I was five years old when World War II started and eleven when it finished. Six long years, and they seemed longer because I was a child. I thought they would never end. We often heard the words “After the war”, which seemed to refer to some dim dream world, in which there would be no more war, or killing, or maiming, or torture, or sickness, or swearing, or hard thoughts, or anything unpleasant, because that was what we were fighting and dying for, wasn’t it?
WW II finally ended in 1945, but the wars went on, (I might easily have been sent to Korea), and the killing and maiming and torture, plus the more “natural” evils of pestilence, famine and death, continued. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse just went on riding, riding, riding. This affects us near and far. Dreadful things happen, and although there are countless saints who work in many organisations such as the U.N. the Red Cross, Doctors without borders (no striking there) and the Salvation Army, the level of hate, terror, ill-feeling, prejudice – on all sides – and just plain nastiness fill our politics, certain perverted forms of religion, twisted versions of the truth in the media, the airwaves of “social” media, and so on and so on. It seems that if there is an evil-shaped hole, of whatever size or depth, it will be filled immediately, be it with simple nastiness or unimaginable evil – devilish cruelty on a huge scale, or hurting people with our now most “popular” crime, defrauding them of their savings.
There are those who deny the existence of evil. To them, everything is good: evil is just a lesser form of good. But what “form” of good is it to behead people, or crucify them or burn them alive, or simply take their life’s savings? No, evil is real. Take slavery – is there no evil there? There are twenty million slaves in the world; quite a number in our own country, where our police seem incapable of doing anything convincing about it, and have been known to punish escaped slaves for being here illegally, after having been transported like cattle and treated brutally.
For hundreds of years the churches have been prominent in fighting evil and promoting good. And religious people, such as Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and countless others have worked, and continue to work, as individuals in a great flowering of virtue from the bedrock of goodness which is the ground of all good religion. I know that Christianity had a history of cruelty hundreds of years ago, but that is over. Now, it teaches love, forgiveness, tolerance, peace, as does Unitarianism, with perhaps even greater tolerance. Every church service that I experience stresses these values, directing our attention from evil to good, as they have done all my life.
Of course, there are indeed non-religious organisations that do this, but the churches have an additional perspective – the spiritual one. There is more to the world, to life, to the universe, to all that is than what we can see, hear, touch smell and taste. Of course it is easy to argue against religion. If we believe anything “spiritual” we make a leap of faith of some kind. Even atheists make a leap of faith, because reason can only take them so far and they cannot be absolutely certain that there is no spiritual dimension to life
We are lucky in Unitarianism, because our “faith”, if you can call it that, allows for Christians, Universalists, Earth Spirit people, Theists. Agnostics, etc. – even some Atheists, if they are open-minded. Good religion has always been necessary, and it is especially so now, when people supporting churches become fewer and fewer. I hope and pray that our church will survive spectacularly in Newcastle, and may God bless you all.
At this time of remembrance, I recall a friend who never took part in Remembrance Sunday because, he said, “It glorifies war.” I said, “No, it doesn’t glorify war. It blesses the memory of those who died in war, but not only that, it reminds us of others, some of whom are still living in the care of charities like the Royal British Legion and The Not-Forgotten Association, who look after people who have suffered physical and mental wounds who would otherwise be forgotten. That is what the funds are for. I’ve seen such men, and some of them cry all night and a few of them cry all day, too. These people we remember also.” And my friend graciously said, “I never thought of it like that.”