Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.This is where I disagree. Religion, depsite the efforts of rationalists of all flavours pops up all over the place. Strong arguments can be made that the militasnt atheism of Dawkins, and Hitchesn, amounts to a religion in some cases. Certainly many atheists seem to substitute belief in some set of unproven ideology, or "science", instead. Witness the idiots who cling to Communism, the outbreaks of Bush Derangement Syndrome and those who slavishly follow the creeds of Evironmentalism and Climate Change and insst, with a self-righteousness that would rivals those of any religious fundamentalist that we must all don environmentally friendly hairshirts and that anyone who fails to subscribe to their "scientific consensus" is a heretic who must be forced to recant and whose writings must be ignored by all.
I found the person I had been talking to in the tiny office of a youth centre, next door to a mosque. He showed me a video reconstruction of how easy it is to convert some men in this country to terrorism. The grainy low-budget movie has been made by people who have had brushes with extremism, and it is horribly plausible. Gruelling images of torture and Iraqi casualties from BBC News form the backdrop to a conversation that begins in a gym and which ends up convincing a pretty average young man that “it’ll be us next; Iraq can happen here; the kufs are killing us; we must unite against them”.
The video was made by the Active Change Foundation. What is striking about its leader, Hanif Qadir, is that he talks about street crime, gang crime, drugs, as much as religion. These are the materials from which much of the extremism in Britain is fashioned. It seems that the recruiters are using what is an age-old recipe for many successful cults and gangs. They target kids who are doing drugs, or carjacking. They offer them a safe house when they come out of prison. They provide friendship on drug rehab. It echoes the kind of pyramid-selling perfected by drug dealers: get someone hooked, and use him to hook the next ones.The journalist says this echoes the techniques of successful cults but I can't help but think of the Jesuit saying "Give me a child before he is 7 and he is mine for life". Also springing to mind is that saying about the devil providing work for idle hands and, for that matter, the one about religion being the opium of the masses.
For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically naïve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.
We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism - and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.
But analysis was irrelevant to us. Ultimately, it was not a question of whether a policy worked but whether it was right or wrong when judged by our media liberal moral standards. There was no argument about whether, say, capital punishment worked. If retentionists came up with statistics showing that abolition increased the number of murders we simply rejected them.It is interesting to note that Jay calls "media liberalism" an ideology. It seems to me that "media liberalism" with its dogmatic rejection of certain things and dogmatic acceptance of others is more of a religion than an ideology. Although perhaps one can define the difference between the two as religions admit they have a supernatural origin for beliefs whereas ideologies claim a natural, scientific one. However this is quibbling.