From USSR to EU and back

Anyone still thinking the EU is anything but an awful, unworkable contrivance should visit Riga.

Whose deranged mind decided it’s possible to a create a single federation out of 28 (30? 40?) European countries? Having spent four days in Riga, I can testify that this mind wasn’t only deranged but also evil.

It’s possible to create a federation out of different countries – provided they have something in common, a little area where they overlap.

What I mean by an area isn’t shared geography, even though that helps. However, much more important are shared culture, history, behavioural modes, social responses, aesthetics – all those things that add up to civilisation.

Hence some bright European sparks must have got together and decided that, say, Greece and Holland have enough in common to blend naturally into a single country.

I suppose an experienced sophist could argue the toss, referring, for example, to Greek philosophy and its input into our religion and culture. And indeed a peripatetic Westerner visiting Athens might be impressed by treading the ground trodden 2,500 years ago by peripatetic philosophers.

But then he’d look for more up to date evidence of kinship, only to find none. Greece and Holland, though both technically speaking European, haven’t much more in common than either has with Mongolia.

They may be forced under the same umbrella, but neither will be home and dry together. There’s no umbrella big enough to cover both.

If you agree, then let me tell you: Athens is more of a European capital than Riga is. Yes, Greece has had a chequered history, punctuated by foreign occupation, most recently by Nazi Germany.

But, even though Nazi Germany took over Greece’s land, it never took over Greece’s soul. I’m sure that no foreigner visiting Greece in 1972, 27 years after the liberation, would have said that the country still remained Nazi.

Well, this visitor, here in Riga 27 years after the country left the Soviet Union and 14 after it joined the European one, can argue that the country remains Soviet to its core.

It’s not the Latvians’ fault. Communism corrupts nations so absolutely that its effects will linger for at least as long as communism lasted – and I’m being generous. Twice as long would be closer to the mark, and that’s provided the country makes an honest effort to cleanse itself.

The first thing one notices about Riga is how dingy it is, and I don’t mean its physical plant. Quite the opposite: the medieval Old Town is lovely, the city centre boasts more Art Nouveau buildings than any other city in the world, and the parks separating the two are beautifully landscaped and maintained.

True, Riga’s Gothic churches aren’t a patch on those in France, but then whose are? And Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture isn’t exactly Gaudi, but then whose is?

Yet one central park stopped me dead with the notice above. My first impression was that it was some kind of inside joke. Surely children don’t drive?

Oh yes they do. And I don’t even mean grown-ups driving like irresponsible children, zipping through the streets at 70 mph in their clapped out jalopies with mufflers shot or non-existent – there are plenty of those in Riga. No, it’s tots, some as young as three, actually driving their electric go-karts through the park.

I pointed them out to my wife, and her reaction was that the cars were paddled. Yet she realised they weren’t when one three-year-old hit a kerb and then reversed out with the élan of a get-away driver. Obviously Latvian standards of ‘elf and safety aren’t quite like ours.

Riga isn’t exactly dingy in any physical sense, even though veering off the beaten track of Gothic and Art Nouveau areas landed me smack in the middle of the Soviet suburbs of my Moscow childhood.

Still, Riga’s dinginess isn’t in the buildings. It’s in the people.

They don’t look, act, walk or deport themselves like Europeans. Language apart, they are indistinguishable from the inhabitants of the bad outskirts of Moscow.

Speaking statistically, in terms of GDP per capita, Latvia is better off than most Eastern European countries and certainly than Russia. Yet in the four days we didn’t see a single well-dressed person, male or female.

I mean M&S or Gap well-dressed, not Bond Street or Savile Row. Yet Riga has many of the boutiques one finds in those streets. Who shops there? Certainly not the equivalents of the Russian Mafiosi – those chaps shop in London and Paris. And evidently no one else.

Then there are the 20-stone, misshapen women, some of them still young, one sees everywhere. I’m sure they don’t add up to half the female population, but one could be forgiven for getting that impression. There are plenty of obese women in any European city, but nowhere do they dominate the human landscape to the same degree.

The number of falling-over drunks is also far greater than in any European capital I’ve seen, although some places in England may compete with Riga in that respect. But drunks are different there: they’re simply barbarians who can’t think of any other way of having fun. But have fun they do, if you can call it that.

In Riga people clearly drink the way the Russians do: not to have fun but to forget, ideally to die. One can almost see the abyss of despair into which they’re falling with every gulp. Many drinkers are down-and-outs on their last legs.

“There’s nothing else for them to do,” explained a woman we chatted up. “There are no decent jobs for them to find, so those who have anything on the ball just up and leave. Those who stay drink.” She herself prefers New Zealand as her holiday destination, to get as far as geographically possible from her native city.

There are boozers and off-licences at every corner in Riga, sometimes more than one per corner. Yet I’ve found only two bookshops in the whole city, each the size of a typical newsagent in London.

I’m sure there must be more, but it’s hard to walk through the centre of, say, Paris for five minutes without catching sight of a sizeable bookshop. The Rigans’ interests must lie elsewhere.

Even the way they try to be Western is touchingly childish. We stopped at a rather chi-chi restaurant for a late-night snack. All we wanted was their celebrated tuna tartare and a glass of wine.

The celebrated tuna tartare turned out to be mostly avocado, while my request for two glasses of the house white raised the curtain for a major production. The wine waitress delivered a long soliloquy, talking about plonks in the terms normally reserved for women: “Lovely legs… full body… beautiful nose…”

I wanted to say, “For God’s sake, we aren’t ordering Meursault here. Just give us two glasses of plonk, will you?” Instead I said, “Pinot grigio is fine. And no, I don’t want to taste it first.”

The last time I visited Riga was in 1973. The place was then as unmistakeably Soviet as anywhere in Russia – and in many ways it still is. I don’t think it has much in common with Western Europe; in fact, Riga comes across as a little girl trying to walk in her mother’s shoes and looking silly for it – or, more menacingly, as a little boy trying to drive.

But then who says the EU has anything to do with Europe? Like any other socialist Leviathan it just wants to swallow as many countries as possible. Latvia fills the bill perfectly. So would Mongolia for that matter.

A lament for missing fathers

First a confession à propos the Royal Wedding: I don’t like pomp and circumstance – and I don’t just mean the piece by Elgar.

This phobia has two explanations, one my own, the other my wife’s.

Mine is predictably kinder. Since I believe that our God-given free will makes each of us sovereign and unique, it pains me to see multitudes ready to abandon their individuality and join a loudly braying herd. This, I feel, wastes the advantage of being human.

My wife, on the other hand, insists that as a consummate egotist I simply can’t stand any event in which I’m not the centre of attention.

To prove her wrong, I declined the invitation to ride next to Harry and Meghan in the wedding limousine.

Such modesty (uncharacteristic, according to Penelope) is mainly caused by consideration for the feelings of the young couple. After all, they would be upset to hear the multitudes ask one another  who are those people in the car with Alex Boot.

Also, this particular event evokes painful memories of having missed, inadvertently, my son’s wedding back in the nineties. I genuinely was unable to attend, which I believe put the jinx in: the marriage ended in divorce a few years ago.

To start off on the right foot, any wedding ceremony – private or public – should include, besides bride and groom, best man, bridesmaid and priest, a full complement of the parents still living.

When a father isn’t there, the ceremony misses an essential element – no matter how many millions scream themselves hoarse and wave flags all along the route of the wedding cortege.

That’s why I still feel sorry about having been unable to attend my son’s wedding all those years ago, even though I was invited. Why, in an odd sort of way I even blame myself for the subsequent divorce, albeit 20 years later.

Not that it makes matters any better, I felt rotten about it then and for years thereafter. In a way I still do. That’s why I sympathise with the feelings of another man who, though like me far from being a perfect father, is a father nonetheless.

For him his child’s wedding is a step towards self-perpetuation through generations to come, which is a momentous event in any man’s life.

That’s why seeing his child getting married without him in attendance must be sheer torture. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dropped a tear into his drink. Alas, circumstances conspired to keep him away from his child’s new beginning in life.

His sadness is probably matched by that of the young couple, who know that something vital is missing from the festivities – something that no jubilant crowds could possibly replace.

And, to make matters even worse, Meghan’s father won’t be there either.

Are Remainers actually stupid?

A typical Remainer, arguing against Brexit

The answer is yes, effectively. The qualifier is necessary because, though most Remainers have few tools in their intellectual box, some have plenty. It’s just that those tools stay in the box whenever the subject of the EU comes up.

Hence neither group relies on reason when arguing the issue of the EU in general or Brexit in particular.

I can testify to this, having been drawn into many an argument along those lines both in England and in France, against both casual acquaintances and close friends (this second group of Remainers are exclusively French).

Some of my opponents have been genuinely stupid and ignorant, yet some of the French in particular are brilliant and erudite. Yet even those who possess rational minds refuse to apply them to the issue at hand.

This means that EU champions approach this problem exclusively from an ideological angle, or else from a purely emotional one. Neither is indicative of any systematic rational process.

That’s why arguing with Remainers is both easy and impossible. It’s impossible because one can’t argue against ideologies inspired by visceral emotions without any rational input. It’s easy because there are plenty of rational arguments against the EU and none for it.

Applying a crude version of the Socratic Q&A method blows every pro-EU argument out of the water. It’s simplicity itself.

Q. Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, said almost 400 years ago: “If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” Do you agree that unnecessary change is to be avoided? A. Yes.

Q. Thus you must think that being (or staying) in the EU is necessary? A. Yes.

Q. Let’s explore this. The British constitution is founded on the sovereignty of Parliament, isn’t it? A. Yes.

Q. Therefore transferring all or much of this sovereignty to a foreign body constitutes a fundamental change, doesn’t it? A. Yes.

Q. And yet you maintain that this change is necessary? A. Yes.

Q. (and this is always the clincher). In that case you must believe that the EU is the best or even only answer to some vital questions involving our nation’s wellbeing. Do you mind telling me what they are?

That’s where Remainers and other EU fans drop into the bottomless hole they’ve dug for themselves. For I’ve never heard a single answer to this question – not even from my brilliant and erudite French friends – that holds water better than your average sieve.

When they bother to answer it at all (usually they don’t), they cite reasons that are demonstrably false either logically or factually or both.

“We need to trade with Europe.” Why is it necessary to destroy national sovereignty for this reason? After all, Britain became the greatest trading commonwealth in history without compromising her independence.

“The EU is all about free trade.” That’s simply a lie. First, the EU is free of tariffs only among its members. Vis-à-vis the rest of the world it’s a protectionist bloc, which is rather the opposite of free trade.

And, as the pronouncements of the founding fathers of European federalism, such as Jean Monnet, show, their aim from the 1940s onwards wasn’t economic but political: the creation of a single European state.

“We need to travel to Europe.” So how did we manage to do so for centuries before 1992?

“The EU has maintained peace after the Second World War.” Nonsense. It has arguably maintained peace between France and Germany, the two countries that created the EU for their own benefit.

In any case, the EU only came into existence at Maastricht. So did it maintain peace between 1945 and 1992 retroactively? And in the face of Soviet aggression, the security of Europe was upheld by Nato’s nuclear shield – c’est tout, or das ist alles if you’d rather.

Actually, in those situations where the EU could have kept or restored peace, such as during the Yugoslavian bloodbath, it pathetically failed to do so.

And so forth, in the same vein. No argument in favour of the EU exists that can’t be destroyed in a few seconds flat by an averagely intelligent teenager, even a Scottish lad who may initially think that EU is the way he greets his friends.

Such thoughts have frequently appeared in these pages, so why repeat myself? Two factors have acted as triggers.

One was the joint press conference delivered by three political has-beens Nick Clegg, Nicky Morgan and David Miliband on why we need ‘soft Brexit’, meaning, for those of you who aren’t fluent in stupid and pernicious, no Brexit at all.

I was especially surprised to see that Dave Miliband was taken off the mothballs for that occasion. That made me see in a new light the incident involving Dave, then Foreign Secretary, and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Dave meekly mentioned the abuse of human rights in Russia, to which the former KGB officer replied, in the style unique to Russian diplomacy, “Who are you to f***ing lecture me?” Much as I detest Lavrov, the same words crossed my mind too the other day.

The second trigger was provided by that awful woman with learning difficulties, and my frequent target Rachael Sylvester of The Times. Every paragraph in her article proves that her failing is actually the absence of a mind, rather than the refusal to use it.

One sentence in particular caught my eye: “The problem is that Brexit is a revolutionary policy being implemented by a reactionary prime minister, and the people who lit the touch paper on this insurgency are disruptors without a plan.”

‘Revolutionary’? ‘Insurgency’? God help us all, the girl must be out of her mind, provided – and this is a generous proviso – she has one.

If anything, Brexit is a counterrevolution, reversing the deadly effects of the Maastricht revolution that subverted British sovereignty and constitution. And vapid, vacuous, vacillating Mrs May ‘a reactionary prime minister’? Let’s have a drink, Rachael, I’ll show you what reactionary means.

As to a plan, it’s as simple as truth itself: restoring British sovereignty. Nothing more and, emphatically, nothing less.

Demands for a detailed, itemised plan for the aftermath of Brexit are just a knavish Remainer trick, typologically similar to the one used in the US many years ago by opponents of a federal judge who banned pornography.

“Define pornography!” demanded pornographers. “I can’t define it, but when I see it I know it,” replied the judge.

Of course the consequences of Brexit aren’t predictable or plannable in every minute detail. Brexit is an aim in itself, it’s not a guaranteed way of increasing our GDP, nor a guaranteed way of reducing it.

The Remainers’ plan, on the other hand, is clear-cut: joining a single European state by a series of camouflaged, incremental steps, thereby destroying Britain’s sovereignty altogether.

Those who don’t understand this are fools; those who support it despite understanding it are knaves. And some, including by the sound of her Miss Sylvester, are both.

Allahu Akbar from Paris to Indonesia

Repeat after me: this has nothing to do with Islam

When I heard of the knife attack in Paris, near l’Opéra, I immediately wondered what was playing that night. Was it Wagner?

One can see how even a basically nonviolent man can develop uncontrollable homicidal tendencies after hearing just one act of any of the Ring operas. But that was just the first guess, one admittedly out of the left field.

The second guess proved spot on: the murderous knifeman accompanied each thrust with the scream ‘Allahu Akbar!’, which has become de rigueur under such circumstances. A closer examination revealed that the murderer was from Chechnya, a republic that these days exports terrorists high and wide, from Boston (remember the Marathon?) to the Middle East.

It’s interesting that the Chechens, while traditionally Muslim, used not to be particularly pious. For example, they could match their Russian enemies drink for drink.

They fought Russians to protect their independence, not their faith. However, the Chechens’ religiosity was heightened courtesy of the two wars thrust down their throat first by Yeltsyn, then by Putin.

I witnessed the first one, or rather its by-product, by visiting a refugee camp on the Chechen border in 1995. My prior life had resembled not so much a bed of roses as a clump of nettles, but even so I was unprepared for the gruesome misery I saw in that converted school, where hungry and ill people were piled up on mattresses 60 to a room.

I heard stories, later covered in Western papers, of whole villages massacred and torched, of innocent people tossed out of helicopters at 300 feet, of tortures, rapes, torture. One old woman died before my very eyes: after seeing her whole family perish to Russian brutality, her roommates explained, she no longer wanted to live.

The only help they were getting, explained the man who ran the camp, came from their “Muslim brothers in Saudi Arabia”, and that was the first time I heard a Chechen refer to his faith. But then people finding themselves in extreme circumstances often turn to God. We hugged when I left, even though I’m not often given to sentimental gestures.

The Chechens became even more devout after the second war, that one launched to entrench Putin in the Kremlin. But this time something else happened: Putin eventually managed to install his close ally Ramzan Kadyrov as Chechnya’s supremo.

Now Kadyrov represents another strain of traditional Chechnya: full-time banditry. The Russian government fought Chechen raiders throughout the nineteenth century, but only with variable success. Whole armies were involved, led by such heroes of Napoleonic wars as Generals Yermolov and Paskevich.

Putin, on the other hand, chose to act according to the old adage: if you can’t beat them, join them. Or, in this case, make them join you. The birds of a feather stuck together, and make no mistake about it: they are birds of prey.

Kadyrov’s gangs have been given the freedom of Moscow, where they’ve largely monopolised the traditional nice earners of organised crime, with the government turning a blind eye (when not actively participating). In exchange, the Chechens carry out little assignments for the Kremlin, such as ‘whacking’ dissidents, journalists and political opponents.

The relationship is symbiotic, and Kadyrov recently announced that he regards as a personal enemy anyone who’s against Putin. And believe you me, you don’t want to be Kadyrov’s personal enemy.

Meanwhile the newly radicalised and Islamised Chechens have formed a river feeding the raging sea of Islamic terrorism. You can find them murdering (often in the ranks of ISIS), suicide bombing and extorting all over the world. For the first time in their history the Chechens regularly scream ‘Allahu Akbar!’ as a battle cry, not as a prayer.

The slasher of l’Opéra, whose name hasn’t been released, managed to stab five people before he himself was shot by the police. One of his victims died, two others are critical. All we know so far about the murderer is that he was 21 years old and a naturalised French citizen.

The police had known all about him, and he was in their database of Islamic radicals. But, in the good tradition of police forces all over the West, they could do nothing about it until the Muslim actually killed somebody. Prevention may be better than cure, but not when it goes against the grain of multi-culti diversity.

Intern or, Allah forbid, deport any Muslim radical, and there will be not just demonstrations but barricades in the street, manned, no doubt, by the entire faculty and student body of the Sorbonne. The events of 1968 will seem like a picnic by comparison.

ISIS claimed responsibility for this one, saying that the attack was a retaliation for whatever it was they felt like retaliating against. Obviously, outrages calling for revenge abound, for another ISIS gang has just used suicide bombers to blow up three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city.

Bombs being more efficacious than knives, they scored a higher death toll: 11 dead, in addition to 40 wounded. Those Indonesian Christians clearly had a lot to answer for.

The picture is almost complete, but one critical piece is still missing, until later today at any rate. So far we haven’t heard any Western leader, not even young Manny, announce that the murders neither had anything to do with Islam nor could have possibly done so. Islam, as we all know (especially those of us who haven’t read the Koran) is a religion of peace.

The murders are always the work of mentally unbalanced loners – presumably like those who overran half of Europe back in the old days. If the murderers only knew how un-Islamic violence is, they wouldn’t shout ‘Allahu Akbar’.

I wonder what they should shout instead. Long live diversity?

Two guesses why she’s a star

The great pianist Myra Hess wouldn’t be a star today. She’d be teaching music at a girls’ school

This is a follow-up and illustration to my previous posting.

As the attached clip amply demonstrates, Khatia Buniatishvili, shown here to perform with the eminent conductor Zubin Mehta, has no conception of musical phrasing, no subtlety of expression, not much idea of tempo discipline, no understanding that the piano is neither a percussive instrument nor a pop one, and no discernible link with the culture that begat this music.

Yet she’s a major star in the international concert firmament, and the same clip provides a compelling reason, actually two of them, for that lofty status:

Can you figure out what they are? If you can, you’ll understand why I regard vulgarity as the dominant feature of modernity.

Save orchestra, kill music

The musicians are out learning their rap scores

Vulgarity is both modernity’s joy and its lethal weapon. Where violence fails to snuff out our civilisation, vulgarity succeeds.

Modernity ignores Dostoevsky’s wish (proffered in his Karamazovs): “Yes, man is broad, too broad indeed. I’d make him narrower.”

No, the broader the better, modernity screams. We’re all created equal, aren’t we? So we’re all equally capable of grasping the fine points of either man or God. And if some people don’t seem to be so capable, then it’s just a matter of access, the opening of paths.

How you provide broad access to the good things doesn’t matter, as long as it is broad. Of course the problem is that the door can be flung so wide-open that, as the masses stream in, the good things slip out. Only vulgarity remains.

By way of illustration, witness the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer. The maestro has come up with an insight that should be put into encyclopaedias under the entry VULGARITY, n.

Mr Fischer correctly diagnoses the life-threatening condition: classical orchestras are dying out. They must be saved at all costs, and the cost Mr Fischer proposes is – euthanasia.

In order to broaden their appeal, he suggests, classical orchestras should stop being so obtusely classical. Fine, the odd Beethoven symphony wouldn’t do any harm, but orchestras must also play jazz and contemporary music, and I don’t think he means James McMillan or even Schoenberg.

While jazz combines musical and cult appeals, the other genres Mr Fischer must have in mind eliminate the musical element altogether. Their audience is attracted by the odd cocktail of cult, hypnotic eroticism of a simian variety and applied pharmacology.

How can that be reconciled with the kind of music that appeals to the higher reaches of the human spirit and sense of beauty? Don’t ask me; ask Mr Fischer.

All I can tell you is that in a society proudly proclaiming vulgarity as its claim to grandeur, there’s no place for real music. That’s why it’s dying out, all life being squeezed out of it by the Zeitgeist.

And no one wishing to survive handsomely can buck the Zeitgeist; he can only submit to it. That’s what the music establishment has been doing for at least the past half a century. Rather than trying to elevate the public to its own level, it steadily lowers itself to the public’s.

In doing so, it caters to the broad masses for whom discrimination is a swear word. Hence the performance scene is dominated by musical nonentities, cut off from the culture of which music is the highest representation.

More and more, the concert scene is dominated by performers who rely on extra-musical appeal. We get stars like Yuja Wang who combines the musical sensibility of an average music-school pupil with quite an attractive body, which she bares almost entirely on the platform.

The public loves it. Job done. Except music dies a little every time the comely Yuja strikes a piano key.

At the other end of the spectrum, music dies a little more when someone like Yevgeny Kissin delivers his robotically competent performances, conveying the music’s form while ripping its soul out. The public no longer knows the difference.

As to orchestral performances, they’ve become social, rather than musical, events. Music plays second fiddle, as it were. If you doubt that, I suggest a comparative tasting test.

Choose any Beethoven symphony and listen to its recording by some of the great conductors of the past, such as Furtwängler (above all), Mengelberg, Klemperer et al. Then put on any performance of the same piece by any conductor playing today. You’ll instantly know what I mean – and if you don’t, well, perhaps this isn’t really your genre.

 I dare say jazz played well is preferable to classical music played badly. But what does it have to do with symphony orchestras? I’m not suggesting that jazz should go back to its origin in the brothel, but surely we have enough dark, smoky clubs for jazzmen to strut their syncopations? And as to other ‘contemporary music’… well, don’t get me started on that.

Mr Fisher still hasn’t learned that lowering orchestras down to vulgar levels will eventually make music fall through the floor. And having symphony orchestras perform things like pop or rap will give music a mighty push on its way down.

If orchestras can only survive by killing music, they don’t deserve to survive. Only Karamazov’s advice can help music linger on, and reducing the number of orchestras would be a good start.

For example, London has five major orchestras that collectively deliver a performance practically every day. There aren’t enough Londoners who genuinely love and appreciate music to put that many bums on seats – the slack is being taken up by posers who think their social standing will improve if they’re seen at the Southbank.

 If we had just one orchestra, two at most, performances would be fewer, getting tickets would take an effort, which should filter out those who don’t really belong in the hall. The remaining orchestras will then have a sporting chance of surviving.

 Mr Fischer’s fees will be smaller, but that’s a worthy sacrifice for the sake of art, isn’t it, maestro? Apparently not. So go ahead, Mr Fischer, start booking rappers.

May I suggest Stromzy, the inspiration for Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury?

The Most Reverend Chap has admitted to being jittery about officiating the forthcoming royal wedding. However, he derives the requisite courage from Stromzy’s line: “I stay prayed up then I get the job done”.

Now this line, and especially the context in which it’s delivered, should appear in encyclopaedias under the rubric VULGARITY, n. See also HERESY and SATANISM.

Here’s the verse in question: “One time for the Lord// And one time for the cause// And one round of applause// One time for Fraser T Smith on the chords// I feel we got one// I stay prayed up then I get the job done// Yeah I’m Abigail’s yout, but I’m God’s son// But I’m up now, look at what God’s done// Now I rule tour, look at what God did// On the main stage runnin’ ‘round topless// I phone Flipz and I tell him that we got this// This is God’s plan, they can never stop this// Like wait…”

So it’s God’s plan that sends Mr Stromzy runnin’ ‘round topless all the way to the bank. That’s what he stays prayed up for. I’d suggest that, if there is a plan involved, it comes not from the Lord but from another Genesis personage.

I don’t know if the good Archbishop actually listens to this foul gibberish or only says he does to put more bums on pews. Nor do I know which is worse.

Any Christian must proselytise – that’s what Jesus demanded. That means carrying Christ to the uninitiated, who may then go to church looking for God but only finding rap din and female priestesses wearing slit clerical skirts (there’s actually a designer specialising in the kind of clerical garb that accentuates the female form).

Oh the good old days, when church figures and musicians knew they shouldn’t pander to vulgar tastes and pagan creeds – no matter what the short-term benefit.

Hence the Protestant Luther with his “Hier stehe ich, ich kann kein andres tun” (Here I stand; I can do no other). Hence also the Jesuit Matteo Ricci: “Simus, ut sumus, aut non simus” (We shall remain as we are or we shall not remain at all).

How about them for inspiration, Your Grace? Maestro? No, I suppose not. Rap is so much more inspiring, if in different ways.

“He is not our tsar!”

His Majesty Tsar Vladimir II

That was the slogan under which hundreds of thousands of protesters staged peaceful demonstrations in 21 Russian cities.

Is he not? The occasion was yet another inauguration of Col. Putin, and those sport-spoiling Russians refused to accept it as a coronation. Yet, in Russia, that’s a distinction without a difference, which point was hammered home by police truncheons.

History is screaming parallels – is anyone listening? When the coronation of a Russian tsar is accompanied by deliberate or even accidental violence, it’s a bad omen. For even if it’s accidental, deliberate violence will certainly follow, eventually claiming the tsar himself as its victim.

The last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, was crowned on 30 May, 1896. Half a million people rushed to Moscow’s Khodynka Field, attracted by the promise of free food and drink at the festivities.

Those were indeed on offer, but the rumour of gold coins also to be doled out was false. One way or the other, a stampede occurred, and 1,389 people were trampled to death.

That was an auspicious start, and many superstitious Russians (which is to say almost all Russians) believed the reign was cursed. So it proved, even though the violence was a tragic accident.

What happened on Sunday, 9 January, 1905, was also tragic – but it wasn’t accidental. Thousands of unarmed workers marched to Petersburg’s Winter Palace to deliver a petition to the tsar.

Many theories of what happened on that day have been put forth, but one fact is indisputable: the Imperial Guard opened fire on the crowd, killing about 1,000 people and contributing the expression Bloody Sunday to most languages.

Thirteen years later the tsar and his whole family were butchered in a damp basement. Superstitious Russians, even those who grieved, were muttering the Russian equivalent of ‘what goes around comes around’.

What happened in Russia yesterday isn’t an exact parallel of Khodynka. The 1896 crowd were celebrating the coronation; yesterday’s crowd were protesting against it (fine, against the inauguration, if you’re a stickler for trivial detail).

The ensuing violence was accidental in 1896, but deliberate and pre-planned yesterday. And, so far, no one has died – though not for any lack of ardour on the part of the police.

Actually, not just the police. Developing the fine tradition of Nazi stormtroopers and Soviet druzhinniki the cops were backed up by paramilitary gangs, including fancy-dress mock-Cossacks beating the demonstrators to bloody welts with horsewhips.

The police were using less flexible truncheons and, as you can see on this video link, were doing a good job:

Reports of casualties, although not yet fatalities, are streaming in, with many of the victims being journalists, mostly Russian but also some Western. (This last detail is another difference between yesterday and 1896: no correspondents were abused then.) Altogether there were some 1,600 arrests, and God only knows how many casualties:

Journalist Alexander Skrylnikov’s lung was lacerated by a truncheon blow. Dmitry Karasev was hospitalised with two broken ribs and liver damage. TV journalist Oksana Gandziuk was arrested. So was radio journalist Arseniy Vesnin. So were Daily Star journalists Ilia Gorshkiv and Alexander Antiufeev. So was journalist Alexei Alexandrov.

Flashnord’s woman correspondent was beaten up while being arrested. The same publication’s correspondent Tatiana Ysipushtanova was also arrested. The mock Cossacks attacked a France-Presse correspondent who tried to interview a demonstrator. A Telegram journalist had his video camera smashed and his arm damaged by a police truncheon.

And so forth, ad nauseum. It has to be said that this kind of take on freedom of assembly and of the press lacks novelty appeal. But the KGB training of most Russian high officials stood them in good stead: they were able to provide a fine creative touch, and I hope the patent office has been contacted.

When demonstrators gathered in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, a helicopter arrived and assumed a hovering position just above their heads. The roar of the engine and the airstream produced by the rotor completely muffled not only potential speeches but even normal conversation.

Yes, no Gatling guns were fired and no one was killed. But escalation of protests will lead to escalation of violence. Sooner or later Putin will order firing at protesting crowds, following in the footsteps of all Soviet chieftains from Lenin to Gorbachev.

Make no mistake about it: this lot will do anything it takes to hold on to power. Truncheons and horsewhips do the job for the time being; when they no longer do, machineguns will see the light of day.

When, I don’t know, and neither do I know if a Bloody Sunday Mark II would culminate in the same sanguinary finale for its instigator. But one thing I do know for sure: no matter how many people Putin maims, beats up, imprisons or kills, our useful idiots will still worship him.

Those on the right proceed from the kind of syllogism that used to land people in Bedlam. Thesis: We want Brexit – now. Antithesis: Our government isn’t delivering it. Synthesis: We love Putin.

These useless idiots think Putin is a fellow conservative. The Corbynistas are smarter: they know Putin hates our civilisation as much as they do, which is why they too join the fan club.

Opposites attract? I don’t think so. When they attract, they aren’t really opposites.

One intellectual pygmy on another

Happy birthday to you, you belong in the zoo…

“As anyone who opens Das Kapital will know, his was an intellect of formidable power,” writes Dominic Sandbrook to commemorate Marx’s anniversary.

For Marx was a jolly bright fellow, and nobody can “deny him a place, alongside other Victorian figures such as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, as one of the genuinely titanic intellectual influences on the modern world.”

Well, I can deny just that. Influences, yes. ‘Genuinely titanic intellectual influences’, no. The three manifest frauds didn’t appeal to the intellect, nor even to emotions. They appealed to the putrid modern swamp of viscera where evil resides.

But of course young Dominic can’t think in terms of good and evil because they are outside his ken. His upward intellectual journey stops several tiers below the system of thought where such concepts live.

That’s why he writes things like “And although [Marx’s] ideas – the importance of class struggle, the urgency of revolution, the dream of a socialist society – remain hugely controversial, there is simply no escaping them. Indeed, you could even argue that, to some degree, we are all Marxists today.”

Speak for yourself, Dominic… Actually he has.

Marx’s ideas aren’t ‘hugely controversial’. No controversy exists. They’ve been proved not just wrong but fraudulent – empirically, philosophically and historically.

Hence only a small mind will allow his thinking to be influenced by the Marxist methodology, whatever conclusions pro or contra he draws. The wide spread of Marxist ideas only validates the fact that most people’s minds are indeed small.

“…Thanks to the sheer force of Marx’s intellect,” continues Sandbrook, “[his teaching] has attracted some very clever people.” Such as “the British historian Eric Hobsbawm.”

No one who can’t see through ‘the sheer force of Marx’s intellect’ can be genuinely clever. He’s more likely to be genuinely evil, and Hobsbawm is a prime example.

The three iconic figures Sandbrook mentioned had no real intellect – if they had, they would have been seeking the truth, not just universal influence. What they, emphatically including Marx, actually had was some intellectual charisma and a highly sensitive nose to the needs of Zeitgeist.

Using such traits, Marx gave modernity something it had been sorely missing: an eschatology to fit its instincts. These were informed by the Enlightenment, which misnomer is applied to a mass revolt against Christendom – not just its founding faith, but everything it had produced: its morality, politics, aesthetics and system of thought.

This removed the intellectual and moral anchor, and society was cast adrift. Sensing that, people craved a new system of thought and morality to provide some self-justification and some sort of haven. Marx with his animal cunning sensed that need and responded to it.

Thanks to him the extermination of Christendom could now be put on a pseudo-intellectual footing. While the kingdom in heaven had been debunked, the kingdom in earth was at last described in detail.

Marx went the likes of More, Companella, Fourier and Owen one better by creating a utopia that didn’t look utopian. His ideal society appeared to be there for the taking, however long that took to achieve. It was a utopia nonetheless, but one put together with more evil sleight of hand than any of his predecessors had been able to master.

Had modern barbarians actually read Marx, instead of relying on politicised mouthpieces, they’d know that the central doctrines of Marxism were false even at the time of writing.

Marx wrote for political, not intellectual, ends. So he showed the way for many a modern politician by suppressing the data that contradicted his theories.

For example, the first edition of Das Kapital gives most statistics up to 1865 or 1866, except those for the changes in wages that stop in 1850. The second edition brings all other statistics up to date, but the movement of wages again stops in 1850 – it was essential to emphasise the workers’ plight.

Any serious study will demonstrate that Marx based his theories on the industrial conditions that either were already obsolete at the time or had never existed in the first place. That’s no wonder, for Marx never saw the inside of a factory, farm or manufactory.

The point about Marx’s selective treatment of facts is only worth making because of all the numerous claims to scientific truth made by, and for, him. Whatever else he was, Marx wasn’t a scientist, nor, God forbid, a philosopher. He wasn’t after truth, and all his writings were designed for one purpose: to stab a venomous sting into Christendom’s heart.

Sandbrook doesn’t realise how fraudulent and intellectually puny Marxism is. But he is aware of its awful consequences: “Well, the death toll speaks for itself. In the Soviet Union alone, his disciple Stalin killed perhaps 12 million people.”

Sandbrook is right in principle, but slipshod in his facts. ‘In the Soviet Union alone’, even Marx’s disciple Lenin killed more people than the number Sandbrook cites.

Marx’s disciple Stalin ran the score up to about 61 million, but then, since ‘we’re all Marxists now’, there’s an instinctive need to downplay Marxist monstrosities even when acknowledging them.

The monstrous acts are directly linked to Marx’s monstrous ideas, which, to his credit, Sandbrook knows – and supports with a few quotations (I did the same thing in my piece of 28 April). But, because the concept of evil is alien to him, he misunderstands the nature of the link.

“The Soviet dictator was not a monster who happened to be a Marxist,” Sandbrook writes, “He was a monster because he was a Marxist.” Yes, but why was he a Marxist?

Evil theories are always concocted by evil men. And, as I wrote above, Marx provided modernity with an eschatological justification for its evil instincts. But, for their possessor to accept that justification and act accordingly, those evil instincts have to be there to begin with.

Stalin was a monster not because he was a Marxist but because he was a monster. But no man likes to think of himself as such. Enter Marxism, or any of its eschatological derivatives, such as socialism, communism, fascism or Nazism.

Suddenly the monster isn’t a monster any longer. He’s a man who regretfully has to be cruel in pursuit of a supposedly noble, in fact wicked, idea. But the need for such an idea comes from the evil nature of his personality.

That’s why I’m always sceptical about ex-communists (in other words, justifiers of mass murder) who claim to have converted to conservative goodness. Acceptance of ideological democide may or may not involve some rational process. But it always answers a deep emotional need, an innate personality defect.

And I doubt that, barring a Damascene epiphany, anyone can change his personality any more than he can change the colour of his eyes. To put it in clichéd terms, you can take a boy out of Marxism, but you can’t take Marxism out of a boy.

Understanding evil is essential to understanding Marx and Marxism. Anyone capable of such understanding will know that celebrating the birthday boy’s anniversary is tantamount to celebrating evil by taking part in a satanic rite.

Intellect, even as low-grade as Marx’s, has no role to play there. But this kind of thinking is beyond Sandbrook and his ilk.

The burglar, the baker, the candlestick maker

Vincent wasn’t buried at Westminster Abbey, presumably because it was prebooked for a rave

In his 1840 novel A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov depicted as his Byronic antihero a disaffected aristocrat of the type later to be called ‘the superfluous man’. According to Lermontov, Grigory Pechorin represented the dominant type in Russia of the mid-nineteenth century.

(To be pedantic about it, he had in mind only a minute fraction of the Russian population. Most were illiterate peasants who were so busy trying to survive that they had no time to be disaffected.)

Fast-forward 178 years, move the narrative to Byron’s native land, and our time also has its hero: Henry Vincent. Vincent’s lineage was different from Pechorin’s, although equally homogeneous.

Pechorin’s relations were aristocrats; Vincent’s relations are criminals. In fact, they are more of a gang than a family, yet similarly close-knit.

Vindicating the adage ‘a family that robs together, stays together’, the Vincent clan including Henry himself, his father and five uncles specialised in expanding the number of ways in which vulnerable pensioners could be robbed, defrauded or burgled.

They cast their net wide in search of appropriate marks, all above a certain age. Their favourite trick was to provide some routine building services and then overcharge the customers grotesquely.

If a victim refused to pay, he was frogmarched to his bank and forced to make a cash withdrawal. Sometimes the ploy worked and sometimes it didn’t.

Henry, for example, spent 10 of his 37 years in prison. His last 6-year sentence was in 2009, when he charged an old man £72,000 to replace a single roof tile. And in 2003 several members of his family were sentenced to a total of 29 years for duping pensioners out of £448,180.

Henry’s father eventually decided to settle down and bought a £1.7m farm from another pensioner. The old chap accepted a £300,000 offer for the property, probably deciding that what was left of his life was worth more than £1.4 million.

But Henry himself was too young to stop working. His industry finally led him to arming himself with a sharpened screwdriver and breaking into the house where a 78-year-old pensioner lived with his wife crippled by arthritis.

At that point Henry’s luck ran out. For the plucky wrinkly Richard Osborn-Brooks resisted. In the ensuing scuffle Henry was fatally stabbed with his own screwdriver.

So far so good, or rather so bad. The police immediately arrested Mr Osborn-Brooks and charged him with murder, thereby acting according to their new job description.

That used to be protecting society from criminals; now it’s reshaping society according to the latest demands of our deranged modernity. The relevant demand in this case is that a victim of burglary has no right to harm the burglar when the poor youth is quietly going about his job.

For that’s what burglary is according to the modern ethos, a job. I remember the shock of my colleague shortly after I had moved to Britain from the US. We were chatting about burglary, and I casually mentioned that, if I caught a burglar in flagrante, I would try to harm him as much as I could. And if that involved killing him, it’s his hard luck.

My colleague’s reaction suggested he wouldn’t mind doing to me what I’d do to a burglar. “He’s just doing his job!” Since he was not only my colleague but also my boss, I restricted myself to muttering that a burglar isn’t a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, and burglary isn’t a respectable job but a vicious crime.

To myself I thought of the tectonic shift in mores that had had to occur between the time burglary was a hanging offence and the time when it became a job like any other.

In the intervening 30 years the situation has got even worse, but not yet so bad that charging an old man with murder for protecting his family against a potentially murderous thug wouldn’t cause a public outcry. Mr Osborn-Brooks was released, all charges dismissed.

Yet things had got bad enough for another section of the public to feel outraged at that miscarriage of justice. Burglar or not, the thug was under the protection of the laws of political correctness.

A shrine was jerry-built outside the scene of the incident, with flowers and wreaths expressing the bereavement of the thug’s spiritual family: thugs like him and their champions, who see burglary as a sort of redistribution scheme similar to that done by Customs & Excise.

The neighbours, some of whom had themselves been burgled, displayed their retrograde scepticism of social justice by tearing the shrine down – only for it to reappear the next day. That charade continued until yesterday, when the thug’s funeral was held.

The funeral procession befitted one for a national hero about to be laid to rest at Westminster Abbey. The family’s ill-gotten £100,000 bought a silver Mercedes hearse and eight other Mercedes limousines. A caravan and a flatbed truck followed, bearing numerous floral tributes, one of them in the shape of a vodka bottle.

The mourners in the cortège provided the appropriately solemn accompaniment by rolling the windows down, sticking two fingers out and screaming obscenities. The bereaved crowd of onlookers responded with a barrage of rocks.

After the service, 100 of the thug’s family and friends, most of them sporting hoods and balaclavas, used similar projectiles on the crowd of journalists and photographers preserving the event for posterity. A full-blown riot ensued, the police ignored their social responsibilities and charged the poor socio-economically disadvantaged youths, yet only one arrest followed.

Had I witnessed the fun, I would have been scared – not so much of the riot (I’ve seen a few) as of what it said about our society. Growing segments of it feel sympathy for the victim of the crime, and I mean Vincent, not Osborn-Brook and his ill wife.

For them it’s the burglar, not his victim, who must be protected. And if a burglar is killed committing his crime – sorry, doing his job – he becomes a martyr at the altar of modernity. Before long scum like that will indeed be buried at Westminster Abbey.

It’s this kind of moral catastrophe that has made London more crime-ridden than New York. Johannesburg must be our next target.

In the spirit of fashionable humanism, I’d propose some immediate action. First, law-abiding subjects of Her Majesty must be told that, rather than being punished, they’ll be rewarded for killing a burglar. The new law should be communicated to the populace on television, to make sure the news reaches potential house-breakers, most of them less than avid newspaper readers.

And, should a thug be killed while burgling a house, no funeral procession should be allowed. The criminal should be buried in a nameless place at an unknown location to avoid any possible pilgrimage of mourners and their champions.

Meanwhile, the Osborn-Brooks will probably have to move: they’ve received numerous death threats, and the police aren’t going to protect them. They’re too busy doing their day job of social engineering.

Atheists should learn from Eastwood

Eminent philosopher Prof. Callahan

I’m specifically referring to one of his Dirty Harry films, in which Clint’s trigger-happy hero offers an excellent piece of advice: “A man must be aware of his limitations.”

Being aware of one’s limitations means being able not to let them show. And the best way of conducting such a concealment programme is to steer clear of the areas beyond one’s competence.

This is what otherwise intelligent atheists fail to do when proffering arguments about (and especially against) God, religion, theodicy or some such. Taken out of their customary intellectual habitat, they resemble a beached fish no matter how brilliant they may be otherwise.

Now, I regard atheism as an intellectual failing. Intelligent atheists would disagree with this blanket statement, but, smart as they are, they know how to practise intellectual self-defence by bypassing the subject altogether.

Sooner or later they’ll be found out anyway: the cat will eventually scratch its way out of the bag. But ‘eventually’ is the operative word. By sticking to purely secular subjects, such as politics, social commentary or stock market quotations, they’ll be able to avoid immediate detection.

However, the moment they trespass into the forbidden area, they fall headlong into the holes in their own logic, a tool they may wield with virtuoso dexterity when discussing unrelated topics.

Such holes are easy to point out, and many have done so. One of the most brilliant expositions of atheism’s inanity I’ve read in recent years is David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions.

However, I do have an axe to grind with Bentley Hart: he is an unsporting man. After all, he chose as the focus of his offensive Richard Dawkins who presents too easy a target.

Dawkins, not to cut too much of a point about it, is staggeringly ignorant and not very bright. He knows nothing at all about either religion or philosophy, and is incapable of spotting self-refuting lapses in his own narrative. In one of his books, for example, he uses mathematics to prove that we all descend from a single female ancestor – only then to deny any validity at all to the story of Eve.

This brings me to the book Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray, in which he, a devout atheist himself, scourges every celebrated atheist thinker with a mercilessly swung whip. Equally lacerating strokes land on the back of religion, especially Western teleological creeds.

There’s nothing unsporting about taking Prof. Gray on. Unlike Richard Dawkins, he’s a manifestly clever and learned man, which makes him a worthy opponent. Yet worthy doesn’t mean hard to beat.

For, despite his towering intelligence and erudition, Prof. Gray provides an excellent demonstration of the dire cerebral failings he shares with all other atheists, including such intellectual nonentities as Dawkins.

This starts with the word ‘religion’, which he consistently uses as a full synonym of ideology. This is a solecism on many levels.

First, no such thing as religion in general exists, unless Prof. Gray uses it to illustrate the validity of Dostoyevsky’s maxim that “the thought expressed is a lie”, meaning that language is inherently too imprecise to contain thought.

The umbrella word ‘religion’ is well-nigh meaningless even when describing creeds to which it’s normally attached. Polytheism, Christianity, animism and, say, Buddhism have so little in common that they simply refuse to be squeezed into the same rubric.

That rubric can’t contain both the creed whose founder taught the profound and subtle concept of transubstantiation (“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him”) and, say, the Aztec cult actually calling for eating human beings, or perhaps the Carthaginian one involving human sacrifice.

Given the will and a certain amount of mental agility, it’s possible to find indisputable similarities everywhere. For example, the tricycle and the airliner may be grouped together because they’re each made of metal, have three wheels and can transport people. Yet neither the ultimate truth nor the proposed rubric can be stretched far enough to accommodate both those objects: for all the trivial similarities, they’re too different in essence.

Prof. Gray stretches the rubric of religion to bursting point by also jamming into it just about every secular creed, from Enlightenment humanism to Bolshevik or Nazi monstrosity to modern adoration of science. When a word is supposed to mean just about everything, it ends up meaning just about nothing.

Prof. Gray applies the term to any system of belief that starts from a fideistic premise, especially one with a teleological dimension. For example, he correctly spots a fideistic aspect in the modern worship of science as a potentially redemptive creed.

However, any mental activity aimed at uncovering truth has to start from some act of faith. For example, all major scientific discoveries, even those that aren’t supposed to have redemptive value, start from a fideistic premise, in that context called a hypothesis.

A scientist doesn’t use a scatter gun approach. He sets out to prove that what he believes is true, and then holds it to the test of experiment and analysis. So is science qua science, not just the worship of it, a religion too?

It’s equally unsound to describe as a religion every ideology or philosophy that puts forth a teleological proposition. An ideology, even though it starts from an act of faith, is more nearly anti-religious than religious.

Ideology is a mock faith without God, mock rationalism without reason and mock morality without morals. As such, it can’t touch even the outer edges of truth: virtual reality is at best a parody of the actual kind, at worst its perversion.

The similarities between a religion and an ideology are of the tricycle-airliner variety: irrelevant if true. And any philosophy attaching itself to an ideology is merely an attempt to prove to infidels that a lie is truth and truth is a lie.

Prof. Gray, while laudably castigating such ideologies as socialism and its communist or fascist derivatives, is clearly attracted to solipsistic metaphysical creeds like Buddhism, which are philosophies and practices that don’t require an act of faith, have no concept of Creator God and don’t aim to explain the origin of man or his world.

This he sees as their clear advantage over Christianity, which according to him, is “liable to falsification by historical fact”. Freddy Ayer would suggest that this makes Christianity true: liability to falsification was to him a sine qua non of verification.

Ayer was of course a proponent of logical positivism, which Prof. Gray spares the soubriquet of religion, probably by oversight. At the risk of sounding like an illogical negativist, I see no value in that philosophy. As a Christian, however, I’d point out that countless attempts to debunk Christianity by appealing to historical fact have failed.

Christianity, however, can be falsified, and Prof. Gray makes a good fist of it. Jesus, he writes, never meant for his teaching to become a universal religion. That was all Paul’s doing.

By preaching to gentiles, Paul wilfully distorted Jesus’s intention, who only meant to convert the Jews. The inference makes one wonder why our religion is called Christianity and not Paulism.

Now, even discounting Paul’s revelation, which made him an equiapostolic saint, he did know all the apostles personally, and so perhaps knew what Jesus really meant even better than Prof. Gray does.

He probably heard John refer to the same quotation of Christ that was later recorded in the Gospel: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

To paraphrase Euripides ever so slightly, whom God would destroy he first makes him sound ignorant. And illogical, come to that.

For, as Prof. Gray points out with his sterling erudition, the Middle East in the first century abounded in various prophets and seers, such as John the Baptist. Only one of them, however, created a universal religion that then produced by far the greatest civilisation the world has ever known.

How come? Not being blessed with Prof. Gay’s agile mind, I’d pick up Occam’s razor and carve out the simplest of answers: because Christianity is true. But that’s too simple for Prof. Gray to understand.

His explanation is more complex, so much so that it requires not just the suspension of disbelief but its eternal obliteration. Christianity’s assent was down to an endless list of coincidences.

“As we know it today, the Christian religion is a creation of chance,” he writes. “If Paul had not been converted… If the emperor Constantine had not adopted Christianity, and Theodosius had not made it the official state religion…,” presumably we’d all be Buddhists or Mithraists.

That’s another lesson he should have learned from Dirty Harry. As an expert investigator, Harry knew that, if coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences.

Prof. Gray is absolutely right when sneering at the notion of progress. He correctly remarks that science and technology are the only areas in which any progress can be observed.

In fact, I’d go even further and suggest that developments in science and technology on the one side and those in morality, intellect and social organisation on the other are vectored in the opposite directions.

Progress in one side is accompanied with a clear regress in the other – unless one is prepared to argue that a modern professor of philosophy is an improvement over Aristotle or a modern poet over Shakespeare.

Yet Prof. Gray’s inference from this irrefutable observation is wrong. Because mankind clearly isn’t progressing in any area that matters, he suggests that history has no meaning and human life no purpose. This, he believes, debunks Christianity that preaches a steady moral improvement in this world.

That’s another example of falsification, two kinds of it, one major, the other minor but still telling.

First, Christ never taught that human perfection could be attained before the end of the world. In fact, he taught something exactly opposite: “My kingdom is not of this world”. But from that it doesn’t follow that human life (or history) has no purpose.

Saying so means mixing two unrelated systems of thought, thereby creating an unsavoury mongrel. There is indeed no noticeable moral progress in history, quite the opposite. This makes perfect sense within the secular system of thought.

But this doesn’t preclude the possibility (to a Christian, the certainty) that mankind will achieve ultimate perfection at the end of history, when Christ comes again to judge the quick and the dead. That makes history a ladder to perfection, even though each step may be caked in blood.

Of course, it’s possible to deny, as Prof. Gray does, the validity – or indeed existence – of this system of thought a priori. But committing logical errors along the way isn’t the right way to go about it.

The minor falsification is Prof. Gray’s assertion that Darwin never said that evolution presupposes any incremental improvements. Evolution is as haphazard as history, another game of chance expressible in the subjunctive mood.

I wonder when was the last time Prof. Gray opened The Origin of Species or The Descent of Man. The whole theory of evolution is about a steady progress from some cell of uncertain provenance all the way to a man as brilliant as Prof. Gray.

Surely he doesn’t believe he isn’t an improvement on a chimpanzee? Darwin certainly didn’t.

While I quite enjoy, in the Schadenfreude sense, watching a nincompoop like Dawkins tie himself up in intellectual knots, watching an unquestionably intelligent man like Prof. Gray do the same upsets me. His book is actually informative, and I for one learned quite a few new facts.

However, he and other atheists could do worse than follow Clint’s advice and stick to something they know. In Dawkins’s case, it’s very little; in Prof Gray’s an awful lot. But when they venture into this area, the differences between them fade away.