One of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel. For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus. In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion. Now it is run of the mill. As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind. So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement. I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks… an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence. But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be justified ) .
There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium. It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi. Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority. The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title. The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens. Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon) – who is an orphan. So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor. Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?
Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit. The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy. I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy. Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders… partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out. In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.
Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank Observatory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two alumni of Manchester who seem to be high-profile but are now sadly dead are Alan Turing and Bernard Lovell. Turing. mathematical genius, code-breaker extraordinaire, is widely considered to be the father of computing science and artificial intelligence. Designing the first model stored-program computer, he worked on the innovative Manchester Computers project which lead to the development of the first commercially available general purpose computer the Ferranti Mark One. It is an incredible legacy as arguably computers have been the most significant technological advance in the modern age. Bernard Lovell, sadly died a few weeks ago. A visionary physicist – his top-secret work on magnetrons during the WW2 helped Allied bombers spot submarine periscopes and Hitler blamed a major naval setback on his inventions. During this work he spotted other strange stuff – emitting radio frequency waves – cosmic rays perhaps? so after the War he set up the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope in Cheshire to find out. The worlds biggest steerable radio telescope, its spiralling costs and need for electromagnetic silence (thus blocking local development) led it to be called ‘Lovell’s folly’ – and he was staring bankruptcy and public hostility in the face. Until the space race started and the launch of the Russian Sputnik sattelites. When it became obvious that the only place in the world that could track them was Jodrell Bank – overnight he became a hero again!
Importantly for our work in the Chaplaincy is also his interest in questions of science and faith. A committed Christian, and organist in his local parish church, St Peter’s, Swettenham, for 40 years, with the big questions he believed cosmology must give way to metaphysics. This is important for me as we are developing a Faith and Science group here in Manchester. It is striking how many of the students who come into the chaplaincy are scientists. Talking to them it is clear that they find it increasingly difficult to talk about their faith openly with scientific colleagues, or in a science lab. We would like to counteract that by developing a thriving Faith and Science community here – with a specialist library, lectures. It may be that we will have an annual lecture named after Bernard Lovell. It is a shame that due to the aggressive and intolerant atheism of people like Dawkins, the wise, gentler voices such as Lovell’s seem to be drowned out. The Lovell Telescope will now be the nerve centre of what will be the world’s biggest telescope, the multinational Square Kilometre Array. But until his recent death Bernard Lovell remained modest about the limits of its discoveries. In his 90s he said he had never in his life been “faced with so many unanswered questions as now”. And in his final Reith lecture he sketched out wise and telling parameters for faith and science when he said:
I am no more surprised or distressed at the limitation of science when faced with this great problem of creation than I am at the limitation of the spectroscope in describing the radiance of a sunset or at the theory of counterpoint in describing the beauty of a fugue.