Livingston’s Christmas

Edinburgh’s Christmas fair ground and German market are being constructed in Princes Street East gardens. I couldn’t help but notice the incongruity of the statue of David Livingston standing with an outstretched Bible while the chair-o-plane is carefully set out to ensure that the flying chairs don’t take his head off! I wonder what he would have made of it.

It did strike me that the juxtaposition of the solemn Victorian missionary with the frivolity of the fair could be seen as something of a metaphor for our current society. Its not that we can’t all enjoy a bit of ‘frivolous’ from time to time. But how often do most people do ‘serious’ these days?

Serious discussion revolves around soap operas and how a renegade MP has done in a TV game-show or perhaps on the fortunes of a football team. This appears to be the extent of serious thought – certainly in terms of what is expressed in the popular media or indeed in most general conversation.

Have we forgotten how to think about the really big issues? Why am I here? Is there any meaning to my existence? If so what is it? Is death the end of consciousness? I don’t think we have actually stopped thinking about these matters. It is just that they have been privatised. Subjects too personal and embarrassing to be discussed in public. Being known as ‘too serious’ is a social disaster.

The fact that these matters are no longer discussed doesn’t make the questions go away though. We still, deep down, long for answers.

The only consistent and reliable source of answers to the really big questions is found in the book that David Livingston’s statue holds in his hand. Even a “confirmed atheist” (his own words) like Matthew Parris is on record as saying that, in his experience, Christian Evangelical missionaries have done more good in Africa that any of the big NGO’s. David Livingston as one of those early missionaries, although undoubtedly a man of his time, brought the Bible to Africa and it changed lives. The land of David Livingston, unfortunately, seems to have forgotten this and is heading back towards superstition and ignorance at an alarming rate.

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