A letter to three faith leaders

Dear Archbishop Justin Welby, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis,

I write as a Christian and a member of the Church of England.

I hear that you have written to the House of Lords about your disquiet over the Assisted Dying Bill.

There are two things I wish to say in response to this.

Firstly, I am deeply grateful that you are engaging with politics in this country. There is much that is wrong in our society, indeed I do believe it is wounded at its heart, and people of faith should take a stand and make their views known. When senior faith leaders like you speak out, the public notices and people of faith take heart.

Secondly, I am disappointed that you comment on so few matters, typically focusing on the beginning and end of human lives, and on sexual matters. This makes people of faith seem bigoted and small-minded, and far too easy to dismiss. It is not that these are unimportant issues, but there are matters of great temporal and spiritual importance that you do not speak about in public and political forums.

You are concerned that people’s lives will be shortened by this Assisted Dying Bill. I am a retired healthcare chaplain. People’s lives are shortened and diminished much more by poverty, lack of meaning, lack of worth, lack of community, lack of assisted living, lack of well-titrated analgesia, lack of social and spiritual formation in meeting and living with ineluctable suffering.

None of this is the fault of the NHS for which I have enormous respect, and which it was my honour to serve for 8 years. In my experience, healthcare staff are overwhelmingly caring. But they are poorly served by us, society at large and government, so that they are not equipped with staffing and adequate practical and personal resources to meet the needs of the growing number of elderly in our society. And no one seems to notice that caring daily for the sick and dying is traumatising.

One of many painful lessons I gained as a chaplain is that oftentimes people want to die because they are no longer loved and valued. This is not the fault of healthcare workers. It is not even the fault of relatives. It is all our fault because we prioritise money over people.

Why are you not protesting about the loneliness, isolation, and neglect of our elderly – of the lack of communal welcome, gratitude, embrace, and provision that is their due?

Why are you not protesting about the lack of love and worth shown to people of all ages?

Why are you not protesting about the scandalous inequality in our society in which the poorer members die years earlier than those who are lucky enough to have been born in happier circumstances?

Why are you not protesting about the lack of support for pregnant mothers and early-life care of children?

Why are you not protesting about the atrocious level of housing that some people have to endure?

Why are you not protesting that most members of our society are not treated as sacred, whatever their age?

Why are you not protesting that education has been replaced with teaching? I mean by this that our children are not being formed within traditions of human flourishing so that they know how to live well together, but are being force-fed facts to turn them into workers to further the god of Economic Growth, which only serves the few.

Why are you not protesting about public greed and selfishness displayed extravagantly by the few?

And above all, why are you not protesting that in protecting our right to choose and consume, to get and spend, we are exterminating the other creatures on this planet, all of which are sacred?

Why are you not protesting that the Body of God has become a corpse to strip and plunder?

Yours hopelessly,

Julian Maddock

10 thoughts on “A letter to three faith leaders

  1. Thank you this, may we all play our part in bringing about the change needed so that we no longer have to endure an inequitable world in which the profit motive is king and where people have become economic units rather than each being recognised as a unique and magnificent creation living on a beautiful planet.

    1. Thank you, Roseleen. Amen. This is the challenge, isn’t it. It is easy to write what I have written. And now, what is my particular responsibility, within my capacity and influence, to bring about change?

  2. I weep as I read this…because what you say resonates and touches my heart. There are other ways of living, but I believe we are so conditioned, brain washed really, in how we should live our lives. Deep within our hearts, we know that so much is wrong, and yet feel helpless to change things. My beautiful brain injured son has just joined a Camphill Community, and here, the hearts of all are heard. If only this was the norm….
    Thank you Julian

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I agree. Part of our responsibility is to try to see ways of living that are life-affirming, not life-destroying. I suspect this would be a revisioning and reaffirming of the old monastic vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and, in the case of the Benedictines, stability. None of these is popular and they are easily misunderstood. This reminds me of the film, “The Matrix” – within which we are so embedded that we can barely see it. Those vows are the equivalent of taking the red pill – an entirely different set of principles to live by.
      I am so glad you have found such a loving community for your son to live with. What a blessing.

  3. Quite simply, heartfelt gratitude for this, Julian. I was kept away from mainstream religion for 40 years by this sort of mealy-mouthed moralism by those who claim to lead it. Why do they so resist representing proper spiritually informed depth of concern for Creation and Its Creatures, informed by a proper understanding of them? I am getting fatigued and alienated by it again for the very reasons you express so clearly and energetically. I look forward to knowing the responses you get!

  4. Well said Julian. I think the problem maybe that our religious leaders have risen to their positions precisely by being people who don’t speak out, who don’t rock the boat, who please the people above them. They have been selected and appointed primarily to protect the institution. That is the role to which they are temprementally suited and how they perceive their positions.

    1. Thanks, Graeme. This reminds me of Joseph Campbell on difference between the priest and the shaman. The priest is one who enacts and keeps the rituals. The shaman is one who lives on the threshold between the worlds and consorts with the spirits. Both important rôles. And you and I will both know people who are both priestly and shamanic. But I guess you are saying that I mustn’t expect those whose position is within the institution to challenge that institution.

  5. I can’t find the full quotation from Paul Tillich but Chris Hedges wrote:

    Paul Tillich wrote that all institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic. Reinhold Niebuhr asserted that no institution could ever achieve the morality of the individual. Institutions, he warned, to extend their lives when confronted with collapse, will swiftly betray the stances that ostensibly define them. Only individual men and women have the strength to hold fast to virtue when faced with the threat of death. And decaying institutions, including the church, when consumed by fear, swiftly push those endowed with this moral courage and radicalism from their ranks, rendering themselves obsolete.

    Chris Hedges

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