You sexy beast you

Have you ever had sex with a person considerably less intelligent than you? If the answer is yes, proceed to the next question.

Are you an atheist? If the answer is yes again, then I don’t see how you can argue against Peter Singer’s logic.

Singer, Princeton professor of bioethics (whatever that is), has just issued a report called Zoophilia Is Morally Permissible, which created a bit of a stir. I can’t understand why, considering that he has been beating that particular drum for a quarter of a century at least.

In the old days his advocacy of hanky-panky with animals came as a natural conclusion to his GAP (the Great Ape Project), a movement for granting some primates equal human rights. Again, I can’t see how an atheist can logically object to such generosity.

After all, chimpanzees and humans share over 99 per cent of their genetic material. That means chimps are biologically human, or as near as damn. Granted, they are not as bright as most humans: we’ve seen many studies of chimps written by primatologists, but not a single study of primotologists written by chimps.

But then we all also know people who aren’t as clever as we are or even as Prof. Singer is. That doesn’t make them any less human, does it? There isn’t a single constitution in the world saying those poor dears shouldn’t enjoy equal rights – including the right to consent to sex.

You might think that at the very least the fashionable issue of consent may arise to prove a stumbling block there. After all, before planting a kiss on a girl’s lips, men are these days almost expected to get a signed and properly notarised consent form. That may ruin the spontaneity of the occasion, but on the plus side no one ends up in pokey.

Since animals tend not to be fluent in human, one doesn’t see how they can express their consent to sex, but Prof. Singer doesn’t see that as a problem. Animals, he explains, can consent by giving non-verbal “indications”.

I’d rather not go deep into the details, but I do wonder how that logic would play out at your run-of-the-mill rape trial. “She gave me non-verbal indications, M’lord” doesn’t strike me as a line of defence promising a realistic chance of acquittal.

Prof. Singer may be accused of many sins, but inconsistency isn’t one of them. He has been attracting my attention for 20 years at least. For example, this is what I wrote way back then:

“Consider the track record of Peter Singer, the ‘mind’ behind GAP. In 2001 he allowed that humans and animals can have ‘mutually satisfying’ sexual relations because ‘we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes.’ Therefore such sex ‘ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.’ Good news for some shepherds, bad news for poor Mrs Singer.

“Singer also maintains that the right to life is grounded in the ability to plan one’s future. Since the unborn, infants and mentally disabled lack this ability, he justifies abortion, selective infanticide and euthanasia. However, even though apes are not known for prudent foresight, Singer does not advocate their cull. So his is a kind of affirmative action: he wants apes to have rights that are not just equal but superior to ours.”

As I said, everything Prof. Singer preaches is logical within his own atheist frame of reference. If the difference between man and ape is only that of degree and not of kind, why not grant primates full human rights?

And why not have sex with them or other animals? I mean, many men have had sex with Angela Rayner, yet no one says they are perverts just because she is intellectually challenged.

But seriously now, can you see the intellectual conundrum? A materialist view of life disarms arguments against what any half-decent person intuitively knows is a disgusting perversion.

A successful, irrefutable argument against zoophilia can only be launched from the premise of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he him.”

(The last phrase also provides a launchpad for an argument against some other perversions, but watch your step: arguing along those lines may already be against the law proscribing hate speech.)

Much of our morality has spun out of that one verse. The sanctity of human life, for example, rings hollow if human life isn’t sanctified.

That verse reduces all biological similarities between man and beast to the level of petty atavisms. It also defangs every attempt to explain man in purely materialist, Darwinist terms. The reason no missing link between man and ape has been found is that none exists. Because the ape isn’t made in the image of God, it’s typologically closer to a plant than to a human.

It was St Augustine who first described the Devil as the ape of God. For all its genetic makeup, a chimpanzee isn’t a human being but a ghastly caricature of one. It’s a reminder of what will happen to man if he loses his link with God and hence his humanity. The ape isn’t our past. But it may well be our future.

Looking on from the side lines, I enjoy watching ‘thinkers’ like Singer develop asinine theories to their logical conclusion, all the way to the gutter. What also gives me that nice sense of schadenfreude is the sight of ‘progress’ reverting to the darkest forms of animal worship.

Prof. Singer has the power of his convictions: as a vegan, he believes it’s wrong to eat animals; and as a humanist, he believes it’s right to copulate with them. I’m sure he also advocates interspecies marriage; perhaps he’ll even practise it. Should it come to that, in our progressive times the goat he’ll marry won’t even have to be female.

P.S. On the subject of consistency, Peter Hitchens is still at it, repeating every line of Kremlin propaganda word for word and then moaning about being “called all the stupid names (‘Kremlin Shill’, ‘Putin Apologist’ etc).”

He then goes on to prove those names aren’t so much stupid as dead accurate: “The conflict in Ukraine was always unnecessary. It has done nothing but harm to Ukraine and Ukrainians. Ukraine has been used as a battering ram in someone else’s quarrel. The whole thing was cooked up in the same Washington DC kitchen where the even crazier invasion of Iraq was prepared.”

Get it? It was those ghastly Americans who invaded the Ukraine, or rather made her attack Russia (which is what being a battering ram implies). Putin, the leader of what Hitchens regards as “the most conservative and Christian country in Europe” isn’t to blame.

Those names aren’t so stupid after all, are they?

Manny’s idea of precision bombing

Manny Macron has graciously recognised Israel’s right to defend herself – provided that no babies get killed in Gaza.

“Are you paying attention, mon petit?”

In fact, though he didn’t quite put it in so many words, Manny is unhappy with anyone being killed in Gaza, except perhaps Israeli soldiers. That’s why he called for an immediate ceasefire or, barring that, at least an end to Israeli bombing raids, for which, he says, there is “no justification”.

Now, a ceasefire in the middle of an unfolding military operation before its strategic objectives have been achieved is otherwise known as defeat. Hence in effect Manny calls for Israel’s defeat, which seems to be logically incompatible with her right to protect herself that Manny accepts so magnanimously.

The romantic in me likes to think that Manny is driven by noble emotions, if lamentably those not backed up with any sound thinking. Yet the cynic realises that the romantic is only half-right: Manny is indeed incapable of sound thought. However, the rest of it comes from demographic, rather than noble, considerations.

Manny’s country is blessed with a population 10 per cent of which are Muslims. And not just any old Muslims but those who love to riot, burn cars, loot shops, clash with policemen, cut people’s heads off, shoot up newspaper offices and in general make a nuisance of themselves. Moreover, they vote, usually as a bloc.

Thus no French politician who wishes to remain a politician can do without a sop to the Muslims, who are pro-Hamas, anti-Israeli and – if I’m being totally honest – anti-Semitic almost to a man (also woman, child and babe in arms). Hence, but for this realpolitik proviso, one would have to regard Manny’s statement as frankly imbecilic.

Indeed, if Manny seriously means what he says, one would have to diagnose serious mental deficiency or else a lamentable pedagogic failure on the part of his foster mother Brigitte. She really ought to instruct her charge on the basics of logic.

First, Israel’s right to defend herself has to include the right to respond militarily to one of the worst attacks in her history, with more Jews killed in a single day than at any time since the Second World War. Agreed, Manny?

Good. Then, since Israel possesses an effective air force, using it in support of a ground offensive makes sense. Doesn’t it?

Excellent. Now, the way an air force is used in conditions of air supremacy mainly involves bombing raids designed to degrade the enemy’s military capabilities and paralyse its command structure. True?

Splendid. However, it so happens that Hamas practises terror not only against Israelis but also against its own civilians. It’s happy to pay with their lives for any PR payoff to be derived.

To that end, Hamas command centres, ammunition stores and rocket sites are deliberately located in, underneath or next to hospitals, schools and residential buildings. That guarantees a large number of civilians, including babies so dear to Manny’s heart, will get killed.

This is an outcome that Hamas welcomes and Israel tries to avoid – by issuing advance warnings, telling people to evacuate and trying to aim away from civilian structures wherever possible. However, given the fact that Hamas actively wants to maximise its own civilian casualties, they are unavoidable. Sounds logical so far?

Superb. Yet Manny seems to think that no justification for bombing exists. He is wrong about that. For the only alternative to bombing is house-to-house fighting on the ground.

Manny would be well-advised to read up on the history of the 1942-1943 Battle of Stalingrad. He’ll find out that this type of urban warfare produces the highest number of casualties.

In numerical terms, instead of losing dozens of its soldiers, the IDF would be losing hundreds if not thousands. Yet no one with a modicum of moral sense would expect Israel to protect Gaza lives with those of her own soldiers. Is Manny endowed with that faculty, or has Brigitte failed in that area too? No? Well, in that case we’ve made an unbreakable logical chain.

First, Israel has a right to protect herself. Second, exercising that right involves military action designed to punish Hamas atrocities and deter any repeat performances. Third, no deterrence is possible as long as Hamas continues to exist. Fourth, hence it must be destroyed. Fifth, since, unlike Hamas, Israel hates losing her own people, the military objective has to be achieved with a minimum of Israeli casualties. Sixth, that can only be done by deploying overwhelming air power and as little urban fighting as possible.

Since this logic can’t escape even someone of Manny’s understated intellect, one has to believe he has been misinformed on the military technology currently available. His military advisers must have told him bombs exist that can hit a rocket site located underneath a residential building without damaging the building itself.

Well, Manny, they lied to you. Such precision bombing hasn’t yet been invented, and I doubt that even the Israelis will ever be able to fill this lacuna in military technology.

In the absence of such improbably smart projectiles, how does Manny propose to save Gaza babies without obliterating the logical chain above?

He doesn’t. Instead he mouths the usual bien pensant waffle about ceasefires and ends to bombing: “It’s extremely important for all of us because of our principles, because we are democracies. It’s important for the mid-to-long run as well as for the security of Israel itself, to recognise that all lives matter.”

I propose Brigitte offer this test to Manny: “Name one country in history that has ever fought for its survival on the premise that the lives of its enemies matter as much as its own people’s.” If he can’t, some corporal punishment will be in order (unless, of course, Manny may like it).

A playwright who understood

Max Frisch, 1911-1991

This morning, out of the blue, I thought of the 1953 play I last saw back in 2007, The Arsonists by Max Frisch. (You may know it by its earlier, better, English title The Firebugs.)

I wouldn’t be prepared to argue whether or not it’s the best play of the 20th century – we all have our favourites. Yet there is no argument it’s the most prophetic.

I’m not going to tell you what it prophesies. Doing so would be insulting your intelligence, and it’s the last thing I’d ever be prepared to do. So, in case you haven’t seen or read the play, let me just tell you what it’s about.

A town is plagued by a spate of arsons. Firebugs, disguised as hawkers, talk, cajole, threaten or otherwise insinuate themselves into people’s homes. All they want is to spend a night or two in the attic, and the townsmen are either too kind or too intimidated to turn them away. Having ensconced themselves, the arsonists proceed to do what arsonists do: setting the houses on fire.

The local worthies, such as the principal character named Biedermann, read accounts of such blazes with smug complacency. That sort of thing may happen to other people, but certainly not to them. They are solid bourgeois burghers, the salt of the earth. No one would dare play fast and loose with them. And if anyone tried, they’d see right through the evildoers’ perfidy.

The name Biedermann derives from der biedere Mann, literally (and ironically) ‘worthy man’ or ‘Everyman’. The protagonist thus embodies the philistine conceit Frisch treats with scathing if subtle derision.

Sure enough, no sooner had Biedermann finished reading yet another newspaper report of an arson than a hawker turns up at his doorstep. Using persuasion faintly tinged with intimidation, he talks his way into Biedermann’s attic, where he promises to spend just one night. Biedermann acquiesces, telling himself his cowardice is actually kindness, and his spinelessness is in fact empathy for his fellow man.

One night becomes several, and before long another hawker appears to share his friend’s new lodgings. The self-invited guests begin to pile the attic high with oil drums full of petrol, which should really tip Biedermann off. So it does, fleetingly, before his congenital smugness takes over. The firebugs don’t even have to deceive him. He does a good job of it himself.

Hence Biedermann does nothing to stop the arsonists. In fact, to prove to himself that no one would dare play a dirty trick on him, the apex of creation, he even gives the criminals matches and helps them to measure the detonating cord to make sure it’s just the right length.

An infernal finale follows, with the two hawkers turning out to be Beelzebub and the Devil unleashing the fires of hell on Biedermann’s cosy world. The philistine Everyman, the Swiss playwright appears to be saying, doesn’t deserve to survive because he’ll do nothing to fight for his survival.

There Frisch echoes Goethe who, in his Faust, conveyed a similar idea: “Of freedom and of life he only is deserving who every day must conquer them anew.But unlike Goethe, Frisch lived through two world wars. That’s why, unlike Faust who finally goes to heaven, his Biedermann ends up in hell. The 20th century left no room for even Goethe’s semi-happy ending.

Lovers of tags usually mention Frisch side by side with Becket, Ionesco, Pinter and other key figures of the so-called ‘theatre of the absurd’. But life has a tendency to reshuffle the pack, with reality itself becoming so absurd that only absurdity can approach reality.

I’d call Max Frisch a prophetic realist – after I’ve finished calling him a great playwright.

And now let’s talk about the delights of Muslim immigration…

P.S. A retired American lawyer living in Panama yesterday drove down the road only to find his way blocked by anti-oil fanatics. He tried to remove the tyres and rocks they had used as barriers, but his 77-year-old body wasn’t up to the task. As the zealots moved in on him, the lawyer pulled out a gun, a Glock Compact by the looks of it, and shot two of them dead.

He is now held on remand, awaiting a long stint in prison. Call me a heartless brute, but instead of a custodian sentence I’d give him a British passport and a lifelong supply of 9mm ammunition. Perhaps I ought to write a play about it.

Mindless on Gaza

Rochdale War memorial, defaced

If you get the literary allusion in the title, congratulations. You are a man of learning and discernment.

Therefore you don’t need me to tell you why Hamas launched that infernal raid on 7 October and why it was conducted with such savage cruelty. But some people, notably many commentators on the war, seem to need help to sort things out.

Discounting professional anti-Semites and Israel-haters, many well-meaning commentators are incapable of following the logic of the event. They regret the inhuman cruelty of Hamas’s action while displaying compassionate understanding of its motives.

I’d call such a pundit a Hamasversteher, by analogy with Putinversteher, someone who feels Vlad’s pain while bemoaning the pain he inflicts on millions of Ukrainians. Yes, says such a commentator, those Hamas lads went way over the top with their throat-slitting machetes and dismembering hoes.

But if I, the commentator, had to live my whole life under an occupation authority in miserable conditions and without any prospects of advancement, why, I’d feel the same way. I too would want to whip my machete out… no, not quite that. I am a civilised man, after all. But I understand how those youngsters feel. (This is a verbally loose but substantively accurate rendition of Max Hastings’s article).

The overall tone of commentary in our liberal (which is to say illiberal) press is that Hamas’s cause is just and it remains so in spite of the regrettable excesses committed on 7 October. Those excesses may explain but in no way justify Israel’s response that has already produced greater casualties in Gaza than those impetuous youngsters inflicted on Israeli babies.

Digging through such a pile of mental manure is an ungrateful task, but someone has to do it. So let’s construct a logical chain that will strangulate such crepuscular musings.

For our starting point, let’s use Golda Meir’s saying: “We want to live. Our enemies want us dead. Not much room for compromise there.”

Ever since the founding of Israel in 1948, the entire Arab world has been baying for the blood of every Israeli. Arab states have ganged up to launch three major wars on Israel with the explicit purpose of “driving her into the sea”. It was understood that such a marine excursion would leave no Israelis alive.

Israel won those three wars, the first one, paradoxically, with the Soviet Union’s help, the next two, predictably, with America’s. All that unfolded to the accompaniment of the liberal (which is to say illiberal) world railing again Israel’s “unlawful occupation” of the small patch of land that rightfully belongs to Muslims.

Appeals to history fell on deaf, and biased, ears. Yes, Jews had been living in Palestine for at least 2,000 years before Mohammed robbed his first caravan. And at no point in history had the population of Jerusalem been less than half-Jewish.

That’s not the point. The point is that some Arabs were displaced when Jewish settlers finally got their state in 1948, a guarantee that another Holocaust wouldn’t happen or, if it did, at least the Jews would go down fighting.

Hence the Golda Meir juxtaposition: we want to live, they want us dead. The experience of those three wars has taught the Arabs that a military defeat of Israel isn’t on the cards, especially since the country has a nuclear bomb up her sleeve, to be used as the last resort.

Also, Israel enjoys the support of the civilised world that correctly sees her as its outpost in its 1,400-year struggle against Islamic aggression. Back to logic then: what can the Arabs do to achieve their laudable aim of turning all of Israel into a bloodbath similar to that of 7 October?

Correct. They have to turn the civilised world against Israel, forcing it to withdraw its support and leave the tiny country one on one with the vast Muslim world. And what’s the best way of accomplishing that? Correct again: by portraying Israel as the heartless aggressor and the Arabs as her helpless victims.

To that end, each terrorist attack on Israel, with rockets, AKs or machetes, must be hailed as the crying out of wounded souls. At the same time, each Israeli response to such attacks must be decried as flagrant, unprovoked aggression with genocidal intent.

This little stratagem has worked a treat. As a result, Israel is the only one of the world’s 196 states whose legitimacy is denied by most UN members. That august organisation, born at roughly the same time as Israel, has passed more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country. A visitor from another planet would be justified in believing that Israel is the main, not to say only, source of evil in the world.

Knowing all that, Israel has learned to fight with one hand behind her back. The Israelis know that their support even in civilised countries is by no means guaranteed. Large swathes of Western liberal (which is to say illiberal) opinion are against them, and the balance can be tipped the other way at any moment.

That’s why they have been responding to hails of rockets fired at their villages and towns with restraint no other country would show. Just imagine thousands of rockets being fired at Texas and California from Mexico day in, day out. I sincerely doubt Mexico City would look considerably better than Dresden, circa 1945.

Israel can’t afford the luxury of just retribution for monstrous attacks on her civilians. The world is keeping a watchful eye on her military responses, hoping for a pretext to gang up on Israel and leave her at the mercy of her savage enemies.

The latter, however, know exactly what to do. If Israel won’t oblige to unleash hell on her attackers, she must be forced to. Should such an undertaking succeed, the liberal (which is to say illiberal) champions of the Third World will join forces with rank anti-Semites and have another go at leaving Israel friendless and defenceless. Keep doing that long enough and at some point you’ll succeed.

The links of the logical chain have clasped together. We now understand why Hamas had to launch that raid and why it had to be conducted with such savage brutality. Israel had to be deprived of any option of showing restraint. A massive military response became the only option on the table.

Even Israel’s attempts to limit non-combatant losses had to be nipped in the bud. Hamas and all other Arab enemies of Israel have a vested interest in maximising their own civilian casualties. To that end, they place their command centres and missile sites in bunkers built under hospitals and schools, leaving the Israelis no option but to hit them. And when that doesn’t work, the Arabs simply lie about a hospital being bombed, as they did on the first day of Israel’s response.

Meanwhile, liberal (which is to say illiberal) opinion used all the best methods of rabble-rousing to marshal its forces around the civilised world — before the Israelis launched their counter-attack. Millions have been driven out into the streets demanding a “Palestine free, from the river to the sea.” Allow me to translate: that means annihilating Israel and murdering every Israeli.

If that isn’t incitement to terrorism, I don’t know what is. And yet our authorities are helpless to stop that Walpurgisnacht. They’ve meekly begged the scum to postpone their march until after 11 November, to make it possible for us to remember our fallen soldiers in peace. The scum refused, and the attack on the Cenotaph is on.

There are rumours that football lovers, Tommy Robinson types and assorted faschisoid extremists will come out to turn London streets into battlegrounds. The situation may resemble the 1930s, when fascists and communists fought their bloody battles in the East End.

Public order is in peril, and the fault lies with our government’s vacillating policies, both foreign and domestic. HMG should state unequivocally that supporting Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel (“from the river to the sea”) is tantamount to inciting terrorism. The Terrorism Act 2000, Section 2, provides for rewarding that activity with imprisonment of up to 15 years.

The next step would be putting enough police, possible even troops, on the streets to enforce that law and preserve public order. It’s time we realised that what is under way isn’t a conflict between Israel and her enemies, but what Samuel P. Huntington correctly identified as the clash of civilisations.

Having said that, I’m almost certain today’s governments, including ours, are incapable of understanding such simple logic and acting accordingly. Mindless toing and froing is their lot.

P.S. The other day several people filmed the act of vandalism at the National Gallery, but not a single one tried to stop it. Have the English become a nation of voyeurs?

How I avoided arrest yesterday

Living in a stifling atmosphere saturated with tawdry vulgarity, one has to come up for a gulp of fresh air now and then. That’s why the National Gallery is our usual haunt, what with its air full of cultural oxygen.

We’ve been going to the National once a month or so for 35 years and, though we know every inch of every painting there, the gallery never fails to provide the resuscitation we seek. That’s why, when Penelope suggested we go there yesterday, I nodded enthusiastically.

But then I looked out of the window, which exertion led to an inner conflict, not to say turmoil. The day was sunny, and it would be misleading to suggest that London is blessed with many such days in November. Nice weather usually spells t-e-n-n-i-s for me, hence the conflict between my spiritual and physical needs.

The latter prevailed, and I drove to my club, having come up with a lame excuse for doing so. We have tickets for two on-going exhibitions, of Rubens and Holbein, I said. Going over to the National Gallery a few days before attending those would constitute not so much a dose of aesthetic pleasure as an overdose. I’m not sure Penelope agreed, but she knows better than to get between me and tennis.

That saved me from having my collar felt.

You see, we seldom look at every painting each time we go to the National. Yet we never bypass some, especially those of the early Renaissance, along with the Dutch and Spanish art of the 17th century. Vermeer and Rembrandt, Zurbarán and Velázquez are as essential to our spiritual diet as malt whisky is essential to mine and coffee to Penelope’s.

Hence it’s a distinct statistical probability that I would have been admiring Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus even as two Just Stop Oil thugs were vandalising it. Since I’m a firm believer in ‘just stopping’ not oil but such thugs, I would have reacted violently.

Experience has taught me that persuasion doesn’t work with crazed fanatics; only violence does. Hence I would have come out swinging, and there would have been blood on the floor – most probably mine, because at my age I’m less equipped for fisticuffs than in my younger days. But they wouldn’t have escaped punishment either and, more important, the painting would have been saved.

As it was, those two criminals only used their hammers to smash the protective glass of the painting, not the pigment crusted 400 years ago. But I would have had no way of knowing that in advance, and that canvas is of much greater value to me than the noses, indeed the lives, of some obsessed scum.

You might say that isn’t the way a civilised person must act and, if he does, it raises legitimate doubts about his being civilised. I can’t argue with that comment – you’d be right. But pray tell me what other recourse I would have had.

Call the police? Yes, that would have been civilised. It would also have been useless because it takes less time to destroy a priceless painting than for cops to arrive. And letting that scum vandalise Velázquez and then walk away unmolested would have been impossible for me.

In the end, they didn’t walk away, choosing instead to stick around and mouth the usual moronic twaddle. The cops did arrive and arrested the vandals, who are now going to have their knuckles rapped. They were charged with causing criminal damage, the penalty for which is contingent on the extent of damage inflicted.

Since they only broke some glass, my guess is they’ll get away with a warning and perhaps a small fine. Had I smashed their faces, I wouldn’t have got off quite so easily.

When the vandals face the magistrate, no doubt their lawyer will offer in extenuation their deep commitment to the noble cause of saving ‘our planet’. Since the cause is in fact ignoble, I rather think such commitment should be an aggravating circumstance instead, but that’s not how our jurisprudence works.

By contrast, striking a physical blow in defence of our civilisation would be seen as a violent crime, and never mind the cause. That’s why, when Just Stop Oil mobs wreak havoc on London traffic by blocking vital thoroughfares, not one of them has so far suffered any physical retribution.

Some drivers get out of their cars and try to drag the fanatics away to clear the carriageway, but that’s as far as it gets. The police are typically in attendance but, just as typically, they do nothing. People have a right to demonstrate for the causes they see as just, they’d say – or rather would be instructed to say.

Society, on the other hand, isn’t allowed to protect itself even in situations where authorities offer no protection. Thus the two vandals will be free to join hundreds of thousands of others to disrupt the Armistice Day commemorations. They’ll be screaming “Palestine free, from the river to the sea”, even though many of them won’t be able to identify the river involved or find it on the map.

If such recent sabbaths are anything to go by, Muslims will make up only about 20 per cent of the mob. The others will mostly be members of lumpen intelligentsia, alumni of our schools and universities where they learned to hate our civilisation and love its enemies.

Dress rehearsals for 11 November have been held throughout last week, with the Met pretending it has been doing something about it. According to its spokesman, “Around 100 arrests were made by officers along Whitehall during another day of disruption by Just Stop Oil. These arrests were made for breaching section seven of the Public Order Act at various points between Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, including near to the Cenotaph. No protester glued themselves to the road. There were no offences linked to the Cenotaph”.

Quite. But I assure you there will be, and the two vandals will be out in time to join in the fun. And even those 100 already arrested will be released in good time.

Now I invite you to exercise your imagination and picture hundreds of thousands of conservatives joining Jews to flood central London. They’d be carrying placards and chanting mantras calling for killing all Gaza Muslims and for Israel to reclaim all of her ancient land, including Judaea and Samaria – perhaps even Egypt and Iraq where the Israelites were once enslaved.

Do you think just a paltry 100 people would be arrested? If that’s a difficult question, here’s an easier one: if a scared septuagenarian seriously wounded a burglar, which one would go to prison?

Both Just Stop Oil and Free Palestine fanatics come from the same classroom as most of our civil servants. The latter may or these days may not speak with better accents, but they certainly don’t espouse better ideas. Hence they sense kinship with the fanatics and won’t punish them too severely by defending the putative good causes with too much youthful impetuosity.

But who will defend the really good cause of our civilisation? Some isolated and impotent individuals not even worth talking about. They won’t make a dent in the awful juggernaut and won’t even slow it down. So all we can do is rejoice that those vandals took hammers to Velázquez, not acid. And that so far no Jews have been murdered in North London, even though hundreds have been abused.

Thank God (and our government) for small favours.

It’s not AI that’s dangerous

Once the two on-going wars have been covered, other subjects begin to claim pride of media space. One of them, Artificial Intelligence, is taking up more and more newspaper inches, most reading like a dystopic sci-fi fantasy.

Details vary quite a bit, but the overall thrust less so. Many commentators see AI as a threat to people’s jobs or even to the very survival of mankind. Robots will turn into Frankenstein’s monsters, they say, but with a much greater destructive power. Artificial intelligence will then trump the natural kind to annihilate humans and set up an electronic totalitarian realm from hell.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of computers barely stretches to using them in lieu of typewriters and looking up bits of information on Google. Hence I can’t judge the technological feasibility of such doomsday scenarios.

On general principles, however, I can’t imagine a creature ever being superior to its creator, although I’m sure some atheists may feel differently. Come to think of it, computer geeks and chess players have joined forces to create software packages that can wipe the board with any human wood-pusher, but that’s a rather narrow area.

That example isn’t substantially different from, say, cars made by man and yet capable of going much faster than a human can. Unless, of course, we are talking about traffic in London or Paris, strangulated as it is by bicycle lanes, derisive speed limits and socialist mayors.

However, I am prepared to accept that those computer experts who warn against the awesome power of AI have a point, and we are in dire danger. Even so, I’d suggest it’s not AI we should fear but ourselves.

AI is nothing but a tool or, if you will, a weapon and, as Soviet drill sergeants used to tell me, the most important part of a weapon is the head of its owner. Tools can be used for various purposes, good or bad. Which it will be depends on whether their wielders are good or bad.

A knife can be sharpened to make a kebab or to cut a baby’s throat. A shotgun can put a brace of pheasants into your oven or you six feet under. A split atom can light up a city or blow it up.

Likewise, I’m sure, AI can be put to good or evil use. The same goes for high-tech in general. Thanks to computers, I no longer have to tote a suitcase full of reference literature every time I go on holiday. Also thanks to computers, when some idiot drove into me a few years ago, the crash was caught on two CCTV cameras. He was banned for a year; I got the insurance money.

However, put a different software package into those same computers, and they tell strangers all sorts of things about me I’d rather keep private: what I eat, cook, read or watch, which holiday destinations and types of music I prefer and so on.

My car’s GPS can guide me to my destination, especially if I know the way anyhow, but it can also inform the police how fast I’m driving. (And if it can’t yet, rest assured it will be able to before long.) My mobile obviates the need to search for a public phone every time I need to tell Penelope I’ll be late, but it can also tell authorities where I am when I go about my lawful business.

 A free country can use AI to protect civil liberties, a tyrannical one will use it to quash them. That’s where I begin to worry – not about AI as such but about its possible nefarious uses.

The history of potentially dangerous technologies shows that we won’t be deterred by their dangers: if something can be made, it will be made. Corollary to that is another historical observation: if technology can be put to wicked use, it will be.

Arguments about the morality of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still raging almost 80 years later. Personally, I’m on the side of those who believe that the bombing was justified because it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives that would otherwise have been lost in Japanese island hopping. Yet I can see the validity of the opposite argument as well.

Whether or not we agree not to chalk those incidents up in the rubric of wickedness, we can argue that the presence of nuclear weapons has so far managed to deter evil states from starting another world war.

Yet ‘so far’ are the operative words. I’m convinced that sooner or later those nuclear mushrooms will be planted by indisputably evil powers. Neither history nor any reliable reading of human nature offers many arguments against that possibility.

The same goes for AI. It may make us all freer and richer, or else, if it can, it may make us redundant and extinct. Let the boffins argue among themselves about the technical aspects of the problem. The rest of us ought to ponder human nature and, if such is our wont, divine providence.

The latter gives reason to hope, the former to tremble. I for one am afraid, but not unduly so. When all is said and done, God will provide.

The silly season never ends

Any war is a test – of courage, morale, ethics, determination, economic strength, military nous. And, what is especially interesting to me, of intellect.

This test is at its most severe for the belligerents themselves. But outside observers have to take it as well, and the two on-going wars are no exception.

Both are rare, possibly unique, in modern history in that neither leaves any room for moral or intellectual ambiguity. The Ukraine and Israel are fighting for their life, having been attacked by evil aggressors seeking to destroy their countries and, in the latter case, murder everyone living there.

Both countries are our allies, Israel of longer standing, but the Ukraine just as clearly. Both find themselves on the receiving end of inhuman cruelty at the hands of self-proclaimed enemies of the West seeking to wipe out our civilisation. Both are bulwarks, the outposts of the West trying to keep barbarians at bay.

One would think that anyone with a modicum of intelligence and moral sense would know which side to support in both conflicts. Yet hardly a day goes by without some pundit delivering the stock mantra, along the lines of “it’s not all black-and-white”, “both sides are at fault”, “it’s not as straightforward as it seems” and so forth.

The motivations for such pseudo-balanced views vary. Some people sympathise with the aggressors, but don’t dare own up to that unequivocally. Others dislike the West and hence cheer for its enemies, whoever they might be. Still others aren’t sufficiently informed to assess the situation properly. But all of them without exception are intellectually underdeveloped.

The problem, I’m afraid, is not only individual but also systemic. For modernity has thrown out the baby of rigorous ratiocination with the bathwater of Christian habits of thought.

I specifically mean Christian thought rather than faith, even though it’s the latter that produced the former. When Christianity was the dominant, or at least essential, part of the Western ethos, it imposed certain patterns of thought that even unbelievers followed, consciously or otherwise. Not all thinkers were devout Christians, but most thought as if they were.

People breathed ambient air saturated with belief that one’s life and therefore thought were directed towards communion with absolute truth. That’s why Western thought was teleological even in its approach to secular problems. Whether or not absolute truth was fully accessible to human reason, people knew it existed and directed their thinking towards getting as near to it as their resources allowed.

Practically all Enlightenment thinkers, French, German or Scottish, illustrate that point. Few of them were pious Christians, and some were out-and-out atheists. Yet the intellectual rigour beaten into them by their teachers, most of whom were clerics, enabled them to think the tasks they set themselves through to the end.

Although I happen to think most of them were misguided most of the time, one can observe first-rate minds at work. Though they had blown up the foundations of the Christian intellectual structure, the structure itself was still upright, providing the framework of disciplne within which the mind could do its work.

Their heirs weren’t so lucky, although it took a while for that structure to totter and then collapse. But collapse it did.

Western thought has lost what I call the art of making the next step. It muddles through to some stopover on the way to the truth, and then a steel gate comes clunking down: thus far but no farther. Some people reach that stage sooner, some later, but few ever get to the final destination. Most don’t even know it exists and suspect it may not.

Thus they become susceptible to persuasion that bypasses reason altogether. If you look at advertising in commerce and propaganda in politics, you’ll see that neither owes its success to reason. Both appeal to the primitive pagan in man, an intellectually half-naked creature unable to tell shiny baubles from sparkling diamonds.

That’s what turned liberalism into the dominant element in the intellectual atmosphere of the West. It’s commonly believed that this word has changed its meaning, and there exist actually two liberalisms: classical and modern. Yet the essence of liberalism remains the same – it’s the ambient ethos that has changed.

Someone like Gladstone or Acton seems typologically opposite to today’s liberal saying that “both sides are at fault” and then screaming himself hoarse on a Free Palestine march. Yet both act according to type.

Liberalism starts from negation, dissatisfaction with things as they are. That was the starting point for both yesterday’s Whiggish liberals and today’s socialist ones. But the former still lived in an intellectual universe formed, if no longer dominated, by Christianity.

Thus they were still adept at the art of taking the next step. Having identified their bugbears, they would then activate their teleological thought to negate the negation, in that dread Hegelian terminology. You may agree or disagree with the solutions they reached, but you can’t say they stopped at negation and left it at that.

By contrast, today’s liberals live in a world of intellectual entropy. Having lost the Christian mental discipline, they have replaced it with no other. The thunderous egalitarian noises of the Enlightenment have busted their eardrums, and they can no longer hear voices of reason.

Ignorant opinion and kneejerk sentiments now enjoy equal, in fact preferential, rights with informed judgement, and today’s meandering intellectual roads bypass reason at every turn. Political propaganda and its commercial sibling, advertising, cauterise the last surviving receptors of reason in people’s minds, and they fall easy prey to bandits lying in wait by the roadside.

Gladstonian liberals knew what they wished to destroy, but they also had a clear idea of what they wanted to build in its place. Their minuses were even in number and hence turned into pluses – in their own minds at least. Such was the ambient intellectual air, and they had to inhale it or suffocate.

Yet the collapse of Christianity has sucked positive molecules out of the cultural and social atmosphere. Free destructive atoms no longer bond with intellectual rigour but run wild.

Coming to the fore are the kind of people William Safire used to call alliteratively “the nattering nabobs of negativity”. They send atoms of resentment out, and these bond together into molecules of antipathy to the West.

That explains why our writing and academic intelligentsia are predominantly left-wing. They aren’t necessarily wicked or stupid people – and yet they espouse wicked and stupid causes because their minds are in a state of chaotic clutter. They keep receiving and forwarding anti-Western messages so often and so eagerly that eventually they end up believing that’s where the truth lies.

Their negation is resolved into the assertion of nothing but falsehoods. And their minds no longer have the tools to sort the mess out.

That’s why next Saturday we’ll see many academics and ‘celebrities’ marching through London, their arms intertwined with Muslims and other rank anti-Semites. They’ll be screaming liberation slogans because their minds are enslaved in the modern ethos.

Many of the same people also root for Russia in the other war, but right-wingers outnumber such cheerleaders. These suffer from the same intellectual failings, but their emotional makeup is different.

Most of our political right is defined by the negation of liberalism. Hence both liberals and anti-liberals embark on their intellectual journey from the same starting point: liberalism. Since the anti-liberals too lack the intellectual rigour to resolve their negation into assertion, they too end up disliking the West.

They too are susceptible to semiotic signals bypassing reason, and Russia kindly obliges. Putin’s propagandists make all the right noises, identifying all the same liberal foibles that so excite our right-wingers. Hence they don’t – aren’t trained to – question the credentials of those who emit the signals they like so much.

People aware of our pathetic care for the elderly still wouldn’t credit Dr Shipman’s pronouncements on the subject, even if he said all the right things. Yet our right-wingers (note that I avoid calling them conservatives) happily heed sermons on traditional Christian values preached by mass murderers, torturers, looters and rapists.

Like the liberals they dislike so much, they start at negation and that’s where they end up as well. My contention is that, whatever other problems they may have, intellectual weakness is prime among them, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are stupid.

It’s just that they live in an intellectual climate that has only one season, the silly one. It’s called modernity.    

Strategic clarity at last

The Cicero of Russia strikes again

When it comes to defining their war objectives, the Russians not so much move the goal posts as throw them out of the stadium.

When Putin’s hordes flooded into the Ukraine on 24 February, 2022, the objective was defined as de-Nazifying and demilitarising the country. Wiping the Ukraine out as a sovereign state in other words: that was the only way to achieve such worthy goals.

When several crushing defeats turned that objective into a pie in the sky, Vlad lost the thread. Having missed the original target, he began both to lower his sights and to raise them – sometimes in the course of a single day.

Aiming low, he’d announce ad urbi et orbi that all he wanted was to make sure Russian-speaking Ukrainians wouldn’t be abused by bloodthirsty Judaeo-Nazi Ukies. In the next breath, he’d go global. His redefined aim was in fact defending (or else creating – it could be either) a Pax Russica, made up of all Russian speakers around the world.

That gave me a few sleepless nights, pursued as I was by the nightmares of Russian tanks rolling down Piccadilly to protect my right to speak Russian, which I don’t want to speak anyway. I was also tempted to alert the residents of Brooklyn’s largely Russian-speaking Brighton Beach to the imminent airborne landing of Spetsnaz paras.

Jesting aside, unclear strategic objectives compromise tactical operations, and someone must have put a quiet word to that effect into Putin’s shell-like. To his credit, he understood and acted on that understanding.

Earlier this week Vlad convened his Security Council and delivered a speech meant to eliminate any strategic obfuscation once and for all. The Council members applauded, and so did much of the rest of the country. Now they knew.

“In the Ukraine,” said Vlad, “Russia is waging war on the USA to create a Palestinian state. The absence of such a state is the principal injustice of today’s world, which the USA is guilty of, and which Russia must correct by fighting in the Ukraine.”

Clarity at last, happiness all around. Noticing the unbridled enthusiasm written on the faces of everyone present, Vlad went on to explain that the West was the “root of evil” in the world.

“Behind the tragedy of the Palestinians, the massacre in the Middle East, the conflict in Ukraine, many other conflicts in the world, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and so on, are the ruling elites of the United States and their satellites,” continued Vlad, like a thief screaming “Stop thief!” as he runs ahead of his pursuers.

“It would be good for those who worry so deeply about citizens of Israel to investigate what their special services are up to in Ukraine, and that they are trying to provoke pogroms in Russia,” added Putin. “Pure scum, there is no other word for it.”

He was referring to the pogrom at Makhachkala’s airport the other day, when a mob screaming “Allahu akbar!” rushed onto the runway hoping to massacre Israeli passengers on the flight arriving from Tel Aviv.

In the process they looted the airport shops, proving that the terminal has come up in the world since I myself landed there. My friend Tony Daniels and I went to Makhachkala in 1995, when the FCO asked us to have a look at the refugee camps on the Dagestan-Chechnya border. At that time, there were no shops to loot at the airport – but on the plus side, there was plenty of naked concrete.

The horror stories of Russian atrocities we heard at the camp were the worst I had ever heard, and people dying in front of our very eyes proved the stories were true. If further validation was necessary, the Russians have now provided it by their inhuman massacres of civilians in the Ukraine, every bit as horrific as in the two Chechen wars.

Rallying Dagestani Muslims to storm that airport, while also launching an anti-Semitic riot in Khasavyurt (the site of that camp in 1995), seems like a task beyond even the combined efforts of CIA and Mossad, but well within the capabilities of the FSB. It has form in that sort of thing: Russian and Soviet security services have always whipped up anti-Semitism to channel resentment into that proven conduit and away from the government.

Putin then accused the dastardly Yankees of using their Israeli proxies to murder “hundreds of thousands” of Gaza civilians, including the mandatory “women and children”. Since Hamas sources themselves had only claimed 8,000 such victims, Vlad was out by two orders of magnitude at least. But that, as the Russians say, is only half the trouble.

If the Guinness Book of World Records had an entry for the most deranged speeches, it would have to be updated every time Putin opened his mouth in public. Accusing others of atrocities against civilians when the Russians are indeed killing hundreds of thousands of them in the Ukraine takes more than just mendacious cynicism.

Putin seems to have lost all touch with reality, but the scary thing is that the Russians don’t mind. Their social networks are bursting at the seams with messages of enthusiastic support and calls for immediate nuclear strikes on all major Western cities.

All this should eliminate all doubts, if any still exist, as to who really is the root of evil in the world. Putin’s speech is nothing short of a declaration of war on the West, specifically the US.

He is issuing a war cry: by murdering Ukrainian civilians, Russia is fighting the US to create a Palestinian state. This sounds deranged, and at the level of semantics it is. But the semiotic signal comes across loud and clear: Russia considers herself at war with the US and the West in general. I do hope we are listening and making notes.

P.S. Speaking of evil, the other day the Israeli authorities showed an audience of foreign reporters a 43-minute film cut together from footage shot by the bodycams of Hamas terrorists.

Those reporters have been around a block or two, and they’ve seen horrors worse than those Tony and I witnessed in 1995. Yet the bloodbath shown in the film shocked even that blasé audience.

Many hyperventilated and ran out, others threw up, some others had hysterical fits. Those experienced people had seen many massacres, but scenes of people dismembered with hoes and babies roasted in the oven were too much even for them.

In 1945 the victorious Allies forced many Germans to watch documentaries of Auschwitz and Treblinka. It would be nice to do the same thing by forcing all those pro-Hamas demonstrators to watch that horror film. Greta Thunberg should get a free ticket.

Theology of greed

Luther and Calvin

“Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life,” writes Max Weber in his canonical work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1904-1905.

To any sixteenth-century humanist or Protestant this line of thought would have sounded not just wrong but downright daft. Yet Weber’s readers nodded their collective understanding. For them, that observation went without saying.

A shift must have occurred in the intervening four centuries, and it did. It’s called Protestantism.

Luther was an Augustinian monk, and he was strongly influenced by the founder of his order. Yet in the time-proven manner of a politicised exegete, Luther focused on those teachings that supported his own thoughts and ignored those that didn’t (such as unquestioning obedience to the church, which Augustine demanded, and the vital importance of sacraments, which Augustine extolled as “the visible form of an invisible grace.”).

One such aspect stands out: the doctrine of predestination, closely linked to original sin.

The Fall, according to Augustine, stigmatised man for ever. Original sin was so grave that it couldn’t be redeemed by anything an individual could do in his lifetime. Only God could determine who would be saved. No one but God could either know a person’s final destination or affect it in any way.

The greatest philosophical problem arising from predestination is its seeming contradiction with free will. After all, if choices we make using our free will are irrelevant to our salvation, what makes our will free in the first place? And why do we need it at all? Free will can only remain man’s most valuable possession if we stand to gain from a correct choice or suffer the consequences of a wrong one.

God’s is the absolute freedom, but if we are truly created in his image, ours has to be at least a relative one. Only God can be totally free, but that doesn’t mean man has to be totally enslaved.

Luther also declared that every man was his own priest, thereby extending humanism to religion. In one fell swoop this made apostolic succession, along with the church hierarchy, redundant and therefore useless.

But it couldn’t have been made completely useless for as long as the church hierarchy was considered essential to the task of preserving Christian tradition. Showing laudable consistency, Luther chopped through that Gordian knot with Alexander’s élan: if it takes a useless church hierarchy to preserve tradition, then tradition is useless too. Who needs it anyway if the Scripture contains the whole truth of Christianity?

This explains why 300 years later John Henry Newman felt justified to write that: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant”. For Luther’s denial of equal rights to tradition ignores both the history and the nature of Christianity.

To begin with, the first Gospel wasn’t written until decades after Jesus. Yet the church had survived and spread in the intervening period by subsisting on tradition, mostly oral. Also, since Christianity is a living religion, revelation can be given gradually, not once and for all.

Unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity isn’t a religion wholly contained in a written document, and nor can it ever be regarded as such this side of heresy. The Scripture may be the first, second and tenth most important parts of doctrine. But it isn’t the only part.

Calvin developed Luther by pushing the idea of predestination to an absurd extreme. He acted in the manner of a heretic who attaches undue significance to one single aspect of faith, however correct it may be.

We are predestined for salvation or damnation, pronounced Calvin, and, since we live in “total depravity”, we can do nothing to affect the outcome. The idea of good works as restitution for sin is Catholic nonsense, a way of keeping the masses in check. Some will be saved and others damned, regardless of their works (apart from faith, which is a work too).

When asked to put a number on the lucky winners of that divine lottery, Calvin tended to change his mind. The range varied from a miserly one in 100 to a generous one in five. In any case we were talking about a small minority, but out of curiosity, how could we know which of us had drawn the lucky ticket?

It’s Calvin’s answer to this question that led Weber to regard capitalism as a predominantly Protestant phenomenon. God, explained Calvin, gave those to be saved a sign of his benevolence by making them rich.

No, God wouldn’t just rain gold on the elect. Rather he’d guide them to a way of life that would deliver wealth as a reward. Hard work would be an important part of it, but piety and frugality also had a role to play, if only as a way of thanking God for the lucre he had allowed the righteous to make. Virtuous conduct was thus an equivalent of a thank-you note to God.

This was nothing short of a revolution, a crucible of class war. For the first time since Christ, a major religious figure upgraded wealth from an object of bare toleration to a sign of divine benevolence. Grace became quantifiable in pieces of gold.

In common with most successful revolutionaries, Calvin sensed the mood of his flock and told them exactly what they craved to hear. Secretly Genevans had always known that God rewarded righteousness with money, just as he did in the Old Testament; now they no longer had to be secretive about it.

Austerity was in their nature too. The burghers eschewed opulence both out of inner conviction, but also to emphasise the difference between themselves and the idle, degenerate aristocracy on the one hand and lazy, impoverished layabouts on the other.

By allowing the bourgeoisie to strike out against both, Calvin provided a much needed tool of social control. He married remunerative work and religion, thus making indolence a sin, only matched by the sin of pleasure-seeking. Now if hoi-polloi were to rebel against the rich, they would be rebelling against God – not something they were prepared to do. Not yet anyway.

For all his (and Luther’s) anti-Semitism, Calvin pushed Christianity even further towards its Judaic antecedents than Luther did. For one thing, material reward for virtue had until then been a feature of the Old Testament only.

Followers of Christ were supposed to leave their possessions behind, not try to multiply them. Unlike Abraham whose faith was rewarded by riches, theirs was rewarded by a lifetime of penury. St Francis, shedding his clothes and walking out of his father’s house naked, was closer to Christ than a successful merchant could ever be.

Those who according to Calvin were predestined for salvation had to show their gratitude by pursuing puritanical self-denial not just during some festivals, such as Lent, but every minute of their lives. Though he attacked Catholic monasticism, Calvin effectively took his own version out of the monastery, extending denial of the world to the world at large.

In theory, there is something attractive about the ideal of pursuing virtue one’s whole life, not just a hundred or so days a year. And it’s easy to poke fun at a hypothetical Catholic who divides his week between debauchery and double-dealing only to go to confession on Sunday and be forgiven. In practice, however, there is a serious obstacle to turning such an ideal into reality. It’s called human nature.

Perfect life can only be achieved by perfect people, and few fit this description. The rest welcome any excuse to practise what they don’t preach.

As a result, many Protestants used their religious freedom to steer clear of the more taxing demands on their lives. In heeding Calvin’s simple explanations, they slit their own religious throats with Occam’s razor. Gradually many of them, along with much of what used to be called Christendom, moved away from the religion itself.

This isn’t what Calvin envisaged, and it is something both he and Luther would have abhorred. They themselves believed in God with sincere passion. What they didn’t seem to believe in was unintended consequences, a failing they share with secular revolutionaries.

Happy Secularism Day!

It’s otherwise known as Reformation Day, but I believe in calling a spade a spade, as long as I don’t get done for commiting a hate crime.

On 31 October, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg.

Thereby Europe stepped into the antechamber of secularism, for the Reformation pushed the countdown button for it. I may go into the doctrinal and theological reasons for that tomorrow, but today I’ll just ask a simple question:

Why did the Reformation become so successful at that particular time, early in the century when even translating the Bible into vernacular was a capital offence?

After all, that wasn’t the only attempt at church reform. The Englishman John Wycliff and the Czech John Hus before Luther, along with the Fleming Cornelius Jansen (or rather his followers) immediately after him, also tried to correct the iniquities that so excited the sixteenth-century Protestants.

Yet their efforts neither destroyed the traditional church nor created a new one. Whatever their original intent, those reformers achieved just that: some reform, not much.

Conversely, first Luther and then Calvin succeeded in breaking away from the Catholic church altogether, starting worldwide confessions of their own. In many areas of dogma, liturgy, everyday practices and the whole tenor of religion, these confessions veered as far away from orthodox Christianity as was possible while still remaining Christian.

Yet, though the original animus of the Protestants was directed at dogma, liturgy and clerical abuses, their success had little to do with correcting any of those. At the risk of sounding materialist, one has to conclude that the contributing factors were almost all secular.

The Holy Roman Empire was a feudal network of principalities, mostly though not exclusively Germanic, acting as vassalages to the supreme feudal lord, the Emperor. Some of the potentates were desperate to assert their independence from the papacy, sensing correctly that the Emperor’s power would diminish if denied its ecclesiastical underpinnings.

The most effective way of breaking away from the Pope would have been to break away from Catholicism altogether. However, by that time the only alternative to it, the Eastern confession, had become no alternative at all.

Thus, when Luther came up with his sweeping reforms, his audience was primed, and the seeds of his dissent fell on fertile soil already softened up by Renaissance humanism.

The feudal aristocrats of the Holy Roman Empire didn’t take long to realise that what was under way was the birth of a new religion, not just a reform of the old one. A new religion meant a new political arrangement, this much they knew.

And, following two centuries of humanist scepticism, that was probably all they needed to know. Their secular aspirations came first. Fine points of theology and liturgy were strictly secondary.

However, the power of the feudal aristocracy was being curbed not only by the Pope but also by the emergence of the bourgeoisie, a new, mostly urban, class.

The economic, and consequently political, power of that class derived neither from inheritance nor from arable land. Mostly the bourgeois relied on labour, their own or hired, to get ahead. Their economic success was measured not in acres but in money – the more of it, the better. This put them on a collision course with the Catholic church.

First, though the church’s opposition to usury had by then weakened, it had by no means disappeared. Even if some secular authorities had made the charging of interest legal, the general attitude of the church was that of half-hearted toleration, barely masking the tacit disapproval underneath.

Yet credit was the bloodline of the urban middle classes, since without it they couldn’t take advantage of the business opportunities arising in the rapidly growing towns. Hence the bourgeoisie of the Holy Roman Empire felt uncomfortable with the Catholic church.

Nor were they happy with the Jewish domination of financial services that would inevitably ensue if Christians were banned, or at best discouraged, from lending money at interest.

Whatever latent anti-Semitism the bourgeois possessed to begin with became more virulent because they felt that their own church was pushing them into the hands of the Jewish money lenders. That resentment was described in English literature, both approvingly (by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice) and disapprovingly (by Scott in Ivanhoe).

It wasn’t only the growing middle classes but also many of the aristocrats who were often indebted to the Jews, and those gentlemen were conditioned to solve financial problems by violence. After all, their original fortunes had been made that way.

This was the nature of many anti-Jewish massacres, including the 1190 pogrom in York (the last such event to take place in England), where the mob led by local noblemen first broke into the Minster to destroy the promissory notes kept there, and only then went after the Jews. That bile could also partly account for the anti-Semitism of both Luther and Calvin who were aware of its appeal to their flock.

The difficulty of obtaining credit wasn’t the sole problem the urban middle classes had with the church. Their wealth depended on hard work – not only around the clock but also around the calendar. Yet both the clock and the calendar were affected by the traditional practices of the church: it wasn’t just the Sabbath day that was supposed to be kept holy.

The ‘days of obligation’ set aside for religious worship numbered at least 100 in many dioceses, which meant that almost a third of the year was to be taken out of wealth-generating toil. This paled by comparison to the 200 such days demanded by the Eastern church at its most orthodox, but that was little consolation for the aspiring Germans.

Upwardly mobile classes are innately opposed to any traditional hierarchies, and this held true for the Germanic bourgeois of the sixteenth century. That’s not to say they were intuitively egalitarian, far from it. It’s just that, for their aspirations to be pursued unimpeded, they needed to replace the old hierarchy of status derived from birth with the new hierarchy of status derived from money.

To that end, throughout the Middle Ages the emerging class of urban bourgeoisie had been fighting for political independence from the aristocracy. Municipal government and other local institutions had been wrenching bits of sovereignty away from feudal noblemen, including ecclesiastical ones.

The wealthier the bourgeoisie became, the more political power it could wield – and the more prepared it would be to break away from the church. Yet, pious as most of the townsmen were, they weren’t quite ready to part ways with their faith even if they had problems with their church. And in those days they tended to use the words ‘faith’ and ‘church’ almost interchangeably.

When the reformers came along, the bourgeois heaved a sigh of relief. They no longer had to be good Catholics in order to be good Christians: “Every man is his own priest,” declared Luther. Thus it stands to reason that they welcomed with open arms the original reformer, Luther, and especially Calvin who reformed the Reformation by pushing it even closer to the middle class.

Luther stayed within the confines of the German principalities, and his survival was largely owed to his appeal to the secular aspirations of the German princes, however carefully they tried to mask such aspirations with pious verbiage. That’s why, 19 years before Tyndale was immolated for merely translating the Bible, those princes shielded Luther from papal wrath.

I realise to my shame that I’ve been waxing materialist throughout this short sketch. The fault isn’t so much mine as my subject’s, but I still must atone for it. So, barring a nuclear attack in the next 24 hours, I’ll try to decorticate Protestant theology tomorrow – showing, with luck, that it too pushed Europe closer to secularism.