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Sunday, 31 August 2014

More Thoughts about Islam

I have recently watched a videoed debate whose motion was: Atheists are the new fundamentalists. Dawkins featured.

I am sure that atheism has become more strident and more sneering since 9/11. This raises my blood pressure. That murderous bastards flying into buildings should be used as an excuse for attacking Christianity is not just unfair: it is stupid.

It seems to me self-evident that right thinking Christians should oppose Islamic thought even more energetically than atheists and partly because this bad brand of theism gives an excuse to those who would tar us with the same brush.

A video series you should watch on YouTube is The Catholic Church, Builder of Civilisation. It is presented by Tom Woods, always worth a listen. In 13 parts he describes the countless contributions of the Church to western civilisation: in Art, Science, Technology and Education.

I am prepared to admit that Islam has had its moments but I deplore the stultifying effect of Islamic conquests. It is hundreds of years since Islamic civilisation has had anything to offer the world. It is so far behind the west in Science, Economics and Technology as to be a joke. Most Muslim majority societies are politically benighted. Is this a coincidence? The arrogance and complacency of Muslim apologists are unjustified and deeply disturbing. The plight of women and minorities in Muslim states is a nightmare. Terrorism is the only area in which Islam leads the world.

Christian churches in the west, certainly in Europe, have been far too accommodating to Islam and, as I attempted to show in an earlier post, this is because we mistake it for a religion in the same sense that Christianity is a religion. It is not; it is a social and political system with an admixture of religion. It preaches hatred of Jews, Christians and polytheists; it contains precious little actual theological content. To call it a religion of peace as Bush and Obama have bleated is ludicrous.

I am certainly not calling for a renewed Crusade. But we should not be afraid to condemn the bad things that come from Islam and we should not give aid to counties which oppress women and call for the destruction of Israel.

It is almost inconceivable that an anti-Islamic sermon should be preached in a Christian church. Most churches would rather attack global warming or income inequality.

Unintended Consequences

Human beings act purposively. This is the great insight of Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian School of Economics. We act in order to bring about, in the future, a situation which we deem to be preferable to the situation in the present.

Duh? Well, I am not going to summarise Human Action here, or to trace all the consequences of this insight. Suffice it to say that, given the existence of free will, this seems pretty well self-evident. If we have no free will, then all our thinking about thoughts, aspirations and motives is neither here or there. If you regard yourself as a puppet whose thoughts and actions have been entirely pre-determined by Physics and Chemistry, you may as well stop reading now.

If I imagine a state of affairs which suits me better than the current state of affairs and if I believe that certain actions on my part will bring about said state of affairs and if I perform those actions, I am acting purposively. This has nothing to say about the quality of my beliefs or of the validity of my thinking processes or of the truth content of my suppositions. I am hungry. I prefer not to be hungry. I believe that eating will satisfy my hunger – so I eat. I am penniless. I believe that having money is a preferable situation – so I resolve to get a job. I believe that a smart appearance will improve my chances of getting a job – so I wash and iron my shirt.

I assume that the world and his wife will agree: if these are the things you want these are the actions you should take. These are very simple instances of action. Our lives are made up of simple instances and of longer chains of goal oriented (purposive) actions.

As individuals, we sometimes get things right. Sometimes our actions do indeed bring our goals nearer. Sometimes we get things wrong. If we indulge in crystal meth in the hopes of feeling good, we have every chance of feeling very bad in the long run. Wise observers of our behaviour have every right to say, ‘we told you so, you plonker!’

But we are not just individuals. We live in societies. Every action has the possibility of affecting other people. For better or worse, as members of political units, we have, by voting or by acquiescing, actions that affect thousands of other people. We have, therefore, a profound responsibility to examine our beliefs, thinking and suppositions.

The first problem with political action is the problem of knowing what the consequence will be. Firstly, we cannot know for sure what every other human being actually wants. Secondly, we cannot know whether the things they things they want will really contribute to their well-being. Thirdly, political actions that bring about well-being of one group may do the opposite for another group. Fourthly, our calculations may simply be wrong; we may hope to benefit people while actually harming them. We are profoundly ignorant. From this it follows that we should, at least, be very circumspect about any and all political actions. Perhaps we should refrain from any political action until we are sure that the benefits outweigh the disadvantage.

In our big modern states the government has taken on a huge range of responsibilities. The government in effect makes a vast number of decisions for the individual citizen, almost always without knowing what it needs to make good decisions. Doubtless, governments in democracies make decisions on behalf of citizens with benign motives. This always involves spending money; and, since government has no money of its own, it has to expropriate money from the citizen.

Our governments take an enormous amount of money from us to spend on education – and it doesn’t get value form money on what it spends. The same applies to health care.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Politics vs Politics (Tribalism vs Political Thought)

The ideas in the following only crystallised in my mind this evening. Perhaps I am egregiously stupid. Of course, I have been aware, as you are, that people adopt political stances for more than one reason. Ali is a Sunni and he supports the Sunni leadership, not because he thinks Sunnis have the best economic policies but simply because he is a Sunni. Chris is black and he supports Obama, not because he is supportive of Obamas political theories but simply because he thinks blacks in America have had a raw deal and the first black president should therefore have his support. Mike identifies himself as working class, so he votes Labour. This is understandable. But it sucks.

There are people (perhaps Sunni, perhaps black) who have politico-economic views different from the Sunni leadership or different from Obama and who don’t make their decisions on tribal grounds. Black Thomas Sowell declared that he would vote for McCain rather than Obama because he preferred disaster to catastrophe.

I am pretty sure that the few dozen people who read this blog are not tribalists. Nevertheless, electorates and activists around the world are.

How are you going to start forming views about politics, economics or society? You are not going to be intellectually nuanced, or even coherent, if you start with your own social class or your own ethnicity.

It is perfectly possible that most Catholics in the world have a collectivist point of view. I’m a Catholic and I don’t. My political and economic conclusions are derived from non-theological premises. When I examine them (my conclusions), I am, to say the least, relieved to find that they are congruent with Catholicism. Were this not the case, I’d be in trouble.

You are not (I suppose) a tribalist. My objective, then, is not to convert you from tribalism but to alert you to it. So, be careful. You may own your own home; you may vote Republican. You may observe that most Republicans own their own homes (or aspire to do so). Don’t vote Republican because you own your home. Vote Republican because the Republican Party is committed to the idea that a property owning democracy is a good idea.

Tribalism is bad because it suppresses political thought. America is not tribalist and political thought thrives in America. Imagine being a member of the Islamic State and trying to engage your comrades in a conversation about free market economics.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Second Thoughts

One of my themes is: beware of those who claim to have a blueprint for the perfect society. They don’t; but if they manage to put it into practice, they will kill a lot of people.

The Burkean vision (the constrained vision, to use Thomas Sowell’s phrase) is: yes, we can make improvements to society; but every change is going to involve trade-offs. We have to be ready to say, “Whoops, that didn’t work!” Ruthless empiricism is required in the real world.

It is a profound insight, learnt from History. Too many ideologies are the result of some arrogant bastard concocting, out of thin air, a ‘perfect’ plan. In my view, this is why conservatives are more interested in History than progressives are. The constrained vision is humbler than that of Marx or Mohammed. The arrogance of the progressive elites has cost us very dear.

We have learnt from the twentieth century that all-powerful states have always led to tyranny. And yet, with the lessons of socialism and fascism before our eyes we have allowed our states to grow and grow, ignoring the iniquity of ever increasing debt. As the state grows bigger, the citizen shrinks. Our children will pay the price when the collapse comes.

One of the glories of western civilisation has been its adaptiveness. This is clearly evident in the triumphs of Science; but now we have started to ignore the scientific mind set. ‘Scientific’ dogma dictates policy and the state-sponsored ‘scientific’ institutions wield inordinate power. We have had nearly two decades of no global warming. Time to say, “Whoops!” The predictions of the AIDS orthodoxy have proved to be equally false – predictably so. “Whoops!” Islam has not adapted.

By the way, on the subject of AIDS, you should listen to Kary Mullis. He was writing a paper on the subject of AIDS and began with: “HIV is the probable cause of AIDS.” He asked his colleagues for the reference to cite in support of this statement. No one could supply it, nor could anyone in the AIDS community. He tried for years, with no success. This isn’t bad science; it is the absence of science. But you and your fellow citizens have spent billions on AIDS research which is based on the assumption that HIV causes AIDS. Mullis is a Nobel Prize winner! In passing we should note that Nobel Prizes for Peace and for Economics have been awarded to charlatans, but not (yet) in the hard sciences. Robert Gallo, who claimed to have discovered the probable cause of AIDS, has not been given one.

My characterisation of Islam as more political than religious has provoked the riposte that Christianity has, in the past, muscled in on the domain of politics. It has and this is to be deplored. Politicised religion is as bad as politicised science, at least. Our Lord and St Paul made no political pronouncements. They pronounced, to be sure, but on personal morality, on personal piety.

Some of us wonder how it has come about that the principal objections to criticism of Islam come from our leftist progressives. Can it be that they recognise that their political world view shares certain characteristics with Islam? I don’t know. One would suppose that progressive, feminist leftists would want to distance themselves from Islam’s treatment of gays and women. But they stand shoulder to shoulder.

Those who defend Islamism are very quick to cite bad things done by Christians, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to clerical abuse of children. When Christians and churchmen do bad things they should be condemned. The Crusaders, of course, saw themselves as fighting defensive wars. This cannot blind us to the atrocities they undoubtedly committed, against Jews as well as against Muslim civilians. However, my negative remarks about Islam are not based on the fact that bin Laden and Ahmedinajad are or were bad men. I was trying to come to defensible conclusions as to why the history of Islam is so violent. For sure, all societies have done bad things. But I don’t think that Christian transgressions are mandated by its founder. Not so in the case of Islam.

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Too much fun!

Why have I delayed so long in resuming my blog?

Blogging is more fun than squash, which is lots of fun, especially if you win often enough. I had never beaten my father at squash until I had played every day at Riyadh airbase for more than six months. There, I progressed from division 9 to division 3, and briefly to division 2.

When I next visited Birmingham, I thrashed him: 9-0, 9-0, 9-0. God forgive me: it was great.

Being a grandfather is top fun!

Begetting children is fun in itself. Being a father is an alloyed joy – are you doing an adequate job?

When it comes to grandchildren, the responsibility is divided by 4. The joy is what it is. Clara is less than 2 months old. She is so bright. Can I claim ¼ of the credit for that? I should be so lucky.

Families are wonderful. Families mean that when your son falls in love, you fall in love. I am so lucky: Helen, Carrie and Emily – How did I ever deserve them?

I'm tempted into a rapturous celebration of these girls. My prayers are twofold:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen; and

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.

Is Islam Compatible with Peaceful Coexistence?

The horrors taking place at the hands of Muslims around the world, in The Middle East in general, in Gaza and in Africa, have set me to wondering what it is about Islam which precipitates this violence, violence which is, as often as not, Muslim-on-Muslim. A similar question could be asked as to what it was about the statist ideologies of the twentieth century which precipitated the carnage of Communism and Nazism. This, I think, is an easier question to deal with. If one assumes, as I do, that Communism and Fascism are twin Socialist ideologies, then it requires only a moment’s reflection to realise that violence is the sine qua non of Socialism. Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler were not aberrant. You can’t have Socialism without violent tyranny.

The difficulty with Islam is that we think of it as a religion. We put it into the same category as Buddhism or Mormonism. We don’t immediately think of religions as being essentially violent (though of course violence has been perpetrated even by Buddhists). We can say, ‘Of course Fascism is violent; it is a form of socialism’. We don’t think it right to say, ‘Of course Islam is violent; it is a religion’. Militant atheists might disagree; but this is not the place for that particular argument. Are we right? Is Islam a religion?

On the surface, Christianity and Islam have some things in common: both assert the existence of God; both are concerned with ethical behaviour. However, I am coming to the view that Islam has more in common with Communism and Fascism than with Christianity or Buddhism. I know that it is disputed whether Buddhism is a religion but, again, this is not today’s argument.

Karl Marx (and even Adolph Hitler) had a vision of the perfect society. We might declare that his vision was A) unobtainable, B) flawed and that C) the effort to establish it would inevitably be nightmarish. Christians believe that God’s kingdom is not of this world. We believe that a better society is always possible but that, given the fact of Original Sin, perfection is not possible.

Mohammed too was a visionary. He believed that if only everyone would follow his prescriptions, society would be perfect. Indeed, Muslims say that Islam is God’s religion. Muslims might agree that most men are sinful but they do not have a well-developed doctrine of Original Sin. This doctrine is Judeo-Christian.

I have recently learnt that Mohammed’s career as a prophet was divided into two distinct periods: Meccan and Medinan. During the first period he was, first and foremost, a spiritual leader and teacher. He was also singularly ineffective, only managing to make something over one hundred converts. Nearly all the tolerant and peaceful of his teachings date from this period. In the Medinan period he reinvented himself as a military leader. As such he converted thousands. He seems to have had second thoughts about the ‘people of the book’ (Jews and Christians). His teachings from this period are startlingly bloodthirsty. What is more, Islam has an explicit doctrine of Abrogation, which says that later revelations abrogate earlier revelations. How Muslims can reconcile this doctrine with the doctrine that the Koran is perfectly existent from all time defeats me. It is literally Orwellian: All the Koran’s Revelations are Perfect; but some are more Perfect than others. This doctrine explicitly violates the logical law of non-contradiction: the propositions A and Not-A cannot both be true.

Muslims, all Muslims, believe that they are in possession of God’s handbook for producing a perfect society. Who would not want a perfect society, especially if God Himself has revealed the plan? How can we, then, expect any but the most lukewarm Muslims to consent to live in peaceful coexistence with Christians, Jews and polytheists? Fortunately for the rest of us, most Muslims are lukewarm.

What we witness in Iraq and Syria and Pakistan is warfare between the sects: Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. What seems to outsiders to be a clash between indistinguishable theologies turns out to be a political war. The historical divergence between the two sects arose from a political dispute as to who should have succeeded Mohammed.

We do have disputes in Christianity (heated ones). Nearly all Christians believe that their political beliefs should be informed by their religious convictions. This can and does result in very different political/social attitudes. For example, for most Christians derive their opposition to abortion from their faith. Some Christians derive Pacifism from their faith. Some Christians derive political Collectivism from their faith. Fortunately, this does not lead to Christians of a leftish complexion and Christians of a rightish complexion cutting each other’s throats.  We do not attack each other’s politics from a religious point of view, but from an intellectual point of view. The great Jay Richards does not see Christian Socialists as necessarily damned but perhaps confined to the ‘bad economics’ section of Heaven. As I see it, Both Sunnis and Shias have political/social systems which are mandated by The Almighty. So, they walk into each other’s mosques with Kalashnikovs.

Is there any reform of Islam which could give us hope? The great reformer will be he who develops an Islamic doctrine of Original Sin. The seeds of it must be there already. Ideas matter!

It will be clear that I prefer Christianity to Islam. I, like all Christians, must face the historical fact that Catholics and Protestants waged horrid and interminable wars upon each other. God forgive us! However, I reject the notion that Christianity is essentially violent. Regrettably, since the Medinan period Islam has been essentially violent. It will remain so until it sheds its political carapace, until it accepts a loving God, who hates none of His creation.

Christopher Hitchens and many of his ilk became strident in their denunciation of all religions after 9/11. He was wrong. The perpetrators of 9/11 were much more political than religious, though they thought God was on their side – a poisonous cocktail.