Saturday, 20 October 2007

A farrago of prejudice

The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has written a book – The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society – which, to judge from the extracts printed in today’s Times, is calculated to raise the hackles of a good many people.

Dr Sacks’s targets are many, and he adopts the scattergun approach. Multiculturalism, he tells us, is a dead duck; it was a fine, even noble idea, but has led to segregation rather than the hoped-for integration. Whose fault this is, Dr Sacks doesn’t pause to inquire – there is scarcely a reference to Islam in the article.

Liberal democracy, says Dr Sacks, is in danger. “Britain is becoming a place where free speech is at risk, non-political institutions are becoming politicised, and a combination of political correctness and ethnic-religious separatism is eroding the graciousness of civil society…..The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear.”

Again, Dr Sacks doesn’t point a finger at the obvious culprit – strident religious bigotry – but discerns a quite different and, for him, a much more convenient target – that tired old whipping-horse of reactionary right-wingers, “the permissive society”. All our social ills, he moans, stem from the wicked 1960s, when traditional Christian morality “conceived as the moral bond linking individuals in the shared project of society” was jettisoned overboard. The first crack came when suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961. This was “the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country, that is, one in which Christian ethics was reflected in law.” It was swiftly followed in 1967 by the legalisation of abortion and of homosexuality.

“Collectively these changes represented a decisive move away from the idea that society had, or was entitled to have, a moral code at its base….Society was no longer conceived of in terms of a moral consensus. The law would intervene only to prevent individuals from harming one another.” The notion that this latter principle is itself a moral code more suited to modern times than inhumane antique biblical injunctions doesn’t seem to have occurred to Dr Sacks.

All this is stale, tired old stuff which was put far more eloquently and persuasively by the late Lord Devlin in his 1959 Maccabean Lecture The Enforcement of Morals, where he equated immorality with treason and asserted that “society cannot ignore the morality of the individual any more than it can his loyalty; it flourishes on both and without either it dies.” This led to a vigorous academic and public debate, and in view of Lord Devlin’s vigorous views it is all the more surprising that he ultimately came round to the view that the Wolfenden proposals for the limited decriminalisation of male homosexual behaviour were in the public interest.

According to Dr Sacks, we are living in an age in which people no longer have roles and duties within a stable social structure, morality is becoming a mere façade, and the only way to defeat opponents is to ridicule them – a favourite tactic, incidentally, of religious zealots these days, who are quite unscrupulous in their misrepresentation of the actual views of non-believers of other faiths or none. If there is no agreed moral truth, Dr Sacks continues, “we cannot reason together….On this account, Western civilisation is not truth but the hegemony of the ruling elite.” Who prevails will depend not on reason but on power. Again, it doesn’t dawn on Dr Sacks that to enforce private morality through the criminal law is a tactic based on power - not reason.

I agree with Dr Sacks in deploring the intolerance of ‘political correctness’ which, “created to avoid stigmatising speech, becomes the supreme example of stigmatising speech”. And I agree also that it was wrong that a Catholic nominee for the EC justice commission felt obliged to resign after saying that his faith compelled him to believe that homosexuality was a sin, although he did not believe it should be a crime.

Identity politics is deeply and inexorably divisive, wails Dr Sacks. I find this a richly comic remark, emanating from the Chief Rabbi of a faith which tirelessly asserts its exclusivity and superiority to non-Jews. While many Jews [unlike Muslims] are ardent practitioners of integration, if not assimilation, by no means all are. I wonder whether Dr Sacks has taken a stroll round Stamford Hill lately? Dr Sacks rightly says that “a culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation, is greater than that of others” – but he fails to add that the Victim card is a favourite ploy of today’s increasingly intolerant religious minorities, each complaining that they are the innocent targets of imaginary legions of rabid atheists thirsting for their blood. All we non-believers are in fact asking for is that the religious should confine their observances and faith-based beliefs to their private lives, and not aspire to inflict them upon the rest of society as Dr Sacks is doing in this polemic.

And I find it especially odd that the Chief Rabbi should ‘come out’ as such an ardent defender of Christian values – which, when all is said and done, differ considerably from those of the Torah. It’s also comic that, like so many backward-looking social conservatives, Dr Sacks dislikes the internet and the “tendentiousness” of blogs intensely. He resorts to the futile old ploy of blaming the technology – not the message - when he questions whether the new culture of instant global communication will weaken the nation-state. I find this a pathetic argument. Myself, I strongly believe that humanity would be far more peaceful and less crime-ridden if the art of kindling fire had never been discovered and the wheel and never been invented. Then, we would all be far too busy keeping ourselves and each other warm with our body heat, and trudging slowly and painfully a few miles a day, to get up to all the immorality, crime, and other mayhem which so appals Godbotherers like Dr Sacks.


Emmett said...

"Another guy, another God-damn definitive theory.... Yeah right, me & mine too! Nurse! Run out and get this RX filled...some sonofabitch has been putting bowlcleaner in the cocaine -- AGAIN!"

Doc Wook

Jose said...

Stereotyped morals. There are people who do not change, who stick to their old, dated principles without considering what science and progress have done for the humankind.

On the other hand multiculturalism is a word which does not really reflect the conditions on which we should behave. There should only be a culture to be taken into account, that of coexistence.

anticant said...

How right you both are, Emmett and Jose! I've spent the best part of my life fighting these pedlars of 'absolute' values, by which they mean "Do as WE say" [regardless of what they actually do, of course!].

The crisis we face arises from the sad fact that not enough people are wise enough to seek coexistence - they have a compulsive need to 'win', to be 'right', and to dominate, in order to feel secure. This neurotic epidemic of global inner insecurity will be the ruin of us all unless it subsides and humanity rapidly comes to its senses. Time isn't on our side.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Jose's word "coexistence" is an improvement on the word "multiculturalism".

AC, is the "religious sense" included in your statement that humanity must come "to its senses" ?

Methinks not - and that's one reason why I do not believe in humanity's ability for peaceful "co-existence" - there is a flaw in our human nature which will always 'trip up' humanity's best intentions ('the dark side, original sin, call it what you will.

We are social beings - and we are also moral beings...with an acute moral sense which separates us from the other animals.

Therefore to discount (& not accommodate) the religious sense - which is part of our moral sense - is lethally narrow-minded...and such thinking may well threaten humanity's survival.

anticant said...

Humans have a spiritual sense [or capacity] and an innate moral instinct which is in no way 'supernatural' or dependent upon the existence of mythical gods or the pronouncements of priests. It is simply an integral part of being human.

You are persistently obtuse in this matter, Richard, and consistently misrepresent my thinking on this topic.

It is you who are bigoted and narrow minded on this issue - not I.

Richard W. Symonds said...

I don't remember naming you personally AC - but if the cap fits ;)

Seriously though, my point is that if we, humanity, are to try and prevent our own destruction (eg by nuclear annihilation), then we must all work together - including working together with those of a religious bent...

Not self-righteous, narrow-minded religious bigots - there's enough of those in the secular field - but genuine believers.

Martin Luther King was religious - it informed his words and was Ganhi etc.

We must welcome and celebrate diversity of opinion - not exclude some and not others.

If we don't welcome and celebrate diversity, we are wasting precious time.

anticant said...

Yes, Richard, the cap does fit. You do misunderstand and misrepresent my views about the spiritual - which in my opinion, though not apparently in yours, exists quite independently from a religious world-view or belief in the 'supernatural'.

Non-believers have no difficulty in making common cause with religious people of goodwill on issues concerning world peace and social reform. It may surprise you to know that I have done so publicly and privately many times myself, and I have many religious friends.

It is the vociferous band of religious bigots who attack and sneer at atheists and humanists, and appear to want a theocracy, who are the enemies of freedom, tolerance, and civilised life.

Emmett said...

HERE Is the latest in the ongoing press-fight, here, against the rank excesses OF SIMPLE-MINDED, BINARY & THEREFORE BRAINLESS, TWO-VALUE 'THINKING'. What we fail to remember is that Aristotle (pbuh) was not so much setting down objective facts about logic as he was simply compiling a manual describing how the average human unregenerate 'thinks':

20 October 2007

Happy Valley Incinerator & County Valve
1313 S 2nd St
Happy Valley

To the editor:

Professor Yazzi of this place and my friend Tom Maertens are blazing away again at all of the deluded halfwits who "choose" mainly on the basis of unconscious conditioning to believe in "god" rather than "science." I expect that really both the sincere humanist and the devout religious believer are following their instincts. To that extent both are healthy, mentally and morally. It is when we go out in public and try to get over on each other that all the trouble starts. But if I am not mistaken, it is the common goal of all that is best in religion (not "crusades" against muslims!) and science (not hightech tasers for everyone stopped by the cops!) to free us all from the deadly curse of narrowmindedness. Our universal enemy always is the idiocy of inadequate two-valued "reasoning." In other words, the childish question of "right" or "wrong" is just not good enough for answering most human questions. Professor Yazzi is a philosopher of course and certainly will agree with me. This is because we are all blundering in the dark, and it is a great shame always to stick our fingers in each other's eyes just to be "right."


B Wook, The Farmers' Friend, /etc/ & /cet/

Jose said...

Coexistence an improvement of multiculturalism?

I don't think so, Richard. I think they are different. There must also exist coexistence among members of the same culture.

Emmett said...

(Track-Jumping Dept:)

I mean, an eternity of WHEEDLING these theoretical "virgins" is no more MY idea of Heaven than I am sure it is theirs, of foreplay....