Thursday, 25 March 2010

The very air we breathe is statist

In Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, Dr. Murdo Macdonald (policy officer for the Church of Scotland’s Society Religion and Technology Project), writes on the subject of defence spending.

One sentence in the article jumped out at me:
“Many in the developed West have been rightly critical of developing countries which spend significantly larger proportions of their budgets on military hardware than they do on more benign expenditure such as health and education: for example, the governments of Ethiopia, Yemen and Sri Lanka all allocate more than 15% of their budgets to military expenditure.”
Most people will see that as an uncontroversial statement. (So would I, a few years ago.) But probe a little deeper. This is all about government expenditure. It simply assumes that governments will spend money on health and education, because the state is responsible for health and education. This is taken as a given.

In actual fact, as recently as 200 years ago, no-one assumed that the state was responsible for health and education. The view that the state was responsible for education largely arose in the 19th century, and the view that the state was responsible for health was unusual before the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, for most of the history of human civilisation, people (in this country and elsewhere) assumed that the state was responsible for defence, but not for health and education.

The same, in fact, is true in the Bible. Dr. Macdonald begins his article by citing passages of Scripture in which Israelite kings (i.e. the state) took responsibility for (rightly) building up the defences of their country. The Bible never, however, suggests or even hints that health and education are the responsibility of the state. One suspects that the ancient Israelite prophets would not have seen any problem with the state spending more money on defence than on health and education.

The truth is, that while Dr. Macdonald begins his article by referring to Scripture, the assumption behind the sentence which I have quoted owes far more to the political culture of the past century than it does to the teaching of the Bible.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

But some are more equal than others

You couldn’t make it up. Well, I couldn’t anyway. Catholic Care, a Catholic adoption agency has won a court ruling that means that it will not be forced to place children with homosexual couples.

The amusing thing, however, is that the reason that it has won this unexpected victory is that the government inserted a clause in the 2007 Equality Act, Regulation 18, which states:
Nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for a person to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation, if—
(a) he acts in pursuance of a charitable instrument, and
(b) the restriction of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of or on the grounds of the provisions of the charitable instrument.
In other words, charities to continue to discriminate if the stated aim of the charity was to provide services to people of a particular sexual orientation. (This loophole was inserted to ensure that gay charities could not be sued for discrimination by heterosexual couples.) Catholic Care simply wrote an explicit reference to serving heterosexuals into its constitution, and won their case.

One can only fall about laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. To quote Ogden Nash:
Any hound a porcupine nudges
Can't be blamed for harboring grudges.
I know one hound that laughed all winter
At a porcupine that sat on a splinter.
The serious side of this is that the government specifically wished to allow one group to discriminate in a particular way, while not allowing other groups to discriminate in a different way. In other words, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

In October 2008, the Libertarian Party sent copies of Orwell’s 1984 to MPs with an insert which said “This book, contrary to what your leader might think, is NOT an instruction manual, but a warning.” Well, it seems that maybe some politicians think that it is actually Orwell’s Animal Farm that is the instruction manual.

There has been a predictable amount of annoyance at the court’s ruling. The National Secular Society have shown themselves to be a radically unlibertarian organisation - in much the same way that the British Humanist Association did a couple of months ago. Surely there must be some organisation to represent secularist libertarians? Or is secularist libertarianism as much a contradiction in terms as theocratic libertarianism?

Edit: The Telegraph's article portrayed the reaction in terms of Christians vs. Secularists - e.g. "Secular campaigners condemned the judge's decision as "alarming" and "a major setback" for gay rights." I think this is somewhat simplistic. I was glad to see Nikhil Arora, an atheist who disagrees with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, welcoming the ruling over at the Adam Smith Institute blog.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

So one bad law deserves another?

The House of Lords has just voted (in my opinion, rightly) to allow civil partnerships to be registered in places of worship. The result, however, is that, according to the Telegraph, “Traditionalist bishops and peers fear that vicars could be taken to court and accused of discrimination if they turn down requests to hold civil partnerships on religious premises.”

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised. Some people seem to have an urge to sue anyone for just about anything. And I wouldn’t even be surprised if the courts found in their favour - which would, in my opinion, be utterly wrong.

Lord Waddington is quoted as saying that a clergyman “prepared to register marriages but not to register civil partnerships would be accused of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of services and pressure would be brought to bear on him to pocket his principles and do what he believed to be wrong”. He may be right.

The problem, however, is not with Lord Alli’s amendment. The problem is that to ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services is wrong. If a trader at Portobello Market refuses to sell me a jar of marmalade just because I’m a bear, that’s his right. It’s a free country. At least it used to be. I may be young, but I’m not childish enough to want to want to take away his right.

If it was not for the authoritarian laws which forbid people from discriminating in the provision of goods and services, we wouldn’t have Lord Waddington and the traditionalist bishops arguing for retaining the authoritarian law that forbids places of worship from being used to register civil partnerships. It seems that one authoritarian law requires another.

Please could we have some more freedom?