Why I support the Libya No-Fly Zone — with reservations

Brega Hospital. Photo (cc) Al Jazeera BY-ND

Originally I reluct­antly thought the inva­sion of Afghanistan was jus­ti­fied, I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I thought the altern­at­ive was worse. With hind­sight I think it was a mis­take but I can see how it was made.

I thought the war in Iraq was wrong, and still think it was wrong.

The tone of my twit­ter stream has flipped from people decry­ing the viol­ence in Egypt and Libya to people com­plain­ing about the war on Libya. Given recent wars it’s not obvi­ous that mil­it­ary action in Libya is jus­ti­fied. Like Afghanistan I think a No-Fly Zone isn’t some­thing to cheer, and I’m wary of indul­ging the Churchillian fantas­ies of Prime Ministers (of either side), but I think it could be the least worst option.

The reason I sup­port it is simple. I think the killing of civil­ians on Srebrenica in Bosnia was wrong and it was shame­ful for the UN to allow that to hap­pen. Mass slaughter of civil­ians in Benghazi would be equally wrong, and Gaddafi has been clear about what he has planned for Benghazi. The Libyan ambas­sador to the UN has been appeal­ing for action. That didn’t hap­pen with Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia or Sudan. There is a real human­it­arian crisis and I think the response has been too slow.

There’s vari­ous objec­tions. A lot are on the theme that we sup­port Arab dic­tat­or­ships else­where, and that why should be clear up a mess that should be tackled by the Arab League? The strangest ver­sion I saw was on Michael Moore’s twit­ter feed.
Our job is 2 prop up Arab dic­tat­ors (Saudi, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, etc), not over­throw them & every­one in Arab world knows it” I agree that it’s not coher­ent to over­throw a Libyan dic­tator and sup­port a Bahraini one. If you genu­inely think west­ern sup­port for dic­tat­ors is an argu­ment against inter­ven­tion in Libya, then you genu­inely are sup­port­ing dic­tat­or­ship. The altern­at­ive is to say that actu­ally we should be with­draw­ing from Bahrain as well. I don’t ser­i­ously believe Michael Moore is in favour of sup­port­ing dic­tat­ors, so it’s dis­ap­point­ing to see he arguing against democracy.

I utterly agree that the Arab League should be doing this, but we know they won’t. How many civil­ians is it accept­able to allow to die to make a point? Bizarrely the people (at least the ones I know) who I’ve seen arguing for the situ­ation to be left to other people to deal with would never act like that if they were put dir­ectly in that situ­ation. Seriously. I know no-one who would leave someone dying in the street just make the point that social ser­vices or the police or someone else should do something.

So why reservations?

The anti-war cari­ca­ture is that this is a war against Libya. It’s not. A lot of pro-war people genu­inely believe it’s against Gadaffi. It would be nice if it was, but I don’t think it’s going to be that either. It’ll be tri­bal and that will be messy. I’m also not con­vinced that the rebels are good guys. I’m happy that Gaddafi is a bad guy. The Taliban are bad guys, but the people in power in Afghanistan are not good guys by default. There’s still huge prob­lems with women’s rights. You can­not have a demo­cracy where half the pop­u­la­tion don’t have the same rights as the other half.

For this reason I sup­port action to stop the fight­ing ((Yes I’m aware of the irony of fight­ing for peace, but at least we’re killing mer­cen­ar­ies and sol­diers who are tak­ing part in fight and not civil­ians try­ing to avoid it.)) but I don’t know if I sup­port régime change. Imposing demo­cracy isn’t an option so you’re left with the people who come out top when the fight­ing and nego­ti­ations stop. If these are a dif­fer­ent bunch of nut­ters opposed to equal rights then I sup­pose the least gen­o­cidal nut­ter is the best option, but it’s not some­thing I’ll enthu­si­ast­ic­ally sup­port. If the oppos­i­tion are pro-democracy / free-speech equal rights then that’s great. To be fair the news story (and their pri­or­ity) has been avoid­ing slaughter and not for­mu­lat­ing a coher­ent polit­ical pro­gramme, but it’s some­thing that will need to be tackled.

I’m also wary of why now? An earlier res­ol­u­tion would have been bet­ter, but that might be because dip­lomacy takes time. It doesn’t help when you look at some of the pro-war crowd. As fair as faith lead­ers go I can stom­ach arch­bishop Desmond Tutu back­ing war as a last resort, but you have to look hard at the pro­posal when the spir­itual guru Yogi Blair is say­ing its a good thing. For that reason I think its right that people are ser­i­ously crit­ical about whether or not the action is jus­ti­fied, but that cri­tique has to be more than reel­ing off the names Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslim coun­tries are not inter­change­able blocs, and it does some intel­li­gent people no credit to act as if they are.

The one cri­ti­cism I don’t have time for is “We can afford another war, but we can’t afford lib­rar­ies / hos­pit­als / choose the cause of your choice.” That is non­sense. It’s not and has never been a choice between a lib­rary or air strikes in Libya. It’s a choice between a lib­rary and shov­el­ling large amounts of money into rich bankers pock­ets. Acting as if the mil­it­ary costs are respons­ible for cuts ignores the fact that a bunch of crooks have stolen all the money.

Now if you were cyn­ical you might think the reason the UK gov­ern­ment has gone to war, des­pite the prof­it­able busi­ness we do in Libya, is exactly to dis­tract people from the huge amounts of free money we’re giv­ing away. If you are that cyn­ical then the gov­ern­ment is loath­some, using lives to hide greed, but should civil­ians try­ing to get through the day without being shot in Libya who should be held respons­ible for that cas­ual dis­reg­ard for life?

There are good reas­ons why you can dis­agree with me and say this is wrong and we should not be using air-strikes against Libya. It is pos­sible we could be repla­cing one mas­sacre with another. But we know there were going to be mass killings without action. How many protest­ors is it accept­able to kill? Pragmatically 1 or 10 are too small to mobil­ise an air force. Is 1000 accept­able? 10,000? Do people have to be killed in large num­bers, and we help them after they’re dead or do we pre­vent deaths? Preventing deaths sounds bet­ter, but you just know that someone con­trolling large oil reserves sooner or later will be declared a ser­i­ous threat to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of his country.

I think some of these are impossible ques­tions to answer, but while there are people will­ing to kill we have to answer them. But we don’t have to settle for the answers once we have them.

Trapped in a 21st Century mindset

This is what Democracy looks like. Photo (cc) Charlie Owen.

I know that some people will howl at the title yesterday’s blog post. It comes from a line by Adam Rutherford in The Cell, where I think he said someone was incap­able of mak­ing a cog­nit­ive leap in under­stand­ing the cell because they were ‘trapped in a 17th cen­tury mind­set’. Certainly it’s not pos­sible to have some thoughts in some cen­tur­ies. Whatever Neolithic people were build­ing at Stonehenge, it wasn’t a com­puter because the concept of a com­puter as we mean it today didn’t exist till the 20th Century. Still I don’t like the idea of being trapped in the thought­space of a time. Do you feel trapped in a 21st Century mind­set? I don’t. Or rather I didn’t. Until recently I thought of the time as being a start­ing points for my thoughts and not a cage that con­fines them. Maybe that’s changed, because recently some thoughts have seemed pos­it­ively claus­tro­phobic to me.

A lot of people are dis­cuss­ing the defi­cit and George Osborne’s plans to stim­u­late the eco­nomy and pay of the defi­cit. There’s argu­ment over the tar­get­ing of cuts, the depth of cuts, the tim­ing of cuts. Very few people are ques­tion­ing the primacy of the eco­nomy. It is bey­ond debate that all things must be done for the good of the eco­nomy. Doing things to aid the eco­nomy doesn’t seem like an inher­ently daft idea to me. I can see why you would want to do that. The thing that’s really both­er­ing me is that even ques­tion­ing the pos­i­tion of the eco­nomy in soci­ety is not for debate. The good of the eco­nomy has become an unques­tioned moral issue.

That’s a big claim. The reason this post didn’t come out straight after George Osborne’s state­ment was that I thought it was too simplistic. It’s a very easy to write that someone who dis­agrees with you is mor­ally defect­ive. In fact in some areas of the blo­go­sphere it’s com­puls­ory. But I think it’s a claim I can support.

On the 15th of November Kenneth Clark announced that Legal Aid would be cut for many cases. He said “It is now avail­able for a very wide range of issues, includ­ing some which do not require any legal expert­ise to resolve. It can­not be right that the tax­payer is foot­ing the bill for cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door were it not for the fact that some­body else was paying”

This might be right. It might not. For me it depends on what the cases are. For example neg­li­gence cases against hos­pit­als will not be fun­ded. Fine, if it cuts remove spec­u­lat­ive and unreas­on­able law suits, but utterly wrong if someone has a genu­ine griev­ance. For me what mat­ters is the prin­ciple of justice cor­rect­ing a wrong. Clarke might agree, but by cut­ting legal aid for all sort of cases he seems to be arguing that eco­nomic demands in them­selves dic­tate what is good or bad. It doesn’t auto­mat­ic­ally make his policy wrong. If per­fect justice could be achieved it might ruin­ously expens­ive to provide, so many people might accept an imper­fect sys­tem at a lower cost. This would be done with a bal­ance act of social and eco­nomic pres­sures where eco­nomic con­cerns can say some­thing about a policy’s sus­tain­ab­il­ity but have no moral force of themselves.

Cameron gives the impres­sion that many cuts are things that ought to be done any­way for the good of the eco­nomy, sweep­ing aside inef­fi­ciency. Iain Duncan-Smith is expli­cit in the moral under­pin­ning of his cuts refer­ring to for­eign­ers tak­ing UK jobs expli­citly as a ‘sin’.

So how about stu­dent fees. During cov­er­age of the protests yes­ter­day on BBC inter­viewer asked why tax­pay­ers should pay for stu­dents to attend uni­ver­sit­ies. He didn’t men­tion that the people bring­ing in this pro­gramme all had their uni­ver­sity courses paid for, and a grant to sup­port them paid for by the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. Apparently there is no altern­at­ive to fund uni­ver­sit­ies. Raising mar­ginal rates of tax isn’t an option. It’s simply not feas­ible to ask Baby Boomers to pay tax at the same rates their par­ents. Nick Clegg recently stated “Old pro­gress­ives are obsessed with mar­ginal tax rates. They focus on one aspect of the tax sys­tem … rather than [look] at the over­all sys­tem.” So instead the answer is intro­duce a mar­ginal tax rate that Baby Boomers won’t have to pay. Except we don’t call it a tax because this com­puls­ory gov­ern­ment redis­tri­bu­tion of wealth is a loan. With pen­al­ties for any­one who treats it like a loan and tries to pay it back early.

The eco­nomic real­ity is a factor that can­not be ignored but very little of the debate is related to eco­nomic real­ity. Instead we have a com­bin­a­tion of tri­bal­ism (Where people are proud of vot­ing for one party all their life), PR spin and faith. The one con­stant among all sides both social­ists and cap­it­al­ists that the eco­nomy is not merely para­mount, but that its pos­i­tion is not ques­tioned. People exist to serve the economy.

It’s going to cre­ate an inter­est­ing topic for his­tor­i­ans of the future. Will they and should they under­stand the eco­nomy in the terms of the soci­ety that prac­ticed it? In the case of the our soci­ety we clearly have an incom­plete under­stand­ing of the world. The eco­nomy has a huge capa­city to aid the coun­try and bestow great bene­fits on it. At the same time it’s capri­cious and unpre­dict­able. A cata­strophe could blow up for reas­ons that no one could have fore­seen. Such events need not simply affect local com­munit­ies but the whole coun­try. Even if our under­stand­ing of the eco­nomy is basic, can we be judged for sac­ri­fi­cing our children’s future to pla­cate the economy?

You can make a strong argu­ment that while this may have been partly doing what was deemed neces­sary, the choice of vic­tims shows a vicious streak in Coalition policy. The older people mak­ing the decisions have chosen people from the younger strata of soci­ety to suf­fer when the time comes for sac­ri­fices in order to ensure com­fort­able lives for them­selves. Does an ignor­ance of future know­ledge by the people giv­ing the orders mean that future his­tor­i­ans will not reas­on­ably be able to say “This is Wrong”?

If you think this post is like some­thing else you’ve read, you could be right.

Trapped in a 15th Century mindset

Inca Mummy. Photo (cc) Wouter7

Valicha was a small girl again, back in the days before she left for the grand city, play­ing in her vil­lage. She ran laugh­ing between the houses, chas­ing her younger brother. Suddenly she crashed into the legs of her father. Normally he came home with the set­ting sun, after see­ing to the lla­mas. Today there had been a spe­cial event up in the moun­tains, but she didn’t know what. She brushed away soil from her lips, caught there from run­ning into his muddy legs. She didn’t know why he was back early, but was pleased any­way. She looked up and saw tears in eyes. She brushed the earth from her face, but for some reason it was still there. She tried again. And again. She couldn’t brush the dirt from her face, dirt fall­ing into her mouth…

Valicha woke up in a panic and opened her eyes. So com­plete was the dark­ness she saw noth­ing. She made a con­scious effort to close and open her eyes, but little changed. Dirt fell into one of her eyes she blinked and tried to move away from the earth. As she shuffled more earth fell in front of her face and into her mouth. She tried to move but she was immob­ile. Heavy weight sur­roun­ded her limbs. A tide of panic over­came her. She couldn’t breathe. She could only feel the earth around her, fall­ing into her eyes, ears and mouth. The black­ness cut her from the world more com­pletely than the deep­est sleep. In her isol­a­tion a tide of panic over­came her. Tears welled up in her eyes and the last frag­ments of the dream returned. The day her father returned from the moun­tain so des­per­ately sad.

Inca Mummy. Photo (cc) Wouter7.
Inca Mummy. Photo (cc) Wouter7.

Please don’t take this as an accur­ate descrip­tion of an Inca child sac­ri­fice. Some chil­dren were bur­ied alive after ritual inebri­ation, but many oth­ers were suf­foc­ated or killed with a blow to the head. It’s not the mech­an­ics of sac­ri­fice that’s been both­er­ing me. It’s what we think about it. This has been brew­ing for a couple of years, since read­ing Timothy Taylor’s answer to the ques­tion “What have you changed your mind about?” on the Edge World Question Center. His answer starts:

Where once I would have striven to see Incan child sac­ri­fice ‘in their terms’, I am increas­ingly com­mit­ted to see­ing it in ours. Where once I would have dir­ec­ted atten­tion to under­stand­ing a past cos­mo­logy of equal valid­ity to my own, I now feel the urgency to go bey­ond a culturally-attuned explan­a­tion and reveal cold sad­ism, deployed as a means of social con­trol by a bur­geon­ing imper­ial power.

Can and should we under­stand human sac­ri­fice in the terms of the soci­ety that prac­ticed it? In the case of the Incas, they had a incom­plete under­stand­ing of the world. The Gods had a huge capa­city to aid the Empire and bestow great bene­fits on it. At the same time they were capri­cious and unpre­dict­able. A cata­strophe could blow up for reas­ons that no one could have fore­seen. Such events need not simply affect local com­munit­ies but the whole Empire. Even if their under­stand­ing of the gods was pro­vi­sional at best, can they be judged for sac­ri­fi­cing their children’s future to pla­cate the Gods?

Timothy Taylor makes a strong argu­ment that while this may have been partly doing what was deemed neces­sary, the choice of vic­tims shows a vicious streak in the Inca hier­archy. There is evid­ence that the rulers chose peoples from the lower strata of soci­ety to suf­fer when the time came for sac­ri­fices in order to ensure com­fort­able lives for them­selves. Does an ignor­ance of future know­ledge by the people giv­ing the orders mean that we can­not reas­on­ably say “This is Wrong”?

There’s no open com­ments on this post as it’s a part­ner piece to tomorrow’s post. Tomorrow’s post will make this one look like a mas­ter­piece in subtlety.

Why other histories matter

brothel fresco
Photo Lupinare III (cc) Nick in exsilio.

I have an interest in ancient pros­ti­tu­tion. It’s not what I’d call a guilty pleas­ure, because when you read about the miser­able lives the women had it’s hardly pleas­ure, but there is plenty of guilt. I don’t find ancient pros­ti­tu­tion sala­cious but given the expli­cit art, I can see how people would think it is and this trig­gers the feel­ing of being a dirty old man. Yet more and more I think to under­stand how ancient cit­ies worked you need to know about the seedy under­belly of the city. For every poet whose frag­ments sur­vive and whose words are pored over by philo­lo­gists, thou­sands of pros­ti­tutes died after miser­able lives missed only by their friends. I wouldn’t say that the study of poetic frag­ments is wrong or inher­ently inferior to the study of the ancient under­classes, but I think for the sake of hon­esty about the clas­sical world someone needs to tell these stories.

Someone who’s just done this recently is N.S. Gill. She’s pos­ted Firebaugh’s notes on Roman pros­ti­tu­tion. In some ways it’s depress­ing the notes are still rel­ev­ant enough to be worth post­ing. The lan­guage is dated. Well, no even that might not be true either des­pite Firebaugh refer­ring to ‘har­lots’. Even more depress­ing is how little atti­tudes to pros­ti­tu­tion have shif­ted since ancient times. For instance who becomes a prostitute?

According to the Romans it would seem that they were women who were mak­ing a delib­er­ate choice.

If the girl was young and appar­ently respect­able, the offi­cial sought to influ­ence her to change her mind; fail­ing in this, he issued her a license (licen­tia stupri), ascer­tained the price she inten­ded exact­ing for her favors, and entered her name in his roll. Once entered there, the name could never be removed, but must remain for all time an insur­mount­able bar to repent­ance and respectability.

I sus­pect it was a choice, but the choice was between pros­ti­tu­tion and star­va­tion. It is also a stain on the woman’s char­ac­ter, not the client’s. In mod­ern terms it’s been noted that crim­inal fines for pros­ti­tu­tion can actu­ally lead a woman back onto the streets in order to pay it off. Again it’s the woman’s choice. The notion of the will­ing pros­ti­tute serves the need of the cli­ents who could either be wish­ing for a will­ing part­ner, or else wish to feel mor­ally jus­ti­fied in their actions.

It’s not a choice any­one would want to forced to make. The Constitution of the Athenians gives a pretty grim pic­ture of where flute-girls, not the low­est pros­ti­tutes, fit­ted in the import­ance of the city.

[T]en men are elec­ted by lot as … City Controllers, five of whom hold office in Peiraeus and five in the city; it is they who super­vise the flute-girls and harp-girls and lyre-girls to pre­vent their receiv­ing fees of more than two drach­mas, and if sev­eral per­sons want to take the same girl these offi­cials cast lots between them and hire her out to the win­ner. And they keep watch to pre­vent any scav­enger from depos­it­ing ordure within a mile and a quarter of the wall; and they pre­vent the con­struc­tion of build­ings encroach­ing on and bal­conies over­hanging the roads, of over­head con­duits with an over­flow into the road, and of win­dows open­ing out­ward on to the road; and they remove for burial the bod­ies of per­sons who die on the roads, hav­ing pub­lic slaves for this service.

I can­not believe any­one would want to be classed along­side dung and corpses. Life for the typ­ical pros­ti­tute must have been miser­able. It might explain why people have tra­di­tion­ally over­looked ancient pros­ti­tutes when writ­ing his­tor­ies, but it doesn’t explain why they are import­ant. Being poor merely makes you poor rather than inher­ently more worthy than the rich.

Another reason for ignor­ing pros­ti­tutes and the rest of the under­class is they have been con­sidered invis­ible. Could it be they are leav­ing traces, but it’s we in the cur­rent era who choose not to see them? A recent thesis by Clare Kelly-Blazeby could turn upside down a lot of assump­tions about the ancient city.

She’s been look­ing for archae­olo­gical evid­ence of tav­ernas. You wouldn’t think drink­ing would be dif­fi­cult to find in the ancient world. The texts have many ref­er­ences to the masses get­ting drunk in their bru­tish way. Yet whenever drink­ing assemblages have been found it’s been inter­preted as archae­olo­gical evid­ence of the sym­posium. The sym­posium is the drink­ing party of the élite. It’s the set­ting for many debates and the sort of his­tory which you can see chan­ging the world.

On top of that it’s very archae­olo­gic­ally vis­ible. Not only are there the cups and bowls there’s also the lay­out of the sym­po­sion, the room where the sym­posium was held. It con­veni­ently has couches arranged around the walls, head to foot so every­one reclines on their left side. Kelly-Blazeby has found that many assemblages of drink­ing cups are not asso­ci­ated with sym­po­sions, but ordin­ary look­ing houses. Even today archi­tec­tur­ally Greek tav­ernas can look the same as ordin­ary houses. After re-thinking what a tav­erna of the sort would look like, she’s rad­ic­ally altered how we see the urban eco­nomy and town plan. It also means we need to re-think what we mean by élite, which in some cit­ies may be a lot smal­ler and more élite than pre­vi­ously acknowledged.

Sometimes look­ing at unfash­ion­able his­tor­ies can mean that more his­tory is being writ­ten. Yet some­times, like in the case of Gender History, or Crime or Class it not only makes more his­tory it also makes the sub­jects of tra­di­tional his­tor­ies richer and more vibrant. This is why I’ve found Mercurius Rusticus’s sum­mer strop both fas­cin­at­ing and pitiable.

Given two sexes and a vivid ima­gin­a­tion regard­ing sexual taboos seems to be a con­stant of human his­tory I think it’s a con­stant issue which needs to be tackled. I don’t think gender dif­fer­ences can be seen every­where in the his­tor­ical record, but it is wor­ry­ing if people can’t even see there is a ques­tion. If they can’t see these issue in the past, then why think they’re equipped to be able to see them in present?

Does religion diminish our humanity?


I’m sure that Richard Feynman or Richard Dawkins have said some­thing sim­ilar and said it bet­ter. Ophelia Benson cer­tainly can. I wrote this on June 28, and when I checked Butterflies and Wheels the next day she had an entry on the mor­al­ity of preach­ers. One of the com­mon whinges by fun­da­ment­al­ists against ‘nat­ur­al­ism’, which as I under­stand it is the whole ‘look­ing for evid­ence’ thing, is that it reduces human­ity to some­thing insig­ni­fic­ant. My view is quite the oppos­ite. When I see someone talk with Gods as their only jus­ti­fic­a­tion I see someone who isn’t enga­ging or con­nect­ing with the world. With a uni­verse of exper­i­ence it’s rather like insist­ing every­one occu­pies a dog­matic cul-de-sac. The ques­tion that star­ted me off was a simple one. “Can the­ists appre­ci­ate beauty?”

At the moment as I type this I’m watch­ing an image form on my screen. I’m hooked into the Slooh tele­scopes on Mount Teide, Tenerife. At the top, about a mile and a half above sea-level there are a couple of remotely oper­ated tele­scopes poin­ted sky­ward to the heavens.

Despite the advances in astro­nomy and cos­mo­logy over the past cen­tury, in some ways we are more poor now than we were a hun­dred years ago. Light Pollution drowns out much of the sky and instead of see­ing dia­mond dust scattered on vel­vet, the view from most cit­ies is one of a yel­low sodium glow with a few pins pricks punch­ing their way through. The tele­scopes in the Canaries allow me to see fine detail that I couldn’t hope to see from home. They reveal galaxy upon galaxy dan­cing in the night sky in an eternal waltz. I can only appre­ci­ate such beauty because I can see it.

I can also appre­ci­ate the won­der of show these sights come to be. Even in some­thing as con­stant as the heav­ens each moment is unique. I’m cur­rently look­ing at Supernova 2005AY. It’s the fad­ing remains of a star that has come to the end of its life. Now it is dim­ming as it grows colder. In this eternal uni­verse this moment will never hap­pen again. Yet the photons which are impact­ing on the CCD in the tele­scope have been trav­el­ling through inter­stel­lar space for 43,000,000 years. This is lit­er­ally a moment that has been mil­lions of years in the making*.

I see these things that I see the same as a the­ist would, but do they have the same mean­ing? For me these sights are inde­pend­ent act­ors in a story that star­ted at the dawn of time. For a the­ist it’s wall­pa­per for the sky; dis­tant from man­kind and thus of no import­ance. The cre­ation of the heav­ier ele­ments in super­novae means that it’s some­thing else in cre­ation with which I am con­nec­ted, even if only briefly and at an unima­gin­ably great dis­tance. As Moby said, we are all made of stars*. For a the­ist made of mud there’s no con­nec­tion at all. By seek­ing to cut them­selves off from the rest of cre­ation are they seek­ing to make them­selves less human?

Morality is another prob­lem. A charge by the cre­ation­ist lobby against Darwinism is that it leads to immor­al­ity. Is it pos­sible for Christians be moral? When I give to char­ity I don’t expect to see the money back. When I stop to help someone it’s because I want to help. I’m not expect­ing nor ask­ing for a reward. Fundamentalist Christians seem to have quite a dif­fer­ent view. They seem to feel that mor­al­ity col­lapses if there isn’t the threat of a Very Big Stick. Does this mean that when a Christian gives to char­ity they do so under suf­fer­ance, know­ing that a venge­ful God will smite them if they don’t com­ply? Does it really require the threat of eternal tor­ture to coerce Christians in fol­low­ing the philo­sophy of Bill and Ted in being excel­lent to one another? Is the only thing that pre­vents Reverend Plum from mur­der­ing me the fear that when he dies the Big Beard in the Sky will announce he knows the Reverend did it with the can­dle­stick in the kitchen?

The Creationist lobby claim that Darwinism dimin­ishes us all, yet the logical con­clu­sion from their pos­i­tion is that human­ity is a pretty wretched res­ult of a flawed cre­ator. In Christian philo­sophy it would appear that human­ity would appear to be so cor­rupt at its core that it can­not be worthy of sur­vival on its own mer­its. The Fundamentalist ‘mor­al­ity’ believes chil­dren dying in non-Christian third-world coun­tries from mal­nu­tri­tion by their very exist­ence deserve ever­last­ing tor­ment in hell.

So there’s one pos­i­tion based on fear, mis­trust and com­pul­sion and another based on being nice because that’s the right way to behave. If there were no evid­ence either way I know which one I’d choose, but with all evid­ence stacked on one side as well I can­not see what the appeal of a cre­ation­ist view is. Where do they get the opin­ion that inside each person’s heart is a bot­tom­less pit of sin?

Christianity, by passing on respons­ib­il­ity for everything to a God, says the way the world is is the way the world ought to be. Science gives inform­a­tion on the way the world is, but forces people to take the respons­ib­il­ity for the way the world ought to be.

This doesn’t mean that all Christians are immoral. On the con­trary they are often moral and so are attrac­ted to an organ­isa­tion that claims to embody their beliefs. However Christians tend not to be eth­ic­ally blind. When their churches diverge from their own mor­al­it­ies they tend not to blindly fol­low the church, but cease attend­ing. Belief in a god usu­ally adds noth­ing to people’s mor­al­ity and so cred­it­ing Christianity for cre­at­ing moral beha­viour is rather like cred­it­ing iTunes for cre­at­ing the pop music.

* an older per­son would cite Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock: “We are stardust.”