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Friday, 30 January 2015

Question Time (Random Thoughts)

It’s Dimbleby night. I have wasted an hour watching QT. I heard scarcely anything intelligent. Perhaps I am to blame. Over the last decade I have moved so far towards the libertarian end of the spectrum that arguments between politicians as to whether Labour or the Tories have done or would do most for the NHS in Wales leave me less than cold. Putting politicians in charge of heath care has been a disaster and will continue to be so – likewise in the case of education.

The audience is ill-informed, though some show the right prejudices. Suppose we were discussing groceries or holidays. How many would stand for government virtual monopolies?

Politicians think that if they and their mates were in charge everything would be hunky-dory. Some say that health and education are too important to be left to the market. More important than food?

The government stepped into education at a time when almost every Briton was literate. The NHS was founded at a time when very many Britons paid modest subscriptions to insure themselves against injury and disease. Admittedly, this was at a time when healthcare was much less expensive. Government has been responsible for most of the increase in cost. AND we are much richer than we were in 1946. With lower taxes enabling entrepreneurs to create wealth and jobs, we would be richer still. So, governments impoverish us and they still can’t get the schools and hospitals right, even with endless expensive tinkering.

Would that they had been less ambitious, perhaps by paying the premiums for the poorest to competing private insurance companies. Competing doctors and hospitals would have helped to keep the costs down. Even a modest system like this would probably have morphed into something huge. Bureaucracies are fiercely self-protective and self-aggrandising.

I dream of a corporation setting up a mini-state and selling parcels of property to all and sundry. It would have a savagely limited constitution. Yeah, yeah, I know. I am proposing a blueprint, having railed so often against blueprints. It could happen, though. This statelet would grow in prosperity. Other states would have to compete – by deregulating. The world would be transformed – in my dreams! Some natural resources would be nice; but some relatively successful political units have next to nothing in the way of mineral deposits, oil, land, forests etc. Hong Kong doesn’t even have guano. What does Switzerland have apart from hydro-electric power? People are the most valuable resource of all: creative, energetic people.

A thousand billionaires could do it. There are surely enough of them.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


I have been watching David Bentley Hart again. It’s not easy. His vocabulary is at least 10% bigger than mine – and he could write a book on every word in his which is not in mine. He almost personifies erudition – and he knows it. He is not intellectually modest. He reminds me of Cassius Clay. This is why watching him is such a wonderful spectator sport. He is the Brian Lara of philosophers: a bowler who attempts to take his wicket is crushed. Witness the hapless Terry Sanderson, featured in an earlier post.

He has written a book (I have not read it yet): The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness & Bliss.
In his talk about it he says that I “should get out more”. I am, I confess, one of those who have never been astonished by the fact of existence. I have, it is true, parroted the mystery of “why there is something rather than nothing”. However, “existential surprise” is not my constant companion, my constant state of mind – so much the worse for me. But, thank you, David. It is truly astonishing that the universe exists. It is a miracle.

Water-into-wine and the raising of Lazarus are second order miracles – the very existence of water, of Lazarus’ body (only slightly less miraculous before his resurrection than after): these are miracles of the first order. Is it fanciful to say that the reactivity of carbon, only in the range 0OC to 100 OC (when water is liquid), is a second order miracle?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Politics and Morality

Most political arguments boil down to morality. Arthur Brooks (may his sins be forgiven) recounts a family dinner at which he had made an argument for liberty and free markets, demonstrating that both theory and historical observation proved (inescapably) that free markets promote the wellbeing of the poor to a degree that no other economic system has ever even approached. His sister-in-law recounted a newspaper article which mentioned a little girl who lived with her mother in a car. The argument was over. People respond to this kind of ‘moral’ appeal.

What is the essence of free market thinking? What are the principles upon which it is based?
Private Property.
The Rule of Law.
Equality of all before the Law.
Minimal State Interference.

The concept of equality of outcome is nowhere. Free Marketeers regard the very idea as absurd. We believe in it as little as we believe in unicorns. Firstly, because it is manifestly impossible. Secondly, because almost any policy designed even to approximate to it will (of necessity) involve injustice. You can mandate equality of height only by violating equality of toes.

‘Income equality’ is all the rage these days. Bad books are written advocating policies to advance it.
Good laws are those which encourage good behaviour, which reward the following:

In Britain today we read daily accounts of people living on benefits of many thousands of pounds per annum, money which is looted from those who do work. This does not encourage industry and self-responsibility AND it involves the unjust expropriation of the industrious and self-responsible.

For a democracy to work we need a moral electorate. The American Founders knew this very well. De Tocqueville praised American democracy; but he feared that it would be corrupted by electorates who voted themselves ever-increasing benefits. Tragically, his fears have been vindicated – not only in the US but in all Western countries. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the decline of Christianity has contributed massively to this baleful outcome.

The United States is overwhelmingly the most Christian of the Western nations. Americans also happen to be the most generous people in the world when it comes to charitable giving (both domestically and internationally). Religious Americans are the most generous of all.

An economic system which rewards honesty, creativity, hard work and self-responsibility is self-evidently superior to one which does not. Arthur Brooks (paraphrased) again: Happiness proceeds from earned success.

Free markets produce wealth in abundance; no other system comes close. Ever since the middle of the 18th Century, we have seen this to be true. From about 1750 to about 1950 the wealth of the West grew at an astonishing rate. Since the mid-twentieth Century, welfare states have proliferated and grown and the upward trend of wealth creation has faltered (at least in the West). Christianity has declined during the same period. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Am I preaching ‘the prosperity gospel’? No, devout Christians may be uninterested in acquiring great wealth. However, it is indubitably the case that the cultural phenomena of Science and Capitalism only ever developed in the Christian West. Alas, politicised Science and Welfareism gain ground apace.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Secular Progress

I have been watching David Bentley Hart debating Terry Sanderson, a member of The National Secular Society. Hart is always worth watching. His mental prowess is astonishing, His learning is prodigious and his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude is invigorating.

All Christians must and do sorrowfully deplore wicked acts perpetrated by Christians in the past and in the present, most particularly when these acts have been ‘justified’ by reference to Scripture. Nevertheless, a fair examination of the historical record must conclude that the moral influence of Christianity has been, on balance, good. Christianity’s insistence on the intrinsic value of every human life makes it difficult (if not impossible) to justify gratuitous cruelty and rapacity. The atheist Ayn Rand asserts that every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others. I absolutely agree. But what is the source of this belief? It is very difficult to find candidates other than Christianity. Christ’s second commandment that we love our neighbours as ourselves is the only credible origin of ‘human rights’.

Professors of Christianity have a theological basis for human rights. The pagans do not (slavery and crucifixion); Muslims do not (slavery, persecution of unbelievers and the subjugation of women); modern ‘ideologies’ like Communism and Nazism do not (slavery, genocide etc, etc). Insofar as we have a background belief in human rights at all, we owe it to Christianity. And as Christianity declines as a cultural phenomenon, we can expect secular professions of human rights to be an increasingly flimsy protection. Indeed, we see this already.

In 2013 there were over 180,000 abortions in Britain alone, the vast majority of which were carried out without any medical justification at all. In a more morally robust age abortion was a sin and a crime for which there were NO justifications at all: not medical, nor on the grounds of rape or incest. Human rights (the right to Life itself) have not protected millions of babies from being slaughtered. As for ‘doctor assisted suicide’, the prognostications grow worse and worse.

In the debate Sanderson alleges that modern societies have grown ‘kinder’ and that our welfare states are the product of… Actually, I don’t think he completed this thought coherently.

How a materialist can, with a straight face, maintain that Evolution (which explains everything) has brought about a gentler society defeats me.

During the ancien regime aristocrats were exempt from taxation. The poor and middle classes bore the entire burden. By being cosy with the government you got immense privileges. Does this not smack of corruption?

In Britain today government employees are more highly paid than their equivalents in the private sector. They are virtually unsackable. When they retire, they get inflation-proof pensions. Corruption?

Friday, 23 January 2015

How do you argue with this?

Me: Islam makes people do bad things. People do bad things and then justify the bad things by appeal to Islam. Examples proliferate by the hour: Boko Haram, IS, Hamas, Hezbollah, The Iranian Islamic Republic, Murder of journalists in Paris. Islam is a bad ideology. Since 9/11 there have been upwards of 24,000 Islamist attacks.

Him: But Christians have done bad things in the past, the Inquisition and the Crusades (and clerical child abuse). Duh?

Me: I am against Nazi ideology: it led to the holocaust.

Him: But Christians have done bad things in the past, the Inquisition and the Crusades (and clerical child abuse). Duh?

Me: I am against Communism: it led to the murder of tens/hundreds of millions.

Him: But Christians have done bad things in the past, the Inquisition and the Crusades (and clerical child abuse). Duh?

Me: You are a Christian?

Him: Yes.

Me: So you are in favour of the Inquisition and the Crusades (and clerical child abuse)?

Him: Obviously not.

Me: But these evils were perpetrated by Christians.

What he does not say: Christianity does not sanction violence and abuse; those who claim it does are distorting Christian teaching.

His position is incoherent. It boils down to this: No ideology can be criticised because all ideologies are imperfect. Nazism cannot be criticised because democrats are not perfect. Aztec human sacrifice cannot be condemned because Shintoism was violent. Pol Pot was a murdering bastard – but Pinochet killed a lot of Chileans. Islam is an intolerant violent ideology – but Christians had the Inquisition and did bad things during the Crusades (and some priests have been paedophiles). There is not even the pretence of logic. There is not even a name for this fallacy; it is so self-evidently fallacious. Henceforth we shall call it the ‘total bollocks fallacy’. TBF is also evident in the politico-economic realm. If I point out that Socialism depends upon coercion and violence (self-evidently true), TBF refutes me by saying that some ‘entrepreneurs’ got rich by getting into bed with governments – puhleeze!

People do bad things. Only Christianity has a satisfactory explanation – Original Sin. I want to be allowed to say that some ideologies promote bad behaviour. TBF says, ‘No, every ideology is defective’. Apparently, this means that no comparison is allowed. I am not allowed even to think about comparisons.

He is a cradle Catholic – studied for the priesthood. I am a late convert; I want every human being to be a Catholic. He doesn’t. Wow! All Socialists want universal Socialism. All Muslims want universal Islam. With friends like him…

To return to my original assertion: Islam is a bad ideology because it leads to evil actions. Defenders of Islam, naturally, wish to say that Islam does not justify evil actions. But it does!

We are lucky to have, on the Christian side, Robert Spencer, David Wood, Jay Smith and others who know the Islamic texts very well. One of the things they point out is that Islamic texts are x% theology and y% condemnation of kaffirs, unbelievers, us. Y is a lot bigger than X.

What do Islam and Catholicism have in common? Some important stuff: monotheism, for example. Catholics surely should be allowed to maintain that Catholicism is superior. Muslims do maintain that Islam is superior. My friend happily maintains that theism is superior to materialism.