BBC Radio Wales - Word for the Week
4th November 2002
Who could resist the headline – “The Butler Didn’t Do It!!”? And what an opportunity to analyse the minutiae of royal interactions and motivations. Paul Burrell has walked from court a free man, but the collapse of the case against him has raised far more questions than have been answered.
Deeper questions hang over the more serious catastrophe in San Giuliano, where 26 children perished when their schoolhouse collapsed. It is eerie that only the new part of the school was destroyed, when so much of the medieval village around it remained intact after the tremor. To many who witnessed the joint funeral ceremony yesterday, this must seem like specific targeting by Providence. Such mysterious disasters raise the accusation – “Did God do it?”
It’s an allegation that must be understood in a philosophical perspective. According to Hinduism, we live in Martya-loka - the world of death. As the ancient Hindu scripture, Bhagavad-gita, says, “for one who is born, death is certain and for one who dies, rebirth is certain.” Before challenging God, we must appreciate that He views life on earth as the eternal journey of souls moving through one life situation to another – a process of transmigration that is facilitated by death and birth. Death is an agent for change, not oblivion.
Even so, Hinduism claims the natural order is that children outlive their parents and the untimely demise of a child is so unwarranted that the rulers of the land can be challenged as liable. The point is that the fault will tend to lie in human failings, rather than the vicarious hand of God. In 1966, I remember the one-minute silence we held for the child victims of Aberfan – still one of the most poignant memories of my life. Was God to blame then, or was it our idea to create a slagheap overshadowing a village school?
Apparently, in San Giuliano, some local people knew of the weaknesses in the school building. Nature had issued the warnings of minor tremors the day before. Perhaps, no particular people were culpable, but it does seem to be another reminder that, when it comes to disasters, human society may be the main contributor to the misfortune.
It would be sad to sanitise life of all fun and adventure in our efforts to protect the young and vulnerable. Better we live life as a balance of human aspiration in harmony with the natural world and in communion with our Lord, who is the benefactor of all.
Achieving that balance is a challenge, but as today is the Festival of Diwali and tomorrow brings in the Hindu New Year, what better resolution to make?
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.