Thursday, August 15, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A distinguished family from England went to Scotland for a vacation, so the story goes. While in Scotland, the child in the family went swimming and would have drowned if another young person didn't go into the water to save him. Alexander Fleming was the young person who saved the other young person from drowning; that young person was Winston Churchill. In gratitude, Churchill's family helped Fleming go on to college, and later became the noted scientist who discovered penicillin. As the story goes, on a trip to Africa, Churchill came down with pneumonia, and was saved again by Fleming--this time by being treated by his remarkable antibiotic drug.  Churchill, as we all know, became  the Prime Minister of war-torn England.

It's a beautiful story of friendship and gratitude, but it never happened, according to those who know the lives of these two historical figures. What is  sadder, says the columnist writing for the Peace Weekly, because of the society we live in today the chances of it happening, really happening, would be extremely rare.  

He recounts a story of five young persons attending a camp, who died recently in a water accident. One of the boys did manage to save himself, but when he saw his friends struggling, he attempted to rescue them and lost his own life. Are we being taught in our family's, the columnist asks, not to be afraid to risk our life for others? Or are we being taught, consciously or unconsciously to take care of ourselves at all costs?

According to the German philosopher Kant, a person should unconditionally follow what he called the categorical imperative. "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." He did not want us to be subjected to external controls and impositions, but by the law that God has put into our intellects, which we are able to discover and act on freely. He reminded us that we are beings of noble character.

The columnist says there has been much controversy about what Kant meant, what he said and didn't say, but the professor unconditionally and universally sees the preciousness of life in Kant's idealistic moral stand, and reads into it the love of Jesus. When we consider persons not as means to an end but as ends themselves, and the life of another as a part of our own life, we become human beings and Christians.
He refers to a poem by John Donne, a 17th century English poet and Anglican priest, titled "No Man Is An Island."
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls," the title of a book by Hemingway and a movie, tells the story of a wounded soldier who did not want to hold back his friends so he sent them on their way to life, and he, to face certain death. He was himself willing to give his life for what he believed. This is not suicide, the columnist says, but shows our belief in the immortality of life. Yet today, there is the meaningless killing of ones self and the justified murder of others in a culture of death scenario. He would like to ask those who have lost their children: For whom does the bell toll?  The bell tolls, he says, not only for them--though they are always with us--but also for us.


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