HOW thankless it is to try to put forward a coherent message from the Christian Churches.
I don’t suppose anything could more completely unite them than the call to do more for refugees from Syria; but the more you know about the problem there, the less it seems we can do.
In this light, it is worth reading Lord Carey’s call to repel Muslim immigrants and “crush Isis” in the light of a New York Times report on the fate of the soldiers trained, at enormous expense, to fight for democracy in Syria (whatever that might mean).
Lord Carey wrote in The Sunday Telegraph that: “Britain should make Syrian Christians a priority because they are a particularly vulnerable group. Furthermore, we are a Christian nation with an established Church, so Syrian Christians will find no challenge to integration. The churches are already well-prepared, and eager to offer support and accommodation to those escaping the conflict.
“Some will not like me saying this, but in recent years, there has been too much Muslim mass immigration to Europe. This has resulted in ghettos of Muslim communities living parallel lives to mainstream society, following their own customs and even their own laws. Isn’t it high-time instead for the oil-rich Gulf States to open their doors to the many Muslims who are fleeing conflict? Surely if they are concerned for fellow Muslims who prefer to live in Muslim-majority countries, then they have a moral responsibility to intervene.”
I’m sure the Gulf States — and Saudi Arabia — will listen to this with all the respect that is due to Lord Carey. And no doubt the Minister of Defence will devote a similar attention to his strategic plans, so reminiscent of the mind that brought us the Decade of Evangelism:
“It’s not enough to send aid to refugee camps in the Middle East. There must be renewed military and diplomatic efforts to crush the twin menaces of Islamic State and al-Qaeda once and for all.
“Make no mistake: this may mean air strikes and other British military assistance to create secure and safe enclaves in Syria.”
The only answer to anyone who suggests military intervention is “You and whose army?”
Here is The New York Times on the first efforts in that direction: “The rebels were ill-prepared for an enemy attack, and were sent back into Syria in too small numbers. They had no local support from the population, and had poor intelligence about their foes.
“They returned to Syria during the Eid holiday, and many were allowed to go on leave to visit relatives, some in refugee camps in Turkey — and these movements likely tipped off adversaries to their mission. Others could not return because border crossings were closed.”
Two of their commanders went to tell the local al-Qaeda affiliate that they had come to fight Assad, and were at once taken prisoner and are presumed killed; the rest of those who had not gone on holiday were attacked the next day and would have been wiped out without American air support. The programme has so far cost $500,000,000.
COMPARED to this, the fight over assisted dying looks rather small. Both sides mounted propaganda offensives in the run-up to the Bill’s Commons reading on Friday. Polly Toynbee, in The Guardian, blamed “the religious”, of course: “Why does the religious lobby try to disguise itself? Palliative care does relieve the suffering of most of the dying. But doctors in that speciality are far less likely to ease those they can’t help into a gentle death.
“Research in the Journal of Medical Ethics shows that palliative-care doctors are more likely to be strong Christian believers than other doctors. Non-religious doctors are more likely to have given ‘deep sedation until death, taking decisions they expected or partly intended to end life’. Doctors in other specialisms were ten times more likely to say they had done this compared with palliative-medicine specialists.
“In other words, if you are unlucky enough to suffer agonising last days, your palliative-care doctor is the least likely to ease you gently out of life, obliging you to suffer until God calls. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if they believe in God, and what sort of God insists you exit life slowly through the torture chamber.”
The apparent implication of this is that Christians go into palliative care because it allows them to ensure that people die truly horrible deaths, which pleases God, rather than making a decision for themselves. I do find it rather depressing that Polly can’t suppose there are other reasons why Christians might be disproportionately attracted to the care of the dying; nor, indeed, why people who work in palliative care might be less keen on killing off their patients than the ordinary run of doctor.
None of this suggests that the ongoing debate will be conducted in good faith.