One of the great things about being a priest is that you get to see so many people die. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching one of my parishioners die. Of course it's not the way it used to be. Parishioners used to die at home, often in excruciating pain. Now they're taken to a hospital, drugged up to their eyeballs and connected to the machine that goes ping!
There's a popular misconception about Christianity and death. Non-Christians naively assume that when we die, we think we just "pass on" in a sort of disembodied form, floating around like a ghostly, eternal Giles Fraser. As a Rev Canon Dr, let me just assure you that this, rather theologically simplistic view of death, is completely wrong. When you die that's it, kaput, finito, you are an ex-person, you have ceased to be. I doubt if you'll find any Christians who have ever thought otherwise.
Today is Ash Wednesday (that's today's news from an ethical perspective), when we Christians are reminded that we are dust and back to dust we shall return. Now all this talk of your inevitable, imminent demise may seem a tad depressing. Not a bit of it! Would you really want me going on and on and on? That's pretty much all that science has to offer you, which just goes to show how rubbish science is. Just imagine - no more beautiful, poignant, parishioners' deathbed scenes.
When sophisticated theologians like Boethius and Augustine speak of "entering eternity" they're talking about something much bigger than the current you. I mean really big. You wouldn't believe how mind-bogglingly, stupendously, unbelievably big. Much, much bigger than this poxy, cramped, boring little universe that we're trapped in. It'll be all so big and mystical and transcendental and eternal and stuff, and not at all like just "passing on".
Isn't the way old people are treated by the NHS just appalling? The Health Service Ombudsman thinks so. So does the Royal College of Nursing. Student nurses are reminded during their training that people are people and need to be treated like people, especially old people.
We all feel a basic revulsion at old people. I know I do, so you must too. Even at 61, I can hardly bear to look at them. That's why most societies have special rules to remind us that old people are people and should be treated as people. We just hand them over to overworked underpaid nurses who can't be bothered to treat old people as people.
Part of the reason we've become less civilised and don't treat people as people any more, is that we don't prepare for death properly, or "praeparatio mortius" as it's more properly known. Everything is more properly known in Latin, for as soon as you know the Latin term for anything, people recognise that you're clearly an expert. Student nurses don't spend enough time thinking about death. People have to learn to face up to death, to confront it realistically, like we Christians do, by getting ready to spend eternity in happiness in the invisible magic afterlife.
Redditch Borough Council wants to use the excess heat from the crematorium to heat the local swimming pool. What should we Christians think of this proposal? Let's ask Saint Augustine.
Well, obviously we can't ask Saint Augustine. That is to say, we could ask him, but being dead it's very unlikely that he would reply. Although he could reply if he wanted to, due to him being a saint. But what might Saint Augustine have thought, had he still been alive?
We don't know Saint Augustine's actual opinion on using crematoriums to heat swimming pools but we do know what he thought of grand tombs and solemn rights for the dead. He says these are for the comfort of the living and make no difference to the dead, them being dead. Even those torn to shreds by lions, have no need to worry - the Invisible Magic Friend still loves them and will take care of them.
I think therefore we can see that Saint Augustine broadly agrees with my opinion on the matter of crematoriums and swimming pools, or at least he would broadly agree were he able to articulate his views, namely that this is a good thing.
But what of the dead people themselves? What do they think of being used to heat swimming pools, thus lowering costs and reducing the council's carbon footprint? Well we can't know what the dead people themselves think, but I think if we could ask them, they would broadly agree with Saint Augustine and myself.
The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. The science of physics is all about investigating life after death. It says so on the doors of the Cavendish Laboratory. I've mentioned this several times before which is why I'm surprised that someone called Stephen Hawking, who clearly has no idea what the purpose of physics is, should dare to contradict me.
At this point, I just want to put an image into your mind by telling you that I love you, that I've reared your children. My lush ruby lips smile when you caress my soft delicate skin, feeling your warm, throbbing heart next to mine.
The Roman poet Virgil believed in an after life. So did the Greek philosopher Plato, as I'm sure all you Radio 4 listeners who shared my wonderful classical education will know.
Just as a passion for me is shared universally, so too is a belief in an afterlife shared by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans - cultures that never had any contact with one another. Makes you think, doesn't it? If all these people had the same ideas, then there must be something in it, mustn't there? And as if the beliefs of all these great cultures gone past weren't enough, I believe in the afterlife. How much more evidence do you need?
And what if, and I stress the word "if", some one had raised himself from the dead? Don't you think that the Aramaic speaking witnesses of this momentous event, would immediately wait for Paul of Tarsus, who didn't witness it, to tramp around the Roman Empire for a couple of decades, drudging out endless dreary letters about it before getting some one else who didn't witness it to write it all down in Greek?
Billions of people believe that Jesus rose from the dead. If you don't agree with them, as many other billions don't, then you just don't understand the nature of empirical evidence.
The clocks go back tonight, ushering in the dark nights.
The Celtic festival of Samhuinn gets celebrated tomorrow. Pagans will light fires and cast spells to prevent evil spirits from crossing between worlds on the day when the border between them is at its thinnest. They do this to protect us all from what lurks on the other side and also because they get to dance around naked together in the woods.
This has led to our modern festival of Halloween, or "All Hallows Eve" as it is more properly called. I have no problem with "Halloween", no problem at all. Doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, it bothers me so little, that I don't even know why I'm mentioning that it doesn't bother me.
So, unbothered as I am, let's move on to discuss the end of summer and the approach of winter, the passing of the light and the descent into darkness, of good and evil, of justice and the opposite of justice, of this world and the next world, of these really, really, deep spiritual questions that have haunted mankind since before the incarnation of the Invisible Magic Friend that definitely happened, of mystery and faith, of the souls of our ancestors and our ancestors' ancestors, of all kinds of mystical, magical woo-woo sort of stuff.
This is precisely the kind of thing that Jesus and John were talking about.
Alternatively, it might just be that the tilt of the earth's axis means that the northern hemisphere now points away from the sun.
Good morning Jim, good morning John and good morning to you all.
Well it's Autumn, not just in the sense of being Autumn but in the sense of being the autumn of my life and so I like to contemplate death.
So is death the end? No, definitely not. There's no such thing as an after-life, but there is a "beyond-life" which is something entirely different. I know this because of the joy I feel when I'm kind, or generous or considerate and I see the smile on a child's face. If you haven't tried being generous before then I really do recommend it, you'll be amazed how good it makes you feel. That's what it's like all the time in the beyond-life and that's how we know that it exists.
This life is like a departure lounge: noisy, crowded, full of people trying to sell you things. It's where you wait for the big shiny plane that whisks you off to happy lands far away.
And now my traditional end of talk joke. A man dies and goes to heaven where an angel asks him what he'd like to do.
"I'd like to see my old teacher," he replies. A door opens and there sits his old teacher with a young blonde on his knee.
"Teacher, is this your reward for all your years of righteousness?"
"No, I'm her punishment."
Time for bed. Good night Jim, good night John and good night to you all.
Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians, and the leaders, churches and organisations that serve them, with the biblical framework, practical resources and models to engage biblically, relevantly and vigorously with the issues they face in todayís world. Hi.
It's a beautiful sunny summer morning. The sky is cloudless and blue, the roses are in full bloom and the birds are singing their little hearts out. So I'd like to ask you, have you considered your own death lately?
Several people have. Seve Ballesteros has. The writer Mike Riddell has thought about it too. He says we should practise dying, so that when the big day comes we'll be ready for it.
We have to prepare ourselves because dying is just so awful. Leaving our bodies so that our invisible magic bit can live for ever in eternal happiness in heaven, where we are reunited with all our friends and relatives who have gone on before, is just too utterly dreadful to contemplate. In the Big Book of Magic Stuff Jesus says we should hate life. I think this just reinforces my message that we should be so very, very sad to leave it.
It's this entirely consistent view of death and the afterlife that assures us Christians that we have such a firm grip on reality.
Why, why, why, why, why? I mean why? Why? Whose fault is it? As it says in the Big Book of Magic Stuff, it's all your fault. Why? That is the question, as Shakespeare said. Or alternatively, as Coleridge said, The motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity. Or alternatively, as just about everyone asks, why?
People don't ask why good things happen, only why bad things happen. This proves that everyone understands that the Invisible Magic Friend made all the good things but is not responsible for any of the bad things, even the ones he inflicted on Job as part of a bet with the Invisible Magic Baddy. But don't take my word for it, or even Shakespeare and Coleridge's (which I'm able to quote thanks to my excellent classical education). Proper physicists like my brother also think the universe has laws because the Invisible Magic Friend made it that way (did I mention that my brother was a physicist?).
I believe that when we die we go to heaven (obviously all friends of mine do). Shakespeare, Coleridge and all proper physicists all agree that I'm right, so it must be true.
Monstrously Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Daphne Todd painted her dead mother. By coincidence, Van Gogh did a painting once as well - this time of something religious. And Rembrandt painted something religious too. A lot of people use art to give life meaning. Without a nicely arranged still portrait, life just isn't worth living.
This just goes to show that art is really just a poor substitute for religion, because religion's much better at giving meaning to life, namely to get a good deal after you are dead. A poet said so too, so I must be right.
Aren't Orthodox icons really nice? The traditional Easter icon is of Jesus standing over the pits of hell. Jesus says, "Sorry for putting you here, it must've been terribly inconvenient," and offers a helping hand to those he's decided to save, while leaving all the sinners to justifiably burn forever. Isn't that just truly inspirational?
Of course, hell isn't an actual place, with fire and smoke and darkness and huge physical suffering, like we used to tell you for centuries. No, no, no. In the modern church, hell is a kind of mystical, insubstantial, mysterious, blurry sort of woo-woo type thingy. Yesterday, on the other hand, the Moscow underground was a place of fire and smoke and darkness and huge physical suffering. And it wasn't Jesus pulling people out, but fire and police and ambulance people, risking their own live to help others.
Anyway, back to the really important subject of icons. I look at icons and I think, "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if all that were true?" As you can see, this is not the result of "logic" or "rationality" or even "common sense", all of which are grossly over valued. People who go around deluding themselves with their so called "evidence" and their illusory "deductive logic" need to look at some icons and say "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if all that were true?". Then, like me, you can imagine life after death and build up a whole theology imagining it was true. Then when you say it often enough, "It is true. It is, it is, it is." you'll eventually come to believe that there really is a life after this one and that's were ultimate truth lies. Just like yesterday's suicide bombers.