Waste in the West
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 May 1975, p. 1-11
Coggan, Most Reverend Donald, Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The gap between luxury and poverty; the contrast between our world and the Third World. The waste in our world: the pollution of the air, the sea, the land, food, human life, our youth, our universities, the expertise and experience of older people. Suggestions to solve the problem. First, awareness of the problems, long-term planning, long-term international communication. Second, a look at the basic questions that lie behind the problems of waste. The deeper questions of life, and the meaning of life.
Date of Original
1 May 1975
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Full Text
MAY 1, 1975
Waste in the West
JOINT MEETING The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN E.H. Heeney, President The Canadian Club of Toronto


Your Grace, My Lords, ladies and gentlemen: This is a great day in the life of the Canadian Club of Toronto and of The Empire Club of Canada. Archbishop Coggan was enthroned only last January and it is our very good fortune to have him as our guest today so early in his career as the incumbent of this high office. We join, too, his many friends in saying welcome back to Toronto. He was, as you know, on the staff of Wycliffe College for several years and we are pleased that he has come back to Canada and to this city, even though for only a short visit. Our only regret is that he is not accompanied by Mrs. Coggan. Her friends tell me that she and her daughters made a niche for themselves here that is just never going to be filled. Will you please take to them, Sir, the good wishes of this joint meeting.

Both clubs have sent out to their members, with the Notice of Meeting, the curriculum vitae of the Archbishop and I shall not repeat it. May I recall, however, that he is the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury. His enthronement took place in that ancient Cathedral, the site of which was selected by St. Augustine in 602 A.D. Present in the Cathedral at the service were members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, leaders of the other political parties, Lord Mayors, Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and leaders of many denominations from various parts of Christendom around the world--a truly ecumenical event.

His Grace, by virtue of his office, is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion throughout the world and is the mentor of something of the order of 400 million people. It is difficult to visualize 400 million people and the great force for good that such a vast crowd could be. Perhaps the opportunity for the leader of such a group can best be put into perspective by recalling my favourite Old Testament story. The Red Sea rolled back for Moses and he had the support of only a few hundred thousand.

Wherever and whenever Christian leaders gather, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be present. Dr. Coggan is the worthy successor to all those of that band of great Churchmen who preceded him. He is one of those men of the spirit whose responsibility it is to preserve and pass on the Christian heritage from one generation to the next. He is one of those few, in this terribly confused and confusing world, whose motives are never in question, whose mandate is clear and whose faith is firm.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the high honour of presenting to you His Grace, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Donald Coggan, the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Mr. President, My Lords, ladies and gentlemen: it is a very great joy to me to be back in what for me is a very beloved country. For having spent seven happy years here, had two daughters born here and been back several times since, Canada has a place in my affections and indeed in those of my wife, far greater than any other country in the world apart from the little island where we were both born.

I am very grateful to you, Mr. President, for the kind way in which you have introduced me today, and for the over-kind words with which you have written up my undistinguished life. I remember the story of the man who was introduced, perhaps over-flatteringly, when he was about to make a speech. When he got up to reply to the introduction, he said that he felt that he had to offer up two prayers for forgiveness: one, forgiveness for the man who introduced him because he told so many lies, and the second for himself because he enjoyed it so much. These things are very bad for one's pride, Mr. President, and so we will pass on from these unimportant matters to what I want to speak to you about today at this combined meeting and may I say how glad I am that the Canadian Club has joined with the Empire Club so that I have such a magnificent audience to which to speak.

I speak to you as men and women, all of whom occupy positions of strategic importance, and therefore if I speak with a measure of seriousness today you will understand that I do so because I believe you can convey anything of truth in what I am saying to your own circles of influence. I see this as the dropping of a stone into a pool, and I hope that the circles may spread in ever widening influence.

If I may begin with a truism, it would be to say that our world has become a global village. The world is on our doorstep. I breakfasted yesterday in Lambeth by the Thames, I dined last night here after a leisurely journey to Toronto. But as I travel on my errand through the world, I am of course, as any of you must be who travel, appalled by the gap that yawns between luxury and poverty, appalled by the contrast between our world and what has come to be known as the Third World. So long as we in the West remain complacent about that kind of yawning gap, we sow the seeds of disaster which might come very quickly, the seeds of war, the seeds of hate, and the seeds for the spread of those creeds which we least want to see in our little world.

And so it is that I take for my theme today the theme of waste in the West. I want to share with you a concern about this. I want to illustrate my theme from various aspects of our late 20th century life. I think, of course, of the waste that comes through the pollution of our world, of the air, the sea, the land, a pollution which is very often due to the fact that we are so rapacious that we cannot wait to think and plan. And so it is that we turn beautiful land into dust bowls, simply because we will not plan, we will not wait; we must get rich quick.

I think of the wastage of food. I suppose that an Indian village could keep going for several weeks on what we have thrown out froth lunch today. I'm reminded of the fact that during the course of this year, some forty or fifty million people will die, in this little global village, through starvation.

I think of the wastage of human life, not only through war (and one thinks particularly of course of those ghastly thirty years of war in Vietnam, now please God, ending), but I think of the wastage of life through abortion laws that have gone wrong. This is one of the problems we are facing back in England today, that we passed through Parliament an abortion law which has proved, I was going to say, abortive. It reminds me of a street car running down hill and the brakes have failed. We drafted it, I think, far too widely. The result is that the best gynaecologists and doctors are becoming extremely anxious about this. There is a stress on the consciences of the gynaecologists and some appalling jobs for the nurses. The thing has got out of control, and I think this is because we have failed to have that reverence for life of which Schweitzer used to speak so much, and which indeed was the centre of his whole philosophical theology.

But I think in terms of wastage of life, not only of abortion and that irreverence for life which can begin a life and then destroy it, as it were at the drop of a hat, but I think of the way we are wasting some of our best youth.

Last month, in the London Times, there appeared an article headed "Ten Thousand Pounds (not dollars) a Day for Manchester Vandalism", and the gist of that little article which I hold in my hand is that those who perpetrate that vandalism, which wastes some three and a half million pounds per annum, are in the age groups between ten and twenty, and twenty and thirty. Now I am speaking here not simply of the waste of money, of buildings that are desecrated, but of the wastage of youth who haven't got anything better to do. I ask whether perhaps that vandalism may be due to the fact that there is a passion to get rich quick which makes for dead-end jobs.

Before I start labelling the people who perpetrate that violence as thugs or what you will, I ask myself whether I might not have been among their number if I came from the kind of homes from which some of them do, and if I had the kind of boring job that they have. I don't excuse them, but I don't condemn them quite so readily until I've asked what it is that leads to those conditions.

I think again of the wastage in our universities. I wouldn't know whether this applies to Canada, for I'm out of intimate touch with the life of this country. But in our own little country of England, too many young people are sent up to the universities who are unsuitable for a university education, very often because the parents are so proud that they want to push little Johnny ahead and themselves get the glory. This means not only a waste of money to the state who has to support the student, but a waste of confidence in the students who don't make the grade. So they start off their career on the wrong foot.

I am very much wondering whether, with the earlier age of retirement into which we are now coming, we are not very often wasting the expertise and experience of people who retire in their late fifties or early sixties. It seems to me that we ought to give some rather hard thinking to the possibility of using what these men and women have gained down the years, even when they are not employed fully as before.

Now I realize that it is easy for me at a luncheon like this to speak about waste, waste of our sea and land and air, waste of our food, waste of our life, waste of our resources. It's very easy for me to do that and some will say, "Yes, Archbishop, physician heal thyself. How are you getting on in the Church?" And here I bow my head in a certain element of shame, for I have very real anxieties on that score. I think, for example, of how slow, how terribly slow we are in getting on with the job of Christian unity, and the result of that slowness means that there is not only an appalling waste in our resources of money and of buildings, but also of man and woman power. I think it may very well be that the Almighty will make us get together, those of us who have been unable to do so on theological grounds, make us get together on economic grounds.

But let me be more practical. What can a group of men and women like this, all occupying positions of responsibility and influence, do in the face of this problem of waste in the West?

I'm going to suggest there are two things we can do.

First, I think we can make people aware of the problem which I have been sketching and which you yourselves could elaborate far more fully. I think we must do this, and bring to bear on the problem all the resources of science and common sense. What we need, I think, is long-term planning rather than immediate urgent action. Let me illustrate what I mean from recent disasters in Ethiopia.

I went to Addis Ababa two or three years ago to preside at a conference. I stayed in that wonderful city, a modern, beautiful city, and was entertained to afternoon tea. But I knew that if I were to move up country, even only a matter of a few miles, I should run into the most appalling problems of land disposition, land tenure, agriculture and communication, such appalling conditions of travel that a woman, perhaps about to have a baby, might have to travel three days on donkey-back before she could get medical aid. Those were the conditions two or three years ago in Ethiopia.

Then tragedy struck. I don't suppose anybody quite knows how many tens or hundreds of thousands of people died through starvation. The hearts of the people in the West were touched. They always are, and rightly so, when there is some emergent disaster. We poured in our money and we did a little healing operation.

But what was really called for was long-term international thinking to bring about proper communications, and pressure upon governments for proper land tenure and disposition. The money that we poured in was simply palliative. What was needed was international thinking and pressure for long-term remedies.

I was glad to know that one of our own cabinet ministers, Mrs. Judith Hart, has put herself very strongly behind the formation of a disaster unit on an international basis, so that when there is some great international tragedy there can be at once international co-ordination so that the disaster may be met.

This is the sort of thing that I think we ought to be conscious of and bring all our power to bear on those who have influence in governmental circles, making people aware of the problem of waste, and applying our influence to those in positions of authority and power.

But the second thing we can do is this. We must look to the basic questions that lie behind the problems of waste. We must do some far more radical thinking than most of us are prepared to do. The Times, that gave me my text for today in connection with that £10,000 a day vandalism waste in one city in the north of England, refers to this as part of a nationwide malaise. It's so in every great nation, and if you multiply that three and a half million per annum for one city in Britain, what must it be in the West alone?

What does The Times mean when it speaks of a nationwide malaise, a sickness, behind this appalling waste? It makes me ask certain questions. For example, is there a connection between the vandalism of those young people in the age groups ten to twenty, twenty to thirty, a connection between that and the break-up of marriage? This is to say, if you have an unstable home where Mum and Dad don't get on, or live in two separate homes, or where a youngster has never known the discipline and the love of a father and a mother but only one or the other, if you have that kind of situation is it that which produces your young vandal? I think it is, because the sheer figures show that in the courts, young people who come before the judge are predominantly those who come from broken homes. The sooner we face that problem, the better.

These figures make me ask a second question. It's a question about education. Is the kind of education that we are giving to our young people today adequate to help them to meet the strains of adolescence, the strains that the media bring to bear on them, all the strains of a highly technical and very sophisticated late 20th century? If I may pinpoint that a little more closely, to those who are interested in the education of the young, is a mild dose of comparative religion in the schools an adequate substitute for what we used to know as religious education? I don't think it is. If your children come from homes in which God is hardly ever spoken of except in a swear word, where mother and father never go to church with them on any regular basis, where father and mother never say to the youngsters, "Come on, kids, let's kneel down and have a prayer together," and where the Bible is only referred to when you want a crossword clue, and then at school they get a mild dose of comparative religion instead of religious education, can you blame those youngsters if they have no moral code, nothing to undergird them, and if they break out in violence against the society that hasn't given them any guidelines? Don't blame the youngsters. Blame the home situation and the educational situation. The two are intertwined.

Now when you get on to that kind of thinking, the asking of those fundamental questions, you come of course to even deeper questions that lie behind them. For example, what sort of person am I? What is man? Am I just a bunch of chemicals that would sell for about fifty cents? Yes, I am, from one point of view. Am I a hundred billion cells in some marvellous formation? Yes I am, from one point of view. Am I just the highest in a series of the animal evolution? Yes I am, from one point of view. Am I just here today, and gone forever? "When I die, I rot," said Russell.

Or is it possible that I am, in addition to all that, God's vicegerent in His world, responsible for the use and not the abuse of my world, which is God's world, so that I do my bit in not polluting it, responsible for my use of sexuality, responsible for my use in the creation of new life and the protection of the young? Am I, in other words, just the best in the line of the animal creation? Or am I a someone who, quite literally, is responsible, answerable to a God who is at once Creator and Redeemer?

May I ask another question? This lies back of the fundamental questions we are facing together. This mysterious person--what is his relationship to his fellows?

It can be one of hate. In my study, last Sunday afternoon, in Canterbury, I had a little lady talking to me who hardly ever spoke to her husband though she lived in the same house with him. She didn't know, I think, that some weeks before I had had her husband telling me much the same thing! We laugh, but it's a terrible tragedy, a relationship of hate.

What's my relationship with my fellow? Is it simply one of competition--who will get to the top first? Or is it in fact a relationship of love, of respect for him as a person, destined with me for an eternity to be spent somewhere or other? Is the parable of the Good Samaritan, the one who fell by the wayside being anybody in need, be it in the next street or in Bangladesh, just a pleasant story that Jesus told to entertain his hearers, or is it the only basis on which civilized life can exist?

These are the fundamental questions. And so what began as a talk with a rather peculiar title, "Waste in the West", lands every one of us straight in the midst of theology and religion. But, of course, so do all the great questions--the issues of life, and death, and love and human destiny are fundamentally theological and religious questions.

There is a waste which is no waste. There was a woman, you remember, who had not very much, but she had a box of very precious ointment, and she went and broke it over the head of Jesus. The friend said, "What a waste!" But He said, "What a lovely thing!"

It all depends on how you look at things and people and love and life. Do you measure by cash, or do you measure in the light of eternity? There you are--in theology and religion again. I guess it's the right place to be.

Our distinguished visitor and speaker was thanked on behalf of the audience by H. Allan Leal, Q.C., President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Waste in the West

A joint meeting of The Empire Club and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The gap between luxury and poverty; the contrast between our world and the Third World. The waste in our world: the pollution of the air, the sea, the land, food, human life, our youth, our universities, the expertise and experience of older people. Suggestions to solve the problem. First, awareness of the problems, long-term planning, long-term international communication. Second, a look at the basic questions that lie behind the problems of waste. The deeper questions of life, and the meaning of life.