Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Good morning. The only known letter signed by Hitler went on display for the first time this week. It is a chilling read. Written in 1919 when he was an insignificant unknown, he said “The final goal must be the uncompromising removal of Jews altogether”. Within two decades that extremist statement had taken devastating effect.
This week also saw the publication of the government’s Prevent Strategy, designed to counter today’s form of extremism ,which in so far as it is focussed on violent extremism has been widely welcomed. The problem of course is that our democratic way of life, which the strategy is designed to uphold, allows for extremist points of view, however unpalatable or even evil we think they are, provided they do not incite violence, but distinguishing the one from the other is not always easy in practise.
There is another problem . Countering terrorism has too often been muddled up with debates about social cohesion and multi-culturalism. So I want to say plainly that we live in a society of many cultures, and we should rejoice it. There is not just the cultures of our four nations, but of all our very different cities, and the whole range of sub-cultures in a big city like London. There is youth culture, the culture of middle England, and of a whole range of ethnic minorities. So what holds us all together? The report refers to British values, defined as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths”. Three cheers for that. But is that all?
The Empire of Ancient Rome was also a multi- cultural society held together by civic values. But philosophers taught there was more than this-there was our common humanity, the spark of reason or even divinity within each one of us. Then, on the first Pentecost, a Feast the Church celebrates this Sunday, the first Christians discovered a new source of unity. When they preached, as the Acts of the Apostles puts it:
Parthians, Medes, Elamites;inhabitants of Mesopotamia, of Jusdea, Cappadocia, of Pontus and Asia, of Phrygia and Pamphilia, of Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene”-and so on “all of us hear them telling in our own tongues the great things God has done”
It sounds like an amazing simultaneous translation. But perhaps this is best understood in terms of some words of psalm 42 “Deep calls unto deep” or “heart speaks to heart”. They heard not just words but where those words came from and they found themselves bound up with one another beyond cultural differences not just by a shared humanity, but in the fathomless depths of a new spiritual reality.