De mortuis nihil nisi bonum
Do not speak ill of the dead
On Wednesday, April the 10th, Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest from Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. In the midst of the beautiful service, the Bishop of London delivered a moving sermon in which he stated:
This, at Lady Thatcher’s personal request, is a funeral service, not a Memorial Service with the customary eulogies. At such a time, the parson should not aspire to the judgments which are proper to the politician; instead, this is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling. It is also the place for the simple truths which transcend political debate. Above all it is the place for hope.
Despite the fact that the Bishop stated that this was “neither the time nor the place” for debating the merits of Lady Thatcher’s political career, there were still protestors at many stages along the funeral procession outside the cathedral. Many of the demonstrators expressing their contempt for the former Prime Minister hadn’t even been born when Margaret Thatcher was in power, and yet they still felt compelled to protest (loudly) at a Christian funeral.
As the Bishop wisely noted in the beginning of his sermon, there is a time and a place for debate and discourse and disagreement in a free society where individuals are entitled to their own opinions and free speech, but there is also a time when such disagreements need to be put aside out of respect for the humanity of others. There is a time when our individual opinions need to be put aside so that we can remember that the person we are arguing with is just as much a human as we are. We forget that at our own great peril.
The same week that Margaret Thatcher was buried, we in our own country were in the midst of a furious manhunt, looking for two individuals that planted homemade bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The human lives of the individuals standing at the finish line mattered little to these men; they didn’t care about the victims’ hopes or their dreams, or what struggles the victims may have overcome in their own lives. The two men that committed this heinous crime only cared about their own opinions and taking an opportunity to make a political statement.
Showing respect to others, whether living or dead, is not just about creating a polite and genteel society anymore: it is about life and death itself. Once you have refused to recognize the humanity of another person it is a pretty short road to refusing to recognize any of their human rights, including their right to live. Protesting a funeral, and taking a life are clearly not the same thing, but they do both share a similar disrespect for the life of another. Both actions attempt to turn a human life into nothing but a political agenda.
The great truth of the Incarnation and the life of Jesus Christ, is that God refuses to be made into an abstraction or an idea or an agenda. God invites us to see him as a person. He invites us to see each other as people too. Sometimes we may have to put compassion ahead of our own individual opinions, so that we don’t fail to see the humanity of the one standing before us. In Britain and in America we enjoy the right to free speech and to make public demonstrations, things which are to be treasured and valued, but we should also never forget that sometimes it may be more valuable to exercise that other important right that we have: the right to remain silent.