I don’t know about you but the older I get the more pessimistic I seem to become. For all the progress in the world, humankind remains blighted by greed, poverty, war and hatred. It’s all been said before so much so that it has become clichéd and the power to shock has been lost – but disease, hunger, poverty and debt in the Third World remain endemic. Those who are well off – the people in the West and in the developed world – will dispense a few alms to relieve their consciences but they and their governments will do nothing radical to end a considerable amount of suffering if the cost is a change to their lifestyle.
By 2015 the EU hopes to increase assistance to poor countries to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. Point seven per cent: that should make us all feel fairly smug.
Two weeks ago the Irish Republic’s Minister for Finance, Brian Cowan, was not alone among European ministers in opposing a proposal for a voluntary tax on air travel to finance overseas aid to generate six billion Euros annually. The reason for his opposition? As a good Irish minister he feared that it might affect tourist numbers. It is obvious that any measure of meaningful overseas aid is going to involve a sacrifice somewhere in society. The vast majority of the public, it seems, is unwilling to make that sacrifice but is happy for the real reason for their stinginess to be masked by a minister who will provide them with a comfort-blanket of pretexts.
Last week I cited the case of two prisoners in Uzbekistan who were boiled to death during interrogation. Details subsequently emerged about US soldiers in Afghanistan who had beaten to death prisoners they were interrogating. In Iraq insurgents film and distribute on the internet for viewing the barbaric beheadings of captured prisoners – and they butcher these people in the name of Allah/God. The West’s leaders prefer to hide and censor the results of their barbarity – for fear of disturbing their populaces at meal times – but they too invoke God’s blessing (the Christian God’s) on their work.
God is on their side, they reassure their people, who then can feel good.
Free will, the freedom to do as we please and arrogance are often indiscernible.
Abortion has been legalised in many countries and is defended as a woman’s right to choose. Certainly, if I was a woman I would resent anyone – particularly a man – telling me what to do with my body. Many though believe that human life begins at the point of conception and that abortion is the destruction of innocent life. The laws vary but in Britain the law is that a woman can have an abortion up until 24 weeks into her pregnancy (the approximate time after which a foetus might survive outside the womb). However, with advances in science it will be possible in the future for a fertilised human egg to be gestated entirely artificially, outside the womb. Don’t think it won’t happen? Not only will it happen but it will be justified on some basis or other. Then what would be the status of a fertilised human egg? At what point do we define infanticide?
Last week two British scientists announced that they had replicated the work of South Korean professors who fifteen months ago successfully cloned a human embryo. Now, whilst their objective was not to produce another Tony Blair or George Bush, but to generate and eventually harvest stem cells which could lead to life-saving treatments, the probability is that scientists will eventually be able to clone particular individuals.
In the meantime their experiments could be said to be analogous to that infamous US Commander in Vietnam who bizarrely claimed that he had to destroy the village/life in order to save the village/life.
So, we can split the atom, freeze embryos for future implantation, create human beings, destroy innocent civilians in war one hundred thousand and more at a time, and not feel bad about it. Indeed, much of it is done in the name of the Lord and of progress.
The two big religions, Christianity and Islam, were both founded in the same region of the Middle East, within a relatively short time of each other, and owe something to their precursor, Judaism. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and is the Messiah of the Jews as prophesied in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and that Christianity is the successor of Judaism. Of course, that’s where Christianity and Judaism part company.
Jews still await the coming of the Messiah.
The prophet Muhammad, born in the sixth century AD, the founder of Islam, did not completely reject Judaism or Christianity but claimed to complete and perfect their teachings. (The Virgin birth, a key doctrine of the Christian faith, is also held to be true by Muslims.)
In the narratives of Rabbinic literature, the New Testament and the Qur’an God intervenes and reveals. All the adherents of these three religions agree that there is only one omniscient and omnipotent God who created humankind – and that God chose them in particular to perform God’s will.
They all can’t be right but they all can be wrong.
Not surprisingly, Christians were to the fore in killing Muslims and Jews in Crusades and pogroms; Jews kill Muslims for an Eratz Israel (Greater Israel) which God promised them; and Muslims kill Jews, some citing it as a religious obligation and that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is part of Islam’s irreconcilable religious war against the Jews. Each side, on occasion, also kills its own.
What a mess. And a mess that is replicated elsewhere if not over religion then over colour, ethnicity, ancestry, place of origin, nationality, etc., etc.
I think that the only way out of it is for God to come again. Some argue that God is here among us – in those who are selfless, humble, peaceful and exemplary in their good behaviour. If they are God’s people then they are the ones who get most trampled under.
It’s true that without good people, without love and without charity (in its altruist sense) one would be without hope and driven to total despair.
But despite the march of so-called progress it is violence not civilisation that rules the world.
So, why doesn’t God give us another chance and come again – that’s if it was God who was here before?