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Why the chattering classes are keeping life-ending pills close to hand

If you don’t believe in eternal life it’s hard to find meaning in the indignities of old age

By on Monday, 2 July 2012

The news reporter John Simpson says he has 'a couple of pills handy' (PA photo)

The news reporter John Simpson says he has 'a couple of pills handy' (PA photo)

In his column in the Telegraph on Saturday, Damian Thompson asks: “Why are the chattering classes so keen on assisted suicide, even volunteering to undergo it themselves?” This was a reference to broadcaster John Simpson’s extraordinary remark earlier in the week. He said: “I’m already working on ways of ensuring that I don’t end up dependent on someone else. I have a couple of pills handy. I don’t want my six-year-old son to have his only memory of me as a gibbering wreck.” Reading this brought to my mind (as it did to Damian’s) a similar statement once made by Baroness Mary Warnock; it seems she is also keeping pills handy, though dithering about when to use them.

That’s the problem for the chattering classes – all atheists, one assumes (you can’t pray and chatter at the same time), and all determined to be in total control of their deaths as well as their lives. Former TV presenter Joan Bakewell in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph says she knows elderly people who are starting to ask: “Do you know which tablets?” Personally she admires Simpson’s wish to be in control but adds: “I’m not sure at what point you would say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll go’.” This was not the attitude of a cultured, well-educated, elderly couple I blogged about earlier this year: living in Denmark and with the husband diagnosed with terminal cancer, they simply took their dog to a neighbour’s, put out a note cancelling the milk, then took to their bed – and took the pills.

All this is a counsel of despair – and you start to despair of life when you can’t find meaning in the inevitable suffering and indignities of old age and don’t believe in eternal life. If I thought like that, I might easily give way to despair. It so happens, Rome Reports put out a charming little video yesterday, which providentially lifted my spirits from the depressing scenario that seems to be beginning to envelop NW1. Entitled, “What happens after death?” and only lasting for a minute or so, it suggested several different possibilities: nothingness – the chattering classes’ theory; reincarnation, which is favoured by Hindus; a ghostly existence – attractive to artists and poets as it gives rise to gripping if spooky drama; and the Christian option – that God himself came down to earth, died for us, rose from the dead after three days and opened the way to everlasting life and happiness in heaven for those who choose to follow him.

The video clip challenged the viewer: “Are you ready for death? You can be.” It ended with the words of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the life…” For those who refuse to believe, this is, of course, gibberish; but the video simply invites the viewer to make a choice, pointing out that of all the possibilities listed, the only one that is truly life-enhancing, both here and in the hereafter, is the Christian story. As Pascal pointed out a few centuries ago, if you accept it you have certainly nothing to lose (except the proud isolationism offered by suicide) and possibly everything to gain.

I was distracted by these thoughts at Mass yesterday, and the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, seemed very apposite: “Death was not God’s doing, he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living. To be – for this he created all; the world’s created things have health in them, in them no fatal poison can be found…” My message to John Simpson is: “The pills are poison – and they are fatal. Get a life.”

  • JByrne24

    PASTED QUOTE: “There appears to be some rather unpleasant attitudes by the
    Catholic commenters here towards unbelievers, …..”

    Well it’s not just unbelievers either!

  • JByrne24

    I’m not an atheist, but I think that’s a very silly remark.

  • JByrne24

    St Thomas Aquinas believed something similar: abortion is always “killing” but not always “murder”. This is an Aristotelian view based on the idea that the soul was embodied some months after conception. This would mean that the living foetus was not always a human being.

  • paulsays

    Yes quite right.. something I think the Church should have a think about.

  • JByrne24

    “….if we make a choice to investigate and explore Christianity rather than to reject it, we might be surprised by the result, might we not? ”

    Maybe, but this can work both ways.
    I think it’s often the case that many Catholics have a primary school understanding of Catholicism and a zero understanding of atheistic, and other, viewpoints. These two factors simply result in a strong, simple Catholic belief.

  • JessicaHof

    Indeed on the first point. On the second, you’d have to try quite hard to remain ignorant of the basics of the atheist viewpoint. There is nearly two thousand years’ worth of literature about Christianity, some of which constitutes classics of our culture (Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ for example), and therefore rather more to contemplate for the student.

  • shieldsheafson

    It is incredible that Jesus Christ should have risen in the flesh and ascended with flesh into heaven.

    It is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing.

    It is incredible that a very few men, of mean birth and the lowest rank, and no education,
    should have been able so effectually to persuade the world, and even its learned men, of so incredible a thing.  

    Of these three incredibles, the parties with whom we are debating refuse to believe the first; they cannot refuse to see the second, which they are unable to account for if they do not believe the third.  

    City of God XXII. 5

  • Jonathan West

    (Reply to JessicaHof)
    Do you really think so? There are very few examples outside of the Christian story of dead people rising again. There is nothing in the Jewish tradition, as Professor Wright shows, so you have to ask where this came from and why, given its inherent unlikelihood, it stuck.

    I’m afraid you are misinformed. A dying-and-rising or resurrection deity is a very common religious theme. Examples among the Near Eastern and Greek deities (most or all of which would have been know to the Jews in Jesus’ time) include Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Attis, Tammuz, Asclepius, Orpheus, Ra, Osiris, Zalmoxis, Dionysus and Odin.

    A whole host of others are listed here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dying_god 

    Professor Wright is either ignorant or being somewhat selective in his sources. I rather suspect the latter.

    Of course, if you start from the position no one could ever rise from the dead, you have prejudged the answer and denied the eye-witness testimony of others based on your preconceived view 

    It’s not a preconceived view, it’s a conclusion based on evidence. In most aspects of my life, I base my beliefs on the evidence, and the strength of the belief is dependent on the quantity and quality of supporting evidence. The evidence is usually not perfect, but I generally find that a best guess based on the evidence is right more often than a second-best guess which ignores it.

    I suspect that in most aspects of your life you take a similar view. Where we differ is that I am not prepared to make an exception for religious propositions, whereas by all appearances you do make such an exception. You’re perfectly entitled to do that, and I shan’t try and stop you. All I wish to do is make sure you are aware that this is what you are doing.

  • JessicaHof

    You will note that all the ones you mention are not Jewish and are, in many cases, gods actively rejected by the Jews. The point you are missing is that the monotheistic Jews rejected dying and rising gods. Yes, the Jews knew of such, and they rejected them. So, unless you have some explanation as to why this group of Jews suddenly adopted a belief anathema to them, you are left with the evidence they offer.

    Your reason for rejecting it is that such things do not happen because you have no evidence of them. You reject the testimony of people who did experience it because it does not fit with your experience. They, we’re they with us still, would reject your testimony as based on no experience. This is an argument going nowhere.

    You are also making the assumption that my personal experience does not include an encounter with the Risen Lord, presumably because your own experience does not. I am not, of course suggesting you are not entitled to assume that your own experiences are normative, just informing you of what you are doing.

    You are rejecting my experiences and those of millions of religious people because you have had no such experience. It is like a deaf man rejecting the idea if music because he’s never heard any noise and it is quite beyond his experience and that of all the other deaf people he knows.

  • JessicaHof

    You will note that all the ones you mention are not Jewish and are, in many cases, gods actively rejected by the Jews. The point you are missing is that the monotheistic Jews rejected dying and rising gods. Yes, the Jews knew of such, and they rejected them. So, unless you have some explanation as to why this group of Jews suddenly adopted a belief anathema to them, you are left with the evidence they offer.

    Your reason for rejecting it is that such things do not happen because you have no evidence of them. You reject the testimony of people who did experience it because it does not fit with your experience. They, we’re they with us still, would reject your testimony as based on no experience. This is an argument going nowhere.

    You are also making the assumption that my personal experience does not include an encounter with the Risen Lord, presumably because your own experience does not. I am not, of course rejecting your view that because you can’t hear the music you think it is not there, just suggesting that rejecting the testimony of the millions who have heard it over two thousand years might be a bit on the presumptuous side.

  • JessicaHof

    Your reason for rejecting it is that such things do not happen because you have no evidence of them. You reject the testimony of people who did experience it because it does not fit with your experience. They, we’re they with us still, would reject your testimony as based on no experience. This is an argument going nowhere.

    You are also making the assumption that my personal experience does not include an encounter with the Risen Lord, presumably because your own experience does not. I am not, of course

  • Jonathan West

    The point is that the stories were know about in the Roman Empire at the time and that there was knowledge of all sorts of religions as a result of people moving around within the empire. For instance it was common for a legion raised on one part of the empire to be stationed somewhere else entirely. There was bound to be lots of religious mixing. 

    And you can’t claim that the Jews didn’t accept at all the idea of a resurrection, otherwise the claim that Jesus’ death and resurrection was a fulfilment of biblical prophecy would be a lie. That would make the whole of Christian theology based on a lie. I don’t think you want to go there.

    So, we have Jesus life and death and resurrection being presented as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy, and we have lots of other religions around and about with similar sorts of divine resurrection stories. What more do you need in order to accept that Professor Wright might just possibly have been serving an agenda rather than disinterestedly pursuing the truth?

  • Jonathan West

    You’re still treating the gospels as history. They aren’t. They are liturgy. 

    For instance, Mark’s gospel (the first of the four to be written) fits extremely neatly as a set of readings to be used in synagogue worship through part of the Jewish liturgical year. The start of the Gospel fits the theme of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) has Jesus healing the sick, the Feast of Tabernacles coincides with Jesus telling harvest parables, and the transfiguration story fits the Festival of Dedication, in which Jews celebrated the time when the light of God was restored to the Temple. Mark (writing after the temple was destroyed in AD 70) offers Jesus as the new temple, the new meeting place between God and human life. The crucifixion and resurrection fits with Passover.

    They are what in modern times we would call propaganda.

  • theroadmaster

    The nihilism behind the final solution as in a handful of pills, is shaped by a limited, materialistic view of life which leads to a counsel of despair .  It denies the spiritual nature of our being and the natural progression of our earthly journey, with it’s highs and lows, from conception to natural death.  People are not unnaturally apprehensive of pain or suffering associated with grave,life-threatening diseases or conditions and ending one’s life by one’s own hand voluntarily in those circumstances, seems “humane” and “progressive” to the modern mindset.  But those who advocate this as a solution, are trying to avoid the implications of living through some of the most harrowing and painful stages in a person’s life.  These stages are part of the reality of the biblical concept of “carrying one’s cross”, which Christ literally had to do, before His violent death on that cross and triumphant Resurrection on the third day.  Jesus understood suffering at first hand and He will always be with those who bear great pain in body or spirit.  In Him, they will find peace and repose as their suffering will be joined to His in a redemptive fashion.

  • theroadmaster

    Aristotle was a pagan philosopher, who lived some 2,400 years ago and did not have the benefit of modern optical technology, like a microscope.  So his theorizing on when a foetus became “human” is neither here nor there.  The same with regard to the timeline for the ensoulment of a conceived human life.  The Church has been consistent on Her denunciation of the evil of abortion as the unlawful destruction of nascent life in the womb.  This has been a teaching that has  been present since the earliest apostolic times

  • theroadmaster

    The Church will not look at it again, as it cannot be revised.  She has taught that abortion is a gravely evil act, that cannot under any circumstances be condoned.  This has been consistent Church teachings since Her foundation over 2000 years ago.

  • paulsays

    Its severity has been revised in the Church.

  • David

    “What more do you need in order to accept that Professor Wright might
    just possibly have been serving an agenda rather than disinterestedly
    pursuing the truth?”

    You present your opinion as proof, but then qualify your question with the phrase “might
    just possibly have been”. You are not as sure as you think you are. Please, open you mind to the possibilities that YOU are also wrong.

  • JessicaHof

    As we both know, there was no expectation by any Jew that the Messiah would come in the form of one nailed to the tree; quite the opposite. If you were making things up, you would not begin with something so likely to arouse immediate hostility.

    Yes, there were many religious ideas on offer, but the Jews consciously rejected other traditions. The whole Jesus story opened the way to allegations that the Christians had abandoned monotheism. Again, an odd way to proceed – unless one had no other choice.

  • JessicaHof

    Liturgy and propaganda but not history? Can you point out another piece of propaganda which makes out the founders of its movement to be men who didn’t understand what their leaders was about? The Apostles do not come well out of Mark, which also says little about the Resurrection. That would seem very odd for a piece of propaganda.

    You seem to have an odd idea of the Apostles. They were stupid enough to write a book which made them look like idiots a lot of the time. They were honest enough to endorse a book which made them look terribly fearful, and which made their leader look like a coward and a traitor, and then silly enought to think that good propaganda? Perhaps you’d like to reconsider that notion?

  • Jonathan West

    The psychology doesn’t work that way. Jesus’ followers believed he was the Messiah. So when he was nailed to a tree, they didn’t “Oh, we were wrong after all”. they had invested far too much of themselves to acknowledge that. Instead they had to find some way of treating that event as the fulfilment of messianic prophesies.

  • Jonathan West

    I learn new things every day, things that I don’t know before, or things I was mistaken about before. I find it a very stimulating way of living and I apply it to all aspects of the world around me.

    I strongly commend it to you, with regard to all aspects of your life, including your religious life.

  • Jonathan West

    The apostles didn’t write the gospels and nor did they endorse them. Paul for instance did all his travelling and died before any of the gospels were written.

  • JessicaHof

    The narrative fails to support your ideas. Do you really think that the Apostles, as portrayed in Mark knew Jesus was the Messiah? I doubt any critical reading would support that. So where did the idea come from? it is that which is missing from your account. You say they invested too much in it, but when? Not on Good Friday they hadn’t; not on the first Easter Sunday they hadn’t; so where and when did the idea ‘occur’ to them, and why, given its foreignness to the Jewish tradition?

  • JessicaHof

    That is not the conclusion of most modern Biblical scholarship, which dates Mark to the 60s, and John no later than the 90s. The evidence that the Gospels were written by those whose names they bear is increasingly clear. They never bore any other names, and despite the claims by Ehrman and other sceptics, no other Gospels were ever included. Try reading Michael Green’s excellent book, or the more recent one by Charles Hill.

  • Jonathan West

    You’re still thinking of the gospels as true history. They aren’t. They have been written to emphasise the divine wisdom of Jesus and by contrast the human stupidity of all around him.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    I do not think St Thomas Aquinas would have used the word “murder” which is an English word with the technical meaning of killing a human being after birth.  Or are you suggesting that there is some Latin word with the same meaning?
    What we are talking about with regard to abortion is the killing of an innocent human being.  The findings of modern science would suggest that from the moment of conception there is a human being.  St Thomas would not have been aware of this.

  • JByrne24

    “It is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing.”

    It is not remotely incredible. People will believe the most ridiculous things imaginable. People in great numbers have always done so.
    Often the more ridiculous and incredible the idea is, the more strong is the belief and the more valiantly is it defended.

    I am not saying that apparently incredible beliefs are always false, but simply that your statement “…they cannot refuse to see the second.. ” (last paragraph above) is false.

  • shieldsheafson

    I’m afraid I cannot follow your reasoning.  Perhaps if you could give an equivalent example?

  • JessicaHof

    And you are still thinking of them as some sort of propaganda rather than memoirs written for local churches and circulation. It is, as John shows, quite possible to emphasise the divine wisdom without making the Apostles look foolish. Your account simply makes no sense of the only evidence we have. There’s no point dismissing it, replacing it with your own speculation and then saying the evidence does not fit your speculation.

  • Jonathan West

    “The only evidence we have”?

    Well, how about all the medical evidence we have that shows that dead people stay dead? Does that not count for anything with you?

    Nowadays, we know dead people stay dead, and more importantly, we know why. So we know that the resurrection stories cannot be true, because we know that human bodies don’t work like that.

    Moreover, we now know that the laws of physics have operated apparently unchangingly for billions of years across the whole of the universe, and there is no reason to think that an exception was made for some small corner of some insignificant speck of a planet on a single occasion just two thousand years ago out of all those billions.

    So, if you cherry pick your bits of evidence and consider only the bits that can be interpreted in agreement with your views, and carefully ignore everything else, you can talk of “the only evidence we have” in support of almost any proposition.

    You seem determined to do this, so this conversation will have to end unless and until you are prepared to give serious consideration to contrary evidence.

    Just remember that all the wonderful achievements of science (including those which enable us to read each other’s words) are in large part a result of looking at contrary inconvenient evidence and trying to work out what is really going on. if and when you are prepared to start thinking scientifically, then we can resume this conversation.

  • JessicaHof

    None of which provides proof of anything save your own view that it simply could not have happened because it runs counter to our experience. It ran counter to the experience of the Apostles and the Jews too, and they rejected any idea of a dying and rising god, and they knew, as you and I do, that men do not rise from the dead. You therefore need to explain why they would pick on such an unlikely story as the foundation for their propaganda.
    You like to ask for evidence, so do, please, give me another religion which saddled itself with a foundational text which portrayed its founders as a little dim, its founder as a crucified criminal, and its crucial moment as something we all know can’t happen.
    It seems to me to be you who refuses to give heed to contrary evidence – that of the Gospels. Nothing you say answers my questions.
    You say it is propaganda. I ask why, if you were making something up, you would make up things so hard to believe and so contrary to what you could expect other Jews to believe. There is only one reason you’d do this – because you had no choice.

    You claim this sort of miracle cannot happen because we have no evidence of it. You then reject the evidence of the Bible, but provide no reason other than that we know it could not happen. How do we know? Because you say it did not happen because there is no evidence. You reject the evidence of the Bible because you have to. It is evidence which does not fit with what you know must be true. That is bringing your own prejudice to bear, rejecting evidence and insisting you are correct.

    If and when you are prepared to abandon your prejudice and consider the evidence carefully, we can begin a conversation. If you wish to continue telling me you are right because you say you are, I commend the mirror to you, as no doubt it will contain an image of someone who is bound to agree with you.

  • theroadmaster

    I don’t think that one can state historically that the Church ever compromised or qualified Her teachings on the evil of abortion.  These have been uniformly and unambiguously firm against the gravity of this act.

  • JByrne24

    I’m sorry. There’s actually no reasoning involved.
    I was simply responding to your statements:
    (1)  “It is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing.”
    and (2)  “they cannot refuse to see the second” (the “second” being statement (1) above, and “they” being Christian sceptics, or similar).

    I remarked that people will readily believe the most ridiculous and incredible things – often the more incredible and ridiculous the more readily believed and the more strong is the belief, and the more valiantly is it defended.
    Examples of this phenomenon are many: Nazism; Scientology; Witches (sometimes sitting in banana leaves in the West Indies); Zombies; Vampires; Alien abduction and aliens in flying saucers; Quack medicine; Spiritualism; The Bermuda triangle; The paranormal; Magic — to name but a few.

  • Jonathan West

    I think nits a pretty poor argument when the best you can say is that I can’t prove that it didn’t happen. Especially when I’m not trying to claim proof that I have proof.

    I don’t work on the basis off claimed certainties. My beliefs are provisional and based on evidence. And the balance of the evidence is strongly against being able to take the resurrection stories literally. If the issue were anything other than the founding principle of your religion, you would almost certainly be agreeing with me.

  • JessicaHof

    No. I am saying that there is evidence – the Gospels. I have offered many reasons why it would have been unlikely that anyone would have made up the account of the resurrection, none of which you have dealt with; you have offered no evidence why the balance is against the account in the Gospels save your own scepticism, which is evidence only of itself.

  • shieldsheafson

    Perhaps you are analysing each sentence separately and not as part of the complete statement.  There is, as far as I am able to understand, no fallacy in the statement.

  • Oconnor

    You missed the point. By your point ALL religions with a book and following have evidence to support them. I showed how silly that was. “The force” merely fits within your criteria. 

    And do you think atheism is a new idea? As long as there has been belief in gods there has been atheism. Just not the example you’re used to. You of course are an atheist, you just happen to choose to believe in one god, while dismissing others. 

    If you can’t understand the weaknesses of Pascal’s Wager and the simple difference between atheism/deism/theism as opposed to a following of a particular church/religion/sect,  it makes it difficult to reply to your comments.

    But to put it simply…. Just because you say unicorns are beautiful and your’s loves you, doesn’t give me any reason to believe you. It’s up to you to prove your unicorn exists.

    As I said at the start, your  “one set of evidence we have” is woeful.

  • JessicaHof

    An atheist does not believe in any God, so I am not an atheist. If you are going to try being clever with words, at least use a dictionary. No, ‘the force’ does not fit the criteria. There is no sacred book, no body of teaching, no church; do you make this stuff up as you go along? If so, try harder before wasting my time. It is not up to me to prove anything to you. YOu keep making this mistake. You are the one haunting Christian sites, for goodness knows what reason. I am here because I believe, you – well who knows? You remind me of a deaf man in a community of the deaf declaring very loudly that music does not exist because you have never heard of it. I am sorry you have missed out on the Grace that is belief, but that, I fear, may be because you do nothing to seek it. Carry on being a smart alec with words, I wish it brought you half the joy my faith brings me.

  • Jonathan West

    Do you make a habit of harbouring such un-Christian thoughts? 

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Whilst Damian Thompson shamelessly promotes his book ” the Fix ” on his blog on the Daily Telegraph , he allows Anti Semitic posters a free hand whilst ensuring anybody who is Jewish is Blocked from commenting