Oh My God It’s SO Unfair!

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anesthetic from which none come round

  • Philip Larkin ‘Aubade’

 

I’m unsure Larkin was right about what we fear. On the surface of things he seems to get to root of the matter. The idea of not existing is a troubling one. But are there ways of thinking about not existing which might make the idea bearable?

One of the (so-called) ‘new’ atheists, Sam Harris, said – and was quite amusing when he said it – that if a person really can’t imagine the world without them in it, then it must be just from want of trying. There were a few laughs from the audience. In the example I’m thinking of Harris suggested the crowd think about the city of Paris, and how Paris was getting along just fine without anyone from the crowd in it. He certainly had a point. Another way of putting it is to ask people to think about the world before they were born. The person’s town or village was getting along happily, and so were the cities and other people in it. It seems correct to think about matters in this way, because the world was getting along nicely before you were born, but thinking this way doesn’t quite dissolve the problem.

The idea of not existing could mean several things to a person. That you can even have the idea means you exist. So it appears – after thinking about Paris and the years before you were born – that the problem isn’t quite a world in which you don’t exist, the problem is more a world in which you don’t exist after having existed. That seems to be closer to the point, and it’s that idea which needs examining.

Larkin was an atheist, and the last four lines are odd ones for an atheist to have written. The last line – especially the word ‘anesthetic’ – carries a thought which could have been pushed further. An atheist might fear what Larkin describes, but an atheist also knows he won’t actually experience being dead, which means there is no reason to have this fear: if you have fear you know you don’t need to have, then you are choosing to have it because you prefer having it. I mean to say, why fear something you know you will never experience? This ‘fear’ of something you won’t and can’t experience, then, might not be ‘our’ problem. It’s more likely that the real point is as I described it, or as the late Christopher Hitchens put it ‘You get tapped on the shoulder and told, “the party’s going on without you, and you have to leave.”’

(He then amusingly offered the religious version for comparison: ‘The party’s going on forever, and you can’t leave.’) But why do we care if we won’t know we’ve left? It doesn’t make sense to ‘fear’ not being at the party because we know we won’t know we’re not there: we won’t know we’re missing anything. Is what Larkin calls ‘fear’ really a form of cheap resentment, a type of childish foot-stamping? Is the ‘fear’ an expression from a part of the mind which hasn’t grown up? One can easily imagine an irritated child having a little tantrum ‘Oh my God it’s so unfair! when told that playtime’s over.

To ask a person ’Do you believe in God’ could get you any number of responses, though a common one is the one which says ‘Well, I don’t believe in God but I do believe in something. I don’t think this (motions to surroundings) is the end.’ It’s a barely disguised way of saying ‘I don’t like the idea of death, so have told myself we don’t die.’ Larkin’s fourth line is true of all religions. I don’t know any religion which says the universe was created by a loving god who answers prayers and what not, yet has designed things so that – although he loves you while you are here – death is the end. Such a religion wouldn’t catch on.

All religions are predicated on the survival of death. Licensing that idea, allowing it to be reinforced through groupthink (or ‘worship’ if you really must), is what you get in return for your critical faculties, money and obedience. Yet if Larkin’s ‘fear’ is a form of intellectualised, disguised tantrum, then it’s certainly true that atheism is not an automatically superior worldview to the religious one. One could say of the atheist that he isn’t confusing what he believes is true with what he hopes is true, but doing that, and on its own, might not make you the full grown up.

Is there a difference between knowing you are going to die and accepting it?

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Legitimate Political Violence

Imagine the six counties, Devon, Cornwall , Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire were not part of England, but were occupied by France, governed by Paris, and policed by M. Gendarme.

I’m confident many Englishmen would find that arrangement disagreeable, and not all of them would be skinheads, blackshirts or Sun readers.

Further imagine that, when the natives got a bit miffed at the behaviour of the frog fuzz, the Foreign Legion were despatched to kick in a few doors and crack a few heads. You get the idea.

Would you support a group of Englishmen organising themselves into a secret resistance, the task of which was to carry out specific, targeted assassination of French police, soldiers and politicians in an attempt to try to force the French withdrawal from those six counties?

You might or you might not support that, but if you didn’t agree that such an organisation’s methods and aim were at least legitimate then I’d worry about your mind.

(I mean to say, you’d have to argue the French Resistance was an illegitimate organisation and the Nazis were legitimate in their occupation. Or that Boudicea should have ‘assimilated’ into Roman culture. If you have no ‘line in the sand’ then you wish to be a slave.)

I would support such an organisation, and am forced to accept that political violence can be legitimate. Legitimacy depends on what is done why. In the above scenario, the aim and the method are legitimate, hard as that is to accept, but both could easily not be.

If such an English resistance took to blowing up French civilians then it would lose its legitimacy because killing the innocent, the non-combatant – actually targeting civilians – strips all the moral force from the action. Such persons are outside the chain of command which supports the occupation. Even though the aim would remain a legitimate one, the method would not be. Only the fanatic, or the lunatic, thinks the ‘end justifies the means’.

Many persons will say they won’t be told what to think, yet many will accept being told what to think when the topic is patriotism, the armed forces, or questions about a person’s ‘loyalties’. The orthodoxy tells you what to think, takes it for granted you will obey, and public opinion quickly snarls and snaps at those who don’t follow the groupthink line. (My ‘line in the sand’ is actually drawn on the inside of my forehead; this makes me sound very accepting of state power, almost a friend of it who will put up with rather a lot, while refusing it entry to the piece of territory it wants more than any other, thereby making me its enemy.) To claim the right and freedom to decide 100% of your own opinions, even when the question is about patriotism or loyalty to ‘your country,’ can leave the claimant in an exposed position. It is a price worth paying for the only (genuine) freedom a person will ever get.

The state can force itself on you in many ways. It’s quite true that an Englishman’s home is his castle until the state takes it from him via compulsory purchase. It’s quite possible for a person to change their citizenship (or the state’s ownership papers) for a replacement citizenship, but there is no way a person can renounce their citizenship, or even gently hand it back. The citizen is the property of the state, and if one is to talk about ‘freedom’ then the question ‘freedom to do what?’ presents itself.

All The Things I could Do

How far in the past does something need to be for it to not matter anymore?

For example, there are some who think that the descendants of slaves should be given money because of what happened to their forebears.

Okay, then.

I am descended from slaves.

‘My people’ were enslaved under the Roman occupation of Britain, and were so again post-1066 under the Normans.

During the years 1600 to 1800 ‘my people’ were kidnapped by Muslim pirates and sold into slavery across the Middle East and North Africa. This was such a huge problem that Thomas Jefferson had to invent the US Marines to deal with the caliphate.

(We don’t get taught about this particular slave trade in British schools for some reason.)

That’s three examples from history where ‘my people’ were enslaved and do you know what – I feel pretty damn upset about it.

I feel like I need somebody to give me some money right now so I can use it to repair my hurt feelings.

Who do I sue?

Does anyone know a lawyer who would take on my case? I’m going to sue the Italian government for the Roman invasion, the French government for the Norman invasion, and the Turkish government for the Muslim pirates.

(I might yet have a pop at the Danish for the Vikings I’ll see what the lawyer thinks first.)

To repeat the question:

How far in the past does something need to be for it to not matter anymore?

subway footlong 11 inches

Stop Bloody Whining

There I was standing in front of a vine
I took some grapes and I crushed them to wine
I gave some to Pharaoh who drank from my cup
I tried to interpret but I had to give up

 – Joseph and the Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat

 

I am an admirer of Sam Harris. I am now and admirer of Maajid Nawaz. One of Harris’s regular complaints is that his critics misrepresent his views on many topics, and misrepresent him on the Islam question very often. It was actually pleasant to have Naawaz – someone who can be called an ‘expert’ on the topic of Islam and Islamism – actually explaining certain Koranic doctrines.

Harris for instance argues that the Koran actually tells people to do certain things, and some of those things are not ambiguous. He gives an excellent example to Hasan when he says that, nobody reading the Koran is going to close the book and believe they can now eat bacon and drink alcohol. Some things are directives.

Nawaz responds on alcohol:

[..] everyone assumes that all alcohol is absolutely prohibited for all Muslims. In Arabic the word assumed to mean alcohol is khamr. There’s a long-standing historical discussion about what khamr means and whether or not it’s prohibited. An extremely early tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’an was by Imam Abu Bakr al-Jasas, who hailed from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence within the Sunni denomination of Islam. The Hanafi school is known to be the first school of interpretation and therefore the closest in proximity to the time of the Prophet. In his interpretation of the Qur’an, al-Jasas discusses the linguistic meaning of khamr at length and elaborates on why for Hanafis a literal interpretation of the word covers only a prohibition on wine from grapes. This means that for the jurists of this first school, it was permitted—and still is for those who follow the early Hanafis—to consume any form of alcohol other than wine.

Suddenly, a reading of the Koran can allow alcohol so long as it’s not wine from grapes. This was an eyebrow-raiser for me.

Nawaz’s basic position is that Islam is not a religious of peace, nor is it a religion of war. It’s just a religion which can be ‘interpreted’ to mean this or that.

‘Interpretation’ is an interesting word in respect to textual analysis.

Persons misuse language all the time. Persons will use one word to disguise another because the one they use suggests they are smarter, or kinder, or something else. For example many parents and teachers will demand ‘respect’ from the younger person, and might shout this. They don’t realise that ‘respect’ cannot be demanded because it’s is a matter of how the other person feels about you. When the parent or teacher demands respect they are probably demanding obedience. This is a different thing, and it makes sense why the parent or teacher would perform a sort of doublethink on themselves by masking the word. Such a person might genuinely believe they are asking for respect.

It’s a similar thing with ‘interpretation.’ When a person declares that they ‘interpreted it to mean..’ they probably mean that they ‘imagined it to mean..’

(Imagination in this context is connected to desire.)

Using ‘interpret’ sounds more technical, it sounds like you’ve being doing some hard mental work; ‘interpret’ is only a step away from ‘decoded’ which really would require some hard work. So it’s obviously better to claim this than to claim you’ve ‘imagined’ the meaning of the words, because ‘imagined’ just means you’ve ‘made it up’ – so who would need to take you seriously?

I wonder if those in the head-removal community find Koranic warrant for their bloody fun by choosing to ‘interpret’ the text to mean what they want it to mean.

These Barbarous Wretches

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2362695/PETER-HITCHENS-Would-surprised-learn-I-fund-Labour-Well-I–you.html

Peter Hitchens and the Death Penalty

 

…satisfy your blood lust, and tell yourself you were good to the victim because blood atonement remitted the sin. You gave the fellow a chance to get to the hereafter, after all. This business of living for eternity certainly contributed to capital punishment, brutality and war.

 

  • Norman Mailer

 

 

I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.

 

  • Oliver Cromwell

 

 

1

Get the Gush Gone

A good title should have a sense of humour. I got into (yet another) discussion on the death penalty with a couple of persons on Peter Hitchens’s blogsite recently. It can be frustrating trying to have a discussion there. Mr Hitchens has said the arguments against the death penalty are an insult to the intelligence. I’m not sure if even he believes this, but who knows. I am opposed to the religious human sacrifice which some refer to as ‘the death penalty,’ though I think it is a fascinating topic to discuss, and significantly more complicated than many persons think it is.

One reason I’m so interested in the discussion is that the ‘death penalty’ is the first topic on which I wrote myself to a change of mind. I used to be all for it. I’m not a professional or trained writer, and had no idea that the process of writing – the actual physical process – could act like a sort of ‘hypnosis,’ and if done enough, a person might find his subconscious telling him things he didn’t know he knew and giving him thoughts he didn’t know were there. It’s a wonderful experience to be writing away, tapping the keys and transcribing the thoughts flowing up from below, and to realise that you are actually changing your own mind on something. (It’s odd to think of myself as a card-carrying member of the ‘hang ‘em high’ club, when all the time I actually thought the opposite to what I thought I thought.)

When such moments happen, a person has a choice: he can reject what his own psyche is telling him – perhaps because he ‘identifies’ with his position on whatever the topic is, or he can take a deep breath and keep going into unknown psychological territory. I say ‘take a deep breath’ because we do tend to like our beliefs and dislike it when somebody challenges them, so when it is us doing the challenging, it actually takes a small amount of bravery to continue tapping the keys.

Peter Hitchens supports this ‘penalty of death,’ and hardly is he on his own. The death penalty is something wanted by the public, and something which would be restored if put to the public in a vote. On the death penalty question I’d wager we have a situation where the State is refusing to give the public what it wants. (The relationship between public opinion and demand, and the State and what it does in response to that demand, is a fascinating question, yet could be reduced to a ‘who blinks first’ dynamic because the State is, at bottom, a collection of humans with their own interests, just like the public.) Why the State won’t allow religious human sacrifice, when such a move would (almost certainly)be a popular one, is another interesting question, especially considering the state likes power over the citizen.

I’m going to mention some arguments in favour of the death penalty used by Peter Hitchens, and why the practice, regardless of what those in favour say of it, is an obscenity. Peter Hitchens is a prominent journalist and has the ability to influence opinion, so he’s a fair target. Also he has put some interesting arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice. I doubt he is enthusiastic for the practice, though I accept he could be. He once stated ‘I would prefer not to have to defend the dark rituals of execution, especially since I have witnessed them at first hand. However, those who wish to say anything serious about government and law must be ready to argue for difficult things.’1

This is interesting in itself as arguing for the death penalty is absurdly easy. The topic is a demagogue’s dream, so simple is it to think up emotive examples of crimes (usually murders of children) to get the crowd or the reader quickly on your side. It’s the ease with which a person can support this practice that is an interesting thing to consider when thinking about Peter Hitchens’s arguments in favour of it. He is on the record as being suspicious of public opinion and conventional wisdom, yet seems not bothered by popularity of the thing he’s arguing for, here. I would expect him to be suspicious of something public opinion supported, and look harder for the argument against – and whoever reads his stuff can say he usually does this – so I wonder if Peter Hitchens agrees with the public sentiment on this, or thinks the public are right by accident, so supports this practice for reasons which are different to those reasons the public animal wants Capital Punishment returned?

I suspect Peter Hitchens’s support for Capital Punishment rests on his religion, and the public’s desire for it rests on their blood-thirsty, emotion-riddled knee-jerkism. If this is true, it’s perhaps understandable why Peter Hitchens finds the death penalty difficult to argue for, or a difficult thing to argue for, and the public finds it easy to support. Peter Hitchens is no demagogue, and public opinion is of no worth whatsoever.

I know I’m talking as if it’s a given that the public would restore capital punishment overnight, and I think it’s a safe position to take given the polls which have been taken. In 2015, a Gallup poll showed that 61% of the public were in favour of the death penalty for murder,2 so that’s a clear, unambiguous majority, and that Peter Hitchens finds himself in the majority is unusual in itself.

One point to note is this: never trust anyone who says killing people saves lives. Killing people costs lives – the lives of those killed. We’ve all heard this curious form of words used before. The argument that killing saves lives, the ‘argument’ used to justify the atomic bombs dropped by the US over Japan, which is similar to the argument which says ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ is an ‘argument’ which is loved by the hand-waiver who states: ‘It’s as simple as that.’ In other words, it’s a line taken by a mind which has a poor conscience, hasn’t thought about it, or has thought about it, but doesn’t care about it. Whichever it is, the person delivering this sort of ‘black is white’ or ‘war is peace’ line should be questioned further. Never accept this sort of thing without investigation.

I haven’t chosen Peter Hitchens’s position or arguments on the death penalty because I have some sort of ‘problem’ with him. I’m not one of those who attack him on Twitter, or post comments to his newspaper blogsite using fake names and with unbalanced criticisms – or attack him anywhere else. I happen to have admiration for Peter Hitchens and wish there were more journalists like him. I could make the case, quite easily, that even his enemies owe him a certain debt of gratitude. Anybody who can’t see, straight away, that writers like Peter Hitchens keep the rest of us a little bit safer will probably never be able to see it.

I ask you this: in a world of politically correct witch-hunts, where man denounces man for imagined ‘heresies’ against the orthodoxy – and does so for no other reason than to claim his own purity and ensure the witch-hunters move to the next cottage – what value shall we put on a fellow who can make politicians nervous?

Quite a high value, I’d say.

 

2

A Sword in the Hand

That’s the gush out the way. It is easy to make arguments from emotion, that should be remembered; but to begin, a person should decide which side they are on, and this is the question they should answer to decide their side. Do you think it is better to have societal norms, rules and laws based on reason, logic and utility, with all three anchored to the assumption that excessive power over the citizen by the state is axiomatically bad, or do you think what a just society needs to function, and function at its best, are laws and practices which are based on the human animal’s base nature, and which in turn, therefore, allow the state to have the ultimate power over the citizen?

Or, to put the same point another way: do you prefer liberty or security?

To condense the two positions on capital punishment down to a choice between two words is not to attempt a simplification of the topic; it’s just to state that such a reduction can be done. When an argument is followed right to its bedrock, there’s usually not much more than a word or short phrase at the bottom. The entire Christian position can be reduced to Idealist, for instance, and that is what is waiting for the supporter of Capital Punishment; or, to describe it correctly: religious human sacrifice.

Liberty and Security are like the two ends of the playground see-saw, when one is up, the other is always down. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. To say your preference is for equal weights of both is to reveal you don’t care much, or know much, about human nature – or the nature of the human.

There are examples from history and literature which suggest that humans, when in possession of power, position and authority over other humans, sometimes use it in a way which doesn’t always benefit the majority. There are many examples from history and literature of the State making and passing laws which benefit and protect it, not the citizen. (That the State is made up of humans makes this a fascinating thing to consider. Why would a single person, or a small group of persons, make decisions which benefit the whole state, even while they know that under certain circumstances, they could suffer under the very rules or legislation they are proposing? Perhaps these drops of lubricant in the machine are truly selfless, or perhaps bureaucracy has a way of bringing out the inner sadist from a person?)

So my first contention is this:

 

The supporter of capital punishment is the enemy of liberty.

 

Peter Hitchens claims to be a lover of liberty, but is he really a lover of liberty? There is a preening, chin-stroking attitude which many people who support the death penalty have. Many have convinced themselves their position is a refined position because they support the practice for murder only. Consider this for a moment. Such a position presupposes they’ve ruled out other crimes and therefore have ‘thought deeply’ about their view. This might not be the case. It is possible such a person has camouflaged their desire for religious revenge under an intellectual veneer. Indeed, some supporters of the death penalty have their opinions so deeply ‘dug-in’ that they manage to support the practice while carrying the politician’s ‘heavy-heart’. To support a practice, but ‘with regret’, is a smart move: it presupposes not only how deeply the question has been thought about, but also that the supporter has taken a selfless, sacrificial position, in that they are prepared to suffer for their belief because what they believe is ultimately good for society. It’s a curious type of ego-mania and understated narcissism. Can a supporter of capital punishment ever be a lover of liberty?

Peter Hitchens knows as well as anyone what the State can do to a person. The State is the enemy of the individual, and the enemy of the family unit, and very well Peter Hitchens knows it. He wrote in The Abolition of Britain that the State dislikes the family because it fashions bonds which are stronger than patriotism. The State can lock you up, take your children, take your house from you via compulsory purchase – it can impose many things upon the individual. How can a person be a lover of liberty if they want the State to have the power to do what it can already do, yet also the power to reach into a citizen’s body and stop their heart from beating? To support the death penalty, even if you support it for murder only, is to want the State to have absolute power

This is liberty with qualifications, which means it’s not liberty.

For instance he supports ‘freedom of speech’ so long as something called ‘incitement to violence’ is not part of it. (He’s not the only person who postures in this way.) This is the ‘yes but no’ attitude which happens when somebody wants to claim to be a certain type of person, but doesn’t genuinely want the thing they claim to want that would make them that type of person. Most of us will have had the following experience. We did something naughty when we were small and were caught, perhaps by a teacher. The teacher demanded to know why we did such and such, and we say – because we were little and didn’t ‘get it’ at such a young age – that so and so ‘told me to do it.’ The teacher will then have then offered us a particular ‘look’ and said something like ‘Well, if so and so told you to jump of a bridge would you do it?’ We know we wouldn’t have done that, so we then realise we are to blame for what we actually do, and can’t blame others for ‘making’ us do it. The illogical nonsense about ‘incitement’ is the teacher saying ‘Right! Let’s go and round-up so and so, too! And we’ll see who gave him the idea, and then we’ll get them in room 101 as well!’ Before you could say ‘witch-hunt’ you’d have all the toddlers in the playschool on trial ‘by-teacher’ for their part in a non-existent conspiracy of influence. A Stalinist madness.

The position Peter Hitchens takes on ‘freedom of speech’ is contradictory because he doesn’t want speech to be ‘free’ in any way at all, he wants it to be limited. When you advertise your ‘free beer’ but actually charge 1p for it, it isn’t free. One you’ve added your qualification, you have dissolved your principle.

This qualification serves the same purpose as the ‘for murder only’ qualification serves: it presupposes deep thought and implies the person is a ‘serious’ person who is exquisitely discriminatory. But how can a person be serious when they argue for ‘free speech’ in this way? I think it’s unlikely that Peter Hitchens cannot see the ‘freedom of speech’ contradiction, because he’s obviously an intelligent person, and words are his business. This leaves me thinking that he can see it, and is happy with it, because it accurately expresses the truth of the matter, and is happy for others not to notice. What other option is there?

There’s a scene I want you to create in your mind and it will be mentioned later. I want you to imagine you are walking back to your car, and you take a shortcut through an alley. In that alley you find the body of a child. The child has met a violent end: the head is bashed and smashed; there are bits of blood, skull and brain splattered on the walls. Lying next to the body is a hammer with bloody fingerprints on the handle, and you see bloody footprints leading away from the scene.

Let’s say the child is a ten year old girl.

Do you think any wrong has been done to the little girl? You think yes? I’d guess most people would. Now here’s the thing: anyone who thinks that the little girl has had wrong done to her should not support capital punishment.

Now I know that might sound odd. It seems obvious that the person who bashed her head in deserves to swing, but I’m afraid things are not as simple as they seem, and the arguments for and against capital punishment are not as simple as the simple feel they are.

Leave that scenario in the back of your mind while we flash-forward in hypothetical time and create another scenario.

You’re watching the evening news and the story comes on about the person convicted of killing the child from the alley. The cameras have captured the following: the convicted is making his way to court for sentencing, and a crowd has gathered, waiting just for this moment. They cannot put hands the guilty, and lucky for him, because he is locked safely in the armoured police-van which drives slowly through that crowd. The persons gathered shout and scream at the van, some throw things, some spit at it and some rock it sideways in an attempt to tip it over, before the officers pull the mob from the vehicle and it drives through.

Then we cut to a shot from on high, where the handcuffed child-killer is lead from the rear of the van into the building. Next we’ll be shown an artist’s colour-pencil sketch of the beast in the dock, and we’ll be told he spoke only to confirm his name, and some other details, and we’ll be told what the judge had to say as he passed sentence. Usually at this point we cut to the reporter whose voice has been heard over the pictures: she will be standing outside the court, microphone in hand, having a chat with the news presenter in the studio.

Whatever is said the by reporter or the presenter, the behaviour of the crowd won’t be condemned. If it’s mentioned at all it will be to offer the banal observation that feelings were ‘running high.’ I wonder what number of us, watching such a thing in our homes, secretly wishes the mob could gain access to the vehicle, and get at the killer? And I wonder what might happen if such a thing occurred?

Perhaps one of the mob would drive the vehicle to waste ground, where the guilty could be taken to task, and some collective need in the mob could be satisfied while helicopter cameras captured the celebration in high definition?

What is that need or urge which drives the mob to picket the court, waiting for the guilty? What motivates the van rocking mob? What do they want?

Their behaviour could be described as odd, possibly stupid, because they know their missiles – their eggs, rocks and coke-cans – won’t penetrate the armoured vehicle, they will never get at the man inside. One can’t help but wonder why they bother.

The explanation needs to be that the spitting and throwing things, and trying to tip the van over, are not considered actions but a spontaneous expression of rage. That would make some sense. But consider the behaviour of the crowd before the police van shows up. The crowd is still a crowd at this point, not yet a mob, and can we believe they turned feral at the site of a vehicle they could never gain access to? What next, try to tip the building over because the guilty is in there?

No, the mob’s behaviour upon the arrival of the police van is a considered action, certainly not ‘spontaneous’ and the reporter is right in a sense, feelings are running high. Years ago, there might be some point in forming a mob and going after a suspect, flaming torches in one hand, bible in the other, while others in the mob ran with dogs straining at the lead. That made some sense because there was a chance they could catch the suspect and lynch him. The mob around the police van can’t do that – they know they can’t, therefore their behaviour is posturing and an expression of vanity.

The mob believe that they are safe to show this side of human nature, not only to each other but to the cameras, because the crime, the murder of the child, is vile enough that the normal standards of conduct don’t apply, and they have numbers on their side if you disagree. The options with such a running mob are to join in or step aside; trying to reason with them is a waste of time, trying to stop them is dangerous.

That humans can be violent when emotional is not interesting, but it is interesting to consider the lynch-mob mentality, and to conclude that it takes not so much to bring that part of the character of the human animal to the surface.

The argument about Capital Punishment usually begins with the supporter arguing for deterrence and the opposer claiming execution of the innocent is the unanswerable position. Both are (very often) the first arguments either side deploys. When my side of the house – the side which believes in liberty over security – mentions the innocent it’s common for the supporter to play the ‘accident’ card.

‘Yes,’ they say, ‘an innocent person executed is a terrible thing, but terrible things happen all the time, should we reject or abolish everything which causes accidental deaths? We’d have to abolish cars and planes and all sorts of things.’

But of course such a person is being slippery. They are suggesting an accidental death is equivalent to a deliberate death, which it isn’t and they’re missing the point into the bargain.

No person sacrificed by the State via the death penalty is killed by accident. No prisoner ever walked along their landing, tripped, fell into a noose and got hanged.

Every execution is a deliberate act, so the ‘accident’ card relies on a false parallel. Not a good start for the supporter of human sacrifice.

The argument about an innocent person executed is airtight; it cannot be met by anything from the other side. In addition there is no answer to the charge that, by executing the innocent, you have by default freed the guilty – so it’s a double outrage.

But arguments from ‘body-count’ miss the point, too. The enlightened side of the house reject the idea of capital punishment; reject the idea that the state can have this power over the citizen; and contend that, when the death penalty option is retained, the state has too much power over the citizen by definition, and the relationship between the two is ultimately totalitarian in practice and religious in theory (which just means totalitarian in theory, too.)

A word on ‘deterrence’.

 Often the supporter will cling to the idea of deterrence and not be swayed by logic. In a debate, formal discussion or even just a conversation, there are some things a person should not do. They should not claim something is true when they don’t know it is, and they should not claim something is true if they can’t know. Consider the words of the author and scientist, Sam Harris:

Exactly how many birds are in flight over the surface of the earth at this instant? What is their combined weight in grams? We cannot possibly answer such questions, but they have simple, numerical answers. Does our inability to gather the relevant data oblige us to respect all opinions equally? For instance, how seriously should we take the claim that there are exactly 23,000 birds in flight at this moment, and, as they are all hummingbirds weighing exactly 2 grams, their total weight is 46,000 grams? It should be obvious that this is a ridiculous assertion. We can, therefore, decisively reject answers to questions that we cannot possibly answer in practice. This is a perfectly reasonable, scientific, and often necessary thing to do.3

This is a problem with the ‘deterrence’ argument. The only thing which can be known is that capital punishment is not 100% effective as a deterrent. There’s no way to calculate what number of persons have been deterred from doing something. You can’t count-up acts which haven’t happened. It is not known if capital punishment is a deterrent: its supporters just claim it is because they think it’s a safe claim. But how can a claim for something be safe when those supporters can’t know if it’s true? It’s impossible to know if the death penalty is a deterrent, and I think arguments from deterrence should be disqualified immediately.

Even the academic ‘studies’ can’t answer it, and the impossibility of ever getting an answer leads to some hilarious examples of chin-stroking ‘seriousness’.

Read these and try not to laugh:

The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence. The reason for this is simple: over the past half century the U.S. has not experimented enough with capital punishment policy to permit strong conclusions. Even complex econometrics cannot sidestep this basic fact. The data are simply too noisy, and the conclusions from any study are too fragile. On balance, the evidence suggests that the death penalty may increase the murder rate although it remains possible that the death penalty may decrease it.4

On balance, that final sentence cracks me up every time I read it. And that’s from John J. Donohue, a professor at Yale Law School and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Justin Wolfers, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and a Research Affiliate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Or consider this from the brief of yet another report into ‘deterrence’:

The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers’ perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment. Much of the research assumes that potential murderers respond to the objective risk of execution.

It’s actually shocking. This is a confession, made so straight-faced you’re not meant to notice. Read it again, slowly; then contrast with this:

..there is good reason to believe that potential murderers’ perceived risk deviates from the objective risk.5

And that means there’s good reason to believe that murderers think they won’t get caught. It says the opposite to the first example, and both quotes are from the same brief. Where would we be without this sort of clarity of thinking making everything simpler? Why don’t these ‘academics’ just say ‘we don’t know because we can’t count-up acts which haven’t happened’?

There are other example of academics making strange statements . Consider this from Peter Hitchens:

The Home Office pathologist Professor Bernard Knight said recently that the British homicide rate was artificially low. Advances in medical treatment, he explained, now save hundreds of people who would have died from their wounds 40 years ago. The actual amount of lethal violence has risen to heights our fathers would have thought impossible.6

How can the homicide rate be artificially low? This point is meretricious. The homicide rate is whatever it happens to be. Just count the bodies. Are we to believe the death-in-childbirth-rate is artificially low thanks to medical advances? I don’t think so. The point is claiming an increase in violence, and Hitchens’s position is that lethal violence has increased since there’s been no death penalty. Is that actually true? Consider the words of Leon Britain from July 1983:

Those who argue for restoring the death penalty rightly point to the sharp rise in homicides since 1960. Between the end of the war and 1960 the number of homicides had shown a generally downward trend. In 1960, the offences initially recorded as homicide in England and Wales totalled 282. In 1965, the year capital punishment was abolished, the total was 325, in 1970 it was 396, in 1980 it was 621, and in 1982 it was 619. There are those who argue that the upward trend starting in 1960 is of no significance as that trend started before abolition. Against that, it can be said that the number of executions actually carried out in the last few years of capital punishment was very small and the deterrent effect might, therefore, if it existed, have been somewhat reduced.7

Note the rise in violence beginning before the abolition, and the important acknowledgement the deterrent effect might not exist to begin with. And it’s on his final point that Leon Britain touches on an important question about public executions.

Albert Camus, in his essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ makes the strong case that if the death penalty does have any deterrent effect, keeping the executions private, behind the prison walls, won’t allow the practice to work its dark magic on the minds of the peasantry:

We must either kill publicly, or admit we do not feel authorized to kill. If society justifies the death penalty as a necessary example, then it must justify itself by providing the publicity necessary to make an example. Society must display the executioner’s hands on each occasion, and require the most squeamish citizens to look at them, as well as those who, directly or remotely, have supported the work of those hands from the first.8

It’s a pretty strong point. Why bother with an example which nobody gets to see? And that’s assuming – and assuming against the logic – that there’s a deterrent effect to begin with.

If capital punishment was a genuine deterrent there wouldn’t be murders within jurisdictions which had human sacrifice as the punishment for a qualifying crime. But there are plenty of murders within jurisdictions such as these and always have been. This suggests human sacrifice is not a deterrent, and it’s probably not because most murders are not done by ice-man assassins. The majority of murders are emotional acts driven by money and sex and jealousy and other base drivers.

A word on the other ‘arguments’ and an argument against.

There are many positions taken by those who support religious human sacrifice. They talk about justice for the victim without considering that the victim can’t receive justice because the victim is dead and can’t receive anything. They then change their minds and claim and they want justice for the family of the victim. Bereavement requires justice, but not when the killer’s family are bereaved. For some reason they don’t count.

They argue that the cost of keeping murderers locked up is too high and executing them saves the tax-payer money. This argument is one of my favourites. It is simultaneously the stupidest and most dishonest argument: imagine two cells next to each other. In one is a murderer, serving twenty years, in the other is a non-murderer serving twenty years. Now consider the argument is supposed to be about the saving the tax payer money. Do I need to explain further?

Another silly argument is the argument from mercy. Peter Hitchens says:

The death penalty is far more humane than a long prison sentence. That is one of the best reasons for bringing it back. I’m sorry to say that the Court of Human Rights is correct in condemning our policy of locking up heinous murderers without hope of release and for so long they forget what they have done. It’s incredibly cruel.9

This argument claims that because decades in prison are a cruel, sadistic and barbaric punishment, the death penalty is justified because it is kinder to the murderer. This is an absurd argument just on the surface of it. It leaves the supporter of human sacrifice arguing for both punishment and mercy at the same time. But things get worse. There is a way to check if the person who makes this ‘argument’ actually means it. They should be asked if they would extend this ‘mercy’ to the terminally ill. Many Christians and Conservatives reject the idea of ‘mercy killing.’

Death is either a mercy or a punishment to be inflicted: if the former, then why don’t the terminally ill qualify? If the latter, then how can it be merciful to begin with? If the supporter claims that, yes, the terminally ill do qualify, are they not punishing the terminally ill if death is a punishment?

This nonsense argument is taken by supporters of human sacrifice because they are attempting to hide their real views under the veneer of intellectual compassion. They make themselves look extraordinarily stupid when they do this. This is what happens when paw-licking vanity and self-denial is valued more than intellectual honesty.

For most, the real motivation for their support of human sacrifice is no more than an emotional jerk of the knee. They imagine how they would feel if a person killed a member of their family. Then, feeling these unpleasant feelings, argue that human sacrifice is acceptable.

There are some, however, who support religious human sacrifice and who actually understand what they are talking about. I’ll mention these persons later.

For the moment I’ll just put my basic argument against the death penalty which seems to me to be quite hard to refute. (If this argument turns out to be rubbish, then the fault is mine.)

The argument goes like this:

Capital punishment is always wrong because we can never know if the victim lost anything of sufficient value to justify executing the killer.

It cannot be denied that value judgements underpin the crime / punishment question. If a person is convicted of stealing a packet of biscuits from a shop they would not be given the death penalty for this. That punishment wouldn’t ‘fit’ the crime. The value judgements we make about fitting punishments are mysterious in their origin, but we certainly make them. We tend only to hear arguments for religious human sacrifice for the crime of murder. I’ve never heard even the most reactionary, the most crusty and dusty conservative, argue for religious human sacrifice for anything other than murder. And, curiously, that creates a problem for their argument. When a person argues the death penalty should be imposed only for the crime of murder, they instantly grant that human life has a unique value or worth. Human life, on their account, has a special status and the only way justice ‘can be done’ is to take from the killer what they took from their victim. (The meme ‘a life for a life’ is popular, but the memes, ‘a rape for a rape,’ and ‘a punch in the face for a punch in the face’ haven’t caught on quite as well.)

Smarter supporters of human sacrifice will try to claim that value judgements have nothing to do with the calibration between crime and punishment or how we decide that x deserves y or doesn’t. I understand why the smarter supporters will try to avoid the concession that value judgements are what we use, because immediately they know that value judgements are subjective: there’s no over-arching objective standard we can all agree on. And it’s that fact which underpins my argument: how do we know the victim lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

This is where the dead girl in the alley comes in.

If you think value judgements have nothing to do with deciding what punishment fits what crime, you are left with the conclusion that nothing ‘wrong’ has been done to the little girl in the alley. Until a trial has happened and evidence has been heard; until a jury has reached a verdict and ‘justice has been done,’ the girl in the alley, to you, is no more than rearranged organic material.

So value judgments can’t be denied (or avoided) and it’s that underpinning subjectivity which makes human sacrifice wrong because – and allow me to repeat it – who says the killer lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer? Who says?

There’s more to the opposition to religious human sacrifice than the inescapable impossibility of justifying it. Which supporter of human sacrifice doesn’t want to punish murderers? Those who argue in favour of capital punishment want murderers to be punished (except the ‘mercy merchants,’ that is.) It is odd, then, that they argue for the thing which makes punishment impossible: death.

A dead person cannot receive punishment for the same reason a dead person cannot receive justice. They are dead. They cannot receive anything.

The supporter is arguing for the incarcerated murderer’s punishment to come to an end. Why they do this I don’t know.

There is no escape for the supporter of human sacrifice by saying that, they know the dead person can’t receive punishment, that’s not the point, (and who ever said it was?) they want the murderer to feel the fear and stress as their execution date approaches, and then the fear and stress on the day itself and so on.

This makes some sense – but not much. If that’s the case then the murderer need only be subjected to mock-execution, but would the supporter of capital punishment want that?

I think not.

Once this point has been made then the supporter should see what they really are arguing for is a form of torture where the victim suffers not the ‘death penalty’ but the ‘punishment penalty’ and is punished to death.

You can make a person dead by punishing them, but you cannot punish them after making them dead.

As I said, there are persons who understand what they are arguing for: they understand that the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice require a belief in the afterlife to make even the slightest sense – and they really require a belief in God. As someone once said, this business of living for eternity contributes to capital punishment. What’s odd is that, on atheism, a belief in God is required for the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice to make sense, but that means, to make sense to an atheist.

Assuming a Christian worldview for the sake of argument: what happens to the soul of the murder victim? Where does it go?

Let’s say the victim is the little girl in the alley.

The little ten year old girl, on the Christian worldview, is going to spend eternity with God in heaven. Let’s put it another way: on that Christian worldview, by murdering her, the killer has delivered his victim to the greatest possible bliss imaginable.

And for this he should be punished?

There’s a dizzying, circular paradox at the heart of the human sacrifice question.

It’s too easy to support the death penalty. When something is so easy to support a person should become immediately suspicious and begin questioning their motives, and asking questions about the motivations of others. It’s only when we begin to question our beliefs, and the motivations we have for them, does the conversation become interesting.

 Capital Punishment: an actual obscenity.

 In his book, ‘The Abolition of Britain,’ Peter Hitchens begins chapter five with this simple claim.

Hell was abolished around the same time that abortion was legalized and the death penalty was done away with.10

It’s interesting to look at the idea of religious human sacrifice and the attitudes to it from the supporters of today as compared to the actual practice from history. Consider these words from Lord Gardiner, spoken in the House of Lords in December 1969:

In 1908 there was a big advance: we abolished capital punishment for children under 16. When my grandfather was 21 a boy of nine who had set fire to a house was hanged at Chelmsford. In a previous year a little way back, a boy of 7 and his sister of 11 were hanged at Lyme. In 1922 we abolished capital punishment for infanticide. In 1929 a Resolution in the House of Commons calling for the abolition of capital punishment resulted in the appointment of a Select Committee. In 1930 the Select Committee reported. In their Report they said: Our prolonged examination of the situation in foreign countries has increasingly confirmed us in the assurance that capital punishment may now be abolished in this country without endangering life or property, or impairing the security of society. And they recommended its abolition for five years. In 1931 capital punishment was abolished for expectant mothers. In 1932 the Children Act abolished capital punishment for those under 18.11

I like the one where we abolished the death penalty for expectant mothers. Since these internal abolitions have happened, have those freed from the prospect of being hanged become troublesome? Are children under sixteen, boys of nine and seven, girls of eleven and women with-child now an out-of-control menace to society? This sort of incremental abolition smacks of a State which wants to retain the practice, and isn’t willing to let go completely. Remember the State is simply a collection of humans with interests which conflict with those of the majority. Please think about this specific question: what sort of State would want to hang small children or women with-child?

It’s remarks like those from Lord Gardiner which put the death penalty into its correct context and allow it to be seen for what it is: one way in which the State could tyrannise the ordinary people. Contrast the ‘arguments’ from somebody who wants human sacrifice for murder only, against this brief summary from the National Archive:

In the years after 1660 the number of offences carrying the death penalty increased enormously, from about 50, to 160 by 1750 and to 288 by 1815. You could be hanged for stealing goods worth 5 shillings (25p), stealing from a shipwreck, pilfering from a Naval Dockyard, damaging Westminster Bridge, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner or cutting down a young tree. This series of laws was called (later) “The Bloody Code.” Why was the Bloody Code passed? After the turmoil of the 17th century, the landowning class emerged as supreme rulers of Britain. They based their power on property-ownership, and saw the law’s main purpose as protecting property. They were ruling a country of 6.5 million, most of whom had no political rights whatsoever. The crime rate was not high, actually, but they feared that it was, as towns grew in size and the old village community crumbled. There was also no police force. The Bloody Code was therefore a threat: severe retribution would happen to those thinking of breaking the law by infringing property rights.12

When we think of capital punishment do we forget (did we even know?) that the State used to be able to kill us for minor offences such as cutting down a young tree? Perhaps not knowing the list of things we could be killed for by the State prevents us from seeing what the death penalty actually is: the missing list is the giver of context. Put it another way: imagine a person who opposed the enslavement of blacks, but also argued that blacks should be whipped for one particular crime only, and you might begin to see those who support the totalitarian, absolutist practice of human sacrifice for the Darth Vader Darksiders they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/deathrows
2. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1606/death-penalty.aspx
3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/moral-confusion-in-the-na_b_517710.html
4. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/DonohueDeter.pdf
5. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/NatResCouncil-Deterr.pdf
6. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2012/04/reflections-on-how-to-punish-mass-murderers.html
7. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1983/jul/13/death-penalty
8. http://redlemona.de/albert-camus/reflections-on-the-guillotine/reflections-on-the-guillotine
9. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2362695/PETER-HITCHENS-Would-surprised-learn-I-fund-Labour-Well-I–you.html
10. Hitchens, Peter (1999) The Abolition of Britain, Quartet, London, p107.
11. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1969/dec/17/murder-abolition-of-death-penalty-act
12. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/candp/punishment/g06/g06cs1.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No True Christian

Yesterday I speculated that many journalists and commentators and so on will begin to spew the politically correct line that the doctrines of Islam have nothing to do with the Paris horror. I used Sam Harris’s explanation of how weak and politically correct mainstream journalists will blame everything except religion for the behaviour of religious lunatics. I quoted from Piers Morgan (a chap with a large audience). Some of what he wrote in his response to the Hebdo killings was absurd.

Morgan is doing similar, here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3318410/PIERS-MORGAN-Paris-brace-blood-Churchill-said-Nazi-barbarians-never-in.html

His article is less feeble than his Hebdo response, but there’s still the denial in the core of his mind which damages the coherence of this thinking.

ISIS aren’t real Muslims, as some still maintain. They’re just gangsters who’ve hijacked Islam to suit their nefarious aims, cloaking their hatred and violence under the faux umbrella of religion.”

ISIS are real Muslims, and someone with Morgan’s audience should just tell the truth as a matter of honour. That ISIS take the Koran literally, something most Muslims don’t do, doesn’t mean the Koran isn’t at the core of their beliefs.

Think about Christians for a moment. There are some horrible and stupid things in the Bible, and the behaviour of Christian authorities for hundreds of years proved it.

We know this is true. We don’t deny it. We know Church authorities burned humans alive for reading the Bible in English; we know that Bloody Mary enjoyed toasted Protestant for breakfast; we know that the Catholics weren’t always fond of scientists, and liked to torture and kill them in the name of God. We know that Oliver Cromwell was a schizophrenic, puritanical religious lunatic, who was on a mission from God to rid England of superstition, and who gave the Irish good reason to be less than fond of him today. These are hardly the only examples I could have picked. But who would deny them?

Who tries to argue ‘Oliver Cromwell wasn’t a real Christian’? Who says ‘Bloody Mary wasn’t a real Catholic’? You get the idea.

We all know, and have no problem stating, that the Bible was at the root of their doings.

But what happens when the violence has the Koran at its root?

Suddenly it’s denial-city, with tones of self-loathing thrown in. This is a little example of that from Boris Johnson. He is a person who might one day be Prime Minister of Airstrip One.

When the Islamist killers opened fire, they killed and maimed people who were entirely guiltless of any provocation or disrespect to their religion. They murdered and maimed men and women who have had absolutely nothing to do with Western policy in Iraq or Syria – and who may well have been either entirely ignorant of the policies of President Francois Hollande, or indeed have disapproved of them.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3318892/ISIS-sick-narcissistic-death-cult-defect-writes-Boris-Johnson.html

Read Johnsons words slowly. Allow the meaning to gently enter your awareness.

That is what a pig wearing lipstick looks like.

Boris Johnson thought about that before he wrote it. That is a considered statement from a leading political figure. I’m going to rewrite it, to demonstrate what Johnson could have said, but chose not to:

When the Islamist murderers opened fire, they murdered and maimed people who would have been innocent victims even if they HAD provoked or disrespected their religion. They murdered and maimed men and women who would have been innocent victims even if they had EVERYTHING to do with Western policy in Iraq or Syria- and even if they had FULL KNOWLEDGE of the policies of President Francois Hollande, and indeed loved those policies.

Some acts are unjustifiable, no matter what provocation a person wants to claim.

Johnson’s denial (and he won’t be the only one) is like a mind-cancer, twisting and manipulating thoughts under the surface, so that when the words get to the surface, they’re greasy and smelly because the denial-puss is seeping out from below.

In the days to come there’s going to be more and more of this bullshit, and the idiot public will carry-on claiming ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ as if it was their own thought, not the parroting of garbage from dickheads like Morgan and Johnson.

The Invisible Pharaoh

I wrote recently about Capital Punishment – a practice I despise. Since then I’ve begun a ‘discussion’ with a person on another site about the topic. He supports the practice, and would like to see it introduced back into British society.

The discussion wouldn’t be worth having if the person wasn’t an atheist. It’s his claim to be an atheist which makes his support for the death penalty – or religious human sacrifice – strange.

I have tried to explain to him how, if he supports the practice, he is a religious person without realising it. He doesn’t understand this.

This seems obvious to me, and I assumed his ‘this makes no sense to me’ posturing was just that, but perhaps he really doesn’t understand?

I’m going to set out how it is a person who supports the death penalty is, whether they say they are an atheist or not, a religious person.

The State can take your possessions and can even take you from your home and place you somewhere you do not wish to be. This won’t always involve a ‘fair trial.’ The state has a great deal of power over the citizen. Much of this power is latent.

What can one person do about this? There’s not much. If a person wanted to try to attack or weaken the power of the state they would be advised to try intellectual, not physical, attempts.

A person has more intellectual freedom than they do physical freedom. This is to get to the point: how much intellectual freedom does a person have in Britain?

The answer depends on the person.

Many of us consider our ‘nationality’ part of our identity. Many of us are ‘proud’ to be British. This expression – ‘proud to be British’ – should make us suspicious about the minds of the persons who use it. The idea a person could (never mind ‘should’) feel ‘proud’ about a thing which was not an achievement of theirs should immediately demonstrate the fatuousness of the expression. But different states around the world encourage the patriotic impulse with regular booster-jabs like the World Cups for different sports and the Olympics.

Patriotism, at best, is irrational.

In accepting the patriotic line (and who gets a choice?) the person is baptised in the first religion they’ll meet: The Order of the Holy Patriot, and without knowing it, the person has given up some of their intellectual freedom by accepting the patriotic line. The majority of persons are not intellectually free, but don’t realise it; and many don’t want to think for themselves because of what thinking for yourself actually means.

We all like to think we think for ourselves, but most of us don’t. Thinking for yourself means giving up illusions, and some of us cling to them like an infant clings to a comfort blanket.

The first illusion to go should be the idea of a heavenly father – He who will save us from death. There is (almost) certainly no survival of death, and no loving supernatural being looking over us all. We need to get over it.

The idea of loyalty to a state, or a flag, should be next to go. Different emblems and symbols and national ‘anthems’ – which can sometimes reduce otherwise intelligent humans to tears – should be seen for what they are: pieces of manipulative theatre and an insult to the intelligence.

The loyalties persons should have should be between family and friends (if they deserve it) and aspects of culture. A person should side with the ideas of freedom of speech and expression; freedom of enquiry; freedom of assembly; a person should defend the disciplines of science and philosophy, and should place truth above ‘feelings.’

Pieces of cloth with colours on them and tinny fucking tunes should be given the disrespect they deserve.

But I digress.

The religiosity of Capital Punishment comes from surrendering part of your mind to something outside itself, in this case, the state.

Once a person allows the state the ultimate power over the citizen, then the citizen has surrendered a fraction of their reasoning power to the state. Even if the citizen wants capital punishment for murder only, then it’s too late – the concession has been made.

The State, by default, is given ‘higher-power’ status because now, there are matters above and beyond the human’s need to reason: thinking has been deferred above and beyond, upwards, to the State – the God replacement.

The point here is actually simple: all a person has to do, to be a true atheist, is to reject the Hobbesian idea of Political Obligation.

But that involves placing a huge burden upon yourself: the burden which comes from thinking for yourself.

The amount of intellectual freedom you have will be exactly the amount you demand for yourself.

A Sword in the Hand

…satisfy your blood lust, and tell yourself you were good to the victim because blood atonement remitted the sin. You gave the fellow a chance to get to the hereafter, after all. This business of living for eternity certainly contributed to capital punishment, brutality and war.

– Norman Mailer

The Executioner’s Song

It is easy to make arguments from emotion, that should be remembered; but to begin, a person should decide which side they are on, and this is the question they should answer to decide their side.

Do you think it is better to have societal norms, rules and laws based on reason, logic and utility, with all three anchored to the assumption that excessive power over the citizen by the state is axiomatically bad, or do you think what a just society needs to function, and function at its best, are laws and practices which are based on the human animal’s base nature, and which in turn, therefore, allow the state to have the ultimate power over the citizen?

Or, to put the same point another way, do you prefer liberty or security?

To condense the two positions on capital punishment down to a choice between two words is not to attempt a simplification of the topic; it’s just to state that such a reduction can be done. When an argument is followed right to its bedrock, there’s usually not much more than a word or short phrase at the bottom. The entire Christian position can be reduced to Idealist, for instance, and that is what is waiting for the supporter of capital punishment; or, to give the death penalty its real name: Religious Human Sacrifice.

Liberty and Security are like the two ends of the playground see-saw, when one is up, the other is always down. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. To say your preference is for equal weights of both is to reveal you don’t care much, or know much, about human nature – or the nature of the human.

There are examples from history and literature which suggest that humans, when in possession of power, position and authority over other humans, sometimes use it in a way which doesn’t always benefit the majority. There are many examples from history and literature of the State making and passing laws which benefit and protect it, not the citizen.

(That the State is made up of humans makes this a fascinating thing to consider. Why would a single person, or a small group of persons, make decisions which benefit the whole state, even while they know that under certain circumstances, they could suffer under the very rules or legislation they are proposing? Perhaps these drops of lubricant in the machine are truly selfless, or perhaps bureaucracy has a way of bringing out the inner sadist from a person?)

This might not worry the person who values security over liberty, because such a person’s mind has not enough live wires to be worried to begin with. I have no compunction in smearing or insulting the supporter of capital punishment. I actually enjoy doing so because their position is a contemptible one.

The supporter of capital punishment is the enemy of liberty.

There’s a scene I want you to create in your mind and it will be mentioned later. I want you to imagine you are walking back to your car, and you take a shortcut through an alley. In that alley you find the body of a child. The child has, obviously, met a violent end: the head is bashed and smashed; there are bits of blood, skull and brain splattered on the walls. Lying next to the body is a hammer with bloody fingerprints on the handle, and you see bloody footprints leading away from the scene.

Let’s say the child is a ten year old girl.

Do you think any wrong has been done to the little girl? You think yes? I’d guess most people would.

Now here’s the thing: anyone who thinks that the little girl has had wrong done to her should not support capital punishment.

Now I know that might sound odd. It seems obvious that the person who bashed her head in deserves to swing, but I’m afraid things are not as simple as they seem, and the arguments for and against capital punishment are not as simple as the simple feel they are.

Leave that scenario in the back of your mind while we flash-forward in hypothetical time and create another scenario.

You’re watching the evening news and the story comes on about the person accused of killing that child. It’s the story that’s been all over the news recently. The cameras have captured the following: the convicted is making his way to court for sentencing, and a crowd has gathered, waiting just for this moment. They cannot put hands the guilty, and lucky for him, because he is locked safely in the armoured police-van which drives slowly through that crowd.

The persons gathered shout and scream at the van, some throw things, some spit at it and some rock it in an attempt to tip it over, before the officers pull the mob from the vehicle and it drives through.

Then we cut to a shot from on high, where the handcuffed child-killer is lead from the rear of the van into the building. Next we’ll be shown an artist’s colour-pencil sketch of the beast in the dock, and we’ll be told he spoke only to confirm his name, and some other details, and we’ll be told what the judge had to say as he passed sentence. Usually at this point we cut to the reporter whose voice has been heard over the pictures: she will be standing outside the court, microphone in hand, having a chat with the news presenter in the studio.

Whatever is said the by reporter or the presenter, the behaviour of the crowd won’t be condemned. If it’s mentioned at all it will be to offer the banal observation that feelings were ‘running high.’

I wonder what number of us, watching such a thing in our homes, secretly wishes the mob could gain access to the vehicle, and get at the killer? And I wonder what might happen if such a thing occurred?

Perhaps one of the mob would drive the vehicle to waste ground, where the guilty could be taken to task, and some collective need in the mob could be satisfied while the helicopter cameras captured the celebration in high definition?

What is that need or urge which drives the mob to picket the court, waiting for the guilty? What motivates the van rocking mob? What do they want?

Their behaviour could be described as odd, possibly stupid, because they know their missiles – their eggs and rocks – won’t penetrate the armoured vehicle, they will never get at the man inside. One can’t help but wonder why they bother.

The explanation needs to be that the spitting and throwing things, and trying to tip the van over, are not considered actions but a spontaneous expression of rage. That would make some sense. But consider the behaviour of the crowd before the police van shows up. The crowd is still a crowd at this point, not yet a mob, and we’re meant to believe they turned feral at the site of a vehicle they could never gain access to? What next, try to tip the building over because the guilty is in there?

No, the mob’s behaviour upon the arrival of the police van is a considered action, certainly not ‘spontaneous’ and the reporter is right in a sense, feelings are running high. Years ago, there might be some point in forming a mob and going after a suspect, flaming torches in one hand, bible in the other, while others in the mob ran with dogs straining at the lead. That made some sense because there was a chance they could catch the suspect and lynch him. The mob around the police van can’t do that – they know they can’t, therefore their behaviour is posturing and an expression of vanity.

The mob believe that they are safe to show this side of human nature, not only to each other but to the cameras, because the crime, the murder of the child, is vile enough that the normal standards of conduct don’t apply, and they have numbers on their side if you disagree. The options with such a running mob are to join in or step aside; trying to reason with them is a waste of time, trying to stop them is dangerous.

That humans can be violent when emotional is not interesting, but it is interesting to consider the lynch-mob mentality, and to conclude that it takes not so much to bring that part of the character of the human animal to the surface.

The argument about capital punishment usually begins with the supporter arguing for deterrence and the opposer claiming execution of the innocent is the unanswerable position. Both are the first arguments either side deploys. When my side of the house – the side which believes in liberty over security – mentions the innocent it’s common for the supporter to play the ‘accident’ card.

‘Yes,’ they say, ‘an innocent person executed is a terrible thing, but terrible things happen all the time, should we reject or abolish everything which causes accidental deaths? We’d have to abolish cars and planes and all sorts of things.’

But of course such a person is being slippery. They are suggesting an accidental death is equivalent to a deliberate death, which it isn’t and they’re missing the point into the bargain.

No person sacrificed by the State is killed by accident. No prisoner ever walked along their landing, tripped, fell into a noose and got hanged.

Every execution is a deliberate act.

The argument about an innocent person executed is airtight; it cannot be met by anything from the other side. In addition there is no answer to the charge that, by executing the innocent, you have by default freed the guilty – so it’s a double outrage.

But arguments from ‘body-count’ miss the point, too. The enlightened side of the house reject the idea of capital punishment; reject the idea that the state can have this power over the citizen; and contend that, when the capital punishment option is retained, the state has too much power over the citizen by definition, and the relationship between the two is ultimately totalitarian in practice and religious in theory (which just means totalitarian in theory, too.)

Often the supporter will cling to the idea of deterrence and not be swayed by logic. In a debate, formal discussion or even just a conversation, there are some things a person should not do. They should not claim something is true when they don’t know it is, and they should not claim something is true if they can’t know. This is the problem with deterrence. The only thing which can be known is that capital punishment is not 100% effective as a deterrent. There’s no way to calculate what number of persons have been deterred from doing something. It is not known if capital punishment is a deterrent: its supporters just claim it is because they think it’s a safe claim. But how can a claim for something be safe when those supporters can’t know if it’s true?

If state-backed religious human sacrifice was an effective deterrent then this suggest that there wouldn’t be murders within jurisdictions which had human sacrifice as the punishment for a qualifying crime. But there are plenty of murders within jurisdictions such as these and always have been. This suggests human sacrifice is not a deterrent, and it’s probably not because most murders are not carried out in ice-man assassins. The majority of murders are emotional acts driven by money and sex and jealousy and other base drivers.

There are many positions taken by those who support religious human sacrifice. They talk about justice for the victim without considering that the victim can’t receive justice because the victim is dead and can’t receive anything. They then change their minds and claim and they want justice for the family of the victim. Bereavement requires justice, but not when the killer’s family are bereaved. For some reason they don’t count.

They argue that the cost of keeping murderers locked up is too high and executing them saves the tax-payer money. This argument is one of my favourites. It is simultaneously the stupidest and most dishonest argument:

Imagine two cells next to each other. In one is a murderer, serving twenty years, in the other is a non-murderer serving twenty years. Now consider the argument is supposed to be about the saving the tax payer money. Do I need to explain further?

Another stupid argument, one which leads to hilarious (and unintended) consequences for the death penalty supporter, is the argument from mercy. This argument claims that because decades in prison are a cruel, sadistic and barbaric punishment, the death penalty is justified because it is kinder to the murderer.

This is an absurd argument just on the surface of it. It leaves the supporter of human sacrifice arguing for punishment and mercy at the same time. But things get worse. There is a way to check if the person who makes this ‘argument’ actually means it. They should be asked if they would extend this ‘mercy’ to the terminally ill. Many Christians and Conservatives reject the idea of ‘mercy killing.’

Death is either a mercy or a punishment to be inflicted: if the former, then why don’t the terminally ill qualify? If the latter, then how can it be merciful to begin with?

If the supporter claims that, yes, the terminally do qualify, are they not punishing the terminally ill if death is a punishment?

This nonsense argument is taken by supporters of human sacrifice because they are attempting to hide their real views under the veneer of intellectual compassion. They make themselves look extraordinarily stupid when they do this. This is what happens when paw-licking vanity and self-denial is valued more than intellectual honesty.

For most, the real motivation for their support of human sacrifice is no more than an emotional jerk of the knee. They imagine how they would feel if a person killed a member of their family. Then, feeling these unpleasant feelings, argue that human sacrifice is acceptable.

There are some, however, who support religious human sacrifice and who actually understand what they are talking about. I’ll mention these persons later.

For the moment I’ll just put the basic argument against the death penalty which seems to me to be quite hard to refute.

The argument goes like this:

Capital punishment is always wrong because we can never know if the victim’s life was of sufficient value to justify executing the killer.

It cannot be denied that value judgements underpin the crime / punishment question. If a person is convicted of stealing a packet of biscuits from a shop they would not be given the death penalty for this. (Not in our European culture, that is.)

That punishment wouldn’t ‘fit’ the crime. The value judgements we make about fitting punishments are mysterious in their origin, but we certainly make them.

(It doesn’t matter that Islamic State will execute you for being homosexual. A lack of proportion doesn’t mean a value judgement hasn’t been made.)

But staying within our enlightened culture, we tend only to hear arguments for capital punishment for the crime of murder. I’ve never heard even the most reactionary, the most crusty and dusty conservative, argue for capital punishment for anything other than murder. And, curiously, that is a problem for their argument. (Islamic State doesn’t have the following problem because they’d kill you for pretty much anything.)

When a person argues the death penalty should be imposed only for the crime of murder, they instantly grant that human life has a unique value or worth. Human life, on their account, has a special status and the only way justice ‘can be done’ is to take from the killer what they took from their victim.

(The meme ‘a life for a life’ is popular, but the memes, ‘a rape for a rape,’ and ‘a punch in the face for a punch in the face’ haven’t caught on quite as well.)

Smarter supporters of human sacrifice will try to claim that value judgements have nothing to do with the calibration between crime and punishment, and how we decide that x deserves y or it doesn’t. I understand why the smarter supporters will try to avoid the concession that value judgements are what we use, because immediately they know that value judgements are subjective: there’s no over-arching objective standard we can all agree on. And it’s that fact which underpins my argument: how do we know the victim lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

This is where the dead little girl in the alley comes in.

If you think value judgements have nothing to do with deciding what’s right or wrong, you are left with the conclusion that nothing ‘wrong’ has been done to the little girl in the alley. Until a trial has happened and evidence has been heard; until a jury has reached a verdict and ‘justice has been done’ the girl in the alley, to you, is no more than rearranged organic material.

So value judgments can’t be denied (or avoided) and it’s that underpinning subjectivity which makes capital punishment wrong because – and allow me to repeat it – who says the killer lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

There’s more to the opposition to religious human sacrifice than the inescapable impossibility of justifying it.

Which supporter of human sacrifice doesn’t want to punish murderers?

Those who argue in favour of capital punishment want murderers to be punished (except the ‘mercy merchants,’ that is.) It is odd, then, that they argue for the thing which makes punishment impossible: death.

A dead person cannot receive punishment for the same reason a dead person cannot receive justice. They are dead. They cannot receive anything.

The supporter, without realising it, is arguing for the incarcerated murderer’s punishment to come to an end. Why they do this I don’t know.

There is no escape for the supporter of human sacrifice by saying that, they know the dead person can’t receive punishment, that’s not the point, (and who ever said it was!) they want the murderer to feel the fear and stress as their execution date approaches, and then the fear and stress on the day itself and so on. This makes some sense – but not much. If that’s the case then the murderer need only be subjected to mock-execution – but would the supporter of capital punishment want that?

I think not.

Once this point has been made then the supporter should see what they really are arguing for is a form of torture where the victim suffers not the ‘death penalty’ but the ‘punishment penalty’ where the victim is punished to death.

You can make a person dead by punishing them, but you cannot punish them after making them dead.

As I said, there are persons who understand what they are arguing for: they understand that the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice require a belief in the afterlife to make even the slightest sense – and they really require a belief in God. As someone once said, this business of living for eternity contributes to capital punishment.

What’s odd is that, on atheism, a belief in God is required for the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice to make sense, but that means, to make sense to an atheist.

There’s a dizzying, circular paradox at the heart of the human sacrifice question.

If the person making the case for human sacrifice believes in God then it’s them who should be the first to argue against capital punishment.

Assuming a Christian worldview for the sake of argument: what happens to the soul of the murder victim? Where does it go?

Let’s say the victim is the little girl in the alley.

Someone as innocent as a little ten year old girl is, on the Christian worldview, going to spend eternity with God in heaven.

Let’s put it another way: on that Christian worldview, by murdering her, the killer has delivered his victim to the greatest possible bliss imaginable.

And for this he should be punished?

It’s too easy to support capital punishment. When something is so easy to support a person should become immediately suspicious and begin questioning their motives, and asking questions about the motivations of others.

It’s only when we begin to question our beliefs, and the motivations we have for them, does the conversation become interesting.

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No Loss of Mass

Luke Godfrey changed his mind about his bacon sandwich. He put the red plastic ketchup bottle back down on the table and picked up the blue one, took the top slice of bread off his sandwich and gave it a squirt of mayo. The man sitting opposite Luke Godfrey – Shane Allahan – watched him.

‘Since when do you put mayo on bacon?’ Shane asked. ‘I’ve never seen you do that.’

‘I don’t, normally – I’m just sick of ketchup,’ said Luke.

‘Brown sauce, okay; ketchup, definitely – but mayo on a bacon sarnie? Mayo is for the chicken salad sandwich, mate, not the bacon.’

‘Those times, they are a-changin,’ said Luke. ‘Maybe in more ways than one.’

Luke and Shane were good friends and worked in the same office. They were cut from the same cloth. They would meet up a couple of times a week at their local greasy-spoon for breakfast before wandering into town to their office. Occasionally one of their flock would be in the café as well, pouring only ketchup on his breakfast.

‘Meaning what exactly?’ said Shane, as he popped a perfectly round onion ring onto his tongue.

‘Meaning I’m done with United, mate,’ he said.

‘Which means what? How do you mean, “done” with United?’ asked Shane. ‘You mean you’re not renewing your season-ticket? I know you were moaning a while back about that, but – ‘

‘No, I’m mean I’m done. They are not my team anymore.’

Shane was confused and stopped eating a sausage to consider what Luke was saying. ‘Let me get this straight. You’re saying you’re no longer a United supporter? No more games, no more pub with the boys?’

Luke looked cagey. ‘Well, not quite.’ He took a breath and then said it. ‘I’m going over to City.’

A lump of semi-chewed sausage fell from Shane’s mouth. ‘Say that again, I didn’t hear you right. For a second I thought you said you were going over to City.’

‘That’s what I said. I’ve emailed the chairman of their supporters’ club. I’m seeing him in a couple of days. They’re gonna take me through it; you know, the process and what they expect and all that and then they’ll see if I’m okay for them and then I’ll be…well, I’ll be one of them.’

Shane just looked at Luke, opened mouthed, for several seconds. Their breakfast was forgotten.

‘Okay,’ said Shane, ‘I’ve got a few questions.’

‘Thought you might, but before you ask them let me just say I’ve really struggled with my conscience on this – it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly.’

‘Why were you United in the first place?’

‘Because my dad was, that’s how I was brought up,’ said Luke.

‘Exactly,’ said Shane. ‘You can’t just switch your loyalty. You have to think about this a minute – no, just wait a second – your loyalty grows out of time, out of going to the games and worshiping the team; it grows out of all the great nights and the crack down the pub. You didn’t do any of that with City.’

‘Shane, this is why I said I struggled with my conscience, this is not a simple thing, like flicking a switch. It’s a conversion.’

‘What? Mate, nobody – and I mean nobody – has ever converted from one team to another; it’s unheard of and it’s also ridiculous. It can’t be done. You must be delusional. There’s no such thing as a genuine conversion. It just means you didn’t believe what you said you believed to begin with.’

Luke suppressed a snarl, he felt anger tightening his gut. ‘I’m offended! How dare you upset me! I’m telling you about my deepest feelings and beliefs, and how I’ve struggled with my conscience, and you think I’m just mad! I haven’t just got some “new” loyalty, I’ve converted my feelings for United into feelings for City.’

‘You haven’t listened to me. Loyalty stands on the past and you have no past with City.’

‘And you haven’t listened to me. It’s the same loyalty that you’re talking about – just converted.’

‘Jesus! And what does that actually mean? I mean, really. It’s changed colour? Changed shape?’

‘Shane, come on, mate. Take it seriously,’ said Luke

Shane stood up and the table legs scraped as he shoved his way past. He slammed the door behind him.

Greasy Graham, the café’s owner, looked over at Luke. ‘What’s ‘is problem?’

Luke didn’t look up.

2

Luke strode into the shop and asked the sales assistant for the new City shirt, and yes, he wanted the home shirt, not the away strip.

It took the assistant a couple of minutes to fetch one from the back room and Luke held it up in front of him, admiring the badge before kissing it: the symbol of who and what he was to become. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and tears of joy tried to escape from his overactive tear ducts. He nodded at the assistant and went to a changing room to try it on.

He rubbed the shirt smooth across his cider-belly and gazed at himself in the mirror. He felt complete, like he’d come home to where he belonged, and that was part of it for Luke – belonging, feeling like you were not alone. He still had his friends. They’d come round.

Shane Allahan was furious, however. He’d spent an hour texting everyone he and Luke new to tell them about Luke’s Judas-move. All the history, all the beer they’d drunk, all the toilets they’d vomited in together, all this was for nothing? It could just be thrown away? It made no sense. Shane checked back through the texts he’d received from his two best mates, Mark and John both suggested they all never speak to Luke again. Another friend of Shane’s, Luke’s cousin, Paul, went even further and suggested something which Shane thought was crazy, but the idea was growing on him. They wanted to petition their landlord, Big Steve The Stoner, and get Luke officially barred from the premises. Luke had to go, they suggested, it was a matter of honour. Friendship and family was one thing, but football was something else.

Luke was due back in the office later than usual, by arrangement, and so Shane was at his desk, clicking away at his computer when Luke sat down opposite. Shane didn’t look up; he shifted in his seat and coughed.

‘Come on, mate, we don’t need all this,’ said Luke. He tapped into his computer and gave the mouse a few clicks, setting things ready for the rest of the afternoon.

‘They taken you in?’ said Shane without looking up. He was staring intently at the screen; whatever was on it was too important to risk looking away.

‘Yeah, they have,’ said Luke. ‘I’ve got the shirt. Look, it’s just the lack of buying and the excuses all the time. And the manager, well, Christ, don’t get me started on him.’

‘So you’ve got your new robes,’ said Shane. ‘Very nice, I’m sure. I’m sure you’ll look quite the picture of devotion.’

That was the last they spoke all afternoon.

3

The Baptist Bar, the local watering hole for United devotees – and Shane and Luke’s local – was so named because it used to be a Baptist Church years ago and was converted into a drinking den when demand for the supernatural started to wane. On any given night, most of the customers would be in red – the scum in Blue had their own place of worship across town.

Nobody expected Luke to show up that night no matter what he was wearing, but to walk through the door dressed in blue – every head turned but not one spoke for seconds as they comprehended the sight before them.

‘Alright, boys,’ said Luke, back to the door. ‘I’m still the same guy – what’s the big deal?’

‘You’re in the wrong pub,’ said Big Baz. The over-hang of his gut wobbled with rage. Luke could see his skin was almost as red as his shirt.

‘Look,’ said Luke, trying not to show his fear, ‘I’m just looking for a pint and we can sort this all out. Okay? Who wants a pint? On me.’

Shane couldn’t look at Luke; he turned away and tears dripped onto the pool-table as he shook his head.

Nobody made a move, but then the landlord, Big Steve The Stoner, produced from under the bar a hastily fashioned effigy, wearing a City shirt, held up by a broom handle stuck in its backside.

‘This is you, Judas. You’re just paper, straw and cardboard in this place now.’ Men in red shirts all nodded, grunting their agreement.

A passerby would later tell the fire-brigade that the door flew open and a guy in a blue football shirt shot out at top speed. The burning effigy hit the door as it slammed shut behind him, burning down the pub.

Two Letters

Letter to a Christian Nation – Sam Harris

Letter from a Christian Citizen – Douglas Wilson

Richard Dawkins once said he thought that Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t a problem for sophisticated theologians, that it was the ordinary religious person who knew just how much damage Darwin did to the idea that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Theologians can always use their skill with words to make the simple complicated. In a way, Dawkins’s comment was a compliment to the ordinary lay person. It’s not for no reason that many scientists can be impatient with philosophers.

It’s not for no reason that many religious persons attack the theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory is hated by the religious because it proves the biblical account of creation is untrue. From page one, the Bible is wrong: the Earth, the Solar System, the hundreds of billions of galaxies and the Universe itself were not created six thousand years ago. Many religious persons accept that evolution happened because to argue it did not is to look ridiculous. These persons are of little faith. The real Christian – I mean the Christian who really believes the Bible – cannot accept Evolution as an explanation for life on earth because once page one has been accepted as nonsense the whole thing falls. Ken Ham, a proper Christian and President of Answers in Genesis understands this. When asked about this in Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous he gave what was an honest (and therefore impressive) answer:

“If you’re saying, this part over here, it says God made land animals and Man on the same day is not true, then ultimately, why should I believe this bit over here?”

That, in thirty two simple words, is the reason many religious persons not only will not accept evolution happened but cannot accept evolution happened. Let the sophisticated religious philosophers and theologians argue all they want – genuine Christians are far more honest. Father George Coyne, Ph.D, of the Vatican Obeservatory, told the film-makers on the question of the age of the earth:

“If you’re a scientist, you cannot accept that. [..] Evolution, in the Darwinian sense, is no longer a mere hypothesis”

Fr. Coyne was quoting John Paul II.

The likes of Ken Ham – the real Christians – are, as I have said, avoiding the ridiculous. This is what Ken Ham’s beloved Genesis would look like if he took the same position as Fr. Coyne and John Paul:

And in the ground placed He in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One he chose as his special creation He named Lucy. And God realized this was confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to sort it out. And just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants who lived as farmers and herders would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, population genetics, and evolutionary theory, so He created creation myths.

Harris says in respect to creationists:

“This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbours believe the cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue”

Douglas Wilson quotes this passage in his reply. This is what Wislon says immediately after closing the Harris quote:

But notice what you are doing here: the Sumerians invented glue? Glue didn’t just happen? Why couldn’t it just appear the same way the sexuality of moss did and the eyeballs that see in color and the superbly engineered ankle and the majesty of the great white sharks all did? Glue is so complicated it needed to be invented?”

All Harris did was reject the idea of a young earth. Does Wilson’s response actually deal with the young earth question or avoid it? He doesn’t say “The Sumerians didn’t exist” Doesn’t Wilson have to claim this? He uses a quote from Harris about the age of the earth but chooses not to mention the thing the quote is about: the age of the earth. He’d rather allude to “irreducible complexity” by mentioning glue. But his “glue question” is silly. Can Wilson not think of anything that was invented? Central-heating, thermal underwear and the light-bulb come to mind.

The age of the earth, however, is not the most important question in either book and arguments for a young earth are hardly important ones in any case. That Wilson doesn’t want to “get into it” with Harris on this is not worth worrying about too much. The position Wilson takes, the position many religious persons take to the point of eye-rolling cliché is this. Consider Wilson’s question to Harris after some brief chat about slavery in the bible:

Now here is my question. Given your worldview, what is wrong with this? There is nothing wrong with it on your principles, where the universe is just time and chance acting on matter. Why does it matter if the master matter acts on the slave matter? Who cares?”

This question abut morality is a favourite of the religious. Wilson puts it to the late Christopher Hitchens many times in the road movie they made and it is worth hearing it put in different ways to get a proper handle on the implications of it. The basics of it run thus: if there is no God, there is no absolute right and wrong – only individual preferences. So when an atheist says (extreme example alert) raping baby girls is wrong the religious person can ask “who says?” or, as Wilson likes to phrase the question “by what standard?” This question is the one worth thinking about.

Morality, to an atheist, is an on-going (probably never-ending) conversation about how to treat persons in society, how to govern a society and how to treat the environment and its wildlife – and goodness only knows how much else. Understand that Wilson, when he mentions “morality” is talking about that which God does and says. That’s it. That’s all “morality” means to Wilson. What God does is moral because God does it. For Wilson, morality has nothing to do with keeping humans safe from harm or pain of any kind; it has nothing to do with preserving human life. This is what Wilson had to say to Harris about hurricane Katrina:

What He did to New Orleans was holy, righteous, just and good. Some of it may have been an obvious chastisement for those who would build a major city below sea level in hurricane country and then attempt to govern it through corruption and vice.”

This is impressive faith, but unimpressive logic. The idea that God sends a hurricane as punishment is alright until the accidental concession that the city was built in “hurricane country” to begin with. Wilson should have closed his point after his first sentence because the first sentence tells you everything you need to know: on his premises humans are expendable.

What you will see and hear happening in some debates between religious persons and atheists on the “morality question” is the religious person, though he is eager to play the morality-card, will play it very close to his chest and is happy for the audience to indulge in their own sort of “fallacy of equivocation” on morality for rhetorical purposes. In other words, the religious will let you think morality is a sort of “being nice to people” when for them it means something quite different.

Many religious are not just happy to let this go without clarification, they perpetuate the confusion by playing the absurd Stalin and Mao cards. When a religious person does this he is lying to himself or he is lying to you or both. An atheist can murder another person, quite in cold blood, and feel safe from punishment in the afterlife. But the atheist murderer’s atheism doesn’t make him want to kill. This is a small but important point. Wilson is writing to Sam Harris, an atheist. Sam Harris doesn’t want to murder people. That’s the Stalin argument over with, but the religious continue with it because they like it even though making it involves profound dishonesty about motivation and ignores centuries of religious murder.

It’s no shock that morality better mean something other than a complicated version of “be nice to people” to Wilson because non-human animals, from Sperm whales to Rhinos, will protect their young and the injured in their herd. Wilson won’t be writing a letter to a sperm whale asking “by what standard” do those in your herd encircle the weak or injured for their protection?

It doesn’t matter what an atheist says morality is, or where an atheist says morality comes from or what it’s based on. We know what the Christian – the serious Christian at any rate – thinks about morality and it has nothing to do with protecting humans from any kind of physical suffering or injury. Morality is about the sayings and doings of God. If God said raping baby girls was necessary then Wilson would say what?

The atheist should stop debating the religious on morality because they are talking about something else. The word means different things to each side. But while the religious keep playing the morality-card they are being dishonest if they are unclear about what they actually mean when they use the word.

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