Monday, 26 July 2010

Thought for the Day - BBC Radio Bristol

Text of this morning's thought, and below that, the thought for the week before. You can listen to this week's here, at 2h 50m 48s, where I am introduced, not for the first time, as Julian Baggiani...

Is the search for the Christmas No1 Album over already? We now know that one of the hottest releases of the season is set to be Voice: Chant From Avignon, by the The Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, the follow up to the million-selling Chant: Music For Paradise by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz.

The nuns were the winners of a reality-TV style international star search, in which 70 convent choirs around the world were auditioned. Religious music, it seems, has the X-Factor.

This might all seem a bit tacky, but in a sense, religion has always been involved in popularity contests. All belief systems are: either they attract enough followers or they die out. And the competition is relentless. Over the centuries, religions and philosophies have risen and fallen in popularity, generating new off-shoots all the time.

The problem with popularity contests is that the winners aren't always the best. Indeed, although the most popular version of anything – beers, songs, television programmes – can be excellent, it often appeals to the lowest common denominator. Success only requires being as appealing as possible to as many people as possible.

Given that, a worrying question arises for all of us: do we believe what we believe because it is the most appealing option in front of us, the one that pushes the right buttons; or do we believe it because it is actually most likely to be true? Take your time before you answer. Phone a friend. The answer matters: this is not just about casting a vote in a reality TV show, this is about casting our lot in the real world.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bed-blocking and lack of capacity has been an issue in the NHS for many years. Now, however, the same problems are being encountered by some of our furry friends in St Phillips. The RSPCA there is at “bursting point”. A backlog of healthy strays – which all need to be thoroughly checked before being re-homed – has left no room for the sick and injured.

This is the kind of story which tugs at the heartstrings, in this nation of animal lovers. But do we worry too much about animal welfare, and not enough about the sick, poor and starving human beings that surround is?

Some of the statistics suggest we might. Every years. Britons give the same amount to animals charities as they do to the disabled. We give only three-quarters this amount to the elderly and half to the homeless.

In our defence, this still amounts to just one pound in twelve of annual charitable giving. I'm not sure if this proportion is exactly right, but the fact that we do worry about the welfare of other creatures does reflect well on us. Cynics may say we're only nice to our fellow humans on the principle that only by scratching other backs will we get our own itches dealt with, but when we help animals, we do so knowing that we are going to get nothing in return: Tiddles won't take you to hospital; when you fall ill.

By caring for creatures simply because we recognise their suffering and want to do something to relieve it, we show ourselves to be species that is, uniquely, capable of pure, unselfish love. And if we can show that to animals, then there's no reason why we can't show it to our fellow human beings as well.