Letters - 28 June 2024

From Sacredness of life to Using Zoom

Sacredness of life

In the Friend of 14 July, Clive Gordon points out a contradiction between his understanding of the teachings of Jesus (a world divided between sheep and goats) and the ‘sacred oneness’ I wrote about in an article published on 24 May.

Hebrew thinking did indeed divide the world in a binary way – Genesis relates to the creation of the world through separation, then Leviticus lists the pure and the impure, and many of the prophets warn the Israelites not to be like other nations. Later, however, the vision was widened to include other peoples.

Biblical writers none the less were open to new light – what we call continuing revelation.

I am very moved by the reference in Matthew 27:51 to the tearing of the temple curtain at the crucifixion. The curtain separated the high priest from the people, on the holiest day in the holiest place. Somehow the early followers of Jesus, mostly Jews themselves, saw in his life and death a tearing of the curtain, an ending of hierarchical categories. So all places are holy, all times are sacred, all human beings are priests.

Yes, we do not always experience or act on this universalism – my article was precisely about this fragmentation – but nevertheless when asked about Quakers, I would affirm this insight as the foundation of the Quaker way. It is not so much a theological statement, as a call for the reverence of the sacredness of life.

Harvey Gillman

Provision, not control

Crime and punishment are among the problems to which political parties devise solutions they hope will impress voters. Too often solutions are seen to involve more policing and tougher sentencing, and the provision of more and bigger prisons.

I find this utterly depressing. We need to deal with crime in more radical ways other than locking people up. But the immediate cause of overcrowded prisons is not in the venality of citizens but in the failure to provide alternative ways of dealing with offenders. Every magistrate knows that the official guide to sentencing, supposed to be a ‘guide’ for the bench in dispensing justice, is too often regarded as a rulebook to be departed from only in exceptional circumstances. If the guide suggests custody, it is a bold bench that imposes a non-custodial sentence.

Until the sentencing guide is radically revised, the justices’ hands will be effectively limited and what the guide gives as tentative suggestions will result in the gaols being over-full. We need not more prisons but greater provision of sports provision, youth clubs, and genuine opportunities for young people to develop positive skills and creative abilities. Social provision, not social control.

Malcolm Elliot (former magistrate)

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