This is an article I wrote after Hurricane Katrina, but ended up not using. It begins with a quotation from the natural theologian John Ray, written in 1692:
If a country thus planted and adorned, thus polished and civilized, thus improved to the Height by all Manner of Culture for the Support and Sustenance, and convenient Entertainment of innumerable Multitudes of People, be not to be preferred before… a rude and unpolished America peopled with slothful and naked Indians, instead of well-built houses, living in pitiful Huts, and Cabbins, made of Poles set endways; then surely the brute Beasts Condition, and Manner of Living, to which, what we have mentioned doth nearly approach, is to be estimated better than Man’s, and wit and reason was in vain bestowed on him.
Well-known people are usually praised at the time of their death, but not like this. Mandela, judging from all the descriptions, was more than a great person, more than a hero. He was a role model. Many of the tributes are about his character, his moral standing.
Typically it is said that he was a superb reconciler, largely because he was so good at forgiving. These virtues are associated with his patience and his ability to empathise with his opponents.
How did you celebrate the publication of the Pilling Report on sexual ethics in the Church of England?
As for me, I went to a Greek food shop and bought a jar of Lesbian honey. I’m sure Sappho would approve.
There have been heaps of immediate responses. The press release and tidy list of 18 recommendations made it easy, but I decided to follow Pilling’s advice and read the whole 200-odd pages. As a result I have written a commentary which is almost 5,000 words long.
You are stranded alone on a desert island. The perfect stereotype: sand, a few rocks, palm tree in the middle. Absolutely nothing to eat or drink. No sign of human presence.
You go to sleep, and in the morning you wake up hungry. You open your eyes and see, on a rock next to you, a plate with a fried egg, bacon, sausage and baked beans. Next to it is a glass of fruit juice and a mug of coffee. There is absolutely no sign of how it got there; no footprints, no sound of a helicopter, nothing. Hungry as you are, you scoff the whole lot.
Looking back on last week, the best that I have seen of television has invariably majored on violence.
Human beings have a fatal attraction to violence, and to its seductive power, an attraction that is outside their control and of which they are therefore afraid. As I look back over the past week in which violence, both fictional and real, has figured quite significantly, I wonder whether this state of denial of our fear is really a healthy approach to the reality of a violent world and of our own violent inclinations. Take the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. For one thing, it is hard to separate the reality of an event like the shooting of a President from the reality of the films which have been made about it, some of which were also shown last week.