A death by suicide affects us all. We wonder what depths of despair and hopelessness they must have felt to push them to such lengths. We wonder if there wasn't more that we could have done to bring them just enough hope, enough consolation, to bring them back from the brink.
Naturally we, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", turn to Christianity to find out what it has to say about this. Well it mostly says "don't do it", it's a mortal sin and you really don't want to die with a mortal sin on your soul. Then it argues quite a bit about how culpable the person who committed suicide is and how extensive their punishment in the afterlife should be.
If they had taken advantage of the Christian facilities for confession and forgiveness they may well have decided not to commit suicide. Alternatively they could have consoled themselves with knowledge of the wonderful invisible magic afterlife and how important it was to delay getting there as much as possible.
In this way, modern Christianity faces up to the reality of depression and despair.
Saif Gaddafi has been captured.
I think he should have a fair trial.
Giving people a fair trial, even when they are nasty, horrible people, shows that the rule of law is working.
Jesus thought people should have a fair trial, which pretty much ends the need for any further argument on the subject.
Now to pad that out for 3 minutes.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Jesus said that.
He said it in the garden of Gethsemane.
"People who live by the sword die by the sword," he said, in the garden of Gethsemane.
What he meant by this was, people who live by the sword die by the sword.
People who don't live by the sword might not die by the sword and might, in general, be exposed to less violence.
Not living by the sword and dying by the sword, and being exposed less to a cycle of violence as a result, is a necessary condition to ensure the rule of law and fair trials.
To all you Radio 4 listeners out there who don't believe in fair trials, I'd just like to mention Saint Augustine.
(He was a bishop in Roman North Africa you know. Not many people know that, so I thought I'd just throw that little factlet in there. It helps pad things out a bit, otherwise I'd never get this rather obvious and unoriginal idea to sound as if it were the product of some unique scholarly insight.)
He thought fair trials were a good idea too.
Him and Jesus.
Him and Jesus and me.
Just how many people do you need to tell you that fair trials are a good idea before you'll accept that fair trials are a good idea?
Even Saif Gaddafi should have a fair trial.
Goodness, is that 3 minutes up already? I had so much more I wanted to say.
We asked 100 people about something associated with university. You said "fun". Let's see, how many people in our survey, when asked to mention something about university, said "fun".
X - The top answer was in fact "expense", followed by "fees" and "cost" and trailing way behind was "love of the subject being studied".
In actual fact love of the subject should be the single most important reason for going to university, or at least Cambridge University. We don't want people doing a degree in hospitality management for fun. We want people who woke up as youngsters and said, "YES - when I grow up I want to run a hotel!" These must be people who delight in stock control, whose one ambition in life is to ensure that every pillow has a complimentary mint, people who really know how to grovel to a dissatisfied guest.
When a young person studies accountancy, we want people who love accountancy. They will have started off with a simple hobby, perhaps purchasing a book like "100 Ways to Have Fun with Double Entry Bookkeeping". At university they can develop their interest and progress to such fascinating subjects as corporate tax law, or fixed interest securities pricing.
We don't teach any of these wonderful subjects for the rather vulgar aim of making money. We do it to open up a wide new world to young people, to satisfy their sense of wonder.
And for reasons that are not entirely clear, I would just like to mention the Invisible Magic Friend.
That notorious communist, Warren Buffett, wants the rich to pay more tax.
Like me, I'm sure this reminds you of the good old days of medieval feudalism, where jolly peasants and serfs laboured away on their strip of land for the benefit of their betters. And their betters worked for their betters all the way up to really important people like lords and bishops, who worked for the king. The king worked for the Invisible Magic Friend, who, luckily for the king, seemed to prefer a more hands-off management style.
No one really owns anything, or really earns anything. We all rely on our betters and our lessers and sometimes even our peers to get us to our position in life and then to keep us there. There is no such thing as a self made man, or woman for that matter. It is simply not true that what is mine is mine. What is yours is mine and what is mine is yours. What is somebody else's is not theirs but ours, or yours, or mine, in a way that what is mine, or yours, or there's, is not.
In these troubled times, let us look to medieval feudalism, Ian Duncan Smith, the psalms and to higher taxes to "inform and inspire our search for social reconstruction and well being."
It's perhaps not the best time in the world to be asking for improved prison conditions, but we really should be looking to improve prison conditions. Prisoners in Wandsworth are routinely bullied and confined to their cells for 22 hours a day. Even prisoners should be entitled to certain basic standards of decency and dignity.
Most of us instinctively know what is right and wrong. We don't need reward or punishment, or to have someone watching over us (such as the Invisible Magic Friend). Our own sense of self worth is sufficient to make us behave in a socially acceptable way.
When Jesus told sinners to stop sinning, he would often join them for dinner and generally make themselves feel comfortable and good about themselves. He gave them the sense of self worth that they needed in order to reform their character. If Jesus did it then it must be right. I'm sure telling you what Jesus did really serves to reinforce my point that in order for people to behave well they need to be motivated to do so.
Failure to grant dignity and decency to prisoners removes any chance to motivate them towards rehabilitation.
Jesus says so.
Did Henry II really say "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" or similar words, possibly to a comparable, if not identical effect? Well, the answer to that is that we just don't know. He may have said it but then again he may not have. It's very difficult to tell one way or another. What we can know for certain is that clerics must be allowed to speak out on social issues, whether or not Henry II said, or possibly didn't say, what he is alleged to have said, or not.
Even if we could, which of course we can't, we mustn't, or at least shouldn't, or possibly mightn't, say that we wish, or even wish that we wish, in such a way as to be oppressive or repressive, towards contrary opinions to established opinions that, when spoken by kings, politicians, newspapers, opinion formers, by clerics... I'm sorry, I've forgotten where this sentence was going.
The Church is the voice of the Invisible Magic Friend, the voice of the spirit of the free, condemning abuse of power by the powerful who abuse their power, the humble voice that will not be silenced by the powerful and the big and the mighty and those that would silence the humble, free, truthful, pious voice of the spirit of the Invisible Magic Friend.
I think that should give politicians something to think about.
A Chinese teenager has sold a kidney to buy an iPad. I know what you're thinking. That's shocking, especially considering that there are far cheaper Android based equivalents.
But, in a sense, aren't we all (and by "we", I do of course mean "you" ) like the Chinese boy? Aren't you all so superficial that you think having more stuff will make you happy? Yes of course you are.
Many of you will be stuck in boring, tedious, dead end, meaningless jobs. You have to suffer a long, often frustrating commute. You may be undergoing that long, frustrating commute even as I speak. To those of you in your early twenties who have already realised this, I say, don't worry, there's only 40 years or so to go. Then you get to retire.
Of course many of you have to prostitute yourselves to your pointless jobs in order do things like eat. What a shame.
This reminds me of Pentecost, which by a marvellous coincidence just happens to be this Sunday. Those early Christians held all their goods in common. They shared everything and only bought and sold for the common good. We don't do that nowadays. That kind of collective ownership is all a bit suspect and communist and not at all the way that respectable Christians behave, but I think it would be a very admirable way for some of you non-Christians to behave.
Those clever scientists have discovered five new genes associated with Alzheimer's. Jolly good for them. Well done. I really am the most awfully big fan of scientists discovering things like this. Who knows, maybe they'll be able to find new treatments or even a cure.
In the meantime, many of us will have to deal with dementia as we look after loved ones with the disease. A colleague, whose mother recently died, said that she had really died a long time ago. The person that he had once known had slowly faded as dementia gradually took its toll. My colleague was of course quite wrong. They may have forgotten who you are, or indeed who they are, but that doesn't mean they've completely forgotten everything. They may still have occasional brief glimpses of who they once were.
There's no record of what the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend thought about dementia, but he did like to meet lepers, which is a similar sort of thing. I think we can safely say that Jesus would have enjoyed looking after people with dementia, or at least if he got bored doing that, he could always take the easy way out and just cure them.
Those of you looking after relatives with dementia should follow Jesus' example, or at least, the example he would have shown had he had the opportunity to do so. Do not discount the people you care for every day of the week, every week of the year, because of their disease. As a Rev Dr, and Dean and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, let me just assure you that they are still very much human beings.
News just in: 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire departed from Italy. This was a real shame. As empires went, it really was a jolly nice empire. "What shall we replace it with?" asked Saint Benedict, as he sat around being saintly. "I know, let's all go and live in monasteries!"
The saintly Saint Benedict hurriedly set about inventing a rule for his monasteries. Each one had to have someone in charge, he would be called the abbot. When making a big decision though, the abbot had to consult with the whole community, even with the people who were the most insignificant. This was because the Invisible Magic Friend could put a useful thought into the heads of anyone, even insignificant people.
As we read the rule of Saint Benedict, as one surely does on a regular basis, we are struck by what a very good rule this is. It really was a revolutionary idea: rule by a benign dictator who must listen to the common people. As a Rev Dr, let me just assure you, that this was clearly a recipe for a contented and peaceful existence - much better than the Roman Empire.
At this point I'd just like to mention the story of the pirate brought before Alexander the Great. "What do you think you're doing?" asked Alexander. "Same as you," said the pirate. "Except I do it with one boat, so I'm called a pirate. You do it with a navy, so you're called an emperor."
As we see riots in the streets, we see how rubbish democracy is compared to the wise rule of an abbot.
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.