Source: BBC Radio 4: Thought for the Day
Date: 24/08/2011
Event: Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 - climate change gets a mention

  • Reverend Roy JenkinsBaptist minister
  • Justin Webb: Presenter, BBC Radio 4 Today programme

Justin Webb: Thought for the Day, and the speaker, in our Cardiff studio this morning, is the Reverend Roy Jenkins, who is a Baptist minister. Good morning.

Roy Jenkins: Good morning. "In 60 years, people will understand," says Anders Breivik. In an interview with this programme yesterday, his defence lawyer confirmed that the killer of 77 young Norwegians still shows no remorse. He knows he's done something dreadful, and is regarded as a demon, but insists that what he did was necessary for his cause. "Let history be my judge", he is saying. 

Well, let me risk a prediction. In 60 years' time, when most people will still - what most people will still understand, is that this man committed an act of merciless savagery in pursuit of a political delusion, an atrocity springing from the warped morality of a seriously sick mind.

The appeal to the judgement of history has been made by much more significant figures. Josef Stalin employed it in defence of the Terror, which swallowed up millions in the Thirties. Richard Nixon, on his record in the White House. I'd be not at all surprised to learn that Muammar Gaddafi has been muttering the same, wherever he's hding at the moment. The words are often straight defiance of facts obvious to everyone else. "The world might be against me but the future will show I was right all along." 

And sometimes they will flow from a genuine humility. "I've done my best, and others will have to determine whether it was good enough." Either way, there's an acknowledgement of a perspective which can be easily missed. The future will deliver a verdict on us. 

We're used to doing it, ourselves. How could our forbears convince themselves that they had a right to march into our people's countries and loot their resources? How could they tolerate the slave trade, the subjection of women, the barbarity of many criminal punishments? 

But then, imagine the incredulity with which a future generation might look back on us. They had the means to end hunger, and still let millions starve to death? They knew about the threat of climate change, and were just too self-interested to act? They invested in increasingly painful ways of killing each other? How could they? The verdict of history is not necessarily one to anticipate with eagerness. 

In a memorable passage in one of his letters, St Paul is surprisingly unperturbed by the notion. He cares very little how he is judged by anyone, he says. And even though he has a clear conscience, he might be misleading himself, it is the Lord who judges me, he insists. That belief gave him courage to risk everything. It also fired his passionate conviction that like everyone else, when it came to the reckoning of God, he had nothing to offer but depended utterly on mercy and grace. History could conclude that our decisons were inevitable, that the injustices were unavoidable, the evils necessary. And the prospect of such a settled view among future commentators might be a comfort. But maybe theirs is not the last word. 

Justin Webb: Thought for the day, with the Reverend Roy Jenkins, a Baptist minister in Cardiff.