Thursday 11 August 2011

Protesters, rioters, and nimbys.

While it's nice to see the BBC and The Guardian outraged by violent criminality for once, a word.

For many years, The Guardian and their pet broadcasters at the Beeb have been unable to report on rioting and thuggery without tripping over their own nuance. As long as the danger was elsewhere — Manchester, Belfast, Liverpool, Tel Aviv, Tony Martin's front room — it was an inevitable part of BBC reporting that we have to understand the thugs' grievances, their sense of frustration, why they feel "forced" to act in this way by [insert this week's pet cause here]... the hallowed root causes. Some observers might even have mistaken this stance for some sort of principle.

We now see that it is not.

Put looting and barbarism somewhere where the journalists of the BBC and The Guardian like to have lunch, put riots in the streets where they live, let the thugs damage that wonderful little Italian bistro that does those simply darling pistacchio biscotti, and suddenly root causes are about as popular as the Tories. They can't blame the bastards quickly enough.

Does anyone think we'd be seeing even remotely similar reporting if the riots were in Northern Ireland? Or would that just be Ian Paisley and Margaret Thatcher's fault?

Sunday 7 August 2011


I would like to thank everyone who is emailing me in response to my now-famousish letter to Mark Steyn. I'm going to answer some of your points here.

So far only one correspondent, Gerry from Western Australia, has managed not to miss at least some of my point, brilliantly summarising my problem thus:

utility is just not good enough.

Thanks for that, Gerry: that's what I really should have titled the post.

I would like to advise Rich, who summarised my question to Steyn as "Is belief in a revealed religion a necessary basis to a moral society?" that no, that's really not what I said. First of all, I didn't ask Steyn any question at all, beyond the implicit "Would you be so kind as to write a considered reply to this even though you're probably rather busy promoting your new book?" Secondly, I'm talking about society's resilience and lengevity, not its morality. And finally, I didn't ask, I stated that religious societies tend to be stronger and more resilient than secular ones, and I further pointed out that this is not because religion is a necessary basis for a strong society; it is because atheists are too bloody stupid to keep the baby when they chuck out the bathwater. Or vice versa, probably.

Whilst I appreciate the kind and surprisingly personal emails from Christians — unlike most atheists, I do understand that you believe that I am going to suffer horribly if I don't convert and that you are therefore engaged in a quite genuine act of kindness when you try and persuade me that your God exists, so I don't respond rudely, though neither do I pay a whole lot of attention because I really have heard it all before — it is still (a) not going to work unless you perform a miracle, 'cause that's what I'm like, and (b) completely missing my point. Please read the post again, and note that I did not ask whether God exists. And then think about it a bit and try to realise that, in this context, whether God exists doesn't even matter.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that God exists, that it's the Christian God, and that all us atheists are wrong. Well, so what? The Christian God has opted, in recent years, to go down the no-proof-offered path because faith is apparently what matters to him and evidence would spoil all that. Fine, no problem, I get that. But what that means is that the existence of atheism in society isn't going to go away because some Christians talk earnestly to some atheists. We are, as Douglas Adams put it, not convinced, and evidence is what convinces us. In requiring you to convert us without it, your God is giving you an impossible task. You might well make some headway — people do convert, all the time — but, absent proof, this is going to take you, at the very least, a couple of centuries. Tough break.

So secularism is here to stay. And while I understand that our American Christian friends (who are emailing me), with their long history of absolute freedom of religion, might not see the benefits of secularism, I would politely like to remind them that every one of us in Europe lives in a country with a history of brutal religious wars and that secularism is therefore very welcome here. We don't want our governments to be religious. It doesn't end well. Which is part of what I was getting at in my earlier post.

Secularism is here to stay. Arguably, it is weak and prone to take-over and/or defeat by any strong culture. Arguably, that is already happening. Arguably, a strong religious streak through society would make that more difficult and less likely. Even if it's not already happening, it would still be good to take steps to ensure it doesn't happen in the future, as our society is pretty excellent and worth preserving. But, given that many millions of us simply are not religious and are highly unlikely to become so any time soon, just how useful is it to point out that Christianity is an effective solution? I agree that it is.

But utility is just not good enough.

Another effect of the market crash.

Last night, I dreamt that I was trying to pay for some shopping at the supermarket, but was having trouble because the money in my pocket turned out to be a Kuwaiti 34-riyal note. Yes, I know that Kuwait uses the dinar; in my dream, it was the riyal. And 34? Seriously? That hadn't rung any alarm bells at all when some bastard had managed to palm the thing off onto me?

When I was young, I used to dream I could fly. Now, I dream I'm skint and thick as pigshit.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Pissing on the parade.

If someone is about to go on holiday and looking forward to it, telling them it's going to be shit is considered rude. Telling children that Father Christmas does not exist — especially in December — is the mark of a true bastard. And telling people how The Sixth Sense ends is enough to get you rejected from polite society and roundly slapped.

Yet for some reason it is not only considered OK but is in fact the norm to tell expectant parents that having a child is going to be utter hell.

What I always say to any expectant first-time parents I know is that no-one ever tells the story of things going right — not just about parenthood, but about everything in life. No-one will ever feel an urge to tell you how they had a plan and it all went smoothly. It's things going wrong that makes for an interesting story.

My niece is eight. She is terrified of having children because it's going to be so unbearably painful. Why are people telling eight-year-olds about the pain of childbirth? Why is this considered a socially acceptable thing to do?

I'm never going to do it myself, obviously, but, talking to various mothers, and reading others' accounts, and talking to doctors and midwives, I have discovered that childbirth varies in painfulness from "Actually not too bad" through to "I would rather be on fire". But the accounts of mothers who have an easy time of it are not the dominant stories in our culture: no-one's interested in hearing about a lack of adversity. It's only the extreme pain that is recounted, and recounted again, and emphasised, until we have the absurd situation that first-time mothers are opting to have major abdominal surgery because they are convinced that natural childbirth must always be more painful than having their bellies sliced open with knives.

We live in a country with a below-replacement birth-rate. This is otherwise known as "dying out". Yet all anyone can tell you about parenthood is that it starts by hurting you so much you'll wish you were dead and continues by "destroying" your "life", by which people seem to mean you won't be able to go out clubbing, take a handful of Es, have sex with anonymous strangers, and wake up two days later in a pool of your own vomit more than once a fortnight.

I'm sick to bloody death of this.

Having kids is fantastic. Daisy and Poppy are the two most amazing and wonderful things that have ever happened — not just to me, but in the whole of history. I hardly ever go out any more; I wait for DVD releases rather than going to the cinema; I don't go to restaurants very much; I rarely get drunk: my life revolves around the looking-after of children. That's not the "end" of my life. It's a new phase. And it could not be more welcome. It's more rewarding than a non-parent could possibly imagine.

Yes, even the bits that involve being covered in vomit.

An open letter to Mark Steyn.

Dear Mr Steyn,

One topic you've come back to a lot over the last few years is that of Christianity and whether a post-Christian society can survive without it. You raise a lot of good points, but I find it interesting that you have discussed the benefits and advantages of believing in God so thoroughly without ever touching on the matter of whether God exists.

I agree with you that the problem with Islam isn't Islam: it's the fact that Western cultures have abandoned their self-belief, leaving the door open for any strong culture to replace them, because people want to be part of strong self-confident cultures. If Islam hadn't highlighted this problem, something else would have. I agree that Judeo-Christian culture provides an excellent moral underpinning for strong free societies. I don't agree that atheism necessarily doesn't, but the sad fact is that most atheists are so damn stupid that they insist on rejecting everything any religion has ever done, including the foundations of the society that allows them the freedom to be openly atheist in the first place. I agree that a strongly Christian society would avoid a lot of the ills facing European post-Christian societies, especially the endemic self-absorption.

But here's the problem.

As it happens, I'm an atheist. This isn't some political stand; I just don't believe that God exists. Neither do a lot of our leaders (and I don't just mean the politicians).

Now, you certainly could argue — and I think you have — that religion provides the most effective means of ordering a functioning civilisation. You could argue further that our leaders therefore have a duty to promote religion over atheism, to the extent of hiding their own beliefs and going to church and pretending to be religious for the good of the nation. There is a strong case to be made that a civilisation led by people who actively promote Christianity would be a more successful and longer-lasting civilisation than the one we currently have, in which there is no dominant belief system to tie people together and indeed the very idea of common values is considered rather gauche.

Now, if I were an authoritarian, that would be a fine idea. But I'm not. I object — as do you — to having our cultural elites foist their ideas onto the rest of us. Most of the time, they do this with ideas they really believe in, and that's bad enough. I can't see that having them cynically promote what they regard as fairy tales for the masses would be an improvement. What they should be doing is leaving us the hell alone to get on with our lives. I'm not going to promote Christianity for the sake of convenience when I am sure that its key metaphysical claims are false. I suspect Oriana Fallaci faced a similar conundrum: in the end, she may have begun to see the point of Christianity from a strategic point of view, but I very much doubt she suddenly changed her mind about the existence of God.

I suspect that you have had a similar train of thought and that that is why you've never addressed the matter of whether Christianity is actually right, rather than merely good. But there are a lot of us atheists out here who want to see Western civilisation last forever, and we need a better solution than being asked to proselytize something we believe to be false.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

I will of course be letting you all know if he replies.


Mark Steyn has very graciously placed a link to this letter on his very front page, implying, I hope, that he intends to reply at some point, which would be nice.

In the meantime, I have responded to some of your responses here.