Dad in Civil Defence

My father (centre) in the Civil Defence

The first memory I have from my childhood is of my father stepping through the backdoor in the morning light after an anxious night scanning the sky and listening for the warning of the siren’s wail. I rushed to greet him as he was taking his helmet off.

I pleaded with him to let me try it on. He wasn’t keen but finally gave in. All I can remember after that was the sting of the dust that fell into my eyes. Since that time I have never been completely able to shake that dust out of my mind.

Baby gas maskFrom time to time over the succeeding years we would take out the gas masks and recall the times spent in the cellar hiding from the bombs with our sawn off Darth Vader headgear at the ready. I have no memory obviously of ever wearing the gas mask for babies, but when we tried on the adult ones after the war we looked like stranded frogmen and the humour perhaps helped soften the memories for my parents. At primary school on rainy days our lunchtime recreation took place in the windowless red-brick air raid shelter next to the playground. The two doors at each end were angled so that almost no light could travel in or out. In virtually complete darkness we would play a variation of piggy-in-the-middle using the stones which lay all around the floor. How there were no serious injuries with so much stone flying through the darkness I will never know.

It was quite some years after the war before the blackout blinds in our kitchen were replaced by something more cheerful and ration books disappeared at last. The terror of those days of war must still have been with me when I went on to grammar school. The last version of the nightmare that had haunted my childhood came only then I am sure. I was running for my life, pursued by the Gestapo. I burst through the doors of the gymnasium at Stockport School and dashed towards the wall-bars at the end (interesting symbol in such a situation). As I clambered to the top, the doors at the far end burst open and the pursuing gang of torturers burst in and I woke terrified.

Later, as I read about the war as a young adult I came to realise that Hitler was almost certainly a narcissistic megalomaniac psychopath. The mystery was how so many people bought into his fantasies and followed him. I could only hope the same thing would never happen again but books such as Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and her concept of the ‘banality of evil,’ as well as Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness were not entirely reassuring on that point.

Altruism Black Earth

What about now?

The spread of a dark ideology is woven into the pattern of our current culture. It is derived from a distortion of Darwinism. It shapes behaviour for which it is also used as an excuse.

I am currently reading Matthieu Ricard’s book on altruism and Timothy Snyder’s book on Nazism in tandem. It feels a bit like switching the light on and off in rapid alternation.

Not that Ricard’s book is blind to the dark side of our world at all. He argues that the prevalent credibility of the specious argument that human beings have evolved to be selfish leaves many people feeling that this is a self-evident truth that we simply have to accept, however reluctantly, and is used by others to explain and justify their self-seeking egotism.

He quotes (page 165) Frans de Waal who, speaking of Enron, the company ‘which went bankrupt thanks to embezzlement,’ said: ‘”the company’s CEO, Jeff Skilling – now in prison – was a great fan of Richard DawkinsThe Selfish Gene, and deliberately tried to mimic nature by instigating cutthroat competition within his company.”’

Ricard’s argument against accepting this toxic doctrine is, in my view, clear and compelling. He not only quotes Darwin himself as supporting the force of cooperation as an evolutionary positive but also adduces a wealth of replicable evidence to refute the baseless conviction that all behaviour, however apparently altruistic, is selfishly motivated.  This creed is completely contradicted by test after scientific test.

Sadly, though, evidence which is compelling for me is incredible to the all-too-many adherents of this cynical dogma (page 138):

Nonetheless, when confronted with the numerous examples of altruism which, like us, they witness in their daily lives, supporters of universal selfishness set to work proposing explanations that defy common sense. In other cases, they simply take for granted that genuine altruism can’t exist.

We’ve been here before, of course, with the battle being fought by reductionist materialists against the possibility of psi (see my posts on Mario Beauregard’s The Spiritual Brain). Daniel Batson, one of the key researchers into altruism, has responded to the critics by repeatedly producing further evidence for the genuineness of altruism that answers their current particular criticism and rules out their alternative explanations. In the end, in terms of this belief in the inherent selfishness of humanity (page 139), Ricard concludes that ‘A theory that is in principle unfalsifiable is not scientific, it is an ideology.’


For source of image see link.

The Second World War 

And this is where Snyder comes into his own. His book is written as a warning to us that we should not complacently assume that we would never repeat the horrors of the Second World War. He feels that we are not so different from the people of that time that we could never repeat their nightmarish mistakes if the right conditions returned, as well they might, in his view. He raises the frightening possibility that, when we feel sufficiently threatened and an apparently plausible explanation comes along which appears to account for the threat and provides a supposedly effective defence, often by means of eliminating a scapegoat population, the vast majority of us will probably run eagerly after its proponents pleading to get on board, even if it means colluding in the slaughter of millions of completely innocent people, usually somewhere out of sight.

By what kinds of seductive pathways can this hell on earth be approached?

Most people born as I was in the shadow of the war will be fully aware of the Holocaust and its horrendous and abhorrent genocidal processes. What Snyder’s book does is examine in detail the various complex threads of argument by which this iniquity was made so palatable to so many.

In this first post I shall explore only one of these. Another will follow later. I am choosing this one first because of the overlap it detects between racist ideology and the very same culture that helped rescue Europe from Nazism – an irony that we would be wise to remember when we complacently assume that not only were we completely different then but that we could never ever be the same in the future.

While this thread links to the settlement made at the end of WW1 and the allocation of land that Germany thought should be hers, there is more to it than that, though clearly many in Germany felt that the settlement was unjust. And simply adding anti-Semitism into the mix doesn’t quite get there either. We need to add, amongst other things, the idea of Lebensraum and the provision of food that this would make possible. A key paragraph comes as early as page 15 in Black Earth:

“For Germany,” wrote Hitler, “the only possibility of a sound agrarian policy was the acquisition of land within Europe itself.” To be sure, there was no place near Germany that was uninhabited or even underpopulated. The crucial thing was to imagine that European” spaces” were, in fact, “open.” Racism was the idea that turned populated lands into potential colonies, and the source mythologies for racists arose from the recent colonisation of North America and Africa. The conquest and exploitation of these continents by Europeans formed the literary imagination of Europeans of Hitler’s generation. . . .

For the German general who pursued these policies, the historical justice was self-evident. “The natives must give way,” he said. “Look at America.” . . . . The civilian head of the German colonial office saw matters much the same way, “The history of the colonisation of the United States, clearly the biggest colonial endeavour the world has ever known, had as its first act the complete annihilation of its native peoples.” He understood the need for an “annihilation operation.” The German state geologist called for a “Final Solution to the native question.”

An equally sinister extension of this thesis was (page 17) the idea that ‘experience in eastern Europe had established that neighbours could also be “black.” Europeans could be imagined to want “masters” and yield “space.” After the war, it was more practical to consider a return to Eastern Europe than to Africa.’ To this end Hitler (page 18) ‘presented as racial inferiors the largest cultural group in Europe, Germany’s eastern neighbours, the Slavs.’ So it was not only the Jews who were racially slurred and targeted.

This relates closely to John Fitzgerald Medina’s thesis, in his thought-provoking book Faith, Physics & Psychology, about how the founders of America managed to reconcile the rhetoric of their egalitarian constitution with profiting from both their virtual genocide of the Native Americans and from their practice of slavery, and about how the Nazis derived part of their inspiration from this. The Nazis, as well as highly esteemed figures in American history, justified their self-serving actions by invoking the notion that Africans and Native Americans were inherently inferior, an ideology of racism that persists in America and to some extent in Europe to this day, potential seeds of future denigration and genocide if we do not find effective means of transforming our collective consciousness. The diverse reactions, some of them very negative, towards the current influx of refugees suggests we might still have a long way to go before we are cleansed of racism and would never again be tempted towards ethnic cleansing of some kind at some point if we thought it served our purposes effectively enough.

Ricard also deals in some detail with how certain social and psychological factors can distance us from the humanity of others and lead to extremes of cruelty and mass killings (cf especially Chapter 30 – Dehumanising the Other) even though there is a deep-seated natural revulsion against killing our own kind (Chapter 29). While it is hard to predict in any given situation what proportion of a population will actively participate in a pogrom, if we can convince ourselves the other is not human our reluctance to kill can be overcome with horrific consequences. This remains true to this day and we would be wise not to forget it.

This is just the starting point for an examination of where we might go from here. Next time we’ll dig a bit deeper into the problem before looking at some of the possible remedies in the final post.

James-Rhodes-009An honest and refreshing take by  on the old and frequently rehearsed theme of ‘madness,’ whatever that is, and creativity, was published recently in the Guardian. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

The mad composer. Note after excruciating note dragged out on to manuscript paper, 2 stone in weight lost while composing his latest opera, bronchial infections from the cold, absinthe on a drip. Mumbling to himself, shouting at strangers, scribbling bar lines on restaurant napkins, sitting at a piano, freezing and alone in a garret with “it doesn’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” written on the wall. In his own shit.

It’s a cliche as erroneous as it is widespread and it is, forgive me, quite maddening and completely false.

The truth is that there is no more a link between star sign and intelligence than there is between madness and creativity. That a link has been drawn between the two is, however, under–standable. How else can we explain the outrageous creative power of a Mozart or a Beethoven without resorting to some kind of brain chemistry imbalance? If these guys were as normal as everyone else, then where is the magic? It is the sad way of the world that someone doing something extraordinary (Beethoven) has to have an extra dollop of extraordinary (bipolar disorder) to make it, well, even more extraordinary.

Creativity is a broad subject. Musical creativity is what I know about. It’s my job, my passion, my absolute reason for being. And let me tell you something categorically: the great composers were not mad. Disturbed, sure. Angry, broke, alcoholic, anxious, neurotic, syphilis-ridden, depressed, grieving – often. As are most of us for that matter (minus the syphilis). But with the singular exception of Schumann, whose fictional characters Florestan and Eusebius were invented by him to depict in music his bipolar mood swings, there is not one big-name composer who, by today’s standards, would be hospitalised, or likely even diagnosed, with one of the more severe mental illnesses.

And I think that qualification of severity is the point – we are all, to an extent, a little bit mad. We are all most definitely diagnosable. I have not met anyone who does not tick most of the boxes in at least one condition set out in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual for mental illness so beloved of psychiatrists around the world). Glance at Twitter, look at the NHS stats on obesity or alcohol-relate illnesses, open a newspaper. We are the emotionally walking wounded. We also know very little about the mind. Keats saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with a “mental illness related to poetry” and I’d love to think things have moved on, but my experience is that they haven’t. Not really. Medication has got better, diagnoses are slightly more accurate (and expanded), Jeremy Corbyn has introduced a new shadow cabinet post for mental health, stigma has been reduced. But I think that if we were really to understand just how little our doctors know about the workings of our mind as they prescribe yet more meds for us, we’d be absolutely terrified. I’ve been diagnosed with at least seven different mental conditions over the past 10 years and it scares me that, simply put, all or none of them could be true.

Mindfulness books

‘Where on earth has the Williams book on mindfulness gone?’ Bill muttered to himself furiously. ‘I knew it was a mistake to reorganise my books. Whenever I do that I can never find anything.’

He scanned his shelves, feeling as though his eyes were sticking out on stalks.

‘Ah, there it is,’ he spluttered triumphantly as he spotted it tucked at the top of a stack of books, almost hidden by the shelf above. He added it to the pile on his desk ready for the meditation experience that evening.

The plan was to do the meditation in the dining room. The upright chairs there were the only ones suitable for keeping a straight back in the hope of straightening the mind. The sitting room sofas and armchairs were great if you wanted to slump and sleep, but that wasn’t the aim this evening.

Carrying the books, he went downstairs to check on the state of the dining room.

‘That’s nice of her,’ he thought, as he spotted the small table with a candle which Mary, his wife, had placed in the centre of the space between chairs he’d laid out earlier. He spread the books on the dining table near the window: Easwaran, Williams, Leaping Hare and Thoresen.

There were only six straight-backed chairs and they were expecting seven people. He decided not to fret about that just yet. The first thing was to decide exactly what approach to take.

He had convinced himself that there were a number of those coming who hadn’t tried meditation before. Perhaps he should have been more surprised about this, given that currently meditation seems to be the third most popular activity after sleeping and eating, at least among his circle of acquaintances.

‘Right,’ he said to himself. ‘Think what to do. I’d better find out how much people really know. I think it’ll be pretty basic.’

He ran with that. He decided he’d make it clear he wasn’t an expert – more like we are all investigating together. He’d tell them it had taken him three months or so, when he started to meditate, to move from being able to focus on his chosen object of meditation for only a minute or so to being able to meditate, with the odd deviation, for ten minutes of more. He’d talk about how people differ and one size of meditation wouldn’t fit all. He’d use the example of how we all differ in terms of our default mode of sensing reality: some of us are visual and rely on our eyes, some are more auditory and verbal, preferring our ears, and some, like him, were tuned more into bodily sensations. He planned to give people a choice of how to meditate based on their preferences in this respect.

As he headed for the kitchen to make himself a coffee, he remembered a joke he’d read many years ago.

‘What do you do if you want to make God laugh?”

‘I don’t know. What do you do?’

‘Make a plan.’

‘I’ll just go with the flow,’ he smiled to himself.

. . . . . .

As the time for the session approached he found himself getting increasingly nervous. He kept pacing to the window to see whether any cars were driving up the slope to the house. He knew one person wasn’t coming: she’d had to visit her mother in hospital after an accident.

No chair problem, then. But it was already seven-twenty. Where was everyone else?

He spotted his car through the dining room window and realised it was parked too low down the drive. He went outside to pull it up a bit more to make room for the two other cars he was expecting. As he walked to the car with the keys in his hand, he saw a familiar figure in a fawn jumper striding round the corner at the bottom of the road. They grinned at each other.

‘I thought Megan was giving you a lift?’

‘She changed her mind. Not sure why,’ Ron replied.

‘Well, the walk will have done you good. Come on in.’

This plan to learn about meditation together seemed to be creating more stress than calm. Not what was planned at all.

‘It’ll just be the three of us and Fleur then, it seems,’ Bill said as they all sat down in the comfy hall chairs to wait for her.

Just as they began to explore why Megan and her friend hadn’t come, there was a knock at the door, somewhat to Ron’s relief.

‘Come in,’ Mary shouted.

‘She can’t,’ Bill exclaimed as he groped for the key. ‘The door’s locked.’

He opened it to find the tall pale figure of Fleur smiling just outside with her hand reaching for the door handle.

He welcomed her in and as they sat waiting for the magic moment of 7.30 to arrive he mentioned that Hereford looked as though it might be preparing to welcome its quota of refugees and that we might need to help in some way.

‘It’s fine but we need to find a way of putting an end to the wars that are driving this,’ Fleur replied.

‘Well,’ Bill said, ‘that’ll take at least a generation to achieve, and in the meanwhile we have to do something. I read a good suggestion somewhere that we should remove all restrictions and give everyone a visa for a year. That would give us breathing space to think, make quotas more acceptable, and go some way to making dangerous boat trips less appealing because there would be a legal way into Europe.’

Candle lit room

On that note of relative harmony they all moved to the dining room where Bill lit the candle as they sat. He asked how much they knew about meditation and quailed to discover it was a lot more than he had thought. Plan A was looking suspect. There was no Plan B.

‘Oh well, blast on regardless,’ he thought, explaining in addition that this was not about having mystical experiences but about connecting with one’s true self at the deepest level.

Which they obligingly tried to do. A candle for the visually inclined, a mantram for the verbal and following the breath for the rest.

‘I just can’t stop my thoughts,’ Ron shared as they spoke about the experience they’d had. ‘I look at the candle and I’m analysing it straightaway. The flame’s trembling. It’s darker at the bottom. I just can’t stop.’

‘I find it easiest to meditate while walking. I just focus on the middle distance and my mind quietens down,’ was Fleur’s experience. ‘Sitting still is harder for me. The after image of the candle is more helpful than the candle itself.’

‘The candle flame works beautifully for me,’ Mary explained. ‘As I stare at the flame my mind goes silent and all that I experience is the glow of the flame.’

‘That shows how different we are,’ thought Bill to himself.

Out loud he added, ‘I tried all three just to see if my preference for bodily sensations had changed. The candle didn’t stop me thinking, but as Fleur said, the after image worked better. Even so I find following the breath works best.’

They agreed to try again with only one method.

‘Can I use my app?’ Ron asked.

‘Only if you have earphones,’ Bill crisped.

‘No. It’s OK. There’s no music or instructions. It’s just the bells. I can set it so we can meditate for 15 minutes with one bell at five minutes and another at 10.’

‘I can’t do fifteen minutes,’ Mary chipped in with a hint of panic in her voice. ‘Can we just do five again or can I step out?’

So it was agreed to do only five minutes with a bell after two.

As soon as the last bell rang, it was clear they’d all had enough. Even before Bill could ask for feedback, Fleur said, ‘Time for tea,’ and they all stood up.

. . . . . .

They sat in the relaxing chairs in the entrance hall, each sipping their different tea: two with mixed fruit, one with camomile, and Bill with his favourite lemon and ginger. Fleur was thumbing through Easwaran’s book, which she’d picked up off the dining room table, wondering what Bill’s purple question marks in the margins meant, but not daring to ask.

‘How do you know when you’re meditating and a thought comes, that it’s not from somewhere deep inside and should be attended to?’ asked Ron.


‘That’s a good question,’ Fleur said, lifting her head from the book.

‘It is,’ said Bill. ‘I often have that problem. If I’m meditating during a period when I’ve been struggling to solve a problem the answer, sometimes quite complex, comes shooting into my mind out of the blue. Nowadays I keep a pad and pen close by and write it down if it seems that important. If I don’t and keep meditating, I either keep thinking of the solution so I don’t forget it, spoiling the meditation, or focus on my mantram and at the end can’t remember what the solution was exactly.’

‘But wouldn’t it still be meditation if you simply focused on the answer you have found for the rest of the meditation time?’

‘I suppose it would,’ agreed Fleur. ‘That’s how creativity works. Ideas come when the mind is quiet and you need to catch hold of them when they come or you lose them.’

‘True,’ Bill chimed in. ‘The soul or the heart, whatever you want to call it, usually only tells me once. If I ignore what it said, it doesn’t tell me again.’

‘I think I meditate so that I can choose when to tune into my heart and receive these insights, rather than wait for them to come at random when I’m doing the dishes or I’m out for a walk,’ Fleur continued.

‘Or listening to music,’ Ron added.

There seemed to be general agreement on this point. Everyone felt it was a good time to stop. It remains to be seen if they will meet again next month.



For various reasons that will become clear over the next few weeks and months I have been triggered into thinking even more deeply than usual about the nature of compassion and how to cultivate it. It is quite fortunate for me that an email alerting me to this article by Juliana Breines on the Greater Good website dropped into my inbox this week. 

Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

One of the best ways to increase our own happiness is to do things that make other people happy. In countless studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health—generous people even live longer.

What’s more, the happiness people derive from giving to others creates a positive feedback loop: The positive feelings inspire further generosity—which, in turn, fuels greater happiness. And research suggests that kindness is truly contagious: Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves; a single act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person.

But just because we have the capacity for kindness, and reap real benefits from it, doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. We may be too busy, distracted, or wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to others’ needs or actively seek out opportunities to help. Or we’re just out of practice: Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.

How do we strengthen kindness? Researchers have identified a number of effective exercises, and many of them are collected on the Greater Good Science Center’s new website, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), which features the top research-based activities for fostering happiness, kindness, connection, and resilience.

Here I highlight GGIA’s 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories.

This is a photograph of the table around which the nine members of the UK National Spiritual Assembly consult at their meetings.

This is a photograph of the table around which the nine members of the UK National Spiritual Assembly consult at their meetings.

I was both surprised and encouraged to find that quite a number of people have downloaded the course materials that I’ve been posting over the last four weeks. I therefore thought it might be worthwhile publishing two sets of materials I worked on a few years ago. They overlap and have some common elements but seem sufficiently different in other respects to justify publishing both sets, the first last Thursday and the second today. 

Given the toxic nature of much political and social dialogue in our society, where the aim is more often to attack an opponent rather than to explore reality in search of the truth, both sets of materials raise questions which, it seems to me, are critical for us to consider, poised as we are now, in the UK at least, on the brink of some even more strongly conflicted political exchanges.

This is the link (DBC email) to the second set of materials. Below is a short extract, without illustrations: for the fully illustrated version see link.

[After exploring issues of consciousness and conflict the workshop moved on.) How can we best translate the spirit of the exercises we did this morning into our ordinary communication patterns?

The following quotation bears careful thinking about. It is from the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (pages 172-173):

No man of wisdom can demonstrate his knowledge save by means of words. This showeth the significance of the Word as is affirmed in all the Scriptures, whether of former times or more recently. For it is through its potency and animating spirit that the people of the world have attained so eminent a position. Moreover words and utterances should be both impressive and penetrating. However, no word will be infused with these two qualities unless it be uttered wholly for the sake of God and with due regard unto the exigencies of the occasion and the people.

The Great Being saith: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station.

Now we need to look more closely at certain sections of these passages. To do so we to break into small groups of 3 or 4 to look at the following issues.

First Passage

First to consider is the following sentence:

However, no word will be infused with these two qualities unless it be uttered wholly for the sake of God and with due regard unto the exigencies of the occasion and the people.

  • What two qualities is Bahá’u’lláh referring to here?
  • Both these qualities are described in words that have a meaning in the realm of objects. What meanings are they?
  • If words are to have the same kind of impact on people as we have described one object having on another and if that impact is to be positive, we are told that they must be uttered “wholly for the sake of God and with due regard unto the exigencies of the occasion and the people.” What are the exigencies of the occasion and the people?
  • How can we use this advice to help us avoid negative forms of speech, bearing in mind that to do otherwise invites the possibility that the impact we will have will be equally strong but negative.

Second Passage

Second, in the same groups we need to look more carefully at a quotation used twice elsewhere in the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (pages 143 and 198) suggesting its great importance:

Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

1. Does the discussion we have just had help us understand this quotation better. If so, in what ways?

2. In the light of what you have learnt, what do you understand “moderation” to mean? How would we practice that?

3. Why exactly do we think that Bahá’u’lláh repeated this paragraph more than once?

Last Passage

Lastly there is the following passage, to be considered in the same groups:

One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station.

Just before these sentences Bahá’u’lláh has described the station to which we should aspire as “the station of true understanding and nobility.” He refers to “leniency and forbearance” as enabling a prudent man to move others towards this goal. Why do you think those qualities are so important and how do you think they will help other people when we manifest them?

Final Reflections on these Passages

This next period of reflection is best done by each individual in the quietness of his or her own heart. In the light of our discussions concerning all three passages, what do you feel you could do to foster and increase your ability to show:

  • purity of motive,
a proper understanding of what the moment requires and of what other people need,
  • refinement,
  • moderation, and
leniency and forbearance.

Try to define one simple change you could make in your way of living that would put the understanding you have gained to practical use.

Are you left with any questions at this stage that you would like to bring to the group as a whole? If so there will be time set aside to reflect upon them together.


Yesterday Hereford Cathedral hosted its first Peace Day Service to observe today’s International Day of Peace. The service was organised by the newly formed Herefordshire Interfaith Group.

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace is celebrated on September 21 each year to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. The International Day of Peace is also a day of ceasefire – personal or political. On this day, also known as Peace Day, people around the world take part in various activities and organize events centered on the theme “peace.” This was Hereford’s offering.

The Canon Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral & Venerable Tenzin Choesang welcomed everyone to the peace day service.

PD start

The service began with a simple candle lighting ceremony where a member of each faith lit a candle as the choir chanted ‘Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away’ in the background.Candle lighting

The choir then sang the Kyrie from Karl Jenkins’s ‘The Armed Man’, a mass for peace, before several readings were shared in alternation with choral music, chants and instrumentals. The first reading, from the Bahá’í Faith, was part of an address given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, on September 10, 1911. For the first time in His life after decades of imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a public audience in the City Temple on the Western edge of the city of London. He spoke such uplifting words even though he was aware that a traumatic war was almost inevitable. His address included the words:
Peace Day Reading

The sea of the unity of mankind is lifting up its waves with joy, for there is real communication between the hearts and minds of men. . . . This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity . . . . and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. . . . . The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.

This was followed by an Indian raga played on the Carnatic violin to the accompaniment of a tabla and tambura.


The Quaker community shared a peace testimony before two members of the local police force gave a moving rendering of ‘Panis Agelicus.’

Panis Angelicus

The First Church of Christ Scientist read from the King James version of the Bible as well as key quotes from Mary Baker Eddy. Her hymn ‘O gentle presence‘ was sung by both choir and congregation. This was followed by a “Qira’at,” which is the melodious recitation of the Qur’an according to the linguistic rules of the Arabic language, a Hebrew song of peace and the Buddhist chant ‘Om Mane Padme Hung.’ The presiding host, the Reverend Chris Pullen, read St Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Chapter 3) including the words:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.


The choir movingly sang ‘Nkosi Sikhele’ before the Peace Council read their dedication and the service closed with ‘Better is Peace,’ once more from ‘The Armed Man.’

All those present I spoke to expressed how much they had been moved and uplifted by the inclusive nature of the whole experience.


Mixed Dictators v5I’ve not had the time recently to keep up with my reading of all the current on-line articles dealing with topics of interest to me, but this one, by , I just had to read straightaway no matter what I put on hold. Snyder is Housum professor of history at Yale University.

Because I grew up in the shadow of the Second World War, and my nightmares were peopled with members of the Gestapo out for my blood, the title grabbed my attention immediately. Once I began reading I found his argument compelling. It maps almost exactly onto my attempts more fully to understand Nazism and the Holocaust, and fills in some gaps in a way I have never read before. It deals with two out of my three nightmare scenarios: Hitler and Stalin, but not Mao. It also shows me how my bête noire of the reptilian instinct within us can be terrifyingly exploited if politicians get the chance to create a strong sense of emergency, whether justified or not, and can then identify a seemingly credible and convenient scapegoat. It’s a long read but a necessary one. No matter how far we feel we have travelled since the war and how much we feel we have learned, we may still be blind enough to fall into the same abyss again. I will almost certainly be buying his book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. (Shortly after writing this I headed to town and bought my copy. So far it’s delivering on its promise: it’s thorough in its analysis but completely accessible.) Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

It was 20 years after I chose to become a historian that I first saw a photograph of the woman who made my career possible. In the small photograph that my doctoral supervisor, her son, showed me in his Warsaw apartment, Wanda J radiates self-possession, a quality that stood her in good stead during the Nazi occupation. She was a Jewish mother who protected herself and her two sons from the German campaign of mass murder that killed almost all of her fellow Warsaw Jews. When her family was summoned to the ghetto, she refused to go. She moved her children from place to place, relying upon the help of friends, acquaintances and strangers. When first the ghetto and then the rest of the city of Warsaw were burned to the ground, what counted, she thought, was the “faultless moral instinct” of the people who chose to help Jews.

Most of us would like to think that we possess a “moral instinct”. Perhaps we imagine that we would be rescuers in some future catastrophe. Yet if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well. There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, or for that matter less vulnerable to the kind of ideas that Hitler so successfully promulgated and realised. A historian must be grateful to Wanda J for her courage and for the trace of herself that she left behind. But a historian must also consider why rescuers were so few. It is all too easy to fantasise that we, too, would have aided Wanda J. Separated from National Socialism by time and luck, we can dismiss Nazi ideas without contemplating how they functioned. It is our very forgetfulness of the circumstances of the Holocaust that convinces us that we are different from Nazis and shrouds the ways that we are the same. We share Hitler’s planet and some of his preoccupations; we have perhaps changed less than we think.

The Holocaust began with the idea that no human instinct was moral. Hitler described humans as members of races doomed to eternal and bloody struggle among themselves for finite resources. Hitler denied that any idea, be it religious, philosophical or political, justified seeing the other (or loving the other) as oneself. He claimed that conventional forms of ethics were Jewish inventions, and that conventional states would collapse during the racial struggle. Hitler specifically, and quite wrongly, denied that agricultural technology could alter the relationship between people and nourishment.


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