A Catholic mate referred me to an article in favour of assisted dying. The author, Paul Monk, writes clearly and politely against those who oppose his views on the grounds of their religious convictions. I write as someone who has a very clear view about this –and also as someone who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma – and who is of an age .when the subject has more than passing interest.
Mr Monk is different to those he responds to. He is not compelled by dogma and he shows tolerance and restraint. People who are taught – if that is the word – that abortion is murder cannot deal with that issue with either tolerance or restraint. It is about the same with assisted dying.
In one way, you can see the movement of mankind as our being freed up from serving the supernatural. At the risk of getting Groucho Marx wrong, some of my better attachments are to Anglicans and Catholics, and I could not give a hoot about the differences. I am fine with people who want to celebrate magic or God – I see magic in the stars, Mozart, Shakespeare, blackfellas’ painting or playing footy – but I do not rule my life with it. And I object to those who want to do just that to me.
It is one thing to tolerate the irrational. It altogether different to have views forced upon us by people whose position turns ultimately on personal faith – which is by definition beyond proof. That is happening here on this issue and the views of the majority are being thwarted by the views of a shrinking minority in a ghastly reprise of sectarian aggression that our children know nothing of.
That too will pass, but my turn might come any time. And when it does, I want to be able to preserve my view of myself in the way I go. I had no bloody choice in the mode of my arrival here, but I want one for my departure. I regard that right as inherent in my right to dignity that comes from the mere fact that I am human. God has nothing to do with it.
In the last few years, I have had a lot to do with doctors and nurses. The most beautiful sentence in English may just be ‘Are you OK?’ Nurses do it automatically if you make a strange noise. The other day, I was struggling for air as I walked up an alley to the Greeks for lunch. A bloke put his hand on my shoulder and asked ‘Are you OK?’ That is simple human decency. And I expect it to be available if and when I need it most.
If you asked me for the source of my views on our dignity coming from the mere fact that we are human, I might refer to the Enlightenment, and to Kant in particular. As it happens, Kant expressed views about the practice of religion that accord with mine.
Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and ; diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema (like that which the Romans pronounced on him who crossed the Rubicon against the Senate’s will) and is given over to all the gods of hell. Exclusive correctness of belief in matters of ecclesiastical faith claimed by the church’s teachers or heads is called orthodoxy. This could be sub-divided into ‘despotic’ (brutal) or ‘liberal’ orthodoxy.
He repeated part of that argument.
We have noted that a church dispenses with the most important mark of truth, namely, a rightful claim to universality, when it bases itself upon a revealed faith. For such a faith, being historical (even though it be far more widely disseminated and more completely secured for remotest posterity through the agency of Scripture) can never be universally communicated so as to produce conviction.
Macaulay wrote with conviction about the fight for liberation from rule by priests – a body who at one time were prepared to burn people who challenged their monopoly of the road to God and salvation by reading scripture in their own language.
The only event of modern times which can be properly compared with the Reformation is the French Revolution…Each of these memorable events may be described as the rising up of human reason against a Caste. The one was a struggle of the laity against the clergy for intellectual liberty; the other was a struggle of the people against princes and nobles for political liberty.
We can then understand why Macaulay .got political and divisive in a way that is thankfully dead now.
The Reformation had been a national as well as a moral revolt. It had been not only an insurrection of the laity against the clergy, but also an insurrection of all the branches of the great German race against an alien domination. It is a most significant circumstance that no large society of which the tongue is not Teutonic has ever turned Protestant, and that, wherever a language derived from that of ancient Rome is spoken, the religion of modern Rome to this day prevails.
It is sufficient to say that the revolt of the English against the universal church turned on what we call sovereignty – and that’s about how I feel when people feel driven by religious conviction want to tell me what I can and cannot do with my life.
So, if I got approached for treatment by a doctor who professed to be a member of the Catholic Medical Association, I would be inclined to ask: ‘Could you please tell me, Doctor, just how your profession of faith might affect you in your profession while you are treating me?’ And if the answer were not zero, he, she or I would be out of there on the next gurney. Good grief – imagine you are in a dirty fight and you muscle up to your lawyer who says: ‘By the way – I’m with Tolstoy – I take very seriously those bits in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek and not going to law.’
And while we are about it, what about a pinch of Sharia Law in your divorce?