Sunday, 22 April 2007

WASP Summary of the speech of Baroness Rendell (aka Ruth Rendell) in the House of Lords 19th April 2007

WASP Summary of the speech of noble Lord Baroness Rendell (aka Ruth Rendell) in the House of Lords 19th April 2007. Full text of speech here in Hansard (or with WASP highlights here)
WASP highlights Main Points & Key Points.

TheyWorkForYou & Wikipedia entries.

Action: WASP will send a message of support to Baroness Rendell of Babergh

12.38 pm

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: I begin by quoting the final lines of a poem;

    “for the world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night”.

Thus Matthew Arnold on Dover beach watched the receding tide of Christian faith, at a time when science was starting to assert its claims and people began to turn away from Christianity. Many of them, like me, began as Anglicans but lost their faith in youth or middle age.

The trappings of the religion we have lost remain dear to us. Let us take church music. Where would we be without Bach or Handel? What about the writings of the saints? I wonder how many times, with increasing enjoyment, I have read the Life of St Teresa of Avila and The Confessions of St Augustine. When I go to Florence, one of my greatest pleasures is to visit the Carmine to look at Masaccio's “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden”, an event in which I emphatically do not believe. In the words of Thomas Hardy, an atheist but a “churchy” man, who loved ritual and church music:

    “It is only a sentiment to me now”.

Darwin wrote:

    “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars”.

Most of us would agree that it is this conflict between beneficence and omnipotence which makes belief impossible. There is no answer to it. We are obliged to own that something which was beautiful and once seemed an incontrovertible truth was acceptable only when magic was a reality and science a mystery.

It seems to be true that, if God did not exist, we would have to invent him and that many who would call themselves atheists turn to other objects of veneration or are drawn to witchcraft, black magic, astrology and various types of divination. In Greece, I understand, a group of people have returned to the worship of the Olympian gods and sacrifice to Zeus and Aphrodite. Was society morally better when:

“The Sea of Faith Was once ... at the full”?

If I am speaking mainly of Christianity in western Europe, it would seem not. The 20th century has been called the bloodiest and most savage humanityhas ever known, but those preceding it were, in proportion, as violent and brutal. Arnold’s ignorant armies clashed by night then as now. Atrocities and massacres occurred when almost everyone believed in obeying the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”.

Are we better now? Not noticeably, although we may be more aware. Most of us know that we should not abuse children, commit perjury or steal, but we go on committing crimes that we no longer call sins. Lately, a child in London has been murdered nearly every week. There are still 7 million slaves in the world. God could not make us good but nor does his absence. It is strange that so many people declaim, when misfortune comes, “What have I done to deserve this?”.

The countries of Scandinavia, intensely Lutheran while Ibsen was writing, later became almost entirely secular. They are widely acclaimed as societies nearer to the ideal than any others and are held up as an example to the rest of us. Post hoc is not proper hoc, but the fact remains that, when Scandinavians were at their most devout in the 19th century, their peasantry was desperately poor and emigrating in droves.

It appears that society is much the same when atheist as it was when godly. It has lost a certain kind of cohesion—the comradeship of Bible language and church assemblies—but not the music, literature and art of Christianity, and there is no sign that it will.

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