Life, Death and the End Game

Podcast: Robert McCrum on Every Third Thought: On Life, Death and the End Game

Robert McCrum is an associate editor of The Observer and was the paper’s literary editor for 12 years. Before that, he was editor-in-chief of Faber & Faber, where he edited writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, and Peter Carey. His books include The Story of English and a definitive life of PG Woodhouse.

Robert McCrum’s latest book is Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame, published by Picador.

The book confronts an existential question: in a world where we have learnt to live well at all costs, can we make peace with what Freud calls ‘the necessity of dying’? Searching for answers leads him to others for advice and wisdom, and Every Third Thought is populated by the voices of brain surgeons, psychologists, cancer patients, hospice workers, writers and poets.

“Historically, the oldie turned to God in the search for fulfilment during his or her later years,” McCrum writes. “Today, with the idea of God under assault from belligerent atheists, and an indifferent majority of committed agnostics, there’s still a hunger for a dialogue with something bigger and richer than individualistic materialism.”


Reading the latest CHURCH TIMES online, I came across this fascinating dialogue with the former editor-in-chief for the publisher, Faber and Faber, Robert McCrum, who is now an associate editor of the Observer in the U.K.

Listening to the interview (linked here above the picture) I was struck by Robert’s inability to have a substantive faith in the existence of God – although brought up in a Christian family and educated in a Church school and involved in church activities into his early teen years. Since then, he became involved in intellectual pursuits which obviously led him into the state of agnosticism which he has maintained to this day.

In his book, ‘Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame’, the author explores the situation surrounding the problems of facing the indisputable fact of human death – without necessarily entertaining any positive belief in an afterlife, which is the profound preoccupation of most religious – certainly Christian – thought and philosophy.

One wonders how many people – even ‘Christian’ believers in God – are actually agnostic about thoughts of life after death, a prospect on which subscription to the Christian faith is dependent? St. Paul speaks of it in this way – in the 15th chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians – “Someone may ask, ‘How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come back?” He then goes on to say: “They are stupid questions” – and go on to explain his own understanding of what ensues in the life of the believer after the death of the body.

One of the key elements of my own understanding of this conundrum of life after death is answered by the recorded saying of Jesus, Himself: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day”. Exactly how and when this will happen is God’s business rather than mine and I am content, by faith, to leave it there. Faith, I remember, is a gift from God, and one has to be willing to believe in its provenance and then, actively, to receive and exercise it.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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