Thought for the day
So ‘farewell then Henry Allingham’, one of five survivors of the First World War and, for one glorious month, the oldest man in the world. Putting his longevity down to ‘cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women’ he also attributed his great age to ‘trying to be as good as you can’. He seems to have been a wonderful man who lived a wonderful life. Henry died in a strange week for the news: one in which the highly Calvinist Scottish Island of Lewis has been riven down the middle by news that the Caledonian McBrayne Ferry company are going to disturb the sabbath rest by laying on a Sunday ferry. The Kirk is up in arms and there is much quoting of biblical texts taking place. Interestingly, a similar fracas is taking place in France where President Sarkozy has indicated that he wishes to relax the country’s strict Sunday opening laws. Now, forgive me if I am wrong, but do I recall that the arguments around relaxing England’s Sunday trading laws were that unfettered seven day a week consumerism was already being enjoyed on the Continent and that it would be selfish of us not to join in? Yet another lie then to get us to give in to unbridled profiteering. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Sunday trading for religious reasons but because it has had dreadful consequences for the family, has removed one day of the week when we could all think of ‘higher’ things and not have to work and has also enforced seven day working on the most vulnerable in society. Hey ho! It’s off to the Garden Centre we go.
This is also a week in which that most English of pursuits, Thought for the Day, has been questioned and there are serious doubts as to whether it will survive. As English as the Archers and Cricket on the village green, Thought for the Day has given a platform for faith commentators for decades: and I’m with those who would abolish its exclusively faith based nature. For one thing, the easy access of the Church and other faith communities to this unchallenged privilege of airtime has led to some of the most humdrum and platitudiness spouting on faith and religion I have ever heard. Equally, I am dismayed by those who claim such privileges for the Church because they are part of the fabric that continues to make our nation a Christian one. I am very uneasy when society or organisation claims the involvement of the Church because it stresses our ‘Britishness’ and the Church appears subservient to a strange form of patriotism. The Church should be free and unfettered to speak out as and when it likes, even if it is subversive of a prevailing social trait. Likewise, if Thought for the Day were opened up to men and women of all persuasions and understandings, then the Faith communities would have to fight there corner in the marketplace of public opinion. Wouldn’t this mean our contribution to public thought would have to be more robust and thought through than the sentimental drivel we
Besides, if Thought for the Day were opened up to all, then we might hear the wisdom of men like Henry Allingham who said that ‘one of the secrets of old age is not to hang about with too many old people’. Perhaps best of all, we might have heard him say: ‘War’s stupid. Nobody wins. You might as well talk first, you have to talk last anyway’.