Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween: A Christian view

(Note - this is not the Christian view - it is a Christian view. Some Christians will disagree with me. Strongly.)

There is something about dressing up and make believe that seems to worry rather a lot of people. When I was a youngster, some friends of our family didn’t allow their sons to play with toy guns. They clearly believed that playing at homicide was shocking and improper. The fact that it was only playing didn’t seem to make any difference to them. Shooting people was wrong, and hence even to play at shooting people was wrong.

The same thing came out when Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi when going to a fancy dress party. Except this time, it wasn’t just my parents’ rather serious friends - it was pretty much the whole of the British political establishment. Nazis were evil, and the fact that Prince Harry was merely going to a fancy dress party made no difference to these people.

I reflected on Halloween at the time. When I was young, I had a devil mask. “Surely”, I thought to myself, “the devil is more evil than any Nazi. Therefore, wearing a devil mask must, in the minds of all these serious people who are condemning Prince Harry, be a deeply shocking thing to do.”

Fortunately, most people don’t take that viewpoint. Alas, many Christians do, including many of my friends. They regard Halloween as, at best, unhealthy, and at worst, diabolical. I see that the Vatican seems to agree with them.

The concern seems to be exactly the same as the thinking of those who disapprove of toy guns and of Prince Harry’s swastika armband. "If you let children play with guns, then they may be tempted to take homicide lightly." "If people start dressing up as Nazis, then National Socialism may gain respectability." "If you allow children to dress up as witches and ghouls, then you are sending a message that occult activity is acceptable."

In my view, this is complete and utter nonsense. Children can tell the difference between make-believe and reality. Playing at being a cowboy did not leave me with any desire to heard cattle, ride a horse, wear a gun, hang around the saloon, or exterminate native Americans. Nor does dressing up as Guy Fawkes and wondering around Westminster incite people to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Nor does dressing up as Nazis contribute to the rehabilitation of National Socialism. Nor did people wearing George W. Bush masks influence large numbers of people to vote Republican in last year's American presidential election. And nor does dressing up in a scary costume encourage Satanism.

There are plenty of more important things for Christians to be concerned about. There is a real risk here of straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

None so blind

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.” (Jeremiah 5:21)

Three stories in today’s Telegraph. Spot what they have in common.

1. Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest ranking British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, told the Ministry of Defence, in an email sent less than a month before his death, that troops would be killed because there were not enough helicopters. “The leaked email is at odds with Gordon Brown's claims that helicopter shortages have not caused the deaths of troops fighting the Taliban.”

The government was repeatedly told by top officers that there was a serious shortage of army helicopters in Afghanistan. It didn’t want to hear. It didn’t want to know.

2. Mr. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has sacked his chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, after he criticised the reclassification of cannabis and said alcohol and cigarettes were more dangerous than ecstasy. Professor Nutt’s comment? "I think most scientists will see this as a further example of the Luddite attitude of this government, and possible future governments, towards science."

A top scientist has spoken about what the scientific evidence seems to be saying. Mr. Johnson didn’t want to hear. He didn’t want to know.

3. Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, is reported as saying of Mr. Michael Kaminski of the Polish Law and Justice Party, '''I cannot check a person's heart, but what I have heard from Mr Kaminski publicly and privately, I certainly see him as a man that today - today - is against anti-Semitism. Mr Kaminski as a teenager did join an organisation known as NOP which is, unfortunately, openly anti-Semitic and neo-nazi. He also quit that organisation as a teenager. Since that time he has become a strong ally of the State of Israel and on other occasions has condemned anti-Semitism. So what we have here is a complicated person and we need to be able, in order to understand him, to understand him in a fuller context, not taking one thing that he said, but taking a look at what he said over the past 20 years. . . . No one here in Poland would consider the Law and Justice Party as a fringe right party.' Mr. David Milliband, who has characterised Mr. Kaminiski’s party as an anti-Semitic fringe right party is not about to apologise.

The Chief Rabbi of Poland has basically said that Mr. Milliband was wrong. But Mr. Milliband didn’t want to hear what the Chief Rabbi of Poland said. He didn’t want to know.

Experts - army officers, scientists, chief Rabbis - are sometimes wrong, of course. But these three stories together suggest something about our current government. It doesn't want to hear. It doesn't want to know.

It's not just the current government, though. It's a common disease of politicians, and a common disease of the human race.

Let the reader understand and beware.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Are Americans becoming more libertarian?

From David Boaz at the Cato Institute, evidence that libertarianism may be on the rise in the USA:

For more than a dozen years now, the Gallup Poll has been using two questions to categorize respondents by ideology:

* Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

* Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view? Combining the responses to those two questions, Gallup found the ideological breakdown of the public shown below. With these two broad questions, Gallup consistently finds about 20 percent of respondents to be libertarian.

In fact, if anything, the graph seems to indicate that libertarian numbers are rising.

Note, by the way, the implied definition: A libertarian is someone who believes that the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses, and that the government should not favour any particular set of values. Well, I think I know what they mean, but surely such things as freedom, honesty and compassion are values that a libertarian government should favour?

(Hat tip to Classically Liberal)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pauline Howe: Where does David Cameron stand?

Mrs. Pauline Howe is just the latest person to have harassed visited by the police after having made politically incorrect remarks. She says that she was frightened by the officers’ questioning, and I’m not surprised. I would have been frightened, too.

Stonewall has described the police response as "disproportionate". Various bloggers and columnists have also expressed disquiet - Andrew Pierce, in a good, balanced, article writes “We should all be worried by Norwich Council's ludicrous overreaction, and the weak-kneed response of the local constabulary which went along with it. It suggests yet again that the most fundamental of all freedoms – the right of free speech – is being endangered.” He adds “There are already too many laws on the statute book without adding one which says that gays must never be offended or irritated.

That’s good, and I'm glad these people are speaking out. But why have we heard nothing from politicians? Why are the Conservatives and LibDems silent? And where does David Cameron stand on this matter?

It seems to me that the obvious conclusion is that if the Conservative Party wins the next election, nothing will change, and the police will continue to make threatening visits to those who express politically incorrect opinions.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The new political consensus

In David Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, there was one bit that jumped out at me. Mr Cameron said:
And let's be clear: not everything Labour did was wrong. Devolution; the minimum wage; civil partnerships, these are good things that we will we keep.
Here, if nowhere else, we have consensus. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition is in complete agreement with the government, and the Liberal Democrats are right behind them. But this consensus is new. There was not much agreement about these things a generation ago. And, to be honest, I cannot get enthusiastic about any of the members of this new sacred trinity.

Let's start with civil partnerships. What's the point? If it is about inheritance tax, there is a much more obvious answer. Inheritance tax is a nasty tax, and should simply be abolished. If it is about the transfer of pension, insurance, and social security benefits, then one must begin by asking the question “Who should I be allowed to transfer these benefits to?” No one at all? Anyone I choose to designate? Anyone that lives in a house with me? My spouse, as in marriage traditionally understood? All of these answers have some merit. But civil partnerships, as we have them in Britain, cannot lawfully be entered into by two people who are closely related, which I find completely puzzling. So what is the point of civil partnerships? It is simply a sop to the LGBT community. In other words, it is simply about political correctness. Or, to put it another way, it is about politics.

The minimum wage? Well, I’m a member of a party that is completely opposed to it, and the LPUK manifesto gives a good summary of its drawbacks. But the basic reason is that employers cannot produce money from thin air: a minimum wage basically prices the least productive workers out of the market. But it sounds good. It sounds like it is caring and compassionate. In other words, it’s about politics again.

And devolution? Well, as Billy Connolly pointed out, “It is just another expensive layer of government.” But it is worse than that. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have to justify their existence, and the way that parliamentarians justify their existence is passing more laws. The ostensible reason for devolution is that is supposed to make the people of Scotland and Wales feel that government is closer to them - though the actual result is that the Scots and Welsh can expect even more laws and regulations.

So the new political consensus is basically about the country becoming more regulated and more politicised. Which is why I’m not part of it.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Do we love Big Brother?

Under the headline “George Osborne plans biggest public spending cuts for 30 years,” the Telegraph proclaims “A new era of austerity would be ushered in by a Conservative victory . . . .”

“A new era of austerity?” What does this mean? I reached for my copy of Chamber’s 20th Century Dictionary (yes, I know I’m behind the times). The definition of ‘austere’ begins “sour and astringent: harsh: severe: stern: grave.” Hmmm. This new era doesn’t sound like much fun.

Only then, in the dictionary, do we come to the phrase “severe in self discipline.” Well, perhaps that is what the Telegraph meant. But they didn’t say “A new era of fiscal self-discipline.” They said “A new era of austerity.”

So the not-so-subliminal message is that low public (i.e. government) spending makes for makes for an era of harshness, sourness, and severity. Which means that high government spending makes for pleasantness, sweetness and light. Government spending is something that everybody loves.

Well, that seems to be the assumption of the Telegraph’s writers anyway. They don’t seem to have considered the idea that if we keep our own money and make our own decisions about how it is spent, then life will might be just as pleasant - possibly even moreso.

So there it is. Only the government knows how to spend money in a way that will bring joy, plenty, and luxury. Only state spending makes life pleasant and enjoyable. Big Brother knows best. We love Big Brother.