Religious symbols have been on display in public for many years, whereas secularists are trying to remove them.
However, religious speech is not so common in UK public affairs unless a muslim refers to Muhammad. So-called Christian comment is almost always wide of the biblical and Christian mark. How often do you hear Jesus Christ quoted? Presumably it is rare because most people would not recognize them as Jesus’ remarks and as many people would not care.
Two significant deaths in recent days have brought religion to the fore again.
Sir David Amess, MP
Sir David Amess MP at his usual constituency surgery was murdered by a coward on 15/10/2021 and in the emergency, while paramedics fought in vain to save his life, the police prevented a Roman Catholic priest giving the ‘last rites’ to the dying man.
The Daily Mail on 16/10/2021picked up the story, which was then championed by journalist Peter Hitchens (typo corrected here) on 17/10/2021 as evidence, in his opinion, that we are no longer a Christian country and he followed it up with a discussion on Talk Radio on 18/10/2021 repeating his assertion that this proved that “Britain is no longer a Christian country”. The same day, Labour MP, Mike Kane paid tribute to Sir David in the House of Commons, picking up this part of the tragedy and saying: “Catholics believe that extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death”. In his Saturday 23/10/2021 column in the Mail Online Hitchens articulated his view that a Roman Catholic priest should be viewed as one of the emergency services allowed to a dying man at the scene of a crime and agreed with Kane’s suggestion in his House of Commons tribute to have an ‘Amess amendment’ to permit Roman Catholic priests to give ‘the last rites’. Hitchens argument was “can anyone come up with an instance of a crime scene being contaminated by the presence of a priest giving last rites to a homicide victim, so that the prosecution failed?” His twitter feed led to a debate in which various opinions were expressed about police discretion, the rare possibility of a Roman Catholic priest being the murderer whose DNA at the scene could be ‘explained’ by his administering ‘the last rites’. A policeman said that in 40 years of policing he could not “recall a case of a priest attending the victim to give the last rites”. A video was posted of a medical doctor stating that the last rites were administered during the mayhem of Bloody Friday although this was hardly comparable. The current situation about police discretion in Northern Ireland was posted online which states: “Scene Log Officers should consult with the senior officer at the scene in relation to requests from persons wishing to enter the scene e.g. priest wishing to administer last rites. All such requests will be considered individually and if a decision is made to allow entry, full forensic protection will be required.” Although the historical argument is confounded by the modern ability to examine DNA, which was not available in the past, this current police advice seems to cover the situation, especially as there was no doubt about identifying the killer in this case. Hitchens repeated his question three days later, either discounting or overlooking one example cited by more than one person.
The same day as Hitchens’ column appeared, George Galloway on his Sputnik programme noted Hitchens’ support. It seems that there is police discretion in such matters and Steven Norris MP said in his discussion with George Galloway that ascribing blame is not appropriate in such circumstances. Galloway commented: “For some us, receiving the last rites is as essential as receiving the medical attention itself beyond a certain point.”
Christianity in the public square
As my blog seeks to put the Christian perspective on the issues of the day, it is worth pointing out that neither the Bible nor Jesus say anything about any religious rite guiding the soul to God after death. Jesus does tell us that the beggar Lazarus “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” Lk 16:22, which ought to be sufficient comfort to dying Christians who trust in Jesus to get them to heaven. The Bible also tells us “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” Ecc 12:7, no matter how and where they die. The real evidence that Britain is no longer a Christian country is that there are so few able and willing to point out such biblical truths, especially when they should be helpful to those held in bondage to ceremonial rites.
The second significant death in recent times was that of Colin Powell, the former American Secretary of State during the Iraq war. This event produced a tweet from George Galloway and provoked the usual chatter on Twitter from those expressing their opinions. However, most comments were not about the first part but the latter part of Galloway’s tweet – “The Judgement Day has arrived for the departed #WarCriminal” – nor were they about the war criminal comment but about the Judgement Day. The tweets showed that whether they believed in it or not, many people were happy to consign Colin Powell to hell. The tweet seemed to touch a nerve.
It is true that judgment day had arrived for Colin Powell, as it does for every dying human being. “It is appointed unto men once to die and judgment with this” Heb 9:27. It is not a happy sight to witness people gloating at what they consider to be a descent into hell. Scripture says: “Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee at thy coming” Isa 14:9 but why those on Earth should join in that chorus is open to question.
I have often called for Christianity to be articulated in the public square and I suppose something is better than nothing on the principle that religious beliefs might even be discussed again after being so long absent from the public square. Even erroneous religion might help if it is a foil against which to propound biblical teaching and the views of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Life after death
Each case mentioned in this blogpost raises the question as to what happens after death and the best person to tell us about this is the Lord Jesus Christ. He says nothing about religious rights at death helping us to get to heaven. Rather, He said: “I am the way to the Father’s house” Jn 14:6.
He also said that if you do not believe that Jesus is God’s appointed Messiah then you shall die in your sins Jn 8:24. The implication is that without Christ you will be on your own when you die, and that you will have to give account for your own sins to God by yourself.
On the other hand, the Christian message is that it does not have to be like this. The apostle John tells us: “‘If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ 1Jn 2:1.
However, if you will not make use of Jesus’ advocacy then you will be very much on your own at that solemn moment when you transition out of this world into “the world to come” Mat 12:32, Mk 10:30, Lk 18:30, Heb 2:5 and Heb 6:5. We need the Good Shepherd to be with us in the moment of death.
Tory MP Stephen Norris described his Labour colleague Sir David Amess as “an ideal MP”. Commenting on security, George Galloway said: “we have not learned much.” If we want eternal security, we must learn from Jesus Christ.