Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Religion

The Archbishop Wades In With Irony and Ignorance

It seems that a man whose career is built on faith in the supernatural and thinks Sharia Law is a good idea now supports the ‘Robin Hood Tax’.

I could just end the post there, really, but as I haven’t blogged for a week or so, I’ll carry on.

The Archbishop has clearly been taken in by the ‘it’s all the bankers fault’ fallacy. Need I point out yet again that for an irresponsible lender there must be an irresponsible borrower? I assume Dr. Williams is not in a forgiving mood. He has obviously had some divine gift in actually being able to ascertain exactly what the St. Paul’s squatters are on about. In his view, the answer is our old friend, the Robin Hood Tax.

This means a comparatively small rate of tax (0.05 per cent) being levied on share, bond, and currency transactions and their derivatives, with the resulting funds being designated for investment [sic] in the “real” economy [sic], domestically and internationally.

The Tobin Tax / Financial Transactions tax / Robin Hood Tax is unworkable, as to be truly effective all countries would need to impose it. That is not going to happen as there will always be those who see an opportunity to capitalise on other nation’s masochistic tax regimes.

Even as far as it does get imposed, the cost of such a ‘small’ tax – it would take £30bn out of the UK economy – will ultimately fall on us, not the bankers. That’s us, through our pensions, bank charges, insurance premiums, energy prices, in fact almost every day to day commodity uses the sort of financial instruments that the tax would hit. I’ve blogged before on it (look for the first comment on there – a good technical demolition of the tax). Furthermore, naturally, the better qualified Timmy has had a go this morning.

So that’s the ignorance dealt with, now for the irony. Let’s look at the irony of the Archbishop supporting a tax.

If we want to take seriously the moral agenda of the protesters at St Paul’s, these are some of the ways in which we should be taking it forward.

Moral? Tax is immoral. Yes, it is a necessary evil; it is the most practical way to fund certain indivisible public services, but far beyond that it is used as a (largely ineffective and counter-productive) tool of ‘social justice’ through the forced redistribution of wealth or supporting one group’s view of deserving causes. That’s the “investment in the ‘real’ economy” cobblers the Archbishop is coming out with. Let’s face it, if you were mugged it wouldn’t make the crime any less immoral if the mugger then donated his ill-gotten gains to the local homeless shelter, would it?

The fact is that if the Archbishop truly understood the issues that the so-called ‘anti-capitalist’ squatters claim to be concerned with, he would recognise that it is not capitalism that is the problem, it is corporatism, and more tax and regulation will simply push us towards more of the same.

As further reading I can recommend Alistair Heath‘s piece today, but for my part I will leave you with one last thought for the day. Previous high profile supporters of the Robin Hood Tax have included actors, Bill Gates (the visionary who failed to foresee the rise in popularity of the internet and smartphones) and, naturally, politicians (so no vested interests there then). With the exception of the last, these supporters hardly have any real influence on matters. If you think the Chief Executive of the Church of England falls into the same category, and that it doesn’t really matter if he wants to come out with such economically illiterate socialist cobblers, then I will just say this: ‘faith schools’.

Why Should Religion Trump Politics? Thought For A Sunday

Suppose someone worked for an organisation that asked you to hang up an EU flag. As a sound Euro-sceptic you refuse on principle. (For our purposes, we will assume the organisation hasn’t taken the EU shilling and thus agreed to display said dirty rag – if so, more fool them.)

Now suppose a colleague is asked to help put up the Christmas decorations; the tree, some tinsel and – uh oh – some cards that have been received with the baby Jesus on. He refuses, because he is (say) a devout Muslim.

Now, finally let’s suppose that both cases had been the last straw and your employer dismissed both of you. Which case, under equalities legislation, would (a) even be considered by the courts and (b) benefit from the support of the EHRC (headed by Trevor “our business is defending the believer” Phillips)? Yup, not the Euro-sceptic, even though his views could be as strongly held as the Muslim’s.

Adam Smith; engraving

Adam Smith, or any excuse for a picture of the great man.

The fundamental question is this: why should religious beliefs get any more protection than political ones? Discrimination on grounds of race or gender – qualities that the subject has no control over – is another kettle of fish entirely. Yet what of religion and politics, those twin taboo subjects of polite conversation? In truth (though the more devout would dispute this) they all are about choices of belief. There is also choice about how such beliefs are practised and demonstrated. Both are philosophies of sorts, but the one difference is that religion, by the very definition of “faith”, is not necessary based on any process of logical reasoning or sound evidence. Political beliefs, however, flawed though one side may think the other’s are, are often drawn from experience, reality-based thought processes and/or theories as to what is practically feasible in making the world a better place. Communists may revere Marx, and free-marketeers will hold Adam Smith in similar esteem, but few on either side would ‘worship’ their respective historical leading thinkers.

Yet base your views of the world on a belief in a supernatural power and suddenly your lifestyle choices become near-unassailable and benefit from protection under the law of far greater weight than, and trumping that of, freedom of speech and association. What’s with that?

Perhaps the separation is a more modern phenomenon. For centuries, religion and politics have been so intertwined that the distinction has been moot. Even within our own shores political divisions can closely follow sectarian lines, even though the religious element has become largely irrelevant in the ‘Irish Question’ other than as a synonym for the Nationalist/Loyalist divide (indeed, it could be argued that it always was a primarily political issue, right back to the plantation of Ireland under Elizabeth I and the struggles against Papal power).

No Comment

Is the difference in treatment a function of how far followers are ‘willing to go’? Many wars and genocides have been – and still are – carried out on religious grounds but, equally, political genocide is hardly unknown: we’ve seen 45 million killed under Chinese communism, 20 million under Stalin, around 1.5 million under Pol Pot and of course the 6 million under National Socialism (though the motivation behind the latter could be seen as a grey area between religious and political). On the flip-side, most political beliefs would not lead followers to murder any more than ‘true’ or ‘ordinary’ Christians, Buddhists or any other religion might.

Maybe it’s all just a little more mundane. Political views are by their nature open to argument; criticism, testing, cross-examination, subject to variation in the light of experience, and so on. With religion, criticism can simply be dismissed as blasphemy, and followers can be motivated without any remotely ‘legal standard’ of proof. If religion cannot be subject to a legal process of examination, perhaps the law shies away from testing it at all.

I rather think that the solution is to offer no legal protection to either, beyond that of free speech, association and the norms of a civilised free society.

* You know this, of course, so although you don’t like the idea, you otherwise like working there, so you do as asked, holding the flag like a dirty nappy and washing your hands thoroughly afterwards.

(H/T The Heresiarch, who came at this from the thought-provoking ‘believer/non-believer’ angle.)

He's Here

Having chosen to land in Edinburgh rather than Heathrow, the Pope has arrived in the UK.

Here, we see the head of a church with millions of followers, who also acts as a head of state and is recognised and respected around the world, with someone who is not exactly a model of political correctness who has upset a good few people … and the Pope.

After today’s visit to Scotland Pope Benedict XVI will continue his tour of the UK, by travelling to Wales, Northern Ireland and England.*

* yes, I appreciate that an NI visit might be pushing things; who’d want to risk an Italian sat-nav sending the Popemobile up the Shankill Road by mistake?

On That Papal "Third World" Comment … Or, Thank God For Henry VIII

Errm…

A senior Papal adviser has pulled out of the Pope’s UK visit after saying arriving at Heathrow airport was like landing in a “Third World” country.

Cardinal Walter Kasper reportedly told a German magazine the UK was marked by “a new and aggressive atheism”.

Richard Dawkins will be so bothered.

The Vatican said the 77-year-old cardinal had not intended “any kind of slight”, and was referring to the UK’s multicultural society.

Oh, so he was just talking about all the darkies at Heathrow? That’s all right then.

This, coming from a senior representative of an institution which, though 2000 years old, still seems to be stuck in the Middle Ages. A body that covers up for child molesters, lobbies against the cheapest and most effective means of stopping the spread of AIDS (i.e. condoms) – especially in, ironically, the Third World – and has also arguably added to the planet’s population problems through its anti-contraception views.

It was only last year that the Vatican grudgingly gave a positive nod to Charles Darwin, and let’s not get started on their bang-up-to-date views on the role of women.

Quite frankly, to have a senior Vatican figure accuse Britain of being like “a third world country” is like Captain Caveman declaring the Millennium Falcon to be ‘primitive’.

Incidentally, if anyone is offended by my remarks, then I apologise … blogging will be light tomorrow because of this terrible gout of mine….

I Agree, Sort Of

Philip Hollobone, formerly a local councillor before he came down in the world and was elected to Parliament, has stated that he would refuse to see a constituent at his surgery who was wearing a full face veil.

On this I agree with him, though not quite for the same reasons. I’m not convinced that being unsure that the constituent is who they say they are is a sufficiently strong reason for refusing an appointment, but as a remark on the spur of the moment we shouldn’t assume that it is his sole objection.

No, I think he would be right to refuse on the same grounds that Jack Straw was right. Most communication is non-verbal, as we know, and a great deal of that non-verbal communication comes from the face. It is perfectly proper for anyone to raise an objection if one party is voluntarily placing such an obstacle in the way of that communication.

But what about the right to pursue one’s chosen religion? The key word there is “chosen”: if one chooses a particular belief system then they are choosing to place artificial restrictions on themselves (fine) and sometimes others (not necessarily fine). As it is, there are plenty of Muslim women who find no need to wear a face veil. (Even so, I don’t support a blanket ban on burqas or full veils.)

In an age of so many forms of communication, Mr Hollobone is not denying his services to a constituent and thus not stopping her from pursuing her own interpretation of her own religion.

Yet of course we are seeing the outrage from “Muslim groups” and potentially the media circus that Paul Goodman warns of over on ConservativeHome. But bear in mind just who these groups represent, and who, if anyone, actually elected them. Then compare that to the 23,247 who supported Philip.

Lord Ahmed on Life and Liberty

The former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is living under police protection in London at the moment. This has caused some upset, not least among a Labour Muslim peer:

Musharraf’s presence in London stokes unrest, says Labour peer

Police protection for Pervez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan who is living in London, should be cancelled amid fears that his presence will stoke unrest within the Muslim community, a Labour peer told The Times last night.

Lord Ahmed of Rotherham has written to the Home Secretary urging him to stop spending taxpayers’ money on protection by Scotland Yard for the exiled leader.

So which is Lord Ahmed’s primary concern: the implied waste of taxpayers’ money (which would be a first for a Labour politician), or the unrest that Musharraf’s presence is causing “within the Muslim community”? This might be a silly question, but how would not providing police protection deal with Musharraf’s presence? I am not pretending that the ex-dictator is in the Mother Theresa league of those who have done good for the world, but the truth is there are some people around who would like to despatch Musharraf to meet Allah face to face, somewhat earlier than might be otherwise expected.

As for Lord Ahmed … now, where have we heard that name before? Oh yes. He was the one who accused Salman Rushdie of having blood on his hands. According to Ahmed’s logic, Rushdie wrote stuff that upset some Muslims – so upset were they that they did violence. So, it’s Rushdie’s fault.

He was also the one who threatened to have 10,000 Muslims march on parliament to stop Geert Wilders from speaking. In Ahmed-world, if there’s someone who says things you don’t agree with, it’s OK to threaten them with who-knows-what from a baying fanatical mob. The government, displaying the sort of backbone that didn’t win us Waterloo, gave in.

Now he wants the government to be complicit in the possible murder of Pervez Musharraf because otherwise some members of the “Muslim community” might get grumpy.

I hope Mr Musharraf has kept his will up to date.

So, We Should Have Let Him In Then

Chris Grayling, drawing the short straw yesterday, gave the party’s statement on Geert Wilders’ being banned from the UK.

“… If Geert Wilders has expressed views that represent a threat to public security, then we support the ban….”

Well, I’ve watched the film. Some of the scenes aren’t pretty, but one hardly expects Blue Peter*.

Having watched it, I still can’t see any threat to public security … at least eminating from Mr Wilders or his film. Since I assume the relevant members of my party’s front bench have seen it before commenting on it (a reasonable assumption), then the condition of us supporting the ban has not been met.

So why couldn’t we just say so?

*Don’t say I didn’t warn you: There are some gruesome scenes in there, definitely not for the faint-hearted.

What If My Politics is My Religion?

Suppose I was back working on the tills at Safeway* (remember them?) and I walked into work wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Milton Friedman, or Hayek on the front.

My supervisor would have told me to take it off and don the then regulation white shirt and bow tie. I then decided to take the company to court for restricting my political freedom and right of free speech. Fair? No. Even now, in the age of the Human Rights Act, I wouldn’t expect to get away with that one. I would accept that my employer has rules and if I don’t like them I should find another job.

Now suppose that, instead of my Hayek t-shirt, I was wearing a symbol of religion. Then I would have, at least by today’s standards, a case for (religious) discrimination. So while an employer, owner of a property or indeed, say, a headteacher who is responsible for the day to day running of a school, can (I would say reasonably) exert some restriction on my freedom of speech, if I claim that my strongly held beliefs are part of a religious belief system, rather than a political one, I can sue under equality law.

Now I happen to think that there are aspects of the law on discrimination and equalities that do need to have some common sense applied. Some protection of religious freedom is justified, but in the same way as free speech generally should be. Equally, though, there are some justifiable restrictions on free speech (such as incitement to murder, to take an easy extreme example) which should apply to religions. More particular points can be argued around the balance between tackling unfair discrimination and respecting the rights of property ownership. Perhaps more esoterically, there is recognising the fact that minors might not yet have the free will to make up their own minds about their beliefs. I also think there is a necessity that head teachers, for instance, should be able to demonstrate fairness by treating all pupils equally, and not to see rules aimed at maintaining discipline in the school undermined (too many left-liberal educationalists have done plenty of that already).

These points alone could generate a good series of posts, but the basic question remains: why should religion be treated differently to any other type of philosophy? Whatever exceptions – restrictions or allowances – one might concede, they should be applied equally to religion and politics. Regardless of whether you or I agree with the treatment, why should a CND badge or my (now sadly lost) pound badge be treated differently from a Sikh bangle?

* My first (part-time) job while at school, when I had a Triumph Herald to run, at Biggin Hill. It escaped the clutches of Morrisons and is now a Waitrose, and joins a Marks and Spencer as evidence that Biggin Hill is “on the up”.

Tayside Police Cause Offence … To Dog Owners

Tayside police have apologised to “Muslims” after a postcard featuring a puppy was used to publicise their new non-emergency ‘phone number.

I’ll pause to let you read that a few more times.

So what are these loonies, who I suspect are taking a pretty narrow interpretation of the Koran, upset about?

Does Allah have a particular dislike of non-emergency telephone numbers? Or postcards?

No, it seems that a few representatives of the Muslim community in Tayside have a thing against dogs.

In the words of Jeremy Clarkson: No, really.

We are told that:

… some Islamic scholars believe that dogs are impure and therefore ‘haraam’ – or forbidden – except for use in hunting or farming, and that it is not hygienic to keep a dog in the house*.

They say that the “impurity of dogs is the greatest of animal impurities”, and anyone who touches one must wash the body part that has come into contact with the animal seven times.

The irony here is that most people were probably unaware that Islam was so anti-dog. Thanks to the rantings of Cllr. Asif and others, now we do, and a great service to the cause of social cohesion and peace between religions has been done. Not.

In any case, I must say that as a dog owner I am offended by Tayside police’s apology, and so I am demanding an apology.

* I think I can speak from experience now when I say that our house-trained dog is considerably cleaner than, say, an 11 month old baby. Especially at mealtimes.

The Respect Party at Prayer?

The Archbishop has stirred things up, not for the first time. This time it’s on Sharia law.

Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts – I think that’s a bit of a danger”.

I have often heard that the Church of England used to be referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer. I have never understood this, looking at the Church for as long as I have known it. Remarks like those of the Archbishop of Canterbury are the sort one could use to produce a spoof editorial for the Independent – though it seems that Williams’ remarks have been rejected by all main political parties. For goodness sake, even the LibDems have criticised him. Has the Church turned into the Respect party at prayer?

Dr Williams said the UK had to “face up to the fact” some citizens did not relate to the British legal system.

Nor do some criminals, but I don’t think that’s a defence that would stand up for long in court. Perhaps Dr Williams thinks that Ulster paramilitaries should be free to operate their own style of “baseball bat” justice among their communities? As for Muslims, the fact is that many countries with large Muslim populations do not incorporate Sharia into their national legal systems, so quite how it would achieve anything over here other than ghetto-ising further isolating Muslim communities is unclear.

It is a crying shame when leading clergy come up with this sort of stuff. Far from making the Church appear to be relevant and modern, it just alienates many supporters and potential followers. The Church has a role that cannot (and should not) be fulfilled by the state – that of an institution of moral leadership. (Not that I think that those of faith have the monopoly on the moral compasses, but we’ll leave that hot potato for now.) The more that the Church’s reputation is eroded then there will be a sizeable chunk of the nation that will be left in the cold.