Tuesday, 21 September 2010

If You're Going To Cheat, Cheat To Win

Once again the Pakistani cricket team has come to England and controversy has ensued. In 2006 it was over alleged ball-tampering: Inzamam took his boys off the field in protest at Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove's decision and that was that. This time, however, sport has been tainted even further. At least with ball-tampering there is an attempted gain from the practice. Spot-fixing is quite the reverse.

I can understand cheating to win; I certainly don't condone it, but I can see why people do it. The desire to be at the pinnacle of your chosen discipline can be all-consuming, and weak minds can be led to break rules in that pursuit. If they're caught, fair cop. If not, that's a job for the conscience. Cheating to lose (or indeed induce a negative outcome for you and your team) is a different kettle of fish altogether. In this instance, both teams are devalued. If a team cheats to win, and does so, the team who loses is seen as the victim, leading to speculation that they would have won had the offenders not acted in such a way. Cheat to lose, however, and succeed, and both teams must bear the brunt - the offending party for committing the act in the first place, and the opposition whose victory is effectively negated due to the notion that they were not competing against a willing opposition. It's a lose-lose situation, and one which has very sinister connotations for professional sport. Let us hope that it is a flash in the pan; history may dictate otherwise though.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Some Things Just Have To Be Said

Ok, I’m not going to go down the typical “The Pope Encourages/Supports/Shields Child Molestation” route or anything like that. To my mind, that’s completely the wrong approach when tackling such a large problem as that of faith. And I’m exceedingly irritated with both moderate sceptics and smug agnostics for marginalising the group of people who best understand those problems. The moment you begin to attack the people whose objections are perfectly valid, simply because you’ve seen a load of people apparently doing and feeling good because of their faith, you lose any credibility. I am going to lay out the reasons why the growing political and media support for Catholicism and faith in general is both foolhardy and dangerous.

First of all, let’s look at what was actually said by the Pontiff and his advisors while he was in Britain:
"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
A mere Google search for quotes attributed to Adolf Hitler will immediately refute this assertion. The most powerful indication of Hitler’s Christianity comes from one of his earlier speeches, where he states,
“My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”
The misguided assertion by the Pope that Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish people was due to some sort of atheism is beyond belief; indeed, Hitler wrote of modern Christians in Mein Kampf that:
“They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation.”
It is hereby apparent that the Nazi tyranny of which the Pope speaks was not born from atheism; rather a belief that it was the Jews who murdered the Christian saviour and that they should be punished for it. The irony of this, of course, is that it is the very death and resurrection of Jesus that is celebrated by Christians, so why on earth early Christians took it upon themselves to persecute the Jews is beyond me – a practice that still took place in the 20th Century, and one which is unlikely to die until all religious doctrine has been abandoned.
Furthermore, the Pope brands secularism as “dangerous”. How exactly? An article was published, asking atheists to apologise for Hitler, Mao and Stalin, just as many secularists have called for the Pope to apologise for many deeds undertaken by the Catholic Church (which, to his credit, he duly did). The point still remains, however, that there is no dogma or doctrine in atheism – secularists do not act because they have been told to do so; rather that morality has developed through our own evolution in order to enable us to get on as a species. If it did not, we would simply cease to exist in a functional way. The arrogant assertion of theists that it is only through divine intervention and decree that we have any sort of morality is thoroughly dehumanising. Alternatively, they may argue that it was their god who placed an inherent morality within us, allowing us to see our own mistakes through our conscience, or similar. That, however, raises a whole hotbed of issues, none of which I shall go into in detail (we will be here all day otherwise), but will outline as follows:

1) If morality is inherently within us (from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as per Genesis), why bother writing the Ten Commandments and the list of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not to mention the new “Golden Rule” of Christianity?
2) Our moralities are clearly not equal. Humans are intrinsically imperfect, while the Christian god claims to be perfect. If he would go to such lengths to instil different levels of morality within us, he must know that different people will act according to their respective morality, causing others to suffer in the process by their hand. The free will argument can be trotted out here, but it makes not the slightest bit of difference: predestination stipulates that the Christian god knows beforehand who will enter Heaven and Hell and creates us accordingly, thus rendering our own free will completely futile.
3) Look at nations such as Japan, which are predominantly secular. Have they descended into anarchy without believing in a god per se?
Morality is, therefore, not something on which religions have a monopoly. Some would argue that they do not even have a claim to genuine morality. The number of people killed (or ordered to be killed) by the god of the Torah (Christian Old Testament) is astonishing – the religion practised was one of barbarism and brutality, with the god at the forefront of the bigotry and violence. Yes, the vast majority of Christians and Jews do not adhere to most of the laws laid down in the Old Testament, but they are now cherry-picking. Either they believe that the word of their god was perfect, and that slavery, the stoning to death of women who were found not to be virgins on their wedding night, the prostitution of daughters by their fathers to strangers and countless other wicked acts were all, by their very nature, good; or they believe that these decrees were somehow wrong and that their god made a mistake (thereby imperfect) or indeed was acting maliciously (and thereby not omnibenevolent). If it is the former, I do not wish to share a world with such people, for obvious humanitarian reasons. If the latter is the case, then the foundations of their religion are fundamentally flawed and their god is not the perfect being they so imagined. Either way, the Pope’s claim that secularism is “dangerous” does not stand up to any sort of rational scrutiny (if you’ll pardon the potential tautology of that statement).
The other problem I have with this visit is David Cameron’s reaction to it. This, I believe, is the more concerning problem facing us as a society. In the aftermath of the Pontiff’s visit, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying about the religious people that “…it is their faith that inspires them to help others.” Maybe so, but what of those people of no faith who do equally good deeds in all parts of the world without being told what to do by a supposed deity, or, more importantly, with an implicit religious agenda to follow? It cannot be denied that a shipment of Bibles (for example) to the people affected by the disaster in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan will do any real material good to feed, clothe and sustain these people. So by all means, if you are part of a religious aid group or similar, please do not dilute your attempts at helping by applying your religion to all aspects of your aid campaign. More concerning, however, is the Prime Minister’s apparent justification of the religion which is preached and led by the Pope. The United Kingdom is not a Catholic country; indeed, the majority of “true” Protestants would claim that Catholics are destined for eternal torture, and vice versa. People of faith seem to have forgotten their intrinsic, irreconcilable differences in belief, simply because they have been taught vaguely similar things as a child. Besides which, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to indicate that either belief is approaching the truth. The incoherent writings of superstitious Bronze-Age folk do not really stand up to the weight of scientific evidence that has been discovered, and continues to be discovered, every day. Slowly, the “God of the Gaps” is running out of places to hide, with religious authorities changing their story regularly to suit the overwhelming evidence against their previous teachings.
What is truly dangerous, however, is the fact that faith is effectively guesswork. Any believer who claims to be absolutely certain of the existence of a god is either lying or deluded – the whole point of faith is that it is the act of believing something without good reason to do so. The moment David Cameron encourages “faith” to be a central pillar of our society, he is saying that guesswork is justified and that it has a place in public office. The last Prime Minister to make a serious national decision based entirely on guesswork was Tony Blair in 2003. Indeed, his castigation for the Iraq War goes to the show the strength of feeling that decisions made by the ruling powers should not be determined by merely guessing what is there and what is not. Had Tony Blair had real evidence that WPDs were in Iraq, I can imagine that the public outcry would have been sufficiently weaker than it in fact was. Guesswork is no basis for leading a country – take note Mr Cameron.


Hello all,

Well I'm off for the long stint of my year abroad. This blog will attempt to keep people updated about my life/travels etc. However, if it were that alone, it would be a tad boring. Therefore I have resolved to include certain other elements of my life, discussing things that interest me in the realm of sport, politics etc. If I can, I shall tie these in with my current location.

The first one is a little topical, for which I ought to apologise, but I won't. I leave for France on Wednesday, after which the first installment of the year abroad section of the blog will commence.

Much love folks,