It is seventy years since the prisoners of Auschwitz were liberated by the Russian army. Of the 1.3 million held in the camp, some 7,000 were left alive. A quarter of the total murdered were children.
The capacity for evil in humanity is an ever-present danger. It is part of our collective make-up, and we must never forget this when we talk of racial intolerance and bigotry. I detest what UKIP stand for and I believe its sentiments are on the same spectrum as the worse reaches of Facism. But free speech and democracy are fundamental tenets of a civilised society and if UKIP thrive come the General Election in May, then thrive they will.
Against all this is a well-spring of goodness - the capacity for what must be called love in humanity wins through despite the atrocities. It does.
I’m not a religious person, really. I enjoy entering the space of churches, and, like most people, I often feel a special, hallowed atmosphere within their walls; also graveyards, sometimes, or ruins. I love the words of the Bible, the archetypal stories, and the music.
And yet..I have always prayed, since I was seven or eight. I remember praying for my family before we set off on a long journey. I prayed for everyone I knew, to be safe and protected. I can sometimes sense a wholeness in certain landscapes - mountains, moor and sea. But I use religious words lightly, like miracle, or angel.
I've been reading some Walt Whitman recently and his boundless poems set me thinking about science and spirituality. Take these lines -
'Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
'I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.'
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
Science, our ‘truth-teller’, our enlightener, is confined, ultimately, to human parameters, to the space between each ear.
And of course we use science for good and for ill - to find cures for Ebola or to build gas chambers.
But we use it too, to reach other more spiritual places. I know the science of the solar system. We know about our ideas of the Big Bang and how the universe began. But as Whitman says, that knowledge does not hinder those feelings of immensity, or awe, when we look up into the stars.
In a sense we are all miracles. I think how difficult it is for the millions of sperm to get up past the cervix, across the womb and up the fallopian tube, how the egg only lives for hours, how just a few hundred sperm make it to her looming form and of those, just one, the strongest, luckiest, penetrates
How in a sense all of us walking about now, on the streets and fields, sitting in traffic, how all of us are born against huge odds, we are all miracles of chance.
Everyone is a mixture of impulse and action and everyone makes mistakes and good choices.
Sometimes it helps me to think of every person as a spiritual being, and it makes me feel closer and softer to humanity. I have recently begun to feel connected to my ancestors. They are not just dead and gone. They are still here, living through us both genetically and through the landscape.
As Don Paterson said, writing in the Guardian a few weeks ago, we are all just ghosts, living and dead.
“...we make the dumb mistake of thinking ourselves nouns, but we are really verbs.
You might think you are a “thing” - and we certainly mourn each other’s shocking disappearance as if we are real things, which aren’t supposed to just vanish.
But look around the room: almost everything in it will survive you. We’re really ghosts - from early childhood, we have perfect knowledge of our own deaths - and we certainly must look like ghosts to the room as we come and go.”