ‘It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the 20th Century… The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me. I know that the world is better for them having been there, but I don’t know why,’

 Sophie Scholl was driven by her conscience and her faith.  Baptised a Lutheran she was influenced by a powerful anti-Nazi sermon delivered by the then Catholic Bishop of Münster.  Indeed her faith was a motivating factor throughout her short life, although she struggled with it during times of eternity.  Some quotes come to mind:

‘The only remedy for a barren heart is prayer, however poor and inadequate’. (As quoted in a letter to her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnage)

I’m still so remote from God that I don’t even sense his presence when I pray. (As quoted in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl).

I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it.  (As quoted in Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman who Defied Hitler).

One of my favourite Scholl quotes, which is disputed, but insightful regardless of its provenance, is as follows: The real damage is done by those millions who want to “survive.” The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes’.

 A great place to start if you want to find out more about Scholl, is to watch the feature film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.  Based on historical evidence, the film depicts Scholl and her fellow White Rose members in a way that makes one think deeply about the issues surrounding non-violent resistance and the courage required to follow its path.  The film’s website is: http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/scholl_html/flash.html

Challenging Inequality On The World Day Of Social Justice

‘The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. This situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous. The World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all‘, so says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

UN Logo

Social injustice is pernicious and widespread.  Economic exclusion , discrimination and appalling levels of social mobility blight the world in which we live, and as Ban Ki-moon rightly says, most of the countries we inhabit.  Shockingly, recent statistics released by Credit Suisse show that the richest 0.5% of individuals hold well over a third of the world’s wealth (http://inequality.org/global-inequality/#sthash.WrSTo2E7.dpuf). And in the US alone,the richest 20% are 8.5 times richer than the poorest 20% (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trl80suN) You don’t need to be an economist to reach the conclusion that this is not a healthy situation to be in.

Inequality is bad news. It’s as simple as that. Linette Lopez writing in the Business Insider in 2011, focused in on Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, author of a book about income inequality, The Spirit Level. Summarising Wilkinson’s conclusions, Lopez states that ‘The basic thesis is that social ills, like crime and teen pregnancy, that have long been associated with poverty, actually have a stronger correlation with income inequality’.

Lopez’s excellent article looks at some of the most shocking statistics highlighted by Wilkinson.  These include the following (Note: you can read more at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trlpYzQH):

  • Life expectancy is strongly related to income within rich countries.
  • Child well-being is higher in more equal societies.
  • More children drop out of High School in unequal US States.
  • Murder rates are higher in more unequal US States and Canadian Provinces.
  • Mental illness is more prevalent in unequal societies.
  • Social mobility is lower in more unequal societies.

So the picture is clear and it’s not a pretty one.  Nor is it a new one. But we can do something about it.  After all inequality doesn’t happen by accident – it’s the result of governmental economic and social policy – therefore if it can be created by these mechanisms it can be deconstructed by them too.

The Christian witness to social justice has always been a strong one.  Who can fail to take heed of Isaiah 1:17: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’? Or what about 1 John 3:17-18: ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’?

There is much to reflect on today.  The ‘World Day of Social Justice‘ calls us to think how we, each in our own small way, can do something to make a difference.  The status quo is not an option. As Ban Ki-moon reminds us:“The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. … We must do more to empower individuals through decent work, support people through social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor and marginalised are heard.”

 

Iran, Faith & Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Much media attention lately has focused on the difficult negotiations between the Iranian Government and representatives of what is commonly called the ‘P5 + 1’ (which consists of France, Germany, UK, USA, China and Russia). An atmosphere of distrust typically permeates such meetings, although recently this has abated somewhat.

What many people are not aware of, is that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei,  has issued a fatwa  (legal judgment) saying the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.  Indeed, on 22 February 2012, Press TV reported that Ayatollah Khamenei also said the following:

The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

Although there is grounds for scepticism regarding Iran’s stance, the religious impetus to opposing nuclear weapons has some serious history.  Those of us who are Christian know that most denominations oppose the use of nuclear armaments based on their indiscriminate and horrific destructive power. That some may justify the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is balanced by the abolitionist stance of the historic peace churches – the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers. Many of us would concur with Archbishop Renato Martino who once said: “Nuclear weapons cannot be justified and deserve condemnation. The world must move to the abolition of nuclear weapons through a universal, non-discriminatory ban with intensive inspection by universal authority.” Or what about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: “Nuclear abolition is the democratic wish of the world’s people, and has been our goal almost since the dawn of the atomic age. Together, we have the power to decide whether the nuclear era ends in a bang or worldwide celebration.”

But what of Islam?  Is Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa an isolated incident? It would appear not.  In an article entitled: ‘The Moral Case Against Nuclear Weapons‘ and published on the Methodists United for Peace with Justice website (http://www.mupwj.org/moral_case_against_nuclear_weapons.htm), Howard W. Hallman explores Islamic attitudes to weapons of mass destruction. Drawing on “An Islamic Perspective on the Nuclear Weapons Danger” as presented in the Muslim-Christian Study and Action Guide on the Nuclear Weapons Danger (pp. 21-27), Hallman presents “six powerful reasons for Muslims to oppose the production, deployment, and use of nuclear weapons.”

  1. They represent a serious threat to peace, while peace is a central theme of Islam.
  2. They are brutal and merciless, and thus violate the Qur’anic description of the message of the Prophet Muhammad (p) as “mercy to all the worlds.”
  3. They are contrary to Islam’s promotion of human fellowship.
  4. Nuclear weapons do not fall within the scope of legitimate self-defense.
  5. Nuclear weapons research and production waste a huge amount of resources.
  6. While the argument for nuclear deterrence is not un-Islamic in principle, and while such deterrence apparently did work during the Cold War, there is no guarantee that it will work in the future. Nor is there any guarantee that nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of non-actors.

So, perhaps there is much that unites our divergent faiths.  Mutual distrust and a lack of insight into the ethical underpinnings of our respective religious worldviews can, and already has, obscured the ‘bigger picture’, leading to firmly entrenched misunderstandings. But there is hope – a hope that we can work together to rid the world of these heinous weapons and to remove the threat of their use forever more.

 

Syria, Intervention And The Twisting Of Ethics

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The prospect of a military strike on Syria by the USA is causing consternation across the globe.  The sheer hypocrisy of the US position is staggering; here we have a country that has actually used WMD on a massive scale in Japan during WWII, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, but now finds it convenient to take the moral high-ground on chemical weapons (which incidentally they used in WWI).  What they also conveniently forget is their widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the devastating consequences this caused, again for the innocent civilian populations.  And then, more recently, there’s the use of depleted Uranium in Iraq – used of course by the British and the US forces).  In a recent article by

  • John Pilger in The Guardian (

Sunday 26 May 2013) he highlights makes the following point:

‘Among the doctors I interviewed, there was little doubt that depleted uranium shells used by the Americans and British in the Gulf war were the cause. A US military physicist assigned to clean up the Gulf war battlefield across the border in Kuwait said, “Each round fired by an A-10 Warthog attack aircraft carried over 4,500 grams of solid uranium. Well over 300 tons of DU was used. It was a form of nuclear warfare.”‘

Frighteningly, when Pilger went on to interview Dr Jawad Al-Ali, an internationally respected cancer specialist at the Sadr teaching hospital in Basra, he received a shocking insight:

‘”Before the Gulf war,” he said, “we had two or three cancer patients a month. Now we have 30 to 35 dying every month. Our studies indicate that 40 to 48% of the population in this area will get cancer: in five years’ time to begin with, then long after. That’s almost half the population. Most of my own family have it, and we have no history of the disease.”‘

If any other country had been responsible for such indiscriminate suffering, they would be accused of perpetuating war-crimes. But of course that hasn’t happened, nor will it because the people who are dying are weak, powerless and bereft of a voice.

It seems to me that unless moral ‘red lines’ are applied across the board, there will never be peace.  Picking and choosing which events to be outraged about is as nonsensical as it is disingenuous. Sadly, in the Christian tradition we all too easily forget what Scripture actually says on these issues: ‘So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  What is wrong for one person or group to do is wrong for all – a simple rule for a consistent ethic that values all equally.

Yes, the US is right in demanding a response to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, but military strikes are not the answer.  In fact they may even make the situation worse and draw other players into a catastrophic regional war. Moreover, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost and more refugees created in what is already an unstable situation. The conditions for a ‘just war’, which I’ve heard several US decision-makers refer to, have not, and will not. be met.

What will happen in the end is that a negotiated settlement, assisted by the international community, will need to be reached.  Bombing will not bring this to fruition – only diplomacy and sustained pressure from the International Community can do that. And once that is done the perpetrators of chemical warfare can be brought to justice.