Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Right Old Ding Dong... Or Is It?

In the past 24 hours I have, like everybody else in The British Isles, been totally smothered by the news blanket surrounding the death of Lady Thatcher.

What surprised me most was how much Russell Brand's article resonated with me. Like Brand, the vast majority of my childhood was spent growing up under the shadow of Margaret Thatcher... and like Brand, childhood insulated me against much of what was going on during much of that time.  I was also far more interested and preoccupied in things like Knight Rider, The A-Team, Airwolf, Transformers and Star Fleet to really notice.  I can tell you that my tender protozoic grasp of politics in the early 80's was limited to an understanding that "The Government are the good guys because... well they are the Government, it's their job" and an absolutely morbid gut-wrenching fear that I would be called up to fight in The Falklands War if it carried on until I was 16... because all I knew of relatively modern war was limited to what I had been taught about the World Wars, at school.

However, again like Russell Brand I have grown and have developed my own ideology and political world view... and I have my own understanding of what Lady Thatcher did to and/or for this country.

None of which I really want to focus on in this post.

Instead I want to look at the way that people have reacted to her death.  Without going into detail, I'm not a massive fan of a lot of Margaret Thatcher's policies... so from a political perspective, I'm unable to deeply mourn her loss.  As much as Thatcher has become the subject of hagiography through the granting of a ceremonial funeral and an emergency recall of Parliament to pay tribute and discuss her legacy, she has equally been the subject of demonising... such is/was her divisive nature. I see images of people throwing parties... placards, graffiti and tweets calling on Thatcher to "rot in pieces" or "burn in Hell", and heard the story of how there has been an active campaign to thrust Judy Garland's "Ding Dong The Witch is Dead" to the number one position in the music charts. These are things that turn my stomach. I was raised with the old fashioned idea that you should not speak ill of the dead - De mortuis nil nisi bonum. This puts me at odds with those who believe that  sentiment is just an old superstitious throwback to the notion that the dead could somehow retain power or influence over the living, and that while the tradition is still appropriate in the presence of people we have known privately... it doesn't need to be applicable to people who have lived in the public eye and had massive impact on the lives of everyone.

I'll let you into a little secret though.  It is not superstition... but a very real truth. You don't even have to believe in an afterlife to know this either. The simple fact is: if you allow yourself to be consumed by hatred and anger for any person - even after they are gone, then they do retain power and influence over you... because they are affecting your behaviour in a negative way. There have been many people throughout history who have committed atrocities worthy of utter loathing... and it is absolutely right that when we see acts of injustice and deep political wrongdoing, we treat them with the contempt they deserve.  Yet as a Christian I personally can't see how I can justify holding those feelings for a person while maintaining a belief that such an attitude is in any way compatible with a place in the Kingdom of God. I cannot see how continual hatred for a person (however disagreeable), is reconcilable with a relationship with the God of love.

Some might argue that 1 John 4:20 tells us that this is only so with respect to those whose beliefs we share, but I would argue that the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that actually, the love God requires us to assume and the hatred he requires us to discard... go way beyond that. After all in the time  and culture of Christ, the Samaritans were regarded with utter hostility and yet it is the mercy of the "enemy" that is the key point of the story.

In fact God even illustrates his attitude to "bad people" in the Old Testament:
"Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!"
Ezekiel 33:11a
If God takes no pleasure when the wicked decline or fall... why should we? Where is our justification?

Like it or not, however monstrous her policies were and no matter how her reputation or legacy present her... Margaret Thatcher was in fact just as human as you or I... as her decline into frailty so adequately demonstrated.

Russell Brand described Thatcher's end in these terms:
"The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there's no such thing as society, in the end there isn't."
If anything, if we consider a person to have died under a spell of evil... they are to be pitied... not loathed. So the question I find myself asking is this: If God does not express hatred towards a person (however bad), and is calling us to walk with him in love for the unloved and unlovable... then what good does hating do to a victim, especially when the subject of their hatred is no longer around to answer to it? How do they benefit from such rage? I do not mean to say that the pain and injustice felt by the many people who lost livelihoods or loved ones is not justified. I just wish to reemphasise that point I made earlier... that if we hold on to hatred for people... and let our actions be motivated by that negativity, then it is those people who are controlling us - not ourselves... and not God.

So what are we to do when we find ourselves confronted with such feelings?

Having been watching the third season of Babylon 5 recently, I keep finding my mind drifting back to the episode Dust to Dust. In this episode G'Kar - the renegade leader of a race called the Narns, takes a drug that grants him telepathic ability temporarily.  Whilst under its influence he seeks out his nemesis - Londo Mollari, who is the representative of a race of aliens who have bombed his world back into the stone age, slaughtered millions of his people and forced many survivors into slave camps.  He has every reason to be angry... he has lost everything. Yet in his rage, he has a quite unexpected epiphany:

I think the lesson G'Kar learns here is very relevant to us and teaches us a better way to react to gross injustices.  Does it matter who wounded society? Who is right and who is wrong in terms of ideology? Is it not more important to recognise the needs of those who have been caught up in the wake of those ideologies and are suffering because of them? Rather than be angry and bitter to a person who cannot be changed or reasoned with.  Is it not better instead to devote that energy into something positive to help those who remain? To save by hook or by crook anyone we can?
What if all those people who have bought "Ding Dong The Witch is Dead", had instead bought "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" by the Justice Collective? That is a song that praises the kind of selfless Good Samaritan spirit that if we all adopted in the face of oppression, would see us through many a dark hour and more than that, it raises money for a cause that recognises one of the injustices in the Thatcher era.
What if rather than celebrating the death of a person or hurling abuse at the mortal remains of an old, dead woman who can no longer bring either pain or joy to anyone - what if people instead decided to channel that energy into something better and brighter. To make that day the start of a knew philanthropic journey... not to moan at the perceived injustices caused by what somebody's ideology stood for... but to actually work contrary to it by being a goodwill ambassador... doing what we can, wherever we can to help others?
You have the opportunity here and now to choose, to become something greater and nobler and more difficult than you have been before. The universe does not offer such chances often... don't waste it on spite, use it for good. Walk the path of the Good Samaritan.

If you are short of a few ideas, you can visit this site which provides links to charities that support groups and individuals who suffered in the wake of Thatcherite policies. I don't necessarily endorse all of these charities... but I feel it important to facilitate the free choice of anybody reading who feels motivated to act in this way.


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