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Letters to the Editor

10 January 2020

24 hours in A&E, assassination of General Soleimani, and indifference v. theology


Reflections on 24 hours in A&E

From Sue Claydon and Martin Tiller

Sir, — The Very Revd Hugh Dickinson’s moving and incisive account of his 24 hours in hospital (Comment, 3 January) gives us a profound insight into how the core principles of the National Health work out at the level of individual humanity. We thought that we were just setting up a medical care service to meet the needs of everyone and free at the point of delivery. And then, putting real people at the point of delivery, we found we had a system which enables people to be truly human, going to great lengths of loving kindness. The obligation that we have is to support them with the resources that they need in their task.

As he says, the huge shortfall in funding in the face of paying for Trident (at a current annual cost approaching £7 billion) indicates a gross absence of real empathy and imagination among Britain’s comfortable classes. His comparison of us with the comfortable classes in Germany who allowed the Holocaust to happen is not so extreme when we reflect that the £7 billion is not simply money diverted from the NHS: it is the financial cost of a weapon of mass destruction, which, if used, could kill millions, injure the health of current and future generations, and totally overwhelm health services in any country affected.

The moral cost of this is a necessary suppression of human empathy and a deadening of conscience about the potential suffering that we are causing or colluding with — which is quite consistent with the lack of collective compassion which leaves the NHS to struggle overall, and many of its staff in a nightmare situation.

Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Peace House, 19 Paradise Street
Oxford OX1 1LD

Christian CND
Mordechai Vanunu House
162 Holloway Road
London N7 8DQ

From the Revd Andrew Thomson

Sir, — I enjoyed reading the Very Revd Hugh Dickinson’s interesting and informative article on his experience of A&E. Yet I was struck, once again, by the thought that we ought to differentiate between the National Health Service, which does such wonderful work on the front line, and the National Health Organisation (NHO), which administers it. Often, when we hear criticism of the NHS, it is actually the NHO that is causing the problem.

3 Charles Road
Fakenham NR21 8JX

From Dr Stephen Pacey

Sir, — The article by the Very Revd Hugh Dickinson resonates with me, and reminds me of the waits, delays, and pressures on the system which I experienced first hand early last year. I suspect that, for most people, it is only when they have a pressing need for medical and nursing care that they truly appreciate and value the national treasure that is the NHS. It is the mark of a civilised, caring, and humane society. As such, it should not be subject to any form of ideology.

I well recall that, decades ago, a medical consultant told me what a Conservative Party grandee had said to him: “We are going to get rid of the NHS. It is a socialist invention.” That, I acknowledge, is hearsay; but it had the awful ring of truth about it then, as it still does.

3 Dickinson Way
North Muskham NG23 6FF

Assassination by drone of General Solemani 

From Dr P. W. L. Clough

Sir, — Reactions to the assassination of General Qasam Solemani have correctly focused on President Trump’s authorisation of the attack. My personal view is that this deed was reckless, injudicious, and unchristian. There is, however, another issue, less widely debated: the ethics of using unmanned aerial systems (i.e. drones) in warfare.

Christian responses to conflict have traditionally included both pacifism and the case for a “just war”; but the ethical ground is now shifting. Technological advances and the growth of artificial intelligence have removed pilots from planes. Solemani was killed by someone pressing a button in Nevada — essentially a skilled technician with a desk job. This chilling example of remote warfare, within our increasingly virtual world, should make us pause and recognise that this assassination was a milestone on a treacherous global path to dehumanisation.

Christians, whether or not they are also pacifists, should engage urgently in an international debate on the use of armed drones, with the ultimate aim of promoting and upholding the fullness of our humanity.

P. W. L. CLOUGH (Reader)
22 Ross Gardens
Canterbury CT2 9BZ

Coolness to ‘radical evil’ or ‘climate breakdown’

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — To describe global warming as “radical evil” (Letters, 3 January) is to imply that it is not the working of nature, but genocidal action by our burning of fossil fuels. To describe 2019 as “a year of climate breakdown” (News, 3 January) is to attribute catastrophic conclusions to extreme weather events, which our planet often experiences.

In the workings of nature, cyclones regularly hit the Southern Hemisphere and hurricanes Northern America; and, every year, forests in the Amazon, California, and Australia burn. Although Australia is experiencing a real crisis in its bush-fire season, extreme heat is not unknown: searing temperatures were experienced in 1939, and even as far back as 1896, long before human emissions of carbon dioxide became an issue.

Obviously, planning to counter extreme weather events and to provide support to the victims of natural disasters is paramount, but it would be unwise to overreact to such events and to see this as evidence for the belief that the world’s climate will increase by four degrees Centigrade, promulgated by Professor Kevin Anderson, on whom Greta Thunberg relies (Comment, 3 January).

Interestingly, he originally predicted this for 2050, and has now put it back to 2100 — beyond the time any of us will know whether he was right or not. Predictions such as this are hazardous, because previous predictions by other eminent scientists — of global cooling in the 1970s, and that melted Arctic ice would lead to the submerging of the Maldives and the flooding of lower Manhattan by 2020 at the latest — did not come to pass.

Presumably, current predictions are based on computer climate models; but, for the past ten years or so, such models have consistently exaggerated temperatures compared with NASA’s satellite observations. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the nature of carbon dioxide, which, according to William Happer (Emeritus Professor of Physics at Princeton University), has a logarithmic rather than linear impact on temperature, which makes anything more than a two-degree rise implausible.

So, we face natural disasters to which we need to respond, but not radical evil.

Urban Theology Union
Victoria Hall Methodist Church
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

Indifference v. theology

From Mr Keith Leslie

Sir, — As I neared the end of Lord Harries’s article (Features, 3 January), I found myself almost applauding. As a Street Pastor, I regularly patrol in various towns and cities, and meet and talk with young people: 90 per cent are aged between 18 and 25 years. It will be in the early hours of a Sunday morning as they move between venues partying. They know we carry lollipops with which we encourage them to come, pause for a few minutes, and talk with us.

You cannot describe them as disbelievers or anti-Christian: they are simply indifferent to religion in all its guises. They respect us and thank us for being on “their patch” at that hour, ready to help if needed. If we are lucky enough to get them to stay and chat, it soon becomes apparent that Christianity plays no part in their lives, or those of their parents or friends.

I am regularly invited into schools to talk about Street Pastors to 14- to 15-year-old boys and girls as they prepare for the relevant GCSE examination, and I mention that we are all Christian. Still they always ask: “But why do you do it?” It is truly beyond their experience or understanding that people actually do good things for other people who are unknown to them, without pay.

As I sit and listen at the General Synod about “this mission” or “this type of new church”, I do ponder whether some of the speakers have any contact at all with real, young people.

I am greatly looking forward to Lord Harries’s pending two articles.

2 Hilltop Way
Salisbury SP1 3QY

From David Massa

Sir, — Lord Harries rightly suggests that clergy and lay people should be ready with arguments to combat scepticism, using simple and accessible language.

Turning to the next page, Bishop Saxbee’s review of Bishop Tom Wright’s latest book contains theological jargon likely to baffle and deter even a sympathetic enquirer. It is the language of a theology factory far removed from the message and ethical teaching of the Gospels.

6 Clare Lawn Avenue
London SW14 8BH

Sir Iain certainly left his mark on the welfare state 

From the Revd Tony Redman

Sir, — As an Honours (News, 3 January) sceptic, I am sure that Sir Iain Duncan Smith will have achieved much single-handed in his political career, but he will always be credited, if you can excuse the pun, for one thing, namely the Universal Credit Scheme.

I doubt that he was the sole designer of this odious and ill-conceived device, which in a single sweep has increased family distress, poverty among those who were already some of the most struggling in our society, and homelessness, as well as the development of foodbanks for recycling otherwise wasted food, and endless possibilities for the churches to deliver true social action for the common good.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “it is better to deserve honours and not have them, than to have them and not deserve them.”

The Cottage Great Livermere
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP31 1JG

Moving experience 

From Mr C. D. C. Armstrong

Sir, — I am afraid that the 12-year-old Stephen Cottrell cannot have cried at Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth on the television, though he may have done at a more advanced age (News, 20/27 December). The series was first broadcast in the spring of 1977. By then, the Archbishop-designate of York was 18, not 12.

Flat 2a, Ulidia House
34 Donegall Road
Belfast BT125JN

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