I’ve been brewing this post for a while. I apologise in advance for its somber tone, and the fact that it doesn’t mention chickens.
I’d like to describe three deaths, which happened over a space of four days about a week ago. Two you might have heard about, a third you probably won’t have.
The First Death
On Saturday, 30 May, Corporal Stephen Bolger of the 1st Parachute Regiment, a career soldier working in the Special Forces Support Group, was killed while on active service in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Cpl Bolger’s death means a lot to me because I know his parents, who are near neighbours in Cromer, where I live.
The Second Death
The Third Death
On Tuesday, 2 June, I was on a train between London and Norwich which stopped for about an hour in the middle of Essex. The reason was a fatality at a level crossing further up the line. I don’t know whether the person deliberately threw themselves in front of a train, or if they had decided to cross the track regardless – to risk death for the sake of a few seconds time saved. An anonymous life, cheaply bought.
What do all these deaths have in common? Dr Tiller was slaughtered by extremists who fail to see that it is in any way odd to have a religious devotion to the sanctity of life so intense that it impels them to take life from others, just as human; and which also curtails the freedom of many in society, women in particular, to live lives as human beings as opposed to mobile incubators, slaves to the whims of God and their menfolk.
Cpl Bolger gave his life fighting for the same things as Dr Tiller – for freedom, freedom of choice, freedom from religious bigotry and extremism, in a country where women risk death by going to work, or even for seeking an education. Whatever one thinks of the war in Afghanistan in terms of geopolitics, there are some things that are worth fighting for.
What of the third death? The anonymous fatality that delayed a few hundred commuters for an hour or two, and quickly forgotten? A death that happened on a glorious summer’s evening? In some ways that is the most scandalous of all, because it shows how some people think so little of life that they are prepared, as if on a whim, either to remove it from themselves, or risk it for a few seconds time saved.
Now, suicide was once a crime, on the grounds that only God had the right to determine the time and manner of one’s death. Even if God is out of the picture, the sanctity of life remains. But then, how does this apply to the abortionist, or the soldier, whose business is also death? The arguments are too long, complicated and painful to rehearse here, but I would say this – that Dr Tiller and Cpl Bolger were, through their activities, supremely respectful of life and would take it only after lengthy soul-searching and calculation about its consequences. Those ranged against them, although claiming equal sanctity, were driven more by blind doctrine rather than rational thought.
There’s a revealing passage in The Bible The Lord of the Rings that expresses this very well. Frodo, learning of the perfidy of Gollum, tells Gandalf that he wished the wretched creature dead. Gandalf’s counsel is wise, and immediate – not to be too hasty to deal death in judgement, for even the very wise cannot see all ends.