God seems to occupy a great many column inches in TNE #329, with Nigel Warburton, James Ball and Will Self all having a crack at it. But I’m not sure it’s all entirely logical.
In “The dangers of doing God”, James Ball writes of the “influence at play with religion’s role in British politics”. He then seems to blame this for parliament’s resistance to changing the law on assisted dying, despite a large majority of Conservative and Labour voters being in favour of it.
The fact that a majority of the population favours a change doesn’t necessarily make it right. Parliament has also resisted the reintroduction of capital punishment. If a big majority of voters wanted to see hanging made legal again, would James also argue for its comeback as a moral imperative? I doubt it. It’s plebiscites that are a threat. Look at Brexit.
On the moral perspective of “natural evil”, Nigel Warburton writes: “By far the simplest explanation is that there is no God.” What does he mean by “is”? This presupposes there either is or isn’t a God. Some atheists prefer not to argue on this basis. Existence is finite, so what can be can also not be. But Christians argue that “God” is infinite (ie non-finite), so where does that leave us?
Ultimately, arguments for or against the existence of God become irrelevant. However, this does not negate the existence of a universe with a moral dimension, and that’s what really matters in the end.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Nigel Warburton (Everyday Philosophy, TNE #329) claims the Turkey/Syria earthquakes prove the non-existence of God. They prove nothing of the sort.
You cannot “reason” God out of existence. Belief in God means you accept the imperfections of the world we live in and that unfair, horrible things will happen.
There is also an implied danger in the reasoning underlying the article, suggesting that those who believe in God despite the bad things that happen are somehow lacking in intellectual capacity by being unable to explain why. It suggests believers should be treated in a lesser way – and how often have we lived with the consequences of that line of thought?
Human parents who lovingly bring children into this risky universe, knowing they will certainly suffer and die, are not condemned as amoral because they believe that the free gift of existence and human life is supremely worth it.
Could a “supremely powerful” god have made a universe without tectonic plates, viruses or bad weather? Since we humans are incapable of creating a single sub-atomic particle from the void, we are not qualified to judge. Job worked that out a long while back.
Far from being a human “cop-out”, God’s “mysterious ways” are God’s very essence.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear
Does Nigel Warburton think no theists have done any thinking on this since Leibniz and Pope? A cursory look at some modern theodicy would have revealed, for instance, that the so-called Free Will Defence extends from human free will to natural processes. For genuine freedom – arguably, for life of any kind – to exist, there has to be genuine autonomy all the way down from your brain and mine to the sub-atomic level: God needs to make the world make itself.
This still leaves colossal questions – searingly posed by the earthquake in Syria and Turkey – for believers in God, but the subject needs better attention than this example of what Terry Eagleton has called buying your atheism on the cheap. (I’ll still keep reading, though.)
Canon Robert Titley
It was surprising to hear Nigel Warburton refer to earthquakes and, presumably, the molten core of our planet and the shifting tectonic plates that give rise to them as “evils”, natural or otherwise. In a constantly evolving material universe, stuff like this happens all the time. It would seem more reasonable to blame the resultant suffering on consciousness.
Incidentally, there is a considerable amount of ordinary human evil to blame for the suffering in Turkey. It is a mistake to assume that “the majority would have died anyway”.
They would not have died if Turkey’s stringent and proven earthquake-resilient building regulations had been followed. Instead, Erdoğan’s government not only failed to enforce its own regulations, but actively encouraged non-compliance by allowing builders to pay a “construction amnesty” in return for officially sanctioned breaches. This unholy alliance of self-interests has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Hyde, Greater Manchester
John Kampfner’s sober analysis of Putin’s Russia (“Falling Tsar”, TNE #329) ignores that other great player in the Ukrainian conflict: China. It is hardly in China’s best interests to see a strong, healthy, exuberant Russia.
In fact, the more Russia weakens, the more vulnerable Siberia looks.
Chinese encroachment from the east is a future headache waiting to happen.
Bromley, Greater London
Hugh Ball (“Join the queue”, Letters TNE #329) and others may be interested in my recent communications with the Europe Direct Contact Centre, a helpline service run by the EU. I too am a Brit, in my case, one married to a German.
It seemed to me that if my stay in any EU country is limited to 90 in any 180 days, then that would restrict the freedom of movement of my wife, still an EU citizen, when travelling with me. The Direct Contact Centre confirmed that indeed, as a Brit travelling with an EU spouse, my stay is not limited to 90 in any 180 days, (though there are some conditions).
I then wondered how I was going to show that I was an EU national’s spouse when we were separated into the EU and the “leper lanes” at border control. The advice is that the EU national and spouse should present themselves together at the EU/EEA/CH lane with proof of the relationship. The EU’s Practical Handbook for Border Guards makes clear that members of an EU national’s family enjoy freedom of movement and that family members are not subject to the “90 in any 180 days” rules.
Third-country members of the EU national’s family will still have their passport stamped, but so long as you are with the EU spouse it has no practical effect.
Mandrake reports that Michael Gove is now being “honest” about the failures of Brexit (TNE #320). Has he just realised that if you hold ALL the cards, it means no one else can play and you’re just Billy No Mates?
If Gove really were completely honest, he’d apologise all around and shut his mouth for the next 20 years.
Bert van Delden
Steve Bell (Letters, TNE #329) is the latest to repeat the ridiculous notion that the EU would not welcome us back on the basis that a future government would take us out again.
No future government will take us out of, or into, the EU. It will be done by a mandate through a referendum as has always been the case.
I agree that the EU and some member states might not like to see us reapply until we have repeated majority support over a period of time. I would suggest having polls showing 60%-plus for rejoining over a period of at least three years before asking for a new referendum, and we’re not there yet. In the meantime let’s stop the defeatism and keep working for the return we all want.
I would like to add that I do agree with Steve’s comment about fears over the euro. It’s always been a mystery to me, too.
IB guinea pigs
I can concur wholeheartedly with Alastair Campbell’s comment on the International School in Geneva (Diary, TNE #329). It was my privilege to attend Écolint in the early 1960s. Our GCE A-level class acted as guinea pigs for the now-renowned International Baccalaureate. We were given test examination papers to answer questions on a huge range of subjects.
I have to disappoint Alastair in that, with the utter chaos the UK’s education sector is currently suffering from, it is unlikely that the IB will be taught here any time soon.
I hope Alastair Campbell is fully recovered from his brush with hypothermia (Diary, TNE #329). I was taught on an outdoor swimming course that rather than having a timed dip based on water temperature, better to assess the water, air temperature, wind speed and how you are feeling. And the best advice of all: “Be prepared to abandon or amend your dip if conditions are not right”.
High Peak, Derbyshire
I have been reading your coverage on the current crises in our royal family (“Inside the head of Prince Harry”, TNE #328; Letters, TNE #329) with moderate interest yet slight exasperation. As an erstwhile republican turned reticent monarchist, my thoughts during such debates keep returning to: “What would George Orwell say?”
Orwell referred to the monarchy as “the escape valve for dangerous emotions”. The idea that nationalistic fervour is centred not on inevitably populist demagogues, but an inherently apolitical family of social eunuchs, has long allowed Britain to be governed – and sometimes even governed well – by the capable but uncharismatic.
The year after Orwell said those words, Labour defeated the Tories by a landslide in a general election. Would Attlee, the man who “had much to be modest about” in a famous misquote, have defeated the war hero Churchill by such numbers in a presidential election in a British republic?
It is that question that bubbles just below the surface as Boris Johnson crashes his way through our democracy like a poltergeist who hasn’t noticed his own demise, and Nigel Farage hosts a TV show on a channel nobody watches: if not for that awkward, slightly anachronistic escape valve, where do those dangerous emotions go?
I thought the royal cartoons in your February 9 edition were cruel, grotesque and gratuitous. As a crew member of HMY Britannia we were all always treated with dignity and respect and good humour by the royals. I wonder if the behaviour of those who criticise could stand up to equally close scrutiny.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
Paul Mason’s recent article on Labour’s proposed planning reform (TNE #328) set me thinking. If there are issues with planning for, say, solar farms, then surely there is one obvious answer.
I have solar panels on my roof. Even in these shorter, winter days, this makes quite a difference to my energy consumption. My mother, who also has solar panels, and electric water heating, gets “free” hot water for five to six months over the summer.
If the government were to fit panels to the currently “unused” roofs and to charge the energy companies/National Grid for the “surplus” power exported back, this would, eventually, be a self-financing initiative. Early installations would require government money, but, as the number increased, exported power payments from the early systems would pay for subsequent ones. Eventually, there should actually be surplus funds that could be put towards other Green initiatives, eg insulation of homes.
Further, households with the panels would see a benefit in reduction to their electricity bills as they could use their own power. Not only would this help with energy bills and towards net-zero targets, but could, if properly managed, boost UK industry and small/medium businesses that might get involved in the installation and management of the systems.
If James Ball thinks his generation is doomed like no other (“Trouble at the millennials”, TNE #327) he needs to do two things. First, read up on the history of the 20th century and see how many of us had to move to cities for work in the 1960s and 70s, living in squalid bedsits often costing almost 50% of our wages. Second, start to work politically against the “all must own houses” agenda and realise what servitude and fealty the removal of good public housing has caused.
I search my memory for contemporaries or ex-colleagues living the gilded existence nowadays attributed to “boomers”. While some white-collar workers postwar were able to buy homes in the suburbs, this was not the norm.
I contest, too, James’s statement that “ultimately it is the next generation that pays for the retirement, healthcare and pensions of the one that came before”. Successive governmental failure and mismanagement of public services make that a current problem. It should not and need not happen.
I was born in 1952. In my lifetime, Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged and Alan Turing was “chemically castrated” for being gay.
My generation wanted to change things and we did – with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Woodstock, then the peace and love movement and Nina Simone’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black. What happened to make so many of us so bitter?