One drone leads to another 

JOHN MILLER. A Minster of the Church of Scotland reflects on the connection between the potential of technology for life and death.

If you are responsible for looking after a building which is over a hundred years old you know that it is a costly business.  The photograph alongside this article illustrates how to spend £2.2 million on preserving stone walls, a slate roof, and the most slender steeple in Scotland.   Those with Glasgow knowledge may well have heard about this building, Lansdowne Church:  This church was not built for the poor and needy, but for the rich and for Doctor Eadie.  It is no longer used as a church, but is now Glasgow’s newest theatre-space, known as ‘Webster’s’ in recognition of its fine stained glass designed by Glasgow artist Alf Webster

Glasgow is adorned with large numbers of such beautiful elaborate church buildings, many of which are being converted to other uses.  And any Christian community which wants to retain the use of its treasured historic building will be having to find half a million pounds for the roof.

In recent months I have been working in a Glasgow church which was built in 1900.  A hundred and fifteen years of wind and rain and sun have taken their toll of the roof, and sometimes in a downpour the roof leaks.  Clearly a survey of the roof was called for.  If you were lucky enough to be at the church one day early in February you might have seen the surveyors carrying out the inspection.

There was no expensive scaffolding, no ‘cherry-picker’ with its extended hydraulic arm and its mobile platform.  No.  Flying up from the pavement, and then hovering above the roof, was a small propeller-powered drone.  Not much larger than a shoe-box, this drone had four propellers, one at each corner.  The operator directed the drone by remote control from a small hand-held keyboard.  Stabilised by automatic adjustment to the wind, the drone trained its cameras on the necessary sections of the roof.  It transmitted the pictures to the operator’s screen, and its film will reveal all the necessary information.

For many people this will have been their first opportunity to witness a drone at work.  But of course drones are becoming part of everyday life.  And death.

Un-manned aircraft      

There has been an increasing number of references to ‘drone strikes’ in the war-zones of the middle East and Afghanistan, and US military actions in Pakistan and Yemen are known to have involved un-manned drones, operated by military personnel  8,000 miles away in the USA.  The man known as Jihadi John was confirmed killed on 12 November by an attack by two US drones accompanied by a UK drone.  The official account reported that he was ‘vapourised’.

The British Army is increasing its complement of these attack drones to 500.  They are manufactured by General Atomics of San Diego in California.  The attack drone has the grim name of The Reaper.  Some sardonic mind will have spelled it out, though the name probably comes from the acronym RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

The use of such weapons may not be in accord with restrictions laid down by the Hague Conventions.  The UN has a Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions.  The present holder of that office, Professor Christof Heyns, is questioning whether such weaponry can be governed by international humanitarian law.

It is a long way from repairs to our roof, but the drone raises solemn questions for us all.

Easter reminds us that love alone can combat hate and death. 

The Easter story

In an attempt to come to terms with the violence which so often emerges in human relations, fourth century scholar Augustine began to develop the Christian doctrine of the Just War.  Yet despite the brilliance and subtlety of all his arguments, in the background stands the story of Jesus. 

Throughout the three years of his publicly active life Jesus was conscious of the growing opposition to his words and deeds.  At no point in those three years did Jesus initiate a hostile confrontation between his disciples and those who opposed him.  Even in his final week he received the hatred and insults of his accusers and of King Herod without reply.  In that last week of his life he was subjected to abuse, betrayal, violence, enmity, condemnation, and finally public disgrace and execution.  He never returned hatred for hatred.  In prayer for the soldiers nailing him to the cross, he said, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know not what they are doing.’  In the face of ever-escalating violence Jesus stood in contradiction to retaliation and revenge.

Each year the Easter story presents to us the picture of Jesus sustaining his love for the world in the face of the utmost degree of hatred.  And the mystery of the resurrection affirms that love can overcome even death itself.

John Miller is a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.