Tuesday, 19 December 2017

When "Applied Christianity" Becomes "Applied Lunacy".

"Feed My Sheep": At some point in just about every Sunday service, Christian congregations recite the Lord’s Prayer. God’s will, they affirm, is to be done “on Earth, as it is in Heaven”. In short, Christianity has always been about much more than mere personal salvation. The gospel of the carpenter from Nazareth has to be applied. Accepting the universal obligation to care for our fellow human-beings has become a lot harder in Neoliberal 2017 than it was in Christian Socialist 1938.

WHEN THE NATIONAL PARTY dismissed the Labour Prime Minister’s social welfare legislation as “applied lunacy”, his response was crushing. Michael Joseph Savage simply informed the House of Representatives that his preferred description of Labour’s Social Security Bill was “applied Christianity”.

In the ears of young, twenty-first century New Zealanders, Savage’s riposte must sound rather quaint. In 2017, New Zealand’s “mainstream” Christian denominations are, with the notable exception of the Catholic Church, advancing towards their respective graves on a collection of wobbly Zimmer Frames. Meanwhile, in those few churches still able to attract a youthful following, the theology being preached elevates faith above works with fundamentalist certitude. To the lost and the disappointed, salvation is presented as the permanent pay-off of their personal surrender to the Almighty. Neither version strikes much of a chord with New Zealand’s millennial generation.

Ah, but 80 years ago, it was a very different story!

Every Sunday the churches were full, and their lofty interiors rang to the sound of heartily sung hymns. Little children went to Sunday School and their older brothers and sisters to Bible Class. People said their prayers and, in the midst of the greatest economic depression the world had so far experienced, pondered the meaning of Matthew 9:24, where Jesus says: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

And that kingdom was about something much more engaging than “pie in the sky when you die”. At some point in just about every Sunday service, Christian congregations recited the Lord’s Prayer. God’s will, they knew, was to be done “on Earth, as it is in heaven”. In short, Christianity was about more than mere personal salvation. The gospel of the carpenter from Nazareth had to be applied.

Mickey Savage’s sound-bite possessed divinely sharpened teeth!

That he said nothing more about National’s “applied lunacy” quip was because it said so much for itself. It drew the voters’ attention to the desiccated economic rationalism of the laissez-faire capitalism from which the National Party sprang – and to which it was irrevocably dedicated.

Giving the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash to the shiftless and the idle would always be lunacy. Without the goad of poverty to drive them back to the shop door and factory gate, what was to prevent the poor and needy from becoming a vast underclass of worthless spongers permanently subsidised from the public purse? Christian charity (an expression which has always stuck in the throat of the rich and the powerful) should be reserved for the “deserving” poor only. And their eligibility must always be subject to proof.

If this gospel resonates more loudly in the ears of contemporary Kiwis, it’s because it’s the gospel we have heard preached every day for the last 30 years. Indeed, so pervasive has it become that the Labour Party of 2017 would strongly counsel its leader against veering “off-message” and into the political long-grass of religious expression.

A government uneasy about reciting a parliamentary prayer in which God and Jesus still rate a mention is likely to become entirely unhinged by even those most oblique references to camels, needles and (shhh!) rich men.

And yet, as the report released just a few days ago by the Child Poverty Action Group makes agonisingly clear, the need for some “applied Christianity” is as strong today as it was in the 1930s. “Further Fraying of The Welfare Safety Net”, penned by Dr Gerard Cotterell, Associate Professor Susan St John and Dr M. Claire Dale offers a grim picture of what happens when a nation succumbs to the “applied lunacy” of free-market economics.

Mickey Savage, were he able to read the following words from the Report’s conclusion would shake his head in disbelief and wonder where it all went wrong:

“New Zealand’s traditional safety net, once described as “cradle to grave”, is failing to support the many families who need it most. There has been a subtle process over three decades in which New Zealand has lost sight of the original intentions of the welfare state. This has allowed a gradual unravelling to proceed regardless of which major political party has been in power.”

I suspect he would conclude that when the religious obligation to do God’s will “on Earth, as it is in Heaven” fades away to the point where it’s regarded as a quaint relic from the distant past; then the democratic-socialist injunction, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, is likely to follow hard upon its heels.

When caritas – the Christian love of humankind – withers and dies, then the fashioning of public policy on any other grounds than those of naked self-interest becomes politically suicidal.

The behaviour not of a saint, but a lunatic.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 December 2017.


Charles E said...

You say the opposition to Savage would have said welfare from the state would result in
' ..... the poor and needy ...becoming a vast underclass of worthless spongers permanently subsidised from the public purse..'

Yes they were wrong. But only about the quantity. Most people on welfare are not that, but there is no doubt that Savage's welfare state has indeed also produced a bludging, feckless, intoxicated, child abusing and murdering, etc etc ... state sponsored underclass..
So the opponents were partly right. Just as Labour were, to apply Christian charity as part of what tax payers provide, which indeed people voted for and still do. I do.
Yet Christians back then, and I think Socialists too also required other moral behaviour like family solidarity, chastity, sobriety and really fundamentally 'no bread to those that will not work'. So that is not the case now is it? There are weak penalties for refusing to get off the couch today. They should be tougher, most would agree and they are are merely applied Christianity and old Socialism too.
Welfare is for the truly unfortunate, the truly needy who really cannot look after themselves. Christian charity in Savage's day would not have extended to today's largesse.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And yet, so many of the hard right ideologues profess to be Christian. One of the things that annoys me is that many Christians do not live up to their supposed ideals. Even in the broadest sense, I'm not talking about avoiding tattoos, or wearing clothes made of more than one fibre, but essential Christian charity as expressed through government action. Because as we know, private charity simply can't cope – or in fact won't cope because many of these rich "Christians" prefer to donate to charities that have nothing to do with helping the poor. The sort of "charity" that puts a bronze plaque with your name on it in the foyer.

Enough of that! A Merry Christmas to all of you!

David Stone said...

I'm pretty sure that humanity invented christianity (though probably not Christ) along with all the other religions, and assigned a love of humanity to it (along with some far less admirable characteristics) quite incorrectly. The love of human kind is part of human nature irrespective of christianity . It won't die with a weakening reliance on the church to interpret and direct it's manifestations. But there are other less admirable forces within humanity too.
But is the devision between left and right politics a question of caring or not caring? Or is it a disagreement about how best to organise a caring society?
I think all that mass in the middle care, but not enough to make an adequate study of the alternative mechanisms to achieve the desired result. Unfortunately I don't think our politicians have studied it enough either. They are too busy studying how to get elected and how to stay there .

countryboy said...

This explains a lot.

Richard Sinek.
Nuts, bolts and chemicals.

Supports my argument that we should crop dust everyone everywhere with Ecstasy powder.
I love that he's not keen on 'Banker Boys'. They rule the roost like alpha people but unlike true alpha people, they give nothing back.

David Stone said...

Charles E
That " Most people on welfare are not that, but there is no doubt that Savage's welfare state has indeed also produced a bludging, feckless, intoxicated, child abusing and murdering, etc etc ... state sponsored underclass.."has arisen during the last 3 decades of neoliberal economics,under a theory that 5 or6% of unemployment was desirable to motivate the workforce. It was deliberately set up that way and the underclass you refer to is a natural adaptation to the situation the victims were (are) forced into , and the despondency engendered from living without hope of dignity or opportunity.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Savage's welfare state has indeed also produced a bludging, feckless, intoxicated, child abusing and murdering, etc etc ... state sponsored underclass.."

I see you're back to your usual airy fairy generalisations without evidence Charles. All I can say is that if Mickey Savage's welfare state caused this bludging feckless behaviour then you would have to show that it didn't exist before then. So Noah didn't get rat arsed? So there was no gin craze and all of Hogarth's paintings are figments of his imagination? I don't think there was much social welfare available at either of those times.
God, the whole history of society is riddled with laws concerning alcohol, and if there weren't any problems with that before Mickey Savage they wouldn't have tried to bring in prohibition. So I want some figures on this drunken fecklessness both before and after or I'm calling bullshit.

Come to think of it, if there was no underclass before Mickey Savage, why the eugenics movement? Yet another moral panic where New Zealand actually came close to sterilising people that the middle class didn't like.

Incidentally Chas, while we're talking about this sort of thing – you remember saying that global warming on its way out and that the Chinese were reducing their emissions? And someone kindly pointed out that that was probably due to the Chinese economy tanking for a while? Well, you'll probably not be pleased to know that the Chinese economy is on its way up again, and world emissions are going up in proportion.

Nick J said...

I would contend that the whole post religion society is necessarily in a state of baselessness, simply because there are no absolute terms of reference, except to "isms" that represent false "gods". Materialism, consumerism, market fundamentalism, Marxism, post modernism......none of these has a broad ethical basis, merely "logical" arguments that start from an assumed base position. Not one can explain or justify the base position relative to any other "isms" base position.

I rejected (and still do) the fundamental artifacts of faith when I was at Sunday school with Noah, it is that long ago. I adopted the above false Gods, and found no favour in them. What I did not realise at the time, and for many years was that the fundamental concepts that underpin the whole Western cultural experience are encapsulated in the Christian (and predecessor) tradition. Our concepts of what is fair, what is just, what is legal, what is moral, what is just are encapsulated in the stories and texts of the Bibles.

This does not make the religious beliefs "true", whatever that means. What it does do is make the scriptures relevant as a receptacle of cultural tradition that underpins our whole individual and group psychology. I think that Savage was a creature of this type of "faith", representing the more Franciscan than Dominican line of applied Christianity.

So where does that leave us? We may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, but we should retain enough knowledge of "faith" to understand that regardless of ideologies there are truths that are demonstrable and not "relative" as post modernists would have us believe. Murder is wrong, full stop. Breaking the rules to get a "good" result is wrong etc etc. How we re-establish our ethical basis without religion is a vexed question. I have no answer.

Brendan McNeill said...


I’m pleased that you turn our attention towards Christ at Christmas. To remind us of the one whose coming was heralded as ‘good news’ to shepherds by angelic beings.

It’s easy to critique the church and its failings, Christians and their failings. Those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus are all too aware of our human frailty and personal shortcomings. We remember to our shame, the sexual abuse cases, the betrayal of trust, our hypocrisies, our selective reading of Scripture, of leaving undone those things we ought to have done.

And yet.. and yet…

It was those early Christians who chose love of God and one another ahead of their own safety in the face of violent Roman persecution. Christians like St Patrick whose preaching was received as ‘good news’ by the pagan Celts of my grandparents Ireland. Patrick, whose obedience to God 1600 years ago has resulted in blessing down through the generations for me personally, and to my children’s children to this day.

It was Christians like Wilberforce whose faithfulness to God resulted in the abolition of Slavery, the establishment of Sunday Schools, and over 200 institutions like the SPCA that still exist today as a lasting expression of their faith. Christians who established schools, built hospitals, and helped promote the ‘love of our neighbour’ that still underpins much of western civilization.

We should be slow to conflate Christianity with either capitalism or socialism. While both have sought to co-opt the faith for their own ends, Jesus reminds us that ‘His Kingdom is not of this world’. (John 18:36). While genuine faith results in good works, and as we have seen with Wilberforce, can also result in political expression, Jesus is not the incarnation of a political ideology.

Every blessing to you and your readers this Christmas.

greywarbler said...

You walk with blinkers like a proper RW. Nice people don't pay attention to the 'underclass' so they either know nothing about them, or pick out symbolic stories that are used to illustrate the whole.

that Savage's welfare state has indeed also produced a bludging, feckless, intoxicated, child abusing and murdering, etc etc ... state sponsored underclass..

You say the above, and it demonstrates my statement above. There were jobs for all these people who fit within your description at one time. There was a respect for work then, and most people did it. Then we cut all our protective import taxes and jobs went with them. The items previously made by NZs were replaced by those made by cheaper workers, and people put out of work which has never been replaced. The cheaper workers have really bad conditions, but the lying RWs profess to see themselves as bringing them better conditions, the demand for cheap but well-made goods being from good and charitable intentions.

So some people are driven to onerous work and conditions in one country so that a wealthier country can put its own people out of semi-skilled work and then blame them for being unemployed.

That is where a lot of the disillusioned, despairing, anomic 'bludging, feckless, intoxicated, child abusing and murdering, etc etc ... state [ambushed] underclass' are manufactured by deliberate actions and inactions of government and their agencies. You, I am sure, are not subject to such person-baiting and it sounds cold and heartless for you to criticise these strugglers from your more solid base and comfort.

David Stone said...

Nick J

"So where does that leave us? We may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, but we should retain enough knowledge of "faith" to understand that regardless of ideologies there are truths that are demonstrable and not "relative" as post modernists would have us believe. Murder is wrong, full stop. Breaking the rules to get a "good" result is wrong etc etc. How we re-establish our ethical basis without religion is a vexed question."
I think the truths that are demonstrable are obvious to us all. Our ethical basis is much better established without religion as it brings with it in every case possible interpretations that are used in a totally horrible cause. People should be free to worship at their choice, but that should not determine society's laws. Religion is always invoked to persuade people to war, It provides a reward in the afterlife if the participants are killed and justification and absolution for terrible acts on the other side whether militants or innocent civilians that their own morality would make impossible for them to enact without the solace of their religion.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Our concepts of what is fair, what is just, what is legal, what is moral, what is just are encapsulated in the stories and texts of the Bibles. "
Maybe, but they are also written into our genes. Kids I suspect are born with a sense of fairness, they certainly shown appreciation of it very early. Evolution showed us that if we don't treat people with fairness and be ethical, we die. We do what's right because we know it's right – instinctively. Which IMO was better than doing it out of a fear of some supernatural being. Just sayin'.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"We remember to our shame, the sexual abuse cases, the betrayal of trust, our hypocrisies, our selective reading of Scripture, of leaving undone those things we ought to have done."

And yet "we" did nothing. And yet "we" covered them up. And "we" are therefore despised by the victims, and everyone else with a smidgen of ethics. I'm sorry Brendan, as far as the abuse cases go there is no "and yet". You'll maybe gather I've had a little bit to do with some of the victims.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear Nick J

I appreciated the honesty and transparency of your comments, ending with: “How we re-establish our ethical basis without religion is a vexed question. I have no answer.”

You have drilled down to the bedrock existential question of our times.

The great lie of secular liberalism is that our underlying moral code, imparted to us culturally by our nominally Christian forebears is ‘self-evident’ and ‘self-sustaining’.

It is not.

Peter Hitchens, the brother of well-known (now deceased) atheist Christopher Hitchens was a journalist in Communist Soviet Russia in the 1980’s. He reported that no one was trusted beyond immediate family members. All civil societies courtesies had completely disappeared. No one held a door open for anyone, strangers were viewed with suspicion, alcoholism was rife, corruption was endemic.

All it took was 70 years of godless totalitarianism to transform that culture.

As we rush to expunge Christianity from our personal lives, the public square, and ultimately from our public discourse, what kind of future do we imagine?

greywarbler said...

The problem with religion is that there is always money or payment in kind involved. Blackadder made fun of the officer of the church trying to scare the dying penitent into giving his property to the church and get absolution, versus the family who wanted the land for themselves. I think the score was Church 1, family 0.

And because of the supposed good works, churches are forgiven taxes and Sanitarium has great advantage there. The Exclusive Brethren are very pernickety about business and money and are just a bit RW.

The NZ Anglican Archbishop when there was a sudden reduction in the pensions felt that it wold be a good thing on the whole and bring more prople to the church where people would give with real charity.

The historic church buildings suck up a lot of money which could be used on paying rent of rooms or the hall and helping a school with its repair projects so the Church could concentrate on the people under its wing.

Then there are the modern churches that make it up as they go along or follow the bible religiously whether it's Old or New Testament and whether applicable to now or not. Then there are the church franchises using the tax by-pass which haven't much real heart but bring people together and are apply peer pressure so that people are a malleable group to be stirred up to do anything the group chooses.

Churches tend to be authoritarian and the political scene round the world is tending to be authoritarian which lets people evade thinking and planning and prioritising. I fear we will see more of the authoritarian and compliance model in NZ. Saves a lot of that intellectual yap don' it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"As we rush to expunge Christianity from our personal lives, the public square, and ultimately from our public discourse, what kind of future do we imagine?"

The basic premise of this question is incorrect. No one is rushing to expunge Christianity from their lives. People leave Christianity for all sorts of reasons, including "reading the Bible". But nobody takes a conscious decision to set out to "expunge Christianity from their lives".
And the kind of future depends on the kind of Christianity. If American fundagelical Christianity were expunged for instance, we would all be a shitload better off in various ways. There wouldn't be the same amount of climate change denial, there might be an admission that women's bodies belong to them and them alone, there would be a lot less resistance to gay rights, a lot more appreciation for science rather than superstition, and a lot less hypocrisy.
Tell you a story Brendan, on another blog site I was told that I was incapable of mourning my dead son because I was an atheist. My response of course might have been a little bit OTT. But a little later the guy who said this (a Christian of course) was bitching about the number of insulting responses he got on the site. And when I asked him – I presume it was a him – what sort of responses he was expecting when he said things like that, there was no response. This is the sort of Christianity I would quite happily expunge.

greywarbler said...

I don't think we should expunge Christianity from our lives, it was and is great stuff and our little psyches need it, but not necessarily what is peddled, or only what is peddled. We could do far better in living not taking everything so mundanely, those that are religious, and those who wander through life without considering what it is to be given our moment of awareness and agency.

So a little bit of reflection through Shakespeare's peroration which I like:
Ham. ... What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!...

If we all appreciate each other and ourselves, and the wonder of being created and try to keep to simple moral precepts of Christianity or other religions, how could we go far wrong?
Merry Christmas to all.

countryboy said...

But isn't religion, all religions in fact, nothing more than a metaphor to go some way to explaining the fruity mysteries of life once our bellies are full and we have some down time to ponder such things?
I think, hope, that the one single element that defines us Humans and allows us to stand out from the rest of the wondrous wee beasties is that we can, and do, give a fuck about each other without expectation of reward. We care about strangers, we care about refugees, we care about wondrous types who sport beards AND bosoms. We care. We don't like to see suffering in others, in others we will likely never get to know.
I live rural and I see sheep and they care greatly for their lambs. I see real love. No, seriously. I see complex behaviour involving play, gentleness and when loss occurs, great sadness and mourning. But that's only for their lambs. They can also graze right by a sister or colleague's maggot ridden, stinking carcass without a sideways glance. As for other species? Ha! A ferret catches a screaming rabbit and they barely give the scene a glance. Imagine? If a large animal caught and ate a human being right off Queen Street? A bus load of psychiatrists would be despatched followed by a truck load of sedatives for all who witnessed some poor bugger being dragged up the sky tower to have their head bitten off and swollowed.
The day that Religion steps back to allow human closeness and caring without strings attached take precedence will be the day we humans take a long and powerful stride ahead in terms of our evolution. In the meantime, I’d suggest a nice cave, a gun and a bag of potatoes.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The way forward?
Interesting anyway.

Nick J said...

David Stone, I share your rejection of faith and belief in scriptural dogma. That however does not indicate that truths are self evident in a logical self informed manner. Nietzsche in his statement that God was dead saw it as a tragedy that foretold the horrors of the 20th century. What self evident truths came out of Godless Nazism and Communism? What self evident morality and truth ruled the gulag?

Brendon, thank you. You so accurately describe a future bounded by incomplete constructs aka "isms". When we became "modern" and abandoned the concentrated experience of several millennia, as recorded in our religious texts, did we really think we could replace any multiply tried and tested bases for our moral judgement overnight? We jumped clean into an empty chasm where all choices were relative and free of constraint. Hence Buchenwald, Pol Pot etc.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick......... come on! What about the Rwandan massacre – half a million people, killed by groups often led by priests. Circassian genocide more than 90% of the Circassian people dead and deported in the nineteenth century in a country that was very religious. Bangladesh? 4% of their population massacred by what came close to a theocracy. Who was it said "Kill them all, God will know his own."? And just for the record, Hitler was a Catholic, never renounced his religion, made an agreement with the Pope, and many if not all of those who did the massacring of the Jews had a belt buckle with " Gott mit Uns" on it. The people of the "isms" are just following in a long and dishonourable tradition.
And if you read the Bible, and not cherrypick as Brendan does, you will see that it's not a very good book from which to take your moral philosophy. I haven't read the Koran for a long time, but I don't think that's a particularly good moral guide either. I used to think Buddhists were nice peaceful people until they started massacring Muslims in Burma. There are times when I come close to agreeing with Christopher Hitchens, that religion poisons everything.

David Stone said...

Nick J
I'm pretty sure that North Korea forbids religion too. But accepting that I don't know the answer to the question of why we are here, whether it is by accident or some entities design, but holding that I think the former much more likely, and asserting strongly that no one else knows either . And noting that there are negatives to the teachings of religion as well as positives, is very different from imposing my beliefs or lack of them on other people. As these vicious despotic regimes have done. Noting the inhumanity that developed in those circumstances, and attributing it to the accompanying forced rejection of religion doesn't prove anything to me. But I wasn't going to make this response to Brendon I'm quite sure he is a lovely honest guy and I don't criticise him for his faith.
Best of the season to you both
David J S

Victor said...

Nick J

As so often, I find myself in essential agreement with you.

It’s certainly hard to take a traditional theistic stance when surrounded by all the evidence of a universe without apparent moral purpose and in which humankind plays such an infinitesimally small role.

But, then, in the absence of theistic assumptions, it’s equally hard to deduce a rationally robust theory of ethical obligation.

It’s all very well pointing to humanity’s recurrent pro-social sympathies and behaviour. But we’re also capable of gang-rape, mass-slaughter, cannibalism and/or infanticide, as well as a vast mass of lower-level nastiness. So, if we seek to derive an “ought” from an “is” (thus making the record of mere human behaviour our guide to morality) why is one sort of behaviour “right” and the others “wrong”?

Moreover, in the absence of clear obligation to the real or supposed author of our being, what do “right” and “wrong” actually mean?

I also query whether much of what passes for pro-social behaviour is anything other than loyalty to our own genes or, at least, to our own little pack of naked apes. It’s true that, down the millennia, we‘ve also demonstrated an ability to develop wider loyalties. But maybe, just maybe, the rise of supra-tribal religions was an essential ingredient in that always uneven and incomplete process.

As to the argument that pro-social behaviour is essential to our own survival, well, that’s only true up to a point, as someone who fakes pro-social behaviour might benefit just as much from reciprocal altruism as someone who’s the real deal. And what would be wrong with that and by what standard would it be wrong?

Does this mean that I regard secular humanists as less “moral” than religious believers. Certainly not! I’m merely suggesting that, absent a deity or deities, there’s no cast iron intellectual case to be made for “morality” or for any over-arching way of defining what it is. All we’re left with are a priori judgments of one kind or another.

In my inexpert way, I seem to have been pondering these conundrums for most of the last seven decades (I was an unpleasantly precocious brat) and (surprise! surprise!) I’m no closer than I ever was to resolving them.

And so, part of me envies Brendan his strong sense of revealed faith. On the other hand, I consider myself fortunate to have been reared in a religious tradition (Judaism)that‘s a lot less interested in dogmatic theology or personal revelation than in trying (however inexpertly) to live a good life (whatever that means)and which requires me to keep thinking about such matters.

I therefore continue to oscillate with the seasons of the year between agnosticism and a liberal version of the faith of my ancestors, neither of which I find wholly satisfactory.

In that spirit (for want of a better word)may I send this season's greetings to all on this thread.....and particularly to Brendan, who is celebrating the birth of the man he considers his saviour.

David Stone said...

I'm pretty sure no one has ever been involved in gang rape,mass-slaughter, cannibalism and/or infanticide,and thought they were doing the right thing.


Victor said...


For the umpteenth time, Hitler wasn't a believing or practicing Catholic or any sort of Christian.

People in German-speaking countries are required to state their religious confession for tax and other administrative purposes. Before taking power, the Nazis were often boldly anti-clerical but, in a bid for bourgeois respectability, once in power, Hitler ordered the party's leaders to retain their confessional identities. It was all politics and nothing more.

Of course, Hitler wasn't, despite his ponderous intellectual pretensions, a particularly rigorous or consistent thinker. But the one clear, undoubted factor in his world view was a belief in Darwinism, as mutated via popular German Bowlderisations from the late nineteenth century, with different "races" taking on the role of "species".

Does this undermine Darwinism? No way! Even so, just about the entire ghastly history of the Third Reich might quite legitimately be seen as a playing out of the wholly un-theocentric body of thought that Darwin had pioneered.

Meanwhile, the Nazis clearly saw Christianity as an alien, Middle Eastern slave religion foisted on the Germans by you know who, in order to sap their manly virtue.

I know you're a guy who likes citations. So please remind me in the new year and I'll send you some.

All the best till then.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear Victor

As you know I’m an infrequent visitor to Chris’s blog, and I’m always just a little shocked by his indirect expression of faith, as I’m sure he is by mine!

Victor, we have communicated extensively in the past, and I trust retirement is treating you well. I received Winston’s super Gold Card in the post earlier this week, so that’s just one more thing we have in common.

Someone once said: “the Holy Spirit sows truth promiscuously”, and I believe that’s true. I wasn’t actively seeking God when I was found by him. CS Lewis describes his encounter with Christ as being ‘surprised by joy’. In his book of the same name Lewis describes his journey from atheism to theism, and then from theism to Christianity. It would make a good Christmas present for both Nick J and yourself.

After a gap of more than 30 years, I have begun to listen to Leonard Cohen again. If ever there was a Jew on a spiritual quest, it was Leonard. It may surprise you that I value the insights of the former chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Sacks and have watched several of his talks on-line. In the youtube clip below, Rabbi Sacks reviews Leonard Cohens final spiritual song: “You want it darker”. It’s about God asking Abraham, a father to sacrifice his only son. Of course, people like me view this passage of Scripture as a significant allegory – having meaning on many levels, however Lord Sacks provides a very good exegesis referring both to Scripture and to Leonard’s song.


Enjoy, and Shalom.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear Nick J

If Chris will indulge me, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Jordan Peterson. He is not a Christian, but has drawn the same conclusions as both Victor and yourself. If you search for him you will find that he many youtube clips on a variety of topics, but in the one below, he set himself the task of understanding the psychological significance of the Biblical stories.

I recommend Dr Peterson because he is very self-aware, doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t, and is unashamedly wrestling with the very same issues of life you have alluded to.


You may need an hour or two – he is engaging but he is not brief.


Victor said...

David Stone

"I'm pretty sure no one has ever been involved in gang rape,mass-slaughter, cannibalism and/or infanticide,and thought they were doing the right thing."

I was writing about humans. What species are you writing about?

Victor said...

Hi Brendan

Welcome to the ranks of us state-subsidised elderly. I must say that I find retirement (i held out till 70) quite congenial, as I trust will you.

Many thanks for alerting me to Jonathan Sacks item on Leonard Cohen. It rang a lot of bells for me.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2018

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan. It's Christmas and I won't be arguing over Christmas, except to say that you have as usual cherry picked my statements and ignore the whole.
Again, Merry Christmas to all. In the US apparently you are "allowed to say Merry Christmas again."/Sarc. Only in America.

Nick J said...

Hi David Stone, you say I'm pretty sure no one has ever been involved in gang rape,mass-slaughter, cannibalism and/or infanticide,and thought they were doing the right thing.

Really? I'm not decided on that one, it begs a question of what is the right thing? Which leads to the nature or even existence of good and evil. I can state supposed normal people turned up at the gulag and concentration camp to do their "duty". They often claimed later that they were doing the right thing. That's one to ponder over Christmas.

Have a great one.

Nick J said...

Victor and Brendan
I'm somewhat envious of your superannuated status, I have half a decade of toil remaining.

Thanks for the considered replies, it's taken me years to reach my current thinking. I was introduced to Marx and rationalism at university so long ago. This has now become post modernism....It has blighted many years of my life, and infects so many young and idealistic people. It is the mainstream thinking, very depressing to see our institutions overrun by rampant "political correctness" when there is a need for clear thinking based upon observation. Only solution is to push back and challenge it at every point or we go down to a new totalitarianism in a Huxley manner.

I will have a look at Peterson, and others over Christmas. All the best.

Victor said...


I've always regarded Marxism as a servant rather than a master. There's a great number of insights I've gained into history, economics and life itself from the works of the late, great Karl and I tend not to blame him for the millions of atrocities committed by his twentieth century acolytes.

But the package as a whole has always seemed to me to be based on a vast extended analogy, viz: this is how and why bourgeois capitalism emerged from feudalism and, by analogy, this is how something (not all that well defined) called socialism will emerge from bourgeois capitalism. The problem is that History isn't bound to follow any particular logical process. In the end, stuff just happens.

As to rationalism, I'm all for it. After all, it's useful to know that, should I jump out of an eighteenth floor window, I will surely kill myself. And I quite like the thought that my GP knows almost as much about the workings of my body as he claims to know.

But, as you rightly suggest, rationalism doesn't necessarily vindicate secular humanism or any other ethical schema. Nor does it vindicate the existence of a distinction between good and evil or provide a reason why we should pursue one and eschew the other.

I nevertheless remain weirdly and no doubt foolishly committed to finding a cast-iron vindication for something approaching Kant's Categorical Imperative, albeit that even he ultimately failed in this regard.

Happy New Year


Victor said...


What on earth is one to make of your belief that humans who engage in various forms of what we would conceive of as atrocious behaviour, never think they're doing the right thing?

Taking their cue from their own crazy ideology, the Nazis clearly thought they were doing the right thing in seeking to obliterate the Jewish and Roma/Sintri populations of Europe, along with, inter alia, gays, the disabled, millions of Soviet prisoners of war and millions more of non-Jewish Poles. And they were gearing up to slaughter or starve to death a further two hundred or so million Soviet citizens once the Red Army was crushed.

Himmler frequently and rather self-pityingly commented that the SS had to face up to this unpleasant set of jobs because (so to speak)someone had to do it. He himself was physically sickened by one visit to the killing fields. But this only increased his sense of the righteousness of the task and the allegedly self-denying heroism of his murderous legions.

Meanwhile, pre-modern peoples often practice cannibalism as a religious rite and many communities (not all of them particularly pre-modern) engage in infanticide with respect to weak or disabled babies, in order to remove what's seen as useless mouths to feed, along with alleged stains on the clan's escutcheon. Clearly,those involved will think they're behaving correctly.

As to gang-rape, it is, alas, a normal concomitant of military conquest, typically carried out by those schooled in hating their enemies and keen to humiliate them. I somehow or other doubt that many Russian soldiers raping German women in 1945 thought they were doing anything remotely reprehensible.

But my argument was not that humans often do terrible things and think they're justified, a point that I never imagined would have required arguing.

Rather, I was commenting on the frequently iterated secular case for pro-social behaviour, which points to such behaviour as being characteristic of our species.

My argument was that, if merely being characteristic of our species makes a particular form of behaviour "right", why does it NOT make other characteristic forms of behaviour (e.g. gang-rape, mass-slaughter, cannibalism or infanticide)similarly "right", irrespective of whether or not the perpetrators believe themselves justified.

More broadly, I was arguing against drawing normative conclusions from empirical data. Unfortunately, logically, it just can't be done.

Finally, you obviously live on a much nicer planet than I do. Please tell me its name and position in the firmament. I will then make it my New Year's resolution to build a rocket ship and fly there.

Happy New Year to you wherever you are

David Stone said...

Happy new year Nick J (and all)
Christmas ponderings...
Apart from eating flesh from aircraft crash casualties on the top of the Andes mountains to stay alive being perhaps supportable,I do not believe that you would ever be uncertain on that question if you were to be personally involved. But the "Stanford " and Milgram experiments support your doubt. But I still would argue that all the participants knew when they had crossed a line between doing what was necessary to perform their task and causing unnecessary suffering to another person. The critical factor is in being able to assign responsibility for the wrongdoing to a higher authority. A despotic state and a religion can and do serve the same function. Sometimes in concert as in the crusades and ISIS. Sometimes seen as a rival as in North Korea as Soviet Russia. The Roman authorities tried to rub out christianity by crucifying him, but ended up deciding that if you can't beat them join them, and incorporated / usurped christianity to serve their authority in forming the Roman Catholic Church didn't they?
I think some of the list of crimes Victor chose as examples have different aspects. Rape can be an individual crime of self gratification and personal power tripping whereas gang rape probably has a component of a horrible kind of camaraderie as well. Extended when inward it is deliberately promoted as a tool of subjugation . But war also provides endless opportunity for individual opportunism too. Women were ever the spoils of war. Cannibalism mostly has been a war related activity I guess. An emphatic way of "consummating" victory while greatly reducing the likelihood of reprisal. The others seem like individual crimes and here there can hardly be any chance of transferring responsibility to a higher authority.
But pondering these issues is not in the spirit of the season, in fact it almost makes one welcome mankind's self induced mutually assured destruction.
Cheers D J S

Victor said...


Aren't you confusing people who do things they might otherwise regard as "wrong" because they've been told to do so by an authority figure with those who do something they believe to be "right" even though it involves monstrous cruelty and would be considered "wrong" by thee and me?

Most of the examples I've delineated fall, I would have thought, into the latter category.

But the point is that they're all relatively representative forms of human behaviour. So, if (which is NOT my view) human behaviour should be normative (as in the partially true statement: "humans are naturally benevolent to each other")then these awful acts and practices must also be normative. Or, if not, why not?

And, if human behaviour is not itself normative, what is?

David Stone said...

Not really Victor I think everyone would think the same as thee and me if they paused to think as much as the and me.
Cheers D j s

Charles E said...

Enjoyed reading David & Victor above. Like eating a brain pie.
I guess you are familiar with Grayling's 'The Good Book'. A secular bible. Would love it read by all secondary school pupils.
We are intelligent, rapid learning apes. Full of hope and dreams but still, apes, who sometimes do eat babies. Yet I believe we would have got nowhere if we were not also more inclined to be good to each other than bad. Just as described by Pinker, I think we are as a species, becoming better.

Brendan McNeill said...

@Charles E

"I think we are as a species, becoming better. "

And this assessment is based upon what exactly? The 20th century being less bloody than those that preceded it? Or the real problem with the Islamic State was hiring the wrong PR company? Or the bollards installed in Melbourne, Sydney, and all the major cities of Britain and Europe really are just Christmas decorations? Or closer to home, the need to build more prisons in NZ is a myth promulgated by the National party?

As for advocating a secular bible? - that sounds about right.

Victor said...


We must agree to differ over this point. Thoughtful humans can, in my experience, do things that other thoughtful humans would find abominable. Given the record of our species, I don't see how you could believe otherwise.

David Stone said...

I must be pressing Chris's indulgence now, but thanks Charles and please feel free to spice the filling anytime.
I don't believe otherwise to that Victor, in fact the very worst atrocities are performed by people that are very thoughtful indeed. My point remains that they know they are doing wrong; they either don't care at all or think it justified for some bigger reason.
It might come down to empathy.
Cheers D J S
That's my last on this one

Charles E said...

Statistics Brendon statistics
Read Pinker's 'The Better Angels of our Nature'
Overwhelming evidence in there that we are a kinder, gentler (but still flawed) cultural species. Since when? Well since forever really but with hugely accelerated progress from WW2.
Of course it is not a smooth curse upwards at all. He is describing the trend.

Victor said...


"think it justified for some bigger reason."

Fair enough. We have an almost purely semantic difference (i.e. one of no great consequence).

I'd have thought that believing you were justified and believing you were right were the same thing. But, I agree that empathy can often alter what you see as right.

Victor said...


I owe you an apology over the Hitler/Darwin issue.

By pure coincidence, I this week came across the following item by science historian Robert J Richards, from the University of Chicago:


Richards is of the view that Hitler was not a Darwinian, arguing that he didn't believe that species were mutable. The article also points to the clear anti-Darwinism of Hitler's acknowledged influencers, Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain

To my surprise, I found myself accepting Richards's view, thus reversing a position I've held without an ounce of doubt since first perusing 'Mein Kampf' circa 1970.

Richards disapprovingly cites some scholars as saying that Hitler's alleged Darwinism leapt out at them from his wretched tome's pages. And that's exactly how it struck me when I read it.

But what I was probably noting were the themes of perpetual struggle and 'survival of the fittest', as well as Hitler's presumption of scientific determinism with respect to his all-dominating views on race.

These elements were, Richards rightly points out, widely accepted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, were, to some extent, shared by Darwin as well as by many others, including his critics.

But what makes Darwin's work so significant is his doctrine of descent and mutability, which Hitler, pointedly, did not accept.

But if Hitler wasn't a Darwinian, that still doesn't make him a Christian, let alone a Catholic, other than for the purpose of filling in forms. On that point I'm happy to remain firm.

Victor said...


The trouble with Grayling is that he never really tells you why you should be good. He just assumes that you should.

That, to my mind, makes him a good citizen but a bad philosopher.

As to Pinker, his research is truly impressive. But I tend to be more impressed with his emphasis on the "Hobbesian state" as a cause of the reduction in violence than the other causes he suggests (e.g. the rise of commerce).

And that had better be my last thought on this thread. I agree with David
that we're in danger of abusing Chris's hospitality.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Charles

I guess Pinker wrote his book prior to ISIS and in the receding shadow of the 20th century where memory was elusive.

Post WW2 Chairman Mao’s ‘great leap forward’ circa 1958 – 1962 was responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 18 Million and 55 Million people, with the latter figure being considered most likely.


During the 1970s/80’s Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of between 1M and 3m people in Cambodia, out of a total population of slightly over 8M people. Somewhere around 25% of the population killed under his care.


Who knows how many have been killed in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq this century in sectarian violence and in the pursuit of a deeply flawed American foreign policy dream?

The Beatles sang ‘it’s getting so much better all the time’, and no doubt we have made continued gains in science and medicine, but while the utopian dream still exists in the heart of man, there will always be someone prepared to row across a sea of blood to reach the ever-receding shoreline of the promised land.

If you want to truly understand the heart of man, and the context of human depravity to which we are all capable of descending, then I suggest you lay aside the ‘secular bible’ and pick up the original. It contains both bad news and good news. It’s impossible to comprehend the latter until you understand the former.

All the very best for the year ahead.

Charles E said...

Thanks Brendon, I have read the original Bible too. I prefer Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins' views of it. Truly dripping with blood. Not all bad though.
It is very much the sort of book that OSIS gets inspiration from, although in their case an even worse one, a cult-like fabrication called the Koran.
I suggest you read Pinker as it would cheer you up. Certainly we are not safe, but The West definitely has shown the way to a better progressive (in its true meaning) world. Part of that is we no longer follow that book you refer to, although our Judeo-Christian background did eventually open our eyes & minds and hearts to this better world.