There has been a cut of 54,000 NHS chaplain-hours, according to research by Theos, a theological “think-tank”. Theos admits that this might seem like less than an unmitigated disaster to some of us:
Cue secularist delight, with something like the following logic. “The NHS exists to provide clinical care. The NHS necessarily subsists on a limited budget. NHS funds, therefore, should not pay for anything but clinical care.”
Indeed. Good points. There is a constant debate over health spending. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence refuses to pay for lots of treatments because they are too expensive in relation to the benefits they might bring. So paying vicars would be my first choice for applying a cut.
Theos argued that hospital chaplains provide many services beyond bedside praying:
they are there to answer needs that are simply human: coping with the death of a loved one, the suffering of a child, the fear that comes with injury or sickness.
Well, why not provide trained non-sectarian counsellors instead?
Unless every church has a few dozen religious folk on its staff to cover the whole variety of beliefs, surely most people will get the wrong flavour of vicar/deacon/minister/priest/imam/guru/rabbi or moderator of the church of Scotland anyway?
There’s a joke on scientia natura blog based on the deep rancour between believers whose ideas are indistinguishable to outsiders. Let alone between warring religious belief systems. Is it likely that a sick Wee Free Scottish Presbyterian would welcome the ministrations of a priest? That a rabbi would be welcomed by a grieving Muslim family?
Theos’ stand on this is quite miffed. (It is a “theological discussion” site, remember….)
Where chaplaincy provision is removed it is not replaced by secular pastoral support – assuming â€œYou are only a ‘lumbering robot’ programmed by your genes so you shouldn’t fear an eternity of non-existence,â€ qualifies as pastoral support. Instead, it is simply lost to those most in need.
(I personally would be quite cheered by a deathbed counsellor who said something like that.)
Admittedly, NHS chaplains don’t force their attentions on the unwilling. However, the appearance of “caring” soul-seeking religious vampires can be one of the minor horrors of serious illness for non-believers and half-arsed believers alike. I know of a Catholic mother who called in a priest to sneakily administer the last rites to her (unconscious) dying atheist daughter, over the very strongly-expressed wishes of the dying woman’s husband.
There is a subtle idea underpinning the whole concept of the NHS chaplain that expresses the silly ” no atheists in foxholes” myth. This is that fear can not only overpower reason but that it should. Some things are too hard to bear. If our levels of fear or grief or pain are really enormous, we start craving for impossible, magical solutions and trying to bargain our way out. That seems to be a natural part of being a human. It doesn’t make religion true.
Religions promise false escape routes, in exchange for believing their myths, observing their regulations and, usually, handing over a contribution. This is basically taking advantage of the sick and grieving. So, I’d have to say that the loss of a 54,000 chaplain-hours is at least another half a million chaplain hours too few.
Gratuitous aside for connoisseurs of tv so bad that it’s good
Does anyone else remember an ultra-low-budget Scottish 1980s daytime tv production called “Airport Chaplain?” The entire series was in that title….
Storylines were things like “man has heart attack on plane. He needs the last rites! But there’s a snowstorm and a priest can’t get there in time! Can the C of E airport chaplain get away with delivering the last rites?”
It was so beyond any concepts of “naff” or “camp” that my brother and I even produced a fanzine for it.