Friday, November 25, 2011

'Hang on. I just shot someone'

General Richard Dannatt, until his retirement Britain's Chief of the General Staff, is a committed Christian.

Writing in the Guardian, he says the military needs to have not only good leadership and sound morals, but a spiritual dimension to sustain the soldiers. He quotes a British private who had just shot his first enemy fighter in Afghanistan:

"Afterwards, I sat there and I thought 'Hang on. I just shot someone.' I had a brew and that. I didn't get to sleep that night. I just lay there all night thinking, 'I shot someone.' It's something strange. A really strange feeling. You feel like, you know, a bit happy with yourself - I've done me job, it's what I've come here for, know what I mean? He's Taliban and I've got one of them. You feel quite chuffed about it.

"Then you're feeling like, you know, well you know, sad. You're thinking. . . well, you know. . . you know, the, the geezer's another human being at the end of the day, like. Then you get the feeling, well, you know, it's either him or me. And then you're thinking. . .

"I think people get, like, you know, religious then as well. You're thinking, well, in the bigger picture, if there is a Geezer up there and a Geezer downstairs, what does that mean to me now I've just shot someone? Is that me done for? Am I going to hell or what? And all of that went through me mind that night, for hour after hour after hour."

Young soldiers may not understand the politics that led to war or the ethical considerations involved in their doing what they're doing. They may not have a Christian background, but they still have, it seems, an awareness of the value of human life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The tragedy of Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi lives in Pakistan. She is a wife and the mother of five children. She is also a Christian.

One day she went out to work in the fields with some other women, who were Muslims. She is said to have drawn water for them, which they refused to drink because they said it was contaminated by having been handled by a Christian. They tried to convert her to Islam, but she stood up for her faith in Christ. The women said she made a disparaging remark about the prophet Mohammed; this she denies.

Asia was taken to court, charged with blasphemy against the prophet, and sentenced to death by hanging.

The Muslim cleric in Asia's home town has promised if Pakistan does not execute her, he will kill her himself. Another cleric has promised a $6,000 reward to anyone who murders her. Asia is kept in solitary confinement in case she is attacked in prison. Her family is in hiding.

A government minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, who spoke up for Asia, was shot dead by Muslim extremists. Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who called for a pardon for Asia, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. The judge at the trial of the bodyguard had threats on his life and was forced to leave the country.

It is a year since Asia was condemned. She has appealed against the conviction, but it may be years before her appeal is heard. Her case became known abroad, and many outside Pakistan have complained to the Pakistani authorities. If her sentence is commuted, there will be uproar in Pakistan. If she is executed, there will be indignation abroad.

Meanwhile, Asia Bibi languishes in a tiny cell, still under sentence of death, a victim of Islam and religious hatred.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PVS patients are misdiagnosed

Patients in so-called persistent vegetative state are awake, but according to doctors, unaware. (I dislike using the expression vegetative state. No human being is ever a vegetable. Vegetables are things you can throw away.)

According to a study published in the medical journal the Lancet, new research at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and University Hospital in Liege, Belgium, shows that despite rigorous assessment, many patients said to be in PVS are misdiagnosed.

Previous studies have shown that fMRI scans can uncover awareness in apparently vegetative patients, but such scans are not always available and can produce confusing results. The new research used "a considerably cheaper and more portable technique" - an EEG machine, which records brainwaves - on 16 patients diagnosed as being in PVS.

Although they were unable to move their limbs physically, the patients were told to imagine moving their right hand and toes. Three patients produced repeated and reliable brainwave patterns which showed they were aware of the commands and responding to them.

Judges in UK courts have given permission for food and water to be withdrawn from more than 40 PVS patients, causing their lives to be ended.

Here is the question: how many patients dehydrated to death have been aware but unable to respond?

And here is another question: will the knowledge that some patients are awake and aware prevent this happening in the future?

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith agrees with me about the expression persistent vegetative state, which he says should be changed to "persistent unconscious state." The v-word, he argues, "demeans, diminishes, dehumanises and degrades the moral value of the patient."

And don't think, he says, that learning a patient is conscious will lead many to advocate against their dehydration. Although permission to dehydrate a minimally conscious patient was recently refused in a case in the UK, many have argued that someone being minimally conscious is even more reason to pull the plug because they will be suffering from the potential knowledge of their limitations.

"We really need to change our values," he says, "so that all of us are embraced and accepted as moral equals regardless of our cognitive states."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Words of wisdom?

We've all seen signs outside churches bearing messages varying from "WHAT'S MISSING IN THIS CH__CH?" to "SEVEN PRAYERLESS DAYS MAKE ONE WEAK." (I would have thought it would have taken considerably fewer than that.)

Are such signs effective?

The Gadsden Times reports on one church that thinks so. The church is situated at the side of a busy road, and 32,680 vehicles pass by each day.

People to whom the church is mentioned say "Oh, I know your church. I read your sign every day." One man recounted with tears in his eyes how when he was getting a good old telling-off from his wife, he remembered reading on the sign "MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS" and managed not to lose his temper. A woman on her way to commit suicide read a message on the sign which said simply "HANG IN THERE!" and abandoned her suicide attempt.

If you wanted to have such a sign, where would you get all the sayings to put on it? Apparently if you google "church sign sayings," you'll get hundreds. One site here has more than a thousand. Enough to keep you going for ages.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

If the wind isn't too strong

Here's a story to encourage you. Or put you off your breakfast, depending how you're feeling this morning. To encourage you, I hope.

Everett Penrod is an American. He was ordained to the ministry in 1942, became a US Army chaplain, served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Korean war and the war in Vietnam.

He has written 13 Bible-based novels. He teaches a Bible class at a local church. He's a trained pilot. Flying, he says, is one of his favourite hobbies.

For 35 years he competed in athletics. He had to give that up while he had hip and knee replacements and recovered from a brain injury - a subdural haematoma - sustained in a car crash. He got back on the athletics track last year.

Last month he joined 10,000 others in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah, where he won four gold medals and set two new world records for his age group in the 50 and 100 metres.

By the way, he's 96 years old.

"Usually when a competitor sets a record, the judges will test you for steroid use," he says. "When I finished the race and set a record, the judges didn't test me." He asked them why. "They said at my age I needed steroids."

Everett intends to continue running, he says, "if the wind isn't too strong."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A poor choice, Mr C

That doughty defender of marriage and the family, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, insists it is important that people understand the difference between living together and marriage.

He says a live-in relationship is more likely to break down than a marriage relationship. He blames broken homes for funnelling children into the gangs that ran rampant during the summer riots, and says failure to support marriage will lead to further social breakdown.

Research by the Jubilee Centre based on published data covering 14,103 households and 22,265 adults supports his view. That research showed couples who lived together before marriage were 15 per cent more likely to divorce, and those who had previously lived with a different partner were around 45 per cent more likely to divorce.

Although the average length of unmarried relationships rose from two-and-a-half years to three-and-a-half years between the 1980s and the 2000s, fewer than one in four unmarried couples lived together for more than six-and-a-half years. Couples living together at the birth of their first child were six times more likely than married couples to split up by the time the child was five and four times more likely by the time the child was 16.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, says when a couple marry, they make a lifelong commitment to each other in the presence of witnesses. A "trial lifelong commitment," he says, is a contradiction in terms.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports a change in the law to allow homosexuals to marry. ComRes, commissioned by Premier Christian Media, asked churchgoers at the end of October if they support or oppose the Government's proposal to legalise same-sex marriage.

The results show that of 544 interviewed, 11 per cent supported the proposal and 83 per cent opposed. Six per cent didn't know. Fifty-seven per cent indicated that as a result, they would be less likely to vote Conservative in future.

Commentators are pointing out that one per cent of the UK population identifies itself as homosexual, and some five million people are regular churchgoers. If David Cameron is risking alienating 57 per cent of them, they say, that's a pretty poor political decision.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Time for churches to wake up

UK equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has announced that by the end of the year there will be a system in place to allow same-sex civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted on religious premises. There will be no delay, it seems, for the implementation of an item on the homosexual agenda.

The Church of England says it will not bless same-sex couples. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the move. Evidently a tiny minority of churches is to be used to set an example to the others.

Miss Featherstone says no churches will be compelled to perform same-sex services; to do so will be voluntary. There will be an "opt-in" system for churches wanting to take part.

No doubt when the system is in place homosexual activists will sue churches not willing to take part on grounds of discrimination and courts will be keen to uphold anti-discrimination laws.

Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, puts it well: "We have no doubt about what will happen. Churches will inevitably be coerced into performing these ceremonies, and those who don't will be vilified and sued. Nobody will seriously believe the Government's assurances to the contrary, given the way in which previous assurances on civil partnerships have been shattered."

The day may not be too far off when ministers not willing to perform same-sex partnership ceremonies in church will have to resign - or face the full weight of the law.

Churches, wake up.

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the possible introduction of same-sex marriage and the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. It says that while no decisions have been taken, "The Government's initial view is that marriage should be open to both same sex couples and opposite sex couples. . . It is clear that some same sex couples would prefer marriage to a civil partnership, as the appropriate way to declare and formalise their commitment to each other."

The consultation closes on December 9.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Sexualising children in school?

One of my daughters obtained contraception from the school nurse when she was only 14 after being heavily pressured by her then boyfriend, Jo Simpson writes in the Family Education Trust's Bulletin.

I knew nothing about this for over three years until she told me about it a few months ago. We have had numerous conversations this year, and my daughter (now 18) is convinced that making contraception available to pupils on school premises puts pressure on them to have sex.

If contraception had not been available at school, she feels there is no way she would have gone to the doctors or to the chemist to get contraception and therefore would not have given into the pressure she was under. She subsequently ended the relationship with her boyfriend and has carried the regret of not waiting ever since.

I am deeply concerned that people who are strangers to our children are able to give them contraception without the consent of their parents and without our children being able to fully understand the possible consequences of what they are doing. Sex is a life-changing and a life bringing act. There is no condom on earth that will protect a child from a bad reputation or a broken heart, or prevent regret. . .

Sex education in schools needs to be looked at in conjunction with the sexualisation of children. It amazes me how the government makes decisions that are only serving to fragment the family further and further, and destroying society's foundations.

Although the Government has said that it has no plans to change the law on sex education, it is under pressure from both MPs and peers to make sex education compulsory from the beginning of primary school and to remove or limit the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education lessons.

People have just until the end of the month to take part in the Department of Education's consultation on PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) education, including sex and relationships education. They can point out, if they wish, that sex education should not be compulsory in primary schools and all schools should be free to decide how sex education is provided in consultation with parents.

Details of the consultation can be found here. A briefing paper can be found here. Responses must be received by November 30.

Friday, November 04, 2011

'Instability and uncertainty' in the Middle East

New rumours of an imminent Israeli strike against nuclear installations in Iran were flying everywhere this week, fuelled by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speaking to the Israeli Government about the threat from Iran, a rush of activity by Israel's military forces and the US publicly seeking to dissuade Israel from making the first strike.

Then it was said that the US was organising an attempt by the US, Britain and Israel to persuade Iran that an attack could become a reality if Iran does not give up its drive for a nuclear weapon. It is reported that soon Iran will have all its nuclear facilities deep underground where they will be invulnerable to attack.

Finally, it was suggested that Israel is preparing to defend itself against the fallout from a possible US-backed NATO attack on Syria aimed at deposing Syria's President Assad. Assad has threatened that if Syria is attacked he will attack Israel, creating a wider conflict that would make it more difficult to topple his regime. Syria has tens of thousands of missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon similarly has tens of thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel; Hamas terrorists, sworn to Israel's destruction, are armed to the teeth in Gaza.

"If I had to summarise what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty," Prime Minister Netanyahu told his parliamentary colleagues on Monday.

Palestinians in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel in the past week, with 35 missiles falling in one day. They were using a Grad multiple rocket launcher believed brought from Libya. They are reported to have obtained others from the same place.

From the time the alarm sounds, Israelis have just 15 seconds to find shelter. Young children are particularly liable to emotional damage from the constant threat of incoming missiles.

There have been some remarkable escapes from death and injury in rocket attacks. One school has been turned into a makeshift synagogue for Sabbath services every Saturday for 40 years. Last Saturday the man whose job it was to open up was in hospital, so there was no service. When it would normally have been busy, the empty school was hit.

"It was a miracle," said one congregant. "People should come to see what a great miracle it was."

Others were not so fortunate. One man was killed and others injured.