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