So, the General Synod of the Church of England has deliberated for a week and generally disappointed the doom-mongers by not splitting apart into enemy factions. In fact, some of the debates turned out to be good and intelligent, allowing a voice to some well-informed and experienced people – the debate on science and faith, for example. What has been described as ‘the conflict metaphor’ got a damn good thumping by scientists and mathematicians who happen to be committed and convinced Christians.
That’ll upset the arrogant fundamentalists.
I was pleased to see Andrew Brown in the Guardian asking if science and atheism are compatible - following a post suggesting that the Synod is boring. Some of us might be relieved to hear it was boring as that means it was probably substantial in terms of content whilst failing miserably to burst into conflict. The Synod isn’t primarily a talking shop to keep the media ‘in story’, but the Church of England’s legislative body; so it does have to attend to insider stuff which has to be done, but won’t get sexy headlines.
Coming back into things following sabbatical (study) leave and time abroad, I was pleased to see generally good media coverage of the Synod. I felt that for the first time in a long time the Synod and its business was treated generally with a seriousness and granted an integrity that has often appeared lacking. It felt almost German…
…which brings me back to another thought provoked by the great Helmut Schmidt, 91 year old former Bundeskanzler. I recently picked up in Friedrichshafen a book of interviews with Schmidt. The interviews are conducted by editors of Die Zeit and may only last as long as it takes Schmidt to smoke a single cigarette – they originally appeared in the German weekly newspaper and have now been collected and edited. It is brilliant and exactly the sort of thing other ‘grand old men’ (and women) should be asked to do: very insightful, revealing and interesting.
There are two things that struck me:
1. Schmidt says that he was generally unwell while serving as Bundeskanzler. In an interview about politicians and their holidays he says that he has now had five heart pacemakers fitted, ‘the first while in office’. He goes on to describe not only heart problems, but also thyroid and other health deficiencies. He says: ‘We kept this concealed from the public’.
2. When he became Defence Minister he discovered that NATO had a secret plan to bury nuclear mines along the border with the GDR and Poland. He thought this was insane and got his American counterpart to agree to remove the hardware and bin the plans. When asked how this didn’t get out into the public domain, he said that one or two journalists knew about it, but had the restraint and wisdom (for the greater good) to keep quiet. A decision was made in the interests of the social order rather than the private or commercial interests of a newspaper in possession of a certain scoop.
The question this raises is simply this: could this happen today? Or does ‘transparency’ – based in lack of trust in anyone else’s integrity – trump everything else? Is the world a better or worse place for the secrecy exercised only a few decades ago? Would we be better off not knowing some of the things we do – such as Ashley Cole’s phone habits, John Terry’s sexual predilections or Gordon Brown’s parental grief? (Incidentally, how do the press get into Cole’s phone or Terry’s privacy?)
The press will repsond that they simply give us what we want to read or watch. But we are more than mere consumers, bound to be fed the raw meat we demand; we are human beings who might be better for not knowing everything about everything or everyone.
I was aksed to comment on a live radio programme about John Terry’s infidelity. I declined because I was abroad. But I would have declined anyway – not because I think John Terry needs to be protected, but because he has a wife and children and they have not been spared not only the personal anger and grief, but have had to see their life shredded in every paper and screen. I didn’t want to add to their grief with some distant moral condemnation – there were plenty of others filling that gap.
I am just not sure that we are better people for knowing what we know. Or for wanting to know it and being willing to pay for it.