What a lovely clash of pieties

Oh the good old days, before Brigitte fell in love with animals

When I was a youngster, I could have been arrested for some of the fantasies I had about Brigitte Bardot. Now the French actress herself may well face prosecution for inciting racial hatred.

In her dotage old Brigitte developed a hysterical love of all living things, having thus expanded her repertoire from just the male of Homo sapiens.

That febrile emotion found a natural outlet in activism and strident attacks on anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Miss Bardot’s anthropomorphic love of everything that walks, flies or crawls.

This particular piety is normally confined to the Left of the political spectrum. Yet Miss Bardot supports Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is routinely described as right-wing.

That shows two things: first, that true love knows no political boundaries; and second, that our political taxonomy is grossly inadequate. However, that’s by the bye.

Let’s just say that animal worship ranks high on the list of modern virtue-signalling pieties, especially if linked to the underlying belief that man is just another animal, no better than others if perhaps cleverer than most.

But exactly how high does it rank? All things in life are arranged in some kind of hierarchical order, and pieties can’t possibly be an exception.

This of course only ever becomes relevant in a conflict of pieties, since in the absence of such an order it’s possible to enjoy them all at the same time.

By way of illustration, Islam is good because it’s sort of anti-Western, Third World and hence a victim of white supremacy and colonialism, which are among the worst evils. On the other hand, Muslims tend to treat their womenfolk in ways that don’t exactly fall into the category of virtuous.

This creates a problem for a virtue-signaller, a conflict for which it’s hard to find a peaceful solution. Say something nasty about the way Muslims treat women, and you’re a racist who lacks sensitivity to the beauty of multiculturalism. Say that Islam is wonderful in every respect, and you’re a misogynist.

Not being a pious modern, I can happily be both if I so wish, a racist and a misogynist – and also a misandrist, homophobe, xenophobe, transophobe, misgenderist, ageist, Brexit supporter and anything else that catches my fancy (provided I’m able to self-censor such sentiments carefully enough not to get arrested).

All utterly reprehensible, as I’m painfully aware. But at least I’m unlikely to find myself gored by the horns of piety dilemmas. Alas, Miss Bardot has suffered just such a misfortune.

Appalled at the mistreatment of animals in the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, she described its denizens as “degenerate savages” and likened the island’s Hindu community (about a quarter of the population) to cannibals.

Implicitly this equates people with animals, for cannibals devour human flesh while the Réunion French Hindus only mistreat dogs and cats, and perhaps sacrifice the odd goat to comply with the demands of their religion (that’s otherwise superior to Christianity for being more spiritual and less God-centred).

Equating people and animals goes beyond virtuous – it enters the Olympus of modern secular sainthood. There’s only one snag: the people who have drawn Miss Bardot’s ire are – how shall I put it not to run the risk of censure or perhaps summary execution? – not quite white.

Hence saying anything nasty about them, if only by implication, is tantamount to stepping into a minefield. One just might negotiate a safe path, but there’s always the danger of a massive bang.

And there was nothing implicit about Miss Bardot’s diatribe. She explicitly described off-white persons as degenerates, savages and cannibals. Even though she did so for all the good, that is virtuous, reasons, there’s no excuse – the actress got the pecking order of pieties hopelessly wrong.

She uttered a racist statement, and evidently her believing that animals are at least as good as people can’t even begin to redeem that cardinal sin. The prefect of Réunion informed Miss Bardot that he had filed a lawsuit against her for incitement to racial hatred.

This could blow the former sex bomb to pieces, for she’s a recidivist. Miss Bardot has quite a bit of previous, having had five prior convictions on the same charge.

Perhaps her venerable age may save her from a custodial sentence, especially if her barrister argues that she was carried away by her love of animals, not her hatred of Hindus, who aren’t just equal to French people but, in all respects but one, superior to them.

However, judging by the public reaction, copping such a plea may not be easy.

Marlène Schiappa, the minister for gender equality (one wonders who held that vital post under Colbert or Guizot or even de Gaulle), explained that: “No form of racism is acceptable, in the name of any cause.”

The holder of that key post, without which no modern government is imaginable, must be commended for clarifying the aforementioned pecking order of impieties: nothing offsets racism, not even concern for animal welfare and the inalienable rights of goats.

Journalist Jérôme Talpin added his centime’s worth by clarifying that Miss Bardot’s tirade “reveals a thought process profoundly anchored in xenophobia and hostile to different ethnic or religious groups”.

That’s telling her. I do think that a CRS unit must be pulled off the gilets jaunes duty and sent to arrest Miss Bardot, for all her iconic presence in French cinematography.

I have to admit I’m enjoying this. Nothing pleases me more than observing from the sidelines yet another clash among pieties.

Schadenfreude isn’t a particularly Christian sentiment, but I’ve consulted my priest and he says in this case it’s justified. Genesis 1:28 and all that.

What part of Brexit don’t they understand?

See how small the Houses of Parliament look by comparison?

The other day I lamented the expulsion of reason from our politics, and nowhere is this trend more evident than in the first 1,000 days of Brexit.

My contention has always been that those trying to derail Brexit are either fools or knaves, although Tony Blair proves the two types can happily coexist in the same breast.

This statement springs from a lifetime of experience observing people and listening to what they have to say.

Hence, when people utter manifest inanities, they do so either because they don’t realise the silliness of their arguments (meaning they are fools) or realise it but still put the arguments forth for nefarious reasons (meaning they are knaves).

For example, I’d be a rich man if I had a tenner for each time I’ve heard that Brexit has turned out so fiendishly complicated that it’s impossible to accomplish.

My point has always been that, for sensible people, Brexit is the paragon of simplicity. It only becomes complicated when encumbered with things extraneous to it.

For example, if I asked you to multiply two by two, you’d take a split second to come up with the right answer. However, if asked to do that and to calculate Mercury’s orbit at the same time, you’d legitimately object that the task is too complicated.

By the same token, Brexit qua Brexit is extremely simple – provided we understand what the EU is and what exit from it involves.

The EU is first, second and tenth a political contrivance, a union of countries that accept its march towards a single European state boasting a unified monetary and banking system, economy, laws, army, domestic and foreign policy.

Obviously, no such multinational organisation lives by politics alone: the economy, for example, is a vital part, and there are many others.

Moreover, some treaty organisations, such as NAFTA, are principally economic, rather than political. Others, such as NATO, are principally military. But the EU isn’t like those.

Sure enough, it has to pursue economic, social, foreign, military, legal and God only know what other ends. But these are all secondary, not to say tertiary.

The prime objective of the EU is political. The aim of creating a single superstate sits at the very top of the pecking order, looking down on all else.

Once we’ve realised this, the pecking order of the steps to be taken towards the exit establishes itself. The first step has to be severing the political links between the UK and the EU, which is exactly what we voted for 1,000 days ago.

That step shouldn’t have been subject to any equivocation or, for that matter, negotiation. The moment Article 50 was invoked, Britain should have bidden good-bye to the EU and regained its independence.

That would have been the beginning of the process, but obviously not the end. The issue of dividing assets and liabilities would have had to be sorted out, as it always must be in any divorce. Ditto, the economic relations between the two parties. Ditto, the issue of the EU nationals living in Britain and of the British subjects living in the EU. Ditto, all sorts of other things I’ve doubtless left out.

These can only be worked out by extensive and indeed complicated negotiations. But such negotiations should have been conducted after Brexit, not as its essential part – and certainly not as a part on which Brexit is contingent.

It’s like divorce again: the spouses first split up and only then begin to wrangle about the division of the assets and custody of the children. But first things first.

Getting back to my original simile, you first state that two times two makes four and, that done, only then calculate the orbit of Mercury or, if you can’t, ask for expert help.

Heaping the two tasks together can mean only one of two things: either the task master is so stupid that he doesn’t realise which should come first, or so perfidious that he deliberately wants to confuse the issue to make sure no one will be able to give the right answer.

Mrs May is now begging for a delay. What’s that going to accomplish, other than choosing whether to surrender in a supine or kneeling position?

Does she seriously think she and her jolly friends will be able to peel the layers of ill will off the essentially simple core of the issue? I’ll take it back: the abject plea for a delay is a surrender in itself. Everything else will just be icing on the turd.

Then there’s the demand for a second referendum, the ‘people’s vote’. Again, only a fool or a knave or Tony Blair could have come up with that one.

The implication is that the 17.4 million Britons who voted for Brexit either didn’t really vote or are somehow not people. Both propositions are patently absurd, as therefore is the very notion of a ‘people’s vote’.

What could be the possible grounds for holding another referendum? A pupil has to resit an exam when he fails the first time around. Blair clearly sees the referendum in those terms, but no legal or intellectual justification exists for the rest of us to feel the same way.

The usual argument is a version of the first one: the British didn’t realise how complicated Brexit was, which is why they voted for it.

But we’ve already established that Brexit isn’t inherently complicated. It’s only made so by those who either don’t understand what it means or, more typically, wish to subvert it. And how would another referendum simplify matters?

Suppose it returns the same result. Following the experience of the first attempt, where the simple political decision was entangled in a cat’s cradle of issues extraneous to it, the same negotiations would then have to restart, with predictably the same result.

What happens when they bog down? And bog down they must because neither negotiating party really wants Brexit, although one of them pretends to. A third referendum then, turning the British into inept pupils who have to resit the same exam countless times until they get it right?

The only result that would make sense of a second referendum is a vote to remain, and it’s solely in the hope of such a result that this abomination is being proposed. But such a result wouldn’t make sense of the British constitution – and nor would it quell the social unrest that’s bound to follow.

Let’s also keep in mind that we’re almost certain to have a general election before we can conceivably have another plebiscite. The likely result will be history’s most evil British government that’ll drive the last nails into the coffin of the constitution.

The Labour party is clearly smelling blood, and they seem to be preparing an electoral strategy I outlined a month or so ago: dump Corbyn, thereby deflecting all criticism of the party, and replace him with a less strident figurehead doing the bidding of the hard Left. (Corbyn is already hinting he’s too old and too tired for political rough-and-tumble. Yeah, yeah, pull the other one, Jeremy, it has bells on.)

And how do you suppose those 17.4 million will feel seeing that their majority decision has been ignored with contempt? How many of them will want to vote for the Tories, do you think?

In all likelihood some radical populist party will rise out of the ashes of our political system, and I wouldn’t want to predict what shape its radical populism would take.

Such will be the consequences of the go-slow sabotage idiotically or mendaciously justified by claims of Brexit’s complexity.

We’re not witnessing serious, well-meaning people trying to solve a difficult problem. Rather we’re in the midst of a constitutional mayhem, whose consequences, as far as they can be predicted at all, can only be dire.

You’re a seer and you may not even know it

I cleared my mind of everything other than this image of Utrecht – and the killer’s identity came to me

So many of us have hidden talents and yet let them go to waste for lack of proper guidance.

Just think of all those would-be Bachs and Beethovens who became sales managers or accountants because their parents skimped on music lessons and didn’t even have a piano in the house.

The power of divination is one such talent, the kind you may well have without realising it. Yet a helping hand can pull this power to the forefront of the numerous others you know you do possess.

As someone who is blessed with this ability, I’d like to share my recent experience with you, hoping that this will point you in the right direction.

The other day a story broke about a gunman who shot dead three tram passengers in Utrecht. No information on the shooter was initially proffered for the simple reason that he hadn’t yet been apprehended.

That’s when I unshackled my ESP powers.

I sat back, closed my eyes and pictured Utrecht, a lovely university city with a myriad of cafes bracketing a picturesque river. When I visited the place some years ago, it had a nice, warm buzz about it, devoid of the ugly discordant notes one hears in, say, some parts of Amsterdam.

The key to uncovering the mystery of the crime was to clear my mind of everything extraneous to that image and to relax my whole body to a point just short of double incontinence.

That was the secret I had learned long ago, and after a few minutes the key opened the door to the far recesses of my consciousness. Then I saw it all clairvoyantly, as if I myself was one of the passengers diving under the seats on that Utrecht tram.

In a Damascene flash of epiphany I knew, well, not who the gunman was, but what he was. An inner voice resounded through my cranial cavity, and it told me in no uncertain terms that the shooter was – are you ready for this? – a Muslim.

The revelation hit me with the power of an electric jolt. How could it be, I asked my inner voice. A whole bevy of US presidents and British PMs, not to mention countless European politicians who don’t really count, told us that Islam is a religion of peace – and I trusted them implicitly.

After all, such responsible individuals can’t possibly say inane, ignorant things for some ill-conceived political reasons, can they? Of course they can’t.

I look at those wise, eminent sages, such as the Bushes Senior and Junior, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Macron, Merkel et al, and ask myself: Who am I to dispute their judgement on anything, and especially on such a sensitive issue? A worm under those titans’ feet, that’s who.

Hence that flash of inspiration didn’t come from an accumulation of historical data or, God forbid, reason. So much more amazing it is, so much more of a proof that I’ve been blessed with ESP powers independent of my mind and senses.

I must confess that I haven’t just discovered this talent. In fact, it comes into play each time a terrorist act is committed and the perpetrator’s identity hasn’t yet been revealed.

Sensing a glittering career opportunity as a stock market analyst or perhaps a political consultant, I’ve tried to bring my gift to bear on other areas, but failed every time.

Evidently my clairvoyance is highly selective: it only works to tell me in advance that just about every terrorist is a Muslim. Actually, thinking about this now I realise that’s not quite so.

I also instantly know that not only is the terrorist a Muslim, but also that he is an alienated, drug-addled loner with mental problems, who is in no way motivated by either the religion of peace or by the sublime civilisation it has spawned.

That’s how Gokmen Tanis, the Utrecht marksman, is described in today’s papers. That’s how all his gun-toting, suicide-belt-wearing, bomb-planting colleagues are always described.

Yet again I don’t dare argue.

Of course, all those Islamic swarms that overran half of Europe in the early Middle Ages and eventually put paid to Byzantium in 1453 were made up exclusively of alienated loners on dope. Of course, their shrieks of Allahu akbar!!! were simply battle cries, not statements of religious allegiance.

My inner voice agrees. Every time I give it a litany of some 300 verses in the Koran that mandate the killing of infidels, the voice comes back with a thundering response: “Think you’re so smart, don’t you? Well, I’ve got news for you: you’re nothing but a racist, Islamophobic reactionary. Sort yourself out, man, before your collar is felt.”

I hope you’ll find this story instructive and use it as a blueprint for unshackling your own powers of selective divination. If that happens, as I hope it will, just make sure you don’t jump to any general conclusions.

Steer clear of generalisations, keep those little epiphanies to yourself, and you’ll be fine.

P.S. New research shows that people’s brains don’t become fully grown-up until their 30s. That’s a good argument for lowering the voting age to 16, don’t you think? If you disagree, use Lord of the Flies for reference.

Manny’s piste off

Sorry, I couldn’t find a single photograph in which Macron isn’t smiling. He’s a politician after all.

“I’ve heard of après-ski but this is a complete and utter bordel de merde,” fumed Manny, as he packed his skis, boots and France’s First Foster Mother (Première mère adoptive) Brigitte.

The quasi-royal couple had to cut short their skiing holiday and rush back to Paris because the city was burning yet again, eighteenth weekend in a row.

Any Parisian street turning into a riot zone would be some cause for concern, but, in Manny’s view, when such bordel happens in the Champs-Elysées, concern doesn’t begin to describe the situation.

For Manny currently lives just down the road, if by the looks of it not for much longer. However, he’s ready to do all it takes to protect his residency at the presidential palace and the palace itself – hence the aborted holiday.

Rather than abating, violence is intensifying. This time the mob torched cars, trashed shops, vandalised the Arc de Triomphe immortalising Napoleonic aggression and created blazing pyres out of stacks of restaurant furniture.

As they found, there’s a big difference between building such pyres and torching cars. Wood acts as its own kindling and conflagrates quickly, with tongues of flame shooting skywards. However, this fire is vulnerable to extinguishers and water hoses – what can be easily started can be easily put down.

Cars, on the other hand, especially those with diesel engines that, according to Manny, are destroying not just our planet but the whole galaxy, take longer to set alight, but then, being much more resistant to the best efforts of firemen and police, they burn for a satisfyingly long time. (Remind me not to park in the area next time I’m in Paris.)

The trashed and looted shops weren’t ordinary establishments: not a single Mickey D or even Marks & Sparks among them. Instead the mob chose for its attentions places like the extortionate Fouquet’s brasserie and Longchamp, the place that sells expensive handbags.

The rioters accessorised their outfits with the newly popular fashion item, the yellow vest, while the police came equipped with tear gas canisters, shields and batons. Great fun was had by all, except the innocent bystanders caught up in the proceedings, local residents, owners of trashed businesses and, of course, Manny.

He was particularly distressed by the shouts and posters calling for him to resign. One poster announced that “Macron is crippling the country”, a process to which the poster bearers themselves are making a sizeable contribution.

Across the ocean, President Trump was gloating with unrestrained glee. “How are the Paris accords working out for France?” he tweeted facetiously.

The yankee was referring to the original cause of the protests, Manny’s stated intent to save the planet, nay the whole galaxy, by imposing crippling green taxes.

French people, especially those living from hand to mouth, took to the streets to communicate the point that Manny’s remit was much more modest than he seemed to think: it was to improve the lot of the French people, not to save ‘our planet’.

In case of a conflict between the two desiderata, the first must take priority, a fine point that Manny seems to have missed. Yet Trump’s Schadenfreude was only partly justified.

For all revolutions, noble or ignoble, large or small, permanent or intermittent, have one thing in common. What may start out as the reason becomes the pretext.

However legitimate the original grievance, once crowds spill out into the open, they are instantly joined by rather illegitimate thugs. The formative idea falls by the wayside, and mayhem becomes its own sustenance.

Just as the only true purpose of mass murder is the murder of masses, so is mass rioting the only real purpose of mass rioting.

Thus even such an unquestionably noble cause as the First Crusade was brought into disrepute by gangs of murderers, rapists and looters who came in the wake of the Crusaders’ hosts to perpetrate unspeakable crimes, such as a series of Jewish pogroms in the Rhineland and elsewhere.

Here too, the rioters are compromising the good cause of taking Manny’s ideology down a peg or two. For, just as the reason for a revolution becomes its pretext, so does the original idea end up turning into an ideology – and these are all pernicious by definition.

Thus I’m not going to discuss the issue of global warming and the lethal damage it’s supposed to do to ‘our planet’, even though, having read reams of arguments pro and con, I’m convinced it’s bunkum.

Nor shall I ponder the face value of febrile conservationism, be that of flora or fauna. On general principle, since we’ve managed to survive the extinction of some 98 per cent of all the species that have ever inhabited the Earth, something tells me we’ll somehow muddle through even if a few more disappear.

I am, however, going to discuss the fact that the green idea, rather dubious to begin with, has become a destructive ideology, bringing to its banners a motley coalition of leftie loveys like Manny, former communists of every hue and imbeciles who simply must have a cause, the louder the better. And of course the usual rent-a-mob is never too far in the shadows.

It’s not for nothing that green demonstrators throughout Europe unfurl the red flags of history’s most evil ideology. Unlike the loveys, they do understand what this is all about. The civic concern for the environment masks the urge to destroy everything worthy that the environment contains.

Thus the gilets jaunes are screaming slogans that go far beyond protesting against tax increases and the putative reason for them. They want to punish the rich (loosely defined), ideally to kill them all or, barring that, to drive them out of the country.

They want to put an end to what they call capitalism and what has in fact proved to be the only reliable way of ending mass poverty. They want the factories to be run by the workers – and so on, all the way to a blood-soaked chaos.

The longer one looks at their green symbols, the more clearly one discerns the underlayer of red – and that has a tropistic effect for leftie pseuds with intellectual pretensions, such as Manny.

With their eagle eye they spot the political potential of ideology in general, and the green ideology in particular. They know that, though things like unvarnished Trotskyism or Stalinism have fallen out of fashion, they left a nice, warm whiff of nostalgia behind.

Those who catch it in their nostrils and like the smell are happy to inhale it, while exhaling idiotic green slogans (if you want to know how idiotic they get, Google Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aka AOC). If red has so far failed to bring down social order, green just might do it.

But before it does, nonentities like Manny can continue to drive the green bandwagon to more electoral victories, more power, longer stays at presidential palaces.

I can’t really offer a solution that could work, but I can offer one that could satisfy. Next time someone uses the expression ‘our planet’ in your presence, punch him in the face. And don’t forget to clench your fist only at the moment of impact, to enhance its effect.

Opium for hedonistic people

Don’t blame the dug. Blame yourself

Waldemar Januszczak writes half-decent art criticism for the masses, not often enough to make him a must-read, but still. At least, unlike most of our art critics – and just about all their music equivalents – he’s not actively subversive.

When he stays within the confines of his own field, that is. Beyond its boundaries, a minefield beckons, and his writing explodes into a fountain of dross mixed with manure.

In today’s piece he champions the cause of the American ‘artist’ (in fact, photographer) and barefaced liar Nan Goldin in her attack on the Sackler family, one of the most generous sponsors of art in Britain.

The family’s name adorns the Sackler Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy, the Sackler Courtyard at the V&A, the Sackler Room at the National Gallery and the Sackler Research Forum at the Courtauld Institute.

Now Goldin insists that the name be removed from all those places and the Sackler money be thrown back into the family’s face.

Why? Because the Sacklers are single-handedly culpable for the opioid epidemic that’s devastating America and will soon devastate Britain as well. More to the point, that criminal family is directly responsible for the drug addiction that Goldin herself first enjoyed but then got to bemoan.

Reading this, you may have flashing through your mind those French Connection images, with Miss Goldin in the role Gene Hackman performed in the original film.

Like him, the ‘artist’ must have been abducted and force-injected with junk to turn her into an addict, with one of the Sacklers pushing the syringe into her vein, and two more holding her down.

Well, not quite. You see, that pernicious clan owns the pharmaceutical company Purdue, which back in the 1990s developed the opioid OxyContin, one click down on the painkiller scale from intravenous dimorphine (aka heroin).

Both drugs have since alleviated the agonising suffering of millions of patients, including me, at a low point in my medical history (there have been few high points).

Naturally, like most other such medicines, OxyContin eventually made its way into the street, where it has acquired a great deal of cred. That is the nature of the epidemic that so upsets Goldin and, vicariously, Januszczak.

He jumps on her bandwagon with both feet by using his quick pen to describe the horror of dying from an overdose: Everything fails. So you splutter, you gurgle, you gulp, vomit and die.”

Dear me, how very awful. But no more awful than dying from an overdose of paracetamol, which destroys the liver where it’s metabolised, and the person’s insides bleed out.

An overdose of aspirin isn’t much nicer either, for the drug can produce a massive internal haemorrhage. Should charities then reject donations made by the makers of such remedies, all those Bayers and Johnson & Johnsons?

Definitely, if you follow Goldin’s logic endorsed by Januszczak.

Goldin’s tumble into addiction started iatrogenically, when she was prescribed three tablets of OxyContin a day post-op. According to her, she was addicted ‘overnight’, and that’s where the barefaced liar bit comes in.

For it’s physiologically impossible to be addicted overnight; only extended use can do that. Even so, addiction isn’t cancer – one can get rid of it if one so wishes. All those stories about the nightmares of withdrawal are hogwash.

I can testify to that from personal experience. For after a month of heroin dripping into my vein, I was discharged from hospital on the same three tablets of OxyContin a day.

Since, unlike Goldin, I rely on using my brain and therefore don’t want it to be addled, I found the ensuing high to be rather low. When my pain dropped from excruciating down to just about bearable, I got off – and immediately experienced withdrawal symptoms.

Even those of you who’ve never been addicted to anything know exactly what those symptoms are like because, rather than evoking the images of Goya’s Caprichos, they are indistinguishable from a mild cold.

When I realised I was addicted, I went back on Oxy and then titrated the dose down over a week. That’s it; clean as a whistle.

Penelope even dumped a rather large supply of leftover Oxy into the bin, which offended my sense of fiscal responsibility.

After all, she could have sold the lot in the street at £10 a pop. Her only excuse was that those events unfolded in rural France, with no approximation of King’s Cross anywhere in sight.

To be serious, I made one choice – conscious, uncoerced, unprompted – and Goldin made another. Rather than gradually decreasing the dose, she chose to up it, until she was on 18 tablets a day. She then graduated to fentanyl, which almost killed her.

Tough. Yet we all lie in the bed we make (and some of us even choose to leave it unmade and collect the Turner Prize for such slovenliness).

Goldin and she alone is to blame for her troubles. Had she chosen the path of sensible restraint rather than reckless hedonism, she wouldn’t have become addicted. And had she decided to come off drugs, she could have done so at any moment.

Yet she was stupid and irresponsible, and she has no one to blame but herself. Or rather that’s how it would be had the culture of personal responsibility for one’s actions not fallen by the wayside.

“It’s all society’s fault” is a mantra routinely heard in our courts, and outside the courts the mantra is modified to lay the blame on anyone else rather than the person himself.

So Goldin cretinously blames the makers of the drug that has relieved so much suffering when properly used. But why stop there?

If the Sacklers are responsible for Goldin’s stupidity, why not blame car makers, all those Fords and BMWs, for road deaths caused by incompetent drivers? Or, say, Solingen and Sabatier for the people killed with their firm’s knives? Or cake makers for the heart attacks suffered by obese gluttons?

Now Goldin is refusing to lend her work to the National Portrait Gallery unless it turns down a proposed donation of £1m from the Sacklers. “The gallery has yet to decide whether to accept or not,” writes Januszczak. “My hope is that it sides with Goldin.”

And my hope is that one day we’ll again have art critics like John Ruskin, who often wrote debatable, at times infuriating, things – but never moronic ones.

There’s no reason for materialism

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go”

The other day I argued that unleavened empiricism puts blinkers on reason.

Materialism, as the puniest variant of empiricism, goes quite a bit further: it takes reason to the knacker’s yard.

Yet again I rely on Richard Dawkins to make this point for me, and where would I be without him. In one of his popular books he declares that natural selection  explains all existence, or words to that effect.

My friend Richard has clearly neglected to ask himself this question: Natural selection of what?

The only logical answer comes right out of the beginner’s course in Darwinism. Various species struggle for survival in our inhospitable world, and some succeed while others fail.

Thus we have, say, the wolf that has evolved over the millennia by warding off the competition of other beasts to become what it is: grey, toothy, predatory, carnivore, gregarious with other wolves, dangerous to lambs and little children, and so on.

Any zoologist will easily explain the wolf’s essence (what it is), yet all the great natural scientists in the world could join forces and still be unable to explain the wolf’s existence (that it is).

This isn’t because they aren’t really great natural scientists. It’s just that the mystery of existence lies outside the reach of natural sciences.

Thus natural selection is a process of refining and modifying the existing biological material. But only in the feeble mind of a materialist can this process explain how and why that biological material got to exist in the first place.

After all, before things evolve they have to be.

Incidentally, the juxtaposition of ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ comes to us courtesy of history’s most sublime thinker Thomas Aquinas, who used them to substantiate his Five Ways (proofs of God’s existence) by inferring that at some point essence and existence have to converge in a supreme being from whom all being derives.

But we aren’t talking about Aquinas and other great minds here. We’re talking about materialists who, at worst, devote whatever intellectual wherewithal they possess to defending a logically impossible proposition, that matter is all there is.

This isn’t much of a thought, but a thought nonetheless, which makes the whole proposition self-refuting. A thought, after all, isn’t made up of matter. Hence materialists use a nonmaterial medium to argue that nothing nonmaterial exists.

This admittedly goes for especially silly materialists, such as Dawkins. The clever ones, like some of my close friends, try to get around this conundrum by simply saying that the issue of being and existence is so mysterious that grappling with it is an exercise in futility.

In a way, such meek surrender is even worse, because clever people ought to know better. They should realise that their statement consigns to futility not only faith and theology, but also philosophy.

For what is philosophy if not rigorous inquiry into first principles and last things? That’s where materialism and empiricism converge: both accept as valid only the knowledge obtained through the five senses, and never mind the Five Ways.

You might think that none of this really matters, since, close as a philosopher may come to the ultimate truth, he’ll never be able to yank the veil off its mystery completely, exposing it in all its naked glory.

That may be, but at least such a thinker will have to master the Art of Asking the Next Question – something that’s essential to pondering not only first principles, but in fact any serious problem worth pondering.

A materialist consciously truncates the pyramid of his thought very close to its base, leaving the upper reaches of thought inaccessible and, as far as he is concerned, nonexistent.

But they do exist, and they are accessible – provided the thinker knows how to ask the next question, which a materialist doesn’t. One can choose any subject at all by way of illustration.

Such as, say, politics. Alas, reading our political columns, one never encounters a practitioner of the art in question.

For example, some people extol the achievements of Castro’s Cuba, among which they list universal literacy: every Cuban now knows how to read. Yet here comes the next question: So what do they read? Communist propaganda? If so, they’re better off illiterate.

But the modern materialist mind doesn’t ask such questions: it can’t penetrate beyond the outer shell of an issue. Thus he notes that Cubans read, and this is as far as his mind allows him to go. What they read is the next question his mind isn’t equipped to ask.

Or take such a universally accepted virtue as freedom, which a materialist mind can’t distinguish from liberty, even though this is an important distinction.

The two concepts largely overlap, but where they don’t freedom means an unrestrained ability to make a choice, while liberty denotes an unrestrained ability to act on the choice freely made.

If you ask a materialist, without qualifying the question in any way, whether freedom and liberty are always good, he’ll nod an enthusiastic assent. He won’t have asked the next question.

Such as, what if the choice freely made is wrong? Would the liberty to act on it still be good? Let’s say, without indulging in reductio ad absurdum, that a man freely decides that dispossessing all rich people is a smashing idea and then freely votes for a candidate who promises to do just that.

Considering that such a development would spell an instant economic and social catastrophe, wouldn’t it be a good idea to curtail both freedom and liberty if that would avoid the catastrophe?

It might or might not be, but a democratic materialist won’t weigh the issue in the balance. The outer shell is all he can perceive. He won’t ask the next questions: Freedom to choose what? Liberty to do what? Can they function in the absence of inner restraints imposed by a supreme outer authority?

The same goes for democracy. One never reads in any periodical any serious doubt about the virtue of universal franchise in principle. Our materialist knows that democracy is the ultimate political virtue, and he can be easily confused or even enraged by a thinker asking the next question, or rather a series of them.

Do we believe that unchecked democracy usually elevates to government those fit to govern? Do we believe that today’s elected officials are accountable to their electors? Do we feel that majority opinion is always right, or at least more often right than wrong? If a show of hands is the best way of running a gigantic complex institution like the state, how come even small businesses are never run that way? How is it that, for the first 19 centuries AD, democracy, if it was practised at all, was checked by other instruments of power? What have we learned in the past couple of centuries that makes us so much wiser than all the previous generations combined?

I’m ready to accept that a materialist may consider such questions carefully and still come up with the same conclusion. My point is that he isn’t equipped not so much to answer such questions as even to ask them.

A materialist’s thought is like his picture of the world: it starts from nothing and ends in nothing. He can’t by definition possess the ability to think teleologically, or even logically.

His logical faculty is only activated at the lower reaches of human activity, typically those involved in amassing enough material possessions to secure sufficient physical comfort. Once again, I can only repeat my recurrent mantra: the Age of Reason, and the materialist modernity it adumbrated, spelled the degeneration of reason.

Thought forcibly pushed down to earth by untutored human will destroys intellectual – and in due course also moral – discipline. That point can be made not only by abstract reasoning but also by rather large bombs, reflecting the scientific progress of which modernity is so justly proud.

Is NZ massacre a taste of things to come?

If such people are the only alternative, God help us all

It didn’t happen in our city. Nor in our country. Nor even on our European doorstep.

So how, apart from offering the requisite commiserations, should we respond to an Australian committing horrific mass murder in New Zealand?

Brenton Tarrant, who perpetrated the more murderous of yesterday’s two attacks on mosques in Christchurch, is described as a right-wing terrorist, and the designation seems fitting, the second part definitely, the first part probably.

Now I don’t pretend to be offering a legally rigorous recommendation, but I think a man with Tarrant’s feral, moronic face ought to have been locked up preventively, ideally at birth.

One look at him, and it wouldn’t have taken Cesare Lombroso to identify the man as a violent degenerate who’d commit a gruesome crime sooner or later. The only question left unanswered by this physiognomic exercise in anthropology would have been what kind of violent crime Tarrant would choose to commit.

He and his accomplices chose to kill 49 Muslim worshippers and to wound 48 more, 20 of them badly. The proper civilised reaction to this crime, regardless of one’s feelings about Islam, Muslim terrorism or the British immigration policy, should be that of revulsion.

The first reaction, that is. But, once the initial horror subsided, perhaps one should reflect why those atavistic creatures opted for that particular crime.

After all, if they were driven by some general, primordial bloodlust, they could have achieved a much higher score at a sporting event, during a particularly attractive sale at a large department store or simply in a crowded street.

Their choice of target, then, wasn’t general. It was specific and, however perverse, it was political.

You and I are different, though we too have strong political convictions and even stronger cultural allegiances.

That’s why we’re definitely on the side of the West in its 1,400-year-old conflict with Islam. I can only speak for myself with absolute certainty, but I suspect all of us deplore Islamic terrorism, and most of us identify unchecked Muslim immigration as a deadly demographic threat.

But, being civilised, we aren’t going to express our feelings with semi-automatic shotguns and Armalite assault rifles. We aren’t savages like Tarrant, are we?

Of course we aren’t. So how are we going to bring our conscience to bear on this issue? How can we channel our feelings into a productive conduit?

We can write articles, as I’m doing now – in the full knowledge that I’m preaching to the choir and nothing I write will have the slightest effect on those who sing from a different hymn sheet.

Or we can write indignant letters to our MPs and threaten to vote against them. That would bring some spleen-venting satisfaction, but hardly any other.

The MP’s staff would ignore our missives or at best write a polite and meaningless reply. And even if we then add our vote to a sufficient number of others to vote the MP out, his place will only be taken by his intellectual and moral clone, if sporting a differently coloured rosette on his lapel.

So what recourse do we have, if any? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely looking for an answer and not finding one.

Moreover, I strongly suspect that the modern liberal state designed on the principle of social contract, first enunciated by Hobbes and Locke, and later developed by Rousseau, offers no tangible answer to that critical question.

I’ve always struggled with the concept anyway, unable as I am to identify where, when and by whom that contract was signed. In any case, that mythical ceremony must have happened a long time ago, so is the contract legally binding for each subsequent generation too?

Assuming this to be the case, one may still be sufficiently pedantic to suggest that every valid contract includes the terms for its termination in case of non-compliance by either side.

So how can the contract between the modern liberal state and the people be terminated if the people feel the state isn’t complying with its terms? Mr Hobbes? Mr Locke? Mr Rousseau? Anybody?

Alas, none of those gentlemen, nor any of their intellectual heirs, provided an adequate answer to that question. One suspects they and other architects of our modern democracy sans frontières believed that voters reconfirmed their commitment to the social contract each time they dropped a piece of paper into the ballot box.

That, however, doesn’t take into account the infinitely widening chasm between the people and the state. And if you think the word ‘chasm’ is an overstatement, just look at the on-going Brexit debacle.

The state, as represented by the institutions of government, hasn’t just ignored the democratically conveyed will of the people, but clearly hasn’t even considered it a legitimately valid factor.

This isn’t just an aberration, as any observer of our political scene will know. It’s the workings of the social contract as it now is – as it has evolved with relentless inevitability.

Nor is it just a British phenomenon. Ours being a globalised world, the same chasm exists throughout the West, mutatis mutandis. The music may be louder or quieter and the dancers may look and sound different – but they all dance to the same tune.

Since no legitimate termination clause has been provided in the social contract, the only recourse left has to be illegitimate. Violence, be it an all-out revolution or a more localised terrorist act, seems to be the only tangible way for the people to register their dissatisfaction with the arrangement.

Getting specifically to the issue of interfaith relations, one doesn’t have to be a savage like Tarrant to feel despair at the creeping Islamisation of the West.

All one has to do is look at the number of the Muslims already in our countries, read the projections for further arrivals, compare the relative birth rates, do some simple sums – and realise that Europe’s indigenous population will find itself in the minority within a couple of decades, four at most.

Of course civilised people like us won’t murder Muslims en masse; on the contrary, we’ll repudiate such acts and mourn their victims. But not all of us are civilised.

Many such Tarrants live in our midst, and, given the unremittingly brutalising effect of modernity, their numbers, both absolute and relative, will grow.

The problem is so obvious that even such morons will have no difficulty identifying it, especially if able rabble-rousers nudge them in that direction. Nor will they fail to realise that the government isn’t only doing nothing to curb the problem, but is actively fostering it.

Since such people aren’t overburdened with respect for the sanctity of every human life, they’ll take to the streets, and blood will flow. The prospect should terrify us all, for when people increasingly take the law into their own hands, they invariably crush it to death.

Any political action, or as often as not inaction, has social consequences. So, while hoping that Tarrant and his accomplices will never walk the streets again and shedding a tear for their victims, we should save a couple of tears for ourselves.

Our governments are playing with fire, which is ill-advised when a tinderbox is so close at hand.

Have you ever seen a mind?

“This cannot be because it cannot be ever.”

Looking at the dominant strains of public – and largely academic – thought, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the so-called Age of Reason in fact adumbrated an ever-accelerating downward slide from subtlety of thought into vulgarity.

For example, few epistemological creeds can compete with unleavened empiricism for sheer vulgarity of thought – especially when it’s used to attack theology.

Time and again one hears proffered as fact that the only valid form of knowledge is that accrued through the five senses, and seldom can one find such an easy target for instant refutation.

Just the other day I read an attack on Bollinger Bolsheviks in the Labour party. Because they themselves are wealthy, the argument went, they are incapable of understanding the plight of those who can’t even buy petrol for their cars. (The very fact that these poor souls own cars would have made them seem unimaginably rich during my childhood, but that’s a different matter.)

This ignores history that shows that Western countries have always been governed mainly by wealthy people, some of whom nevertheless governed with sufficient sensitivity to destitution. Much as I welcome any attack on Labour, it’s possible, though of course not guaranteed, never to experience starvation and yet develop empathy with it.

For most knowledge we possess is acquired not empirically, but by entirely different mechanisms. For example, I have it on good authority that a rather important European battle took place in 1815 – but it’s not the authority of my senses.

This knowledge comes from my trust in the testimony provided by others, starting with those who fought at Waterloo and their contemporaries.

In the same vein, I’ve never seen an atom, much less any subatomic particles, yet I know they exist because trustworthy experts have told me so.

Then there’s intuitive knowledge, something we obtain rather mysteriously. Thus, though Dr Johnson readily acknowledged that all theory went against free will, he still said: “Sir we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t.”

Then there exists knowledge from inference, as suggested in the title above. Countless surgeons and pathologists have seen, touched and sliced the human brain, where we know the mind resides. Yet no one has ever seen a mind, although everyone can infer its existence from its output.

Neither do our senses provide the knowledge of thought, that medium between the mind and its products. In fact, I have yet to hear a single neurophysiologist explain what a thought is.

All they seem to have learned after all those Genome Projects and Decades of the Brain is that, under some conditions, some sections of their scanner displays light up and under some others they don’t.

Yet few of us would argue against the existence of thought, even though Richard Dawkins’s work makes that argument persuasively, if unwittingly and not in so many words.

All such forms of knowledge, including those based on trust, intuition and inference, come together to support propositions, such as the existence of God and the divinity of Christ, that the modern mind, weaned on crude empiricism, rejects out of hand.

Presenting a valid argument may not constitute proof, and I’m willing to entertain counterarguments, such as that a universe demonstrably arranged according to rational laws somehow created itself without any help from a rational law-giver.

Or that Jesus was just one of those numerous prophets descending south from Galilee, or specifically Nazareth, of which nothing good had ever come, according to the contemporaneous belief.

However, it’s simply silly to claim that those who know otherwise are driven by only superstition and blind faith. They are indeed driven by knowledge, which is more subtle and less dogmatic than that claimed by their opponents.

Thus the rationality of the universe has never been explained as compellingly as Christianity explains it.

Scientists devote their whole lives to inquiry into the existing rational laws of nature without ever wondering about the provenance of such laws. They just are, and “there’s an end on’t.”

Yet if one tries to calculate the mathematical probability of any one of such laws appearing ex nihilo accidentally, one quickly runs into numerals exceeding the number of atoms in the universe. That makes parthenogenic creation not just improbable but mathematically impossible.

Similarly, every attempt to trace the origin of man, the ultimate, or rather penultimate, depository of rationality, back to some physical event triggering gradual development defies not only credulity but the evidence of those very same natural sciences.

Yet it would take irrefutable scientific evidence to convince a sensible thinker that the distance between some nebulous cell (that itself had appeared out of nothing) and the B Minor Mass could have been travelled by purely material incremental steps – however many years atheists choose to assign to that process.

Yet this evidence is still lacking, for all the Herculean labours of those who are emotionally committed to digging it up by hook or by crook. In other words, the story of Creation simply has no credible competition, no other narrative that comes anywhere near providing a similarly cogent explanation of the world.

Hence the belief in the nonexistence of God is every bit as fideistic as the belief in his existence. The opposition of the two fideistic poles is  opposition not between faith and reason but between two faiths.

One of them is based on God’s revelation given by methods both natural (through the possibility of perceiving much of his creation experimentally) and supernatural (through the Scripture and church tradition). The other is based on nothing but man’s own fanciful speculation. As such, it is not even so much faith as superstition.

The same goes for Christianity. True believers know intuitively that the gospel story is true, just as astronomers of the past knew intuitively that, say, Neptune existed before they could see it or prove its existence mathematically.

But forget intuition. Since Christ’s physical existence is confirmed by contemporaneous sources, it’s not in doubt, at least not this side of the lectures on ‘scientific atheism’ to which I was exposed at my Soviet university.

It’s true that Jesus left no written account of his teaching, but then neither did Socrates. Yet we don’t doubt the authenticity of Socrates’s teaching thanks to the evidence helpfully provided by his disciples, such as Plato and Xenophon.

Reading Jesus for Socrates, and the evangelists for Plato and Xenophon, one would expect that the same latitude would be afforded to Christ’s teaching. But it isn’t: the vulgar empiricist simply can’t abide knowledge that takes him out of his depth.

The same observation applies to the proofs of Christ’s divinity, such as his miracles and especially his rising on the third day after his death. Just like the trial and execution of Socrates was witnessed by many Athenians, so were all those events witnessed by Jesus’s contemporaries, the former by hundreds if not thousands, the latter by dozens if not hundreds.

Yet our empiricists refuse to accept that eyewitness testimony, following the logic of one of Chekhov’s characters who denies the rotation of the Earth by saying “This cannot be because it cannot be ever.”

Moreover, the living presence of Christ has since been palpably felt by millions – yet their testimony is simply dismissed as delusional.

The same people who are prepared to embrace the reality of such metaphysical experiences as meditation or telepathy refuse to accept the reality of the metaphysical experience that, alone among all revolutions, reshaped the world.

I’m not proposing to put forth a rational religious argument here – only an observation that a rational religious argument is possible and, given a comparable rhetorical agility on both sides, winnable.

Yet even this modest conciliatory assertion would enrage our modern empiricists (take my word for it – I’ve taken delight in enraging many). Such is the natural development of the Age of Reason and its obscurantist culmination going by the misnomer of the Enlightenment.

(Incidentally, Satan’s name, Lucifer, actually means ‘Enlightener’. Thought I’d mention this.)

Down with vehicular racism

Don’t ever buy a racist car if you want to stay in my good books

Racism, as I know you’ll agree, is a crime that towers in its enormity over any other.

I use the word ‘crime’ advisedly, since racism is delinquent even if the perpetrator doesn’t act on it. Such a scoundrel isn’t fit to walk the earth simply because of his innermost feeling.

Unlike most other crimes, racism defies a precise definition. Somebody who insists that the white race is superior to all others is a racist, that hardly needs saying. (Although a similar claim for other races is justifiably exculpated.)

But what about a chap who tells a joke starting with “Seems like this white bloke, a black bloke, a Jew and a Muslim…” Is he a racist? Absolutely, and I do hope that when you next hear an offensive gag like that you’ll promptly report it to the authorities.

Under those circumstances you’ll have to exercise your judgement, of course. Is the joke indeed racist? I’d suggest you should always err on the side of the affirmative answer to that question – even if the joke doesn’t sound all that racist to you.

You should realise that your standards may not be sufficiently rigorous. Other people may still cringe at the racism of a line that seems innocuous to you.

Think of those other people, is my advice, not just of yourself. Display the true community spirit by reporting the offender to the police – let them decide his culpability. That’s what they get paid for.

Admittedly, if we define racism in an arbitrarily broad fashion, most people are guilty – and the broader the definition, the greater the number of guilty parties.

Thus I know dozens of racists, and that’s just among my close friends. And if you expand the notion to include Islamophobia, then the police could just pluck any random stranger out of a crowd and feel his collar. In fact, one detects that our jurisprudence is definitely moving in that direction.

Now all the racists I know or have heard of share one thing in common, besides moral decrepitude. They are all human beings, although Jeremy Corbyn may at times force one to reassess that sweeping observation.

Yet the bacillus of racism is so pervasive that it has now penetrated vehicular transport, specifically self-driving cars that will soon dominate our roads, making them free of accidents, obscenities and the kind of hand signals that don’t appear in the Highway Code.

One has to welcome this development, considering how often human beings disappoint when held up to a shining ideal. Sometimes the purveyors of the ideals feel the disappointment so acutely that they simply have to kill everyone who falls short.

Hence transferring the task of conning a car from fallible people to infallible microprocessors sounds like a winner in theory. However, it turns out in practice that those self-drive microprocessors share human foibles – including the most egregious one of all.

Self-driving cars are programmed to make ‘ethical’ decisions, and there I was, thinking ethics is the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens. Mercifully, vehicular ethics is defined more narrowly than racism.

It boils down to handling a lose-lose situation where an accident is unavoidable, and the choice has to be made between hitting an object, say a parked car, or a responsible taxpayer crossing the street.

Something clicks in the electronic brain, equipped as it is with facial recognition systems; it makes the right choice and writes off a parked Fiesta rather than knocking the pedestrian into kingdom come.

However, and I wouldn’t be able to describe adequately the anguish I feel at having to write this, that system is racially biased.

It’s less likely to recognise a dark-skinned person as a human being – and I hope ‘dark-skinned’ is a permissible modifier not yet replaced with ‘differently pigmented’ or some such.

In fact, self-driving cars are 12 per cent less likely to acknowledge the humanity of a differently pigmented person (I’ll use this term just to be on the safe side) than that of a paleface.

Researchers ascribe this vehicular racism to the dearth of differently pigmented persons among the models used in designing and testing the software, but that’s a lame excuse, if you ask me.

Why were racial and ethnic minorities so excluded? Incipient racism, that’s why. Actually no, forget this incipient bit. Virulent, murderous racism is at play here, akin to the widely publicised tendency of American southerners to lynch differently pigmented persons.

I’m amazed that the newspapers that picked up this story have reported it in a deadpan manner rather than expressing at least some of the indignation I’m feeling. Perhaps their editors fail to realise the full extent of the tragedy unfolding in those labs and testing grounds.

For, if a self-driving car refuses to recognise as human someone whose skin is a shade or two darker than Jeremy Corbyn’s, what would be its reaction to persons of the female persuasion whose skin is wholly covered in black cloth?

Persons who make this fashion statement are Muslim women (if such binary terminology hasn’t yet been outlawed) who, if most cars on our roads are self-driving, will have no chance of survival whatsoever.

I’m preparing a petition to condemn and bring to account the manufacturers of such racist vehicles. If they can’t treat all chromatic groups equally, the least they can do is programme their cars to victimise palefaces rather than differently pigmented or differently clad persons.

That’s the least we could do to atone for centuries of racist oppression that stigmatises every white person more severely than even original sin (which, as we know, is totally mythological). Je suis noir!

Theodicy in one witty sentence

Evelyn Waugh’s nastiness is now largely forgotten. But his wisdom isn’t

Some great minds have devoted countless tomes to theodicy, the explanation of how God permits the existence of evil – and some mediocre minds have used such laxity as a target for attacks on faith.

Encapsulating that whole complex argument in a snappy epigram would seem impossible, and so it is.

But Evelyn Waugh made a good fist of it.

A friend of his, Nancy Mitford I believe, remarked that for a Catholic he was a nasty bit of work. “You have no idea,” replied Waugh, “how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic.”

This short sentence invalidates in one fell swoop all the feeble attacks on Christianity launched by the likes of Dawkins, Dennett or Wolpert – or by Hume and other Enlightenment figures before them. They point out all the evil people perpetrated during the Christian centuries and put smug QED smiles on their faces.

Crusades, religious wars, the pyres of the Inquisition are all waved about like so many banners of hateful atheism. Most critics, especially the more strident ones, don’t take the trouble to keep up with the current (or any other) scholarship of such historical events, but that in no way constrains their vituperation.

I could go into historical references at this point, stating, for example, that there were very few properly religious wars in Europe, although there were many like the Thirty Years’ War, where secular appetites were camouflaged with religious slogans.

Or that the Holy Inquisition had no jurisdiction to execute anyone – all it could do was confirm heresy and pass the case on to the secular authorities. Or that in some 400 years of its existence the Inquisition’s rulings led to about 10,000 executions, which score the atheist Soviets could comfortably better in a quiet day.

Or that the crusades were a defensive response to several centuries of incessant Islamic aggression that had almost put paid to Christendom.

However, feeling particularly magnanimous today, I’m willing to accept that people killed during the Christian centuries.

But I’d demand reciprocity from the haters of Christianity: they too should accept the demonstrable fact that people also killed during the pre-Christian centuries, as they did in the pre-pre-Christian centuries. (The earliest sites of human habitation show remnants of numerous busted skulls.)

And, though it pains me to have to state the blindingly obvious, people even killed, and continue to do so, during the enlightened post-Christian centuries, after the West had freed itself from the intolerable bondage of its strangulating religion and begun to live according to high reason and even higher morality.

In fact, more people were killed in the first wholly atheist century, the twentieth, than in all the other centuries of recorded history combined. Yet I’m not even going to insist on a causative relationship between atheism and mass murder on that scale, even though I believe it exists.

My mood being as magnanimous as I claim, all I’m going to say is that, though things like cultures, politics, religions, aesthetics and morality are historically and geographically variable, people’s propensity to commit murder and other hideous acts is constant and universal.

Putting this undeniable fact in the context of comparative creeds, both religious and secular, is a hard task. Anyone undertaking it would have to be able to argue compellingly that this or that creed is better or worse at explaining this murderous proclivity, and more or less effective at containing it.

Christianity explains the evil in human nature by original sin, which leaves all of us in need of redemption. Christ’s death on the cross offered precisely that, while leaving people’s will free to accept or reject it.

Accepting Christ ipso facto entails accepting his ethics. Christ took the morality of Judaism and added some embellishments to found a religion whose God doesn’t just teach love but is love.

Love of not only one’s neighbour but indeed of one’s enemy, charity as the highest virtue, equality of all before God (and, eventually, the law), the transcendent value and dignity of every individual regardless of his status in life – these are the signposts of Christian morality.

Sorry, I left out a critical word: they are the signposts of only Christian morality. None of these concepts would have been intelligible to the pre-Christian world, and you won’t find even a hint of them in the works of the greatest pre-Christian moral thinkers, such as Plato or Aristotle.

Nor do they form a significant part of Islam, what with the Koran containing at least 300 verses that prescribe not loving one’s enemies but slaughtering them wherever they could be found, with the concept of an enemy defined broadly, to include apostates, Jews, Christians and anyone deemed insufficiently reverential to Mohammad.

As to the post-Christian, atheist modernity, it has thrown up veritable death cults of either the national or international variety, where the massacre of infidels is specifically mandated in every founding document. Hence at least the 300 million victims of political democide in the twentieth century alone.

Having accepted mournfully that people are sinners capable of killing one another en masse, and that no religious or secular creed will ever change human nature so thoroughly as to eliminate evil, we must decide which of them is best suited to mitigating it.

It wouldn’t stretch anyone’s credulity to state that Christians do evil in spite of their beliefs, while, say, socialists of either red or brown hue do it because of theirs. The gospel exudes the balm of love, while the founding documents of socialism have blood dripping off every word.

This gets us back to Waugh’s witticism and its intrinsic truth. His faith didn’t prevent him from being nasty, but, had he not had it, he would have been nastier still.

So would the period demarcated by Christendom have been nastier if it hadn’t been Christendom, though it’s hard to say how much nastier. While it may be difficult to establish exactly the number of people killed in this or that ancient war, calculating the number of people saved by this or that hospital, charity or soup kitchen is well nigh impossible.

However, just as it’s easy to believe that many, though alas not all, potential killers were restrained by the religion of love and the authority of the church preaching it, it stands to reason that those institutions saved thousands, possibly millions.

And it’s a matter not of faith but of fact that already the earliest centuries of Christianity introduced charitable institutions that had never existed before.

Thousands upon thousands of hospitals owed their existence to heroic monks and nuns who risked their lives ministering to patients suffering from deadly contagions, such as leprosy or cholera.

Thousands upon thousands of orphans, widows, the old, poor, hungry and infirm received solace and tangible help that, had Jesus never walked the earth, they wouldn’t have received.

For in those days Christians still practised what Jesus preached – not all of them, to be sure, perhaps not even most of them. But enough to make a vital difference. (Even today, Christians are disproportionately represented among volunteers at hospitals, hospices and charities.)

That was the beginning of history’s greatest civilisation that has since been almost eradicated. However, it has left a legacy that sustains the diminishing modicum of civility we still have left.

Many people invoking fundamentals we take for granted, such as human rights, civil liberties, equality before the law, social provisions and so on may not be aware that, without Christianity, none of these would have existed.

Like Evelyn Waugh, we too are a nasty lot. But we’d be – and would have been – much nastier still if for some 1,500 years our ancestors hadn’t had their lives guided by Christian doctrine, with love at its core.