Thought for the Day - Rev Angela Tilby
Good morning. The Libyan documents appearing to suggest British complicity with Colonel Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies are potentially shaming especially as MI5 and MI6 have repeatedly denied any involvement in rendition and torture. If the claims are true the real damage is to our values, our belief in human rights and proper legal processes. In just over an hour Dame Elizabeth Manningham Buller, the former Director General of MI5 will give the first of her Reith lectures on terror and security. Her position since retirement has sometimes been outspoken – only last week in an interview on Woman’s Hour she said ‘Torture is against international law. It is also wrong. It is also immoral’. There was a passionate edge to her voice as she said those words – and I found myself moved by her conviction – especially because as one of Britain’s chief spooks her main concern was our security. Yet when Jenni Murray pressed her with the argument that torture sometimes saves lives she remained adamant that it is still wrong, implying that there might be times when the moral cost, even of saving lives, could be just too high.
The ethical dilemmas faced by a Head of MI5 are never going to be simple, but they at least challenge us to think about our basic values. Of course we all want our values to be valuable, to help us feel that we are worthy and upright citizens. But the real test of any moral dilemma is whether we stick to our values even when it means risking our own interests. We seem to be genuinely confused about this. Although we don’t admit it many of us are closet utilitarians – we endorse the values of, say, free speech, human rights etc, until something happens which really threatens our security, our prosperity, even our lives, and then we start making exceptions. We suspend our values in response to those who challenge them. It is as though our much valued values were no more than a game, and if the opposition plays by different rules we are entitled to suspend our own. Our city looters broke the rules, but perhaps they were copying a wider selfishness which is not easily challenged.
But surely the point of values is that they go beyond self-concern, you stick to them whatever the cost because they are simply right, because they make for a better, fairer more human life. If they are just about protecting us, they will fail us. I sometimes struggle with the harsh choices of the Christian faith I profess. I am troubled by the saying of Jesus that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for his sake and for the Gospel’s will save it. But that saying speaks right into this dilemma. We are not saved by putting our security first but by standing firm, whatever the cost, for what we believe in.
Available since: Wed 7 Sep 2011
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