Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Month: June 2018

George MacDonald on Heaven and Plurality

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Christian who wrote novels, poetry, sermons and fairy tales. He was an inspiration to C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden and G.K. Chesterton and one of the fathers of the literature of fantasy. Here are a few of his thought-provoking words:

We all know something nobody else knows

Everyone of us is something that the other is not, and therefore knows something – it may be without knowing that he knows it – which no one else know: and… it is everyone’s business, as on of the kingdom of light and inheritor in it all, to give his portion to the rest.

George MacDonald, The Inheritance

Conformity is a sign of decline

All wickedness tends to destroy individuality and declining natures assimilate as they sink.

George MacDonald, Alec Forbes, Volume III, Chapter 26

Persecution is born from the fear we cannot defend our faith

Clara’s words appeared to me quite irrelevant… but what to answer here I did not know. I almost began to dislike her; for it is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors.

George MacDonald, Wilfred Cumbermede, Chapter 18

The usefulness of the moral law

Of what use then is the law? To lead us to Christ, the Truth – to waken in our minds a sense of what our deepest nature, the presence, namely of God in us, require – to let us know, in part by failure, that the purest efforts of will of which we are capable cannot lift us up even to abstaining from wrong to our neighbour.

George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Love Thine Enemy

To not forgive is spiritual murder

It may be infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling, that in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated.

George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, It Shall Not be Forgiven

The desirable immortality

To some minds the argument for immortality drawn from the apparently universal shrinking from annihilation is the one thing to be longed for, with all the might of longing which is the mainspring of human action. In a word, it is not immortality the human heart cries out after, but that immortal, eternal thought whose life is life, whose wisdom is wisdom… Dissociate immortality from the living Immortality, and it is not a thing to be desired.

George MacDonald, Wilfred Cumbermede, Chapter 58

What is Heaven?

The Great Divorce by C S Lewis is a wonderful thought piece on the subject of what will happen after death. Lewis delights in taking worries or philosophical problems and turning them on their heads.

The first problem is our tendency to imagine heaven as somehow less real than ordinary life, all ghostly and spiritual. But, as Lewis shows us, this cannot be right; heaven cannot be less real than earthly reality – it must be more real. So, when the narrator arrives in heaven, on a day’s bus trip from Hell, he finds he can barely walk, for the grass is too sharp for his feet.

The second problem is that, particularly today, we struggle to see how God can allow Hell to exist. But, as Lewis suggests, Hell can exist because God cannot force us to love. It is Hell that is ghostly and insubstantial, because people are free to choose not to love, and it is that failure that condemns them to their own Hell. So, after visiting Heaven most of the visitors return to Hell, not because they are not welcome, but because they cannot give themselves to love.

This of course connects to this brilliant little Hasidic story:

A rabbi asked his students how they could tell when the dawn had come and morning prayers could be said. One student responded by saying, “When you can see the sheep on the hill.” Another suggested that one can tell that the dawn has come when a person is able to distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine. “No,” said the wise one. “It is dawn when you can look into the faces of human beings and you have enough light within you to recognize them as your sisters and brothers.”

The painting is by friend, the artist David Beatson.

What Welcome Means

welcome means
it seems
when you come
we’ll see you well
see you safe at last
see you’re made
welcome

Social Care Car Crash

This week I have been working in the USA, but it’s been hard to get people to understand how severe the cuts to social care (children and adults) have been in England. But here’s my best shot at a metaphor:

A family is crossing a busy road. The traffic lights is red, the family crosses, but a car ploughs into the whole family – children, parents and grandparents are scattered across the road, bleeding, broken and dying. The car stops and a drunken driver leans out of the car window and shouts, “Don’t worry I’ll go and get help.” But when the car arrives at the hospital it smashes straight into the side of the ambulance.

The Government – which keeps promising to help social care – is the primary source of the disastrous cuts to social care – but somehow we keep normalising their destructive behaviour.

Today (in terms of numbers served) adult social care has been cut by 50%.

Graph showing 50% reduction in adult social care since 2009

Severity of cuts in English adult social care

Cuts to children social care have also been vicious.

This is because central government has cut funding to local government by about 60% or more, and these cuts are deepening every year. Since 2010, we’ve been told:

  1. It’s okay we can take money out of the NHS (healthcare) to subsidise these cuts – but funding for the NHS has not been increased to make that possible (and its a crazy way to solve the problem anyway).
  2. Don’t worry we’ll eventually come up with a plan for funding social care differently – but the only plan we’ve seen was to make older people pay more money for it and this was quickly shelved when the public got to hear about it.

As an Englishman there are many deeply upsetting and shameful aspects to what is happening in my country:

None of this necessary or fair. Social care has always been a small, but important, part of government expenditure (about 1-2% of GDP). It is low cost and relatively efficient. It is a preventive service which, when it’s working well, reduces the money spent on healthcare or on forms of institutionalisation.

The UK Government’s policy has also been severely condemned by the United Nations as a breach of human rights, and yet it continues unabated today. Even worse, this policy is just one part of the Hostile Environment created for people and families with disabilities: cuts to income security and housing combined with the growth of mean-spirited systems of assessment, control and sanctions are driving up rates of suicide and depression.

There is still no sense of national scandal and no sense of accountability on the part of our rulers. Grass roots organisations like Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) have tried to force this issue onto the agenda but there is still no effective national campaign that combines the many powerful groups and organisations involved directly or indirectly with social care.

It doesn’t need to be this way

If the leaders of opposition parties, trade unions, major charities and local government could open their eyes, listen to people and work together then this policy could easily be reversed and a new direction set.

I would ask everyone who works in the social care sector, but especially those who are likely to retire with a good pension one day, to think about this problem and ask yourself:

What do you want to be remembered for when you’ve gone?

You survived the car crash

Or

You helped turn this problem round

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