‘Men have shown they prefer darkness to the light … but the man who lives by the truth come out into the light.’ (John 3:21)
We have heard in the news this week that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is to retire later this year. The news took me back to a couple of years ago when Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor announced his retirement as Archbishop of Westminster.
He spoke about belief and said that those who denied the existence of the spiritual were actually giving only a partial view of what it means to be human. In other words, the atheist does not put humanity at the centre, but actually reduces humanity by denying our spiritual dimension. It’s not a new idea at all and it’s been stated by many others, including the Holy Father, but it struck a chord as explaining why the Church so often seems to find itself in conflict with society - over marriage, over Church schools, over abortion and euthanasia, over testing on embryos, - all of these modern ideas deny the spiritual dimension of humanity, and by doing this they make us less than human, more like animals.
Now then, is taken up in today’s Gospel.
To deny the existence of God, and even more to act as if God does not exist, as if there is no spiritual dimension to human existence, is to live in darkness. It is a denial of the truth, a refusal or an inability to see what is there.
Sometimes there is a wilful blindness to the heritage of faith or the spiritual dimension of life, like a sort of rewriting of history. Thousands of years of society and understanding of marriage and family are swept away. We see it in many other, more trivial ways: for example there is a fashion not to use AD and BC when identifying dates, but CE and BCE instead - but the numbers, the point of origin (the coming of Christ) remains the same, but deliberately hidden.
And when people deny the spiritual dimension of human life then all kinds of terrible consequences may follow. If we are not made in the image of God, than what is that makes us all equal? What then prevents us from claiming that some are superior to others, some have fewer rights than others, some have a greater worth or quality of life than others - whether that be by race, or age, or infirmity? Of course you do not have to be a believer to recognise the basic human dignity of all, but isn’t it odd that so many have no difficulty in asserting the equality of black and white, but not of born and unborn, of healthy and sick?
“God sent his Son into the world” - the Gospel tells us - “not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved”. And he, the light of the world, gives us a way of seeing the full dignity of the human being, and the falsity of those who would keep humanity in darkness.