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Trinity is a place of worship, meeting and quietness in a distracted world.
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Holy Trinity Church
Hoghton Street

Revd Canon Dr. Rod Garner
Holy Trinity Vicarage
24 Roe Lane
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2015 Guest Columns for Southport Visiter


December 2015

We all held our breath as British astronaut, Tim Peake finally made his flight to the International Space Station. It took six years of preparation, 6000 hours of intense preparation and, shortly before boarding, a blessing from an Orthodox priest. As a unique Christmas gift, Major Tim will have spectacular views of the earth. Friends have told him that rather than taking pictures he should simply absorb the beauty and drama of the scene. The photographs can wait. The Christian religion has the same advice for us as we approach the birth of the child who changed the course of history. It invites us to give the ‘selfies’ a break and ponder the timeless story of the divine love that came down at Christmas: the love behind all things -suns, moons and stars- that ultimately gives meaning to our fleeting lives. Try lighting a candle at some point each day between now and the New Year and give attention to its flame. It’s an old religious custom that can bring perspective to our crowded hours.

My own days are very full with pastoral duties as I put these thoughts together and in between is the preparation for some of the biggest services of the year. The Nativity Crib is ready and on Christmas Eve in the presence of hundreds of adults and children, the baby will be placed in the manger. The little ones often seem mesmerised by the scene, aware perhaps of the awe and innocence that captivated our own early years. However, as some of our familiar carols make clear, the Nativity also symbolises tragedy: soon enough this tiny child will become a refugee; a displaced person on the move with his mother and father, hunted by a cruel king named Herod, more than ready to murder innocents in order to protect his power. This Christmas, a prominent London church has installed a dinghy from a Greek island, used by families fleeing from the tyranny and death of Syria. The dinghy will be placed in the centre of the church to remind worshippers that the message of Christmas is never real unless it embraces the sorrow and sighing of a child who – as a familiar carol puts it - was eventually ‘sealed in a stone cold tomb’.

A two-fold temptation faces us this late December. On the one hand, we can say everything is awful as we contemplate global human misery. Expectations are lowered (or non-existent) and we forfeit the wonder of the Season with its promise of hope and renewal. On the other, we can pretend that just because it’s Christmas everything is fantastic and opt for celebrations that end all too quickly and add up to very little. The truth is more subtle, more morally and spiritually demanding. It bids us recognise that everywhere things can be very good and very bad at the same time. The two are held in a precarious balance – triumph and tragedy, birth and death, shattered dreams and new beginnings, all inextricably woven into the unfolding drama of human history. If a baby is born in Ormskirk hospital on Christmas Day, the joy of its parents will overwhelm them. But on that same day Syrian parents will weep for the children they have lost. With or without a dinghy in their midst, congregations gathering in church this Christmas will be invited to feel each of these huge emotions along with their own joys and sorrows. Such deep experience may move them to a feeling of solidarity with all that is human on this fragile earth. And if they can see through the tears there may also be thankfulness for the abiding message of Bethlehem: that God in Christ has felt the anguish of our world and will, beyond the wrecks of time, transform it into the realm of the eternal.

November 2015

We remembered Paris in our own way at Holy Trinity last Sunday morning. A half-muffled bell was tolled and candles were lit in front of a red, white and blue flower display by children and members of the congregation who know France well. We kept a minute’s silence and finished with the following prayer I had written for the occasion: Holy God, give strength to those who mourn; healing to those wounded; light and peace to those who have died. Deliver us from evil in our day and grant us justice in the face of wickedness. Part of the last sentence is a straight lift from the Lord’s Prayer but religious or otherwise, no one should have difficulty with its sentiments. Without seeking elaborate explanations of its source, we know evil is real, instantly recognise its manifestations and lament its tragic consequences. Following the terrorist attacks, ITV postponed the latest episode of Jekyll and Hyde last Sunday. The series takes its inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book that came to him in a dream in 1885. He wrote the first draft in three days but his wife hated it so much that he burnt the manuscript. A second draft followed that became an instant success. The story takes the age-old conflict between good and evil and gives it a new twist. The world does not consist of goodies and baddies with a clear divide between them. Much as we might wish this to be the case, the truth is more complex and troubling. Human beings can be compassionate and kind but also desire wars and slaughter. Both capacities reside in all human hearts and both characters in Stevenson’s book have become part of our language.

There is a Native American story about an old man telling his grandson about the unending battle that goes on inside every human heart. The boy is told about the battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil and fuelled by anger, resentment, hatred and lies. The other is good and fed by love, hope, truth and peace. The grandson ponders this for a while and then asks Which wolf wins? The old man replies The one you feed.

In the aftermath of atrocious acts it is right that we should demand justice and that where possible some kind of moral recompense is made for the loss of life and innocence. But the events in Paris should also call us to quiet reflection, even silence concerning how we are to live together in precarious times. Evil is real and if we give way to our darker impulses it can devour us all. Hatred cannot be conquered by hatred. Somehow we have to hold on to love and common decency and remember that deep down we are all the same. In order to make some sense of life we need the prayers and stories that shed light on who and what we are. There are monsters out there but they are not Muslims. They are individuals like us who have fed the wrong wolf.

October 2015

Following his recent in-depth interview with a national newspaper, I’ve discovered some interesting things about the UK Chancellor George Osborne. He likes ‘gangsta rap’, has no problem letting his kids watch grown up movies and would like to go into outer space one day. I imagine that from next year as Tax Credits are reduced, quite a lot of hard working families will throw in a tenner to help him realise this ambition provided he promises not to return to earth. What particularly caught my eye was his admission that he is an irregular Anglican who doesn’t pray because I can’t imagine a God who would ever need to intercede in the daily travails of my life. Well, lots of Anglicans are less regular than they used to be and we can only hope that there will still be a recognisable C of E in the future when they feel the need to drop in again. The praying business is something else. Dear old George is in a minority here. My hunch is that pretty much everyone prays at some point: often at 31,000 feet when the turbulence is freaking them out or in the consulting room when the medic is about to tell you how the tests went. Less dramatically, worried souls drift into churches and cathedrals every day to light a candle for someone or just to sit quietly and say ‘thank you’ to a presence or power beyond themselves. The conspicuously devout sometimes pray for that elusive space in a crowded car park. Personally, I’ve always believed that the architect of this vast cosmos has enough on his hands with ISIS, global poverty, wars, sickness and social injustices beyond number than to worry about personal parking needs so I tend not to send one up outside the supermarket on a busy day.

Where I think the Chancellor is wrong is in his assumption that prayer is only about asking God to fix stuff in our lives – the ‘daily travails’ (as he describes them) that wear us down. Actually, there is every reason why the Most High should be concerned with our human hopes and fears. The Bible presents him as a moral, loving God for whom even a sparrow falling to the ground is not without significance. And if a sparrow matters, so too does a Chancellor, even if he has dodgy tastes in music and wants to take his passion for Star Trek to a higher level. Have a bit of faith George – austerity doesn’t have all the answers. The more fundamental point about prayer is that it amounts to more than requests for help however real or urgent. True praying calls for us to be still, to learn to love silence, to bear the burdens of others in our hearts and to face the world in all its baffling complexity and fearful need. Prayer points us towards the path that millions have found trustworthy: to a kindly light that never goes out and the realisation that when all the bills have been paid, part of our human business is to become more decent human beings.

September 2015

Not too many of us like to admit that from time to time we are bored. It feels like an admission of failure, that life isn’t living up to its promise or that boredom is often associated with children and who wants to be thought of as childish? It’s not very flattering to the ego to compare ourselves with the kids in the back of the car shouting Are we there yet? Boredom falls into two categories – the ‘simple’ and the 'existential'. Everyone know about the first- the circumstances we long to escape from but can’t. The visit to the relations or the bad sermon that goes on far too long; the tedious work that has to be done that offers little or no satisfaction; the pub bore who insists on relating everything in exhaustive ( and exhausting ) detail – must tell you about my recent trip to the annual Beer Mats Collectors Conference and how it reminded me of that fantastic day when I found a really rare one in The Flying Handbag pub in Blackpool on Tuesday 28th July 1989, about 11am or was it lunchtime, no, it was definitely 11 or 11ish when I think about it and the weather was terrible outside but the pub was friendly and warm and just when I least expected it there it was, the beer mat I thought had vanished from the land and no one, absolutely no one I knew, had it in their collection…’. God bless him, but just a bit too much information for mere mortals to endure.

The second category is more difficult to describe and in some ways more fundamental. It’s the boredom that seems closer to apathy, indifference or even depression – the sense we occasionally have that life can seem empty, the nagging question where do I fit into it? and the worrying suspicion that the answer might be 'nowhere'. It can feel like a weariness of the heart- the emptiness that follows grief or related sorrow or the monotony that has to do with the sameness of things and the endless repetition of events. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament sets all this down with poetic beauty. Such experiences were also common in the later centuries of Christianity as monks withdrew from the world’s temptations only to face the slow passage of time, the hardships of solitude, the flat, dry silence of the desert or the bleakness of the mountain top. Left unchecked or unattended, mindless repetition, whether in religion, prayer, work or relationships can murder the best in us. And endless tedium can make us ill. Pity the GPs who know that what their patient needs is not another pill but a reason to live, a desire to get up in the morning in the conviction that the new day is a gift and will be different from what has gone before. Medication has much to commend it but it can’t provide meaning.

There is a large literature on boredom and its possible causes but not so much on its cures. Unexpectedly, it can prove to be a blessing in disguise – a wake up call to the fact that our lives might be in a rut and that something needs to change in ourselves or others. It is not necessarily a childish emotion or the sign of a lazy mind but simply a normal part of human experience. Sometimes we just are bored and the challenge lies in how we respond to the condition and what, if anything, we can do about it. The easy solution is to embrace distractions that will make it go away. Tempting, but not a good idea. The poet, W.H. Auden tells us why:
Put the car away
When life fails
What’s the good of going to Wales?

July 2015

When the stores or shops open at midnight to launch a new product it’s normally the latest ‘phone or game that has the crowds queuing outside. Not this time. A couple of days ago, many shoppers were happy to stay out late to get their hands on a new book Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Why the fuss and excitement? Lee became famous in 1960 with the publication of To Kill a Mocking Bird, a novel that tells the story of a racially inflamed rape trial in 1930s Alabama. The hero is Atticus Finch, the widowed father of two children who, as a principled lawyer, is confronted by the violence and prejudice of the Deep South. As an anti-racist, he seeks justice for a black man accused of the rape of a white girl but is ostracised as a ‘nigger-lover’. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. It sold over 30,000,000 copies world wide and influenced a generation. Children were named after Atticus and some readers made the law their career in homage to his courage and liberal values. Since 1960 Lee has lived the life of a recluse and Mocking Bird was thought to be her only work. Now in her ninetieth year and frail, the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman has come to light. Hidden or forgotten for more than five decades, her second book is set in the 1950s and continues the story of Mocking Bird. The daughter of Atticus, now in her twenties and living in New York, returns to her home town of Maycomb to pay a visit to her father coping with illness and advancing years. Another change has occurred in his life however, more fundamental in some ways than the onset of old age. To the shock of his daughter, the anti-racist lawyer of her childhood now attends public meetings with the aim of opposing integrated education and equal voting rights in the South. The shift in his stance is not easily explained but it serves as a reminder that the struggle for racial justice and equality continues.

Go Set a Watchman went on sale the same day as the family of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a white police officer’s chokehold, agreed a $6 million dollar settlement with New York City just days before the first anniversary of his death. Garner, 43, was stopped outside a Staten Island convenience store 17th July 2014 as police officers believed he was selling untaxed cigarettes. In the struggle that followed, he was heard gasping ‘I can’t breathe ‘eleven times before losing consciousness and later dying in hospital. The book also follows the funerals of the nine black church members murdered during evening worship in Emanuel church Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a racist whose aim was to begin a civil war. In the past month eight black churches in America have been the subject of arson attacks and the organisation Citizens for White Rights is reported to have collected $4 million dollars from supporters for Roof’s legal fees.

To many people the election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States in 2009 ushered in a new era of opportunity and equality. They were wrong. There have been advances but the racially-motivated violence and murders of the past year have demonstrated that 150 years after the US Civil War precipitated by the iniquity of human trafficking and slavery, something ugly and inhumane still persists in America. The unexpected and timely publication of Go Set a Watchman is both a disturbing read and a wake-up call. Some battles have to be fought over and over again.

June 2015

Woody Allen turns eighty this year and he has just made another film Irrational Man. It tells the story of a philosophy professor who has studied great minds over his lifetime but it has not made him happy. Relief comes by way of a clever new student who brings unexpected meaning into his life. Intrigue and suspense follow but I’m not going to spoil the plot for you! Like so many of his movies, this new film reflects some of Allen’s perennial preoccupations. Late in life he remains creative and still finds delight in jazz, the arts, the landscape of New York and beautiful women. But none of these compensate for his deeper conviction that life is meaningless. As he sees it, much of what we do (including his own successful pursuits) amount to distractions that keep a disturbing truth at bay: Allen believes that we live in a random universe, that there is no God worth believing in and there is no fundamental reason why life is worth living. Life is a train that finally runs you over and pulls into a terminus where the lights don’t shine.

It’s a sombre view supported by the writings of quite a lot of significant thinkers over the past two centuries. Atheism has its noisy champions, science sometimes finds the cosmos awe-inspiring but ultimately without purpose and evolutionary biology keeps us firmly in our place as just another species caught in the web of time that will eventually fade away. These are not silly thoughts and shouldn’t be brushed aside. Well before eighty, assuming we are fortunate enough to reach that milestone, we should have found a creed or philosophy worth believing in - one that reflects our truest convictions including the possibility that as we drink our coffee or get excited about our holiday, the universe cares nothing for such things and there is no providential hand behind history. We are alone. End of.

Where Allen is right, I think, is in his awareness that we are rather talented in keeping mortal questions off our agenda. Busyness makes us feel important and never standing still means we never entertain disturbing thoughts. We all know why millions of people cannot bring themselves to make a will… What he seems to lack however is an outlook that holds the dark in tension with what is also true about life – its order, loveliness and mystery that sometimes convince even the most sceptical that existence has a meaning and there is an upholding presence beneath the flux of things. I can relate bleak stories with the best of them. One parish alone contains enough human misery to fill an ocean: the babies that die too young, the appalling illnesses that come unbidden, the accidents and misfortunes that threaten to rob life of hope and potential. But if I am to be entirely truthful, I must also relate the events that point in another direction: the reality of love that lasts a lifetime, the moral decency of those who respond to tragedy not by cursing the heavens but caring for the victims, the bedside scenes in which death presents itself not as an end but a beginning. The fact is, if we opt for a totally tragic view of life this doesn’t get us off the hook philosophically. We are still left with the persistence of truth and beauty, the capacity of humans for goodness and sacrifice, the desires that are never satisfied by what we amass or own and, of course, the question why such things exist in a world that is held by some to be pointless. In a world driven only by biology, randomness or survival, there is no need for beauty, sacrifice or immortal longings. Yet they persist – inextricably woven into our lives, making the human journey worthwhile and pointing us beyond arid pessimism to the possibilities of redemptive faith.

April 2015

Exactly a week from today I intend to cast my vote at the General Election. It remains a big deal for me. I tend to arrive at the polling station just a few minutes before closing, talk with the counter staff to see how the momentous day has gone and then disappear behind the booth in the hope that there has been a high turnout. Voting in a democracy remains a privilege and a duty. It reflects both the debt we owe to the work of earlier generations that gave a voice to ordinary people to bring about change and our recognition that millions across the globe are denied this possibility. It is an extraordinary fact that in a world still plagued by tyrants, political power in the UK changes hands without violence, coercion or corruption. The furniture van rolls into Downing Street, the former incumbent slips away if the nation thinks its time and not a drop of blood is spilled. Log on to Google Earth and you will struggle to locate many polling booths in North Korea where people can choose between candidates or survive the consequences of crossing out the one name on the ballot paper as a protest.

Later next Thursday evening and well into the small hours, I will do my best to watch the results coming in until the nation has made its judgement. It will be genuinely exciting this time. Despite all the polls beforehand, the outcome is never assured and there will be surprises no one anticipated. It’s not just the unpredictability that will keep me up but the importance I still attach to politics as a huge influence on our lives. I did Politics and Government at A Level, travelled across America shortly before the Watergate scandal in Washington in 1972, was detained at Checkpoint Charlie in 1983 before the Berlin Wall came down and will go to my grave lamenting the appalling Iraq war of 2003 that has had such tragic consequences for its people and the wider region. My political awakening came much earlier on the 20th August 1968 when Soviet Union troops and tanks invaded Czechoslovakia to stop the reforms that came to be known as the Prague Spring. Many people were killed and hundreds wounded. A few months later, a young man named Jan Palach died after setting fire to himself as a protest against the illegal invasion. He was the same age as myself and his courageous death represented a turning point as I left my adolescent years behind.

For all the disappointments and frustrations with politicians in the long years that have followed – the naked self-interest, opportunism, lies and short-term calculations that give rise to apathy or cynicism on the part of the electorate – political engagement remains for me a matter of urgency and importance. There are key areas of life where politics has no remit – grief, sorrow, the human search for meaning, our private relationships, the finality of death or the hope of a hereafter all come naturally to mind in my role as priest and pastor. But jobs, decent education and pay, affordable social housing, a health and police service we can trust are crucial to the hope, flourishing and safety of our communities along with our attitude to the stranger and those who are not making it. In all these areas, politics makes a difference and, from a religious perspective, can be an instrument of God’s kingdom when those who would lead us genuinely pursue a vision of social justice and peace that leaves no one behind.

March 2015

Along with golden daffodils and Easter bunnies, forgiveness is in the air. Today, at huge cost and with much pomp and ceremony, the bones of Richard 111 have been laid to rest. All this for a king described as ‘one of the worst of all English monarchs who sanctioned the killing of children’. Rosary beads were placed in the coffin as a symbol of his Catholic faith and at an evening service last Sunday in a packed Leicester cathedral, prayers were offered for his soul. Not everyone thinks that villains should be forgiven but true religion emphasises the mercy of God and that in the end no one lies beyond his love, unless of course they choose to. The petition ‘Lord have mercy’ is woven into weekly acts of Christian worship along with the belief that despite our failings we are forgiven. The death and resurrection of Jesus that will be uppermost in believers’ minds in the coming days testify to this abiding truth: we may be wayward or morally frail but the love of God is stronger than our flaws and we can move on. Without a faith however – whether in God or the liberating decency of others, forgiveness becomes more complicated. We can hardly forgive ourselves when we get things badly wrong. And if there is no God to accept us when the passing years finally call us away from the cricket crease, we can only hope that the ones we may have wounded over a lifetime will be merciful. The author and poet Clive James is a case in point. After decades in front of the television cameras, he is now chronically ill with perhaps a short time to live. He is still producing exceptional poetry only now it is marked by remorse for his earlier years that were too often entirely self-centred. Back then he amused us with his witty television shows but, by his own admission, his family and children were sacrificed for ambition and a long-standing affair. In this last chapter of his life – and perhaps against the odds - he has been reconciled with his wife who kicked him out after she discovered he was playing away. And the daughter who often felt alone and unloved through a father’s absence has forgiven him. In her words, ‘he is entitled to redemption’. An adored grandchild has also eased the pain of the past.

Clive James is a fortunate man. Not being religious he has no God to turn to for forgiveness. By showing great kindness however, those closest to him have acted divinely. Now reconciled to each other, they feel blessed for what they continue to share. There are intimations here of the famous gospel story that tells of the prodigal son who threw his inheritance away on riotous living yet later found acceptance from his father who ran to meet him without even demanding an apology or explanation. Sadly, it is no always so. Some families refuse to forgive betrayals of any kind and resentments are taken to the grave. In the meantime those who caused the hurt have to live with the guilt and remorse that deny any possibility of inner peace or, in later years, the consoling sense of a life properly lived. Mortality does concentrate the mind and few wish to die unloved or, worse still, unforgiven. I’m sure that in his quieter moments Clive James whispers a silent ‘thank you’ for the surprising reconciliation that has come his way. As a priest and also an admirer of his literary talents, I’m wagering that another surprise awaits him beyond his death: that the forgiveness of his friends was a prelude to the even greater love that lies at the heart of Easter faith.

February 2015

The season of Lent began last week but relatively few will have noticed it was Ash Wednesday. Fewer still will have observed its invitation to fast or call to mind our mortality and the plight of the poor. A lot of other Christian Red Letter days are going the same way. Christmas and Easter still attract decent congregations but All Saints and All Souls, Advent and Epiphany, Candlemass and Shrove Tuesday, Palm Sunday and Harvest no longer form the backcloth to people’s lives. When it comes to religious observance most steer clear of regular churchgoing so none of this is surprising. What interests me however is the way in which the Christian year that once shaped the beliefs and attitudes of many is being replaced by the secular- commercial takeover of the calendar. Think about it. January has now been designated Banuary- the month when we exercise and abstain from the excesses of the Festive Season that leave us bloated or depressed. Valentine’s Day follows in February with cards and chocolates. Mother’s Day falls in March: more chocolate. Lent doesn’t get much of a look in but chocolate eggs are back on the supermarket shelves well before Easter. Father’s Day comes in high summer and then very little until early October when along comes Halloween with spooky sweets and scary films. November brings Bonfire Night before the month ends with Black Friday and the dash to the stores for a bargain. December heralds Cyber Monday when millions order presents online before the Christmas sales that come earlier each year.

We have been here before. In 1849 the French philosopher, Auguste Comte, devised his ‘religion of humanity’. Instead of the traditional Christian festivals he proposed a ‘positivist calendar’ commemorating scientists, philosophers and writers – the movers and shakers who could shine a clear light on life and its meaning. The calendar didn’t go down well but his idea that we should ‘live for others’ became influential. We owe the word ‘altruism’ to Comte. Despite his attempt to clear Christianity from the calendar he remained on the side of the angels and viewed his alternative approach as a means of human improvement. Chocolate didn’t figure in his thinking and buying stuff was not essential to his vision of the good life. Now we seem to think otherwise. If our contemporary calendar is still a work in progress, it depends hugely on confectionery and consumer goods for its point and purpose. This worries me a bit. Mr Kipling is, no doubt, a decent chap with his benign smile and exceedingly nice cakes and I’m sure that the droves of Amazon employees hope we have a jolly Christmas as they despatch our parcels with a festive song in their hearts. But surely we are worth more than this, can and should be better than this when it comes to how we mark the months and seasons. The days of the year are where we live and dream, foster hopes and ambitions, make our way in the world without trampling too much on others and try to remember that being human requires us to aim high and care without counting the cost. Festivals that rely largely on chocolate and a talent for spending target only our pockets. They are not likely to encourage human sympathies beyond our nearest and dearest or make us good. By contrast, the Christian calendar with its examples of saints and holy souls, its seasons of discipline, restraint and charitable works and, most of all, the gospel message that real, authentic living demands the very best of us does so much to promote the common good and make us better people. It strikes me that this really is one calendar that should observed every year and prized rather than ignored.

January 2015

Paris is my favourite European city and I love the French language. After 'bonjour' the first two words I memorised at school were 'je suis'. These two little words have crossed the globe in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks with millions of placards proclaiming Je suis Charlie. It seemed that almost everyone wished to identify with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the right to free speech, including the right to offend or ridicule all religions. At one level, I don’t have a problem with this argument. Historically, religious and political leaders have often abused power, behaved badly, acted vainly and spread ideas that were either ludicrous or vile. Satire is a legitimate way of attacking stupidity, cruelty and vanity in high places. A democracy is poorer without its cartoonists lampooning those with power and influence but woefully deficient in wisdom and humility. Had I been able to take part in the great Paris march however on the Sunday after the masked gunmen caused mayhem, I would have registered my revulsion at the murders but would not have carried a Je Suis Charlie poster. And here’s why. Free speech cannot mean the absolute right to say anything offensive or hurtful about anyone without regard for feelings or consequences. Can you imagine the reaction of that unity rally if one of the marchers had worn a badge that said Je suis Cherif – the first name of one of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen? Or, for that matter, if someone had carried a placard with a cartoon mocking the murdered journalists? I rather think there might have been an incident or a serious personal injury. Courtesy and restraint matter in any civil society for the simple reason that other human beings are entitled to our respect. For all our differences, we are all fellow travellers united by common instincts, fears, ambitions and hopes. What is there to be gained by gratuitous offence simply because someone happens to believe or think differently?

The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier ( 'Charb') was a brave man, a Communist and atheist who despised fat-cat corporations, repressive regimes and religions that couldn’t take a joke – especially Islam. He was the first one the gunmen looked for as they burst into his offices. Reading a little more about him in the past week, it seems that his contempt extended to many other things. His regular column in Charlie was called 'Charb doesn’t like people' and sometimes he didn’t. He was not kind to his critics. He couldn’t figure out marriage and the preoccupation with domesticity and raising children. He held smokers in contempt and thought they should be jailed. Religion had to be mocked, in principle, because it was by nature nonsense and harmful and therefore undeserving of any thoughtful person’s commitment. It did not occur to him that billions of people thought otherwise and that in the practise of their faith did much to relieve the world’s woes. I have the impression of a man who believed in the human person and free expression in an abstract kind of way but failed the test of tolerance when it came to those who did not share his views. There may sometimes be a right to offend when religion goes bad but this does not translate into the duty to offend on every possible occasion. Human beings have feelings. To acknowledge this is not an admission of fear of what might happen if we upset them. It is a basic courtesy, a recognition that deep down none of us deserve to be derided without cause or justification. It is a matter of belief – the conviction that we are all human beings and that decency towards others is integral to our humanity.

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