The curse of Mother Teresa

March 28, 2011

2010 marked 100 years since the birth of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu; Mother Theresa. She is a Catholic heroine, beatified by the Catholic Church in 2003 at St Peters in Rome by Pope John Paul II, and given a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She is known the World over for her aiding the impoverished people of India, and in particular, Calcutta. She is often idolised, considered a wonderful, caring, selfless human being.

I could not disagree more with that perception.

There are a great deal of those beatified who are certainly worthy of such high admiration. Anne-Marie Javouhey is perhaps one of my favourites. She founded Institute of Saint Joseph of Cluny at Cabillon in the early 19th Century, dedicating her life educating the poor and slave populations across the World. She was an emancipator, far before my most revered emancipator, Charles Sumner was even born. Javouhey worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the ill. For this, she deserves all the admiration that the Catholic Church bestowed upon her.

There are also a great deal of those beatified, who do not deserve it, and should be absolutely condemned. Isidore of Seville is a Saint, made so by Saint Clement VIII. Isidore once wrote an essay calling for the Christians to take Jewish children away from their parents by force, and educate them in the Christian way. A wonderful study by Bat-sheva Albert called “Isidore of Seville: His attitude toward Judaism and his impact on Early Medieval Cannon Law” shows that Isidore was concerned with writing instructions for the clergy to adhere to, and those instructions were unusually marred with vicious language aimed directly at Judaism, and perpetuated the persecution and suspicion of Jews during the Medieval period. We could claim that Isidore lived in the 6th Century and that we’re typically viewing and condemning him through 21st Century vision. The problem is, Isidore’s views on taking children away from their parents simply for being Jewish, were radical even for the 6th Century. Because the rational conscience of humanity is often at odds with the irrational immorality hell of organised religion.

Unfortunately, Mother Theresa is not even close to being as admirable in any way, in comparison to Javouhey, and actually closer in terms of the destruction to human life, to Isidore of Seville.

Her order, the “missionaries of charity” did more to inflict suffering, pain and poverty on people needlessly, than the actual causes of that suffering and pain and poverty itself. She believed that poverty was a virtue to brought one closer to God. The more a person suffers, whether they ask for that suffering or not, the closer they are to God according to the warped fantasy of Mother Theresa, recently beatified. Primitive equipment was used to treat wounds. No pain killers were used at all. Unsterilised needles equipment was used. People died far sooner than they would have had Mother Theresa actually bothered to recommend actual medical treatment for the poor that she was apparently “helping”.

Her use of fairy tales to promote suffering and pain should be viewed with the contempt it deserves. She believed suffering was good, abortion was wrong, and birth control was evil. In a country like India, villifying birth control is reckless at best. According to a freelance writer, Judith Hayes, Mother Theresa once told a cancer patient in her care that she did not need pain killers, because:

“You are suffering like Christ on the cross, So Jesus must be kissing you.”

How else would someone come to such a positively dangerous position that does nothing but cause unnecessary pain and suffering, if not for belief. Why would a sane human being refuse pain killers to a dying lady in pain, other than a belief in a God. And what a poor argument for an all loving God that would be.

Mother Theresa sat on a fortune. Banks accounts all over the World, filled with millions upon millions in donations. People were led to believe that they were giving money to alleviate suffering. Instead, the millions of dollars sat unused, like a bottle of water and loaf of bread hanging over the mouths of the starving, being held just out of reach by an insane Nun who wallowed in her feet being kissed by impoverished “Calcutteans”.

Calcutta itself, the capital of West Bengal, is home to far more people than it can sustain. Almost 6 million live in Calcutta and the streets are paved with the homeless. 6 million people, in 71 square miles, is ridiculous. That being said, it has cultural heritage that far surpasses anything else in India. Mother Theresa tried to persuade people against the use of condoms. In a city vastly overpopulated, she was attempting to ban condoms, and persuading people that abortion was a great evil; even for victims of incest and rape. Millions of people were being put at risk, because Mother Theresa and the Catholic Church indulged in an irrational campaign against the use of contraception.

In New York, a homeless and poor shelter was going to be installed in the Bronx. The plans included two storied building. The City Planning Commission insisted that for the disabled, their must be an elevator. The Nuns applied for a waiver of the Disabled Access Laws, on grounds of nothing else but “religious belief”. Mother Theresa and the Nuns refused to allow an elevator to be installed because their religious beliefs forbade them from using “modern conveniences”. When the Commission refused them the waiver, Mother Theresa and her Nuns threw their toys out of the pram and abandoned the project. They would rather let people suffer, than install an elevator.

Susan Shields, an ex-member of the Missionaries on Charity tells her story, about what she witnessed when she was a Sister in the organisation run by Mother Theresa:

When Mother spoke publicly, she never asked for money, but she did encourage people to make sacrifices for the poor, to “give until it hurts.” Many people did – and they gave it to her. We received touching letters from people, sometimes apparently poor themselves, who were making sacrifices to send us a little money for the starving people in Africa, the flood victims in Bangladesh, or the poor children in India. Most of the money sat in our bank accounts.

The flood of donations was considered to be a sign of God’s approval of Mother Teresa’s congregation. We were told by our superiors that we received more gifts than other religious congregations because God was pleased with Mother, and because the Missionaries of Charity were the sisters who were faithful to the true spirit of religious life.

Most of the sisters had no idea how much money the congregation was amassing. After all, we were taught not to collect anything. One summer the sisters living on the outskirts of Rome were given more crates of tomatoes than they could distribute. None of their neighbors wanted them because the crop had been so prolific that year. The sisters decided to can the tomatoes rather than let them spoil, but when Mother found out what they had done she was very displeased. Storing things showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

Mother Theresa once claimed that doing good for the sake of altruistic reasons, is wrong. She claimed:

There is alwayst he danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work. … It is a danger; if we forget to whom we are doing it. Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ. Our hearts need to be full of love for him, and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God.

She was essentially saying that the only moral course a person must take in regard to charity, is to extol the virtues of poverty, let the sick and dying suffer, abandon painkillers, and ban birth control, all because it will take us closer to “Jesus”. It is virtually impossible to reason with someone who is so shockingly unreasonable, it borders on psychopathic.

When Mary Loudon, a volunteer in Calcutta asked one of the Nuns responsible for patient “care” why she was not sterilizing the needles, the nun replied:

There is no point.

And continued to wash the needle under a cold tap.
Loudon then tells a story about a fifteen year old boy who went from having a simple kidney problem, and by the time she was writing this, he was dying. The Nuns had refused to give him antibiotics and would not allow him to be taken to the local hospital. He needed operating on and was just being left to die, whilst the delusional Nuns of the order of Mother Theresa prayed for him. The Nuns argued that if they did it for one, they’d have to do it for all of them. Not withstanding the fact that they were running a shack with unsterilized equipment, they also were sitting on millions of dollars; enough to build a top class hospital. The decision not to use that money to help people, was entirely down to religious belief.

People in the care of Mother Theresa, were given no painkillers, treated with dirty implements, given no specialist care, no professional diagnosis, and more often than not, died because of easily curable injuries and disease. They were indoctrinated to believe that if they doubted Mother Theresa, they were doubting God, and would be punished in the afterlife. They died, for the sake of a multi millionaire religious fundamentalist.

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The mouth of a river in spring

March 17, 2011

When I was six, before life became work, and taxes, and benefit cheats, and women, and racism, and war, and men in suits, and bin collections, and Churchill car insurance, and bank charges for unplanned overdrafts, and Company mission statements with their empty phrases, and burnt out cars, and call centres, and fights to prove you’re masculine, and cars, and alcohol and other games that adults play, I got so angry at my mother one day that I ran away. It was a big decision. I packed my rucksack with crayons and a yoghurt, and ran away.

I braced myself for the harsh conditions I expected I would face as I set out on my trek.

Before I continue, I thought I should explain the state of mind I was almost always in, as a child. And nothing explains that state of mind better than a picture of me apparently pretending to be a surfboard.

If that isn’t enough, here is a picture I drew a couple of years later. I think this should convince you of my state of mind. And also, convince Tate Britain that I have been overlooked far too often for the Turner Prize.

Anyway, I had ran away from home.

I lived for the next ten minutes in a bush at the bottom of the garden, before making my way back across the hostile environment of the 20 or so feet to the house, to get back home because it was a bit cold, and I liked Saved by the Bell. I was under the impression that my mother must be going mad with worry, and the police might now be in the house, and that it’d teach her for not buying me the football magazine that I wanted.

Whilst I was in the bush, I decided that the ladybird that was on the leaf next to me, was called Daisy and that she was playing hide and seek with another lady bird and that I had to tell the other lady bird that I hadn’t seen daisy, if the other lady bird were to ask. The other lady bird never appeared. I guessed this was because Daisy had chosen a fucking amazing hiding place. She was on one leaf out of the hundreds of thousands of leaves that were enjoying the great British springtime. The leaf she was perched on was facing downwards. I decided that the leaf must be helping Daisy out but I couldn’t decide whether this was cheating or not.

I vividly remember wishing Daisy luck with the rest of the game, and that if I were her, i wouldn’t hide in the shed, because I once put all my action men figures in there and they are now covered in spider webs from the World’s biggest spiders. I used to think the dad spider (which was obviously bigger than my house) would eat me if I tried to rescue my action men. One day a few months later, I hatched a profound plan to rescue the action men (and wrestling figures), by creeping into the shed, with a beanie hat on, and my face covered by my hands, and making what I had decided were “spider noises” to trick the dad spider. It worked. The dad spider must have fell for my tricks. I felt so fucking clever. The action men and wrestling figures are now gathering dust in my loft, because my room is too full of work on the “qualitative methodology in research journalism“. So, when I remember all my little imaginative games (which I believed were real at the time), in those ten minutes in that bush when I was six, I had an imagination that I now envy twenty years later.

We are like roses that have never bothered to
bloom when we should have bloomed and
it is as if
the sun has become disgusted with
waiting

It is like a door that is slowly closing, to a room full of imagination. Every year that passes, the door creaks ever so more toward being fully closed, as your mind is taken up with things that do not make us happy, or achieve anything of any worth. I try to peek inside that door, when I am taking photos, or writing in my notebook, but it still requires much thought and consideration to enjoy. When I was six years old, it took no effort to believe that a ladybird on the leaf next to me, was enjoying the sun, with a game with her ladybird friends.

Imagination is limited to dreams now. When I was a child I had no need for dreams at night. My imagination in real life was adequate. Some days, I was a professional footballer who was only six years old, but had become the most successful goal scorer in history. The commentators would say “He’s incredible. The greatest that ever lived“. Other days I was a professional boxer. The World Heavyweight Championship was my pillow. I would put it on my stomach and use my mum’s dressing gown tie to tie it around my waist.The commentators, quite coincidentally would say “He’s incredible. The greatest that ever lived“. I was the greatest that ever lived at a lot of things by the time I was seven. I could sleep easily at night without having to dream, knowing my World Heavyweight Championship would still be there in the morning. Now, I dream every night. I remember every second of every dream. I interpret it as a desire to imagine. My mind simply telling me “Okay forget everything about your boring day, here is what matters……” followed by a dream about a theme park being built in my street over night and no one knowing who did it or where it came from (a genuine dream I had not too long ago).

When I see a ladybird now, I don’t even acknowledge it. I don’t count its spots. I don’t even give it a name and a back story. I am too busy thinking about the NHS reforms.

How sad.

I want my imagination to explain why I prefer the mouth of a river in spring, to the grey lifeless buildings filled with the grey lifeless people with their grey lifeless language, that frequent them, even though those lifeless buildings are where the money and the apparent “dignity” lies and why those grey lifeless people in the grey lifeless buildings with their grey lifeless language, don’t congregate every evening, to forget their colourless lives, at the mouth of a river in spring.


If we believe absurdities, we commit atrocities…

March 6, 2011

You are perhaps going to have to forgive me for writing a blog that is all over the place, this is a subject that I have tried to grapple with for the past few days, almost non-stop, and so this blog is almost just a bunch of thoughts splashed on a page. It may not make sense.

On Thursday night I went to along to a debate between the Muslim International Public Speaker and Researcher Hamza Tortzis and Atheist Philosopher and editor of the Philosophy magazine “Think“, and senior lecturer at Heythrop College in the University of London Dr Stephan Law.

Allow me to set the scene.
95% of people in the room – Muslim.
5% – Atheist.

The fallacies set fourth by Tortsiz were just too easy to discredit. Law was good, but he didn’t have enough time to really get to grips with the arguments. And he was faced with a room full of people who had already decided he was wrong, before the debate even began.

After the debate I got a few minutes to try to debate with Tortzis myself. Unfortunately he had to leave and so I didn’t get the chance. But he very kindly left me his email address, so that we could carry on the debate via email.

One of his points that I took issue with, was the subject of objective morality. It is widely used by the religious community. Tortzis claimed that one can only have a sense of objective morality through God, because the Bible/Koran are books that anchor morality. I find that claim to be ludicrous. It is ludicrous because if it were the case, we would still be advocating stoning people for working on a Sunday, and selling slaves. We have outgrown religious morality, and so it cannot possibly be anchored, transcending time and culture.

I emailed this:

Firstly I wanted to debate a couple of points you made.
You suggested that we Atheists can have no moral basis, simply because we don’t have a belief in a God. You somehow linked a lack of belief, to a lack of basis for morality, to….. Hitler. As if Scientific rationalism (which i’d even agree, can be flawed) lead to Hitler and the holocaust. You mentioned Hitler and the holocaust in relation to a lack of basis for morality several times. The Pope actually made very similar remarks when he was in England.
Firstly, Hitler was Roman Catholic. He certainly wasn’t Atheist.
Hitler in 1922, said this:
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.”
Hitler in 1933, said this:
“Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity.”
Hitler, also in 1933, said this:
“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”
Hitler in 1934, said this:
“National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.”

To even have suggested Atheism can lead to the rise of people like Hitler, is a gross manipulation of the historical fact, which shows quite clearly that Hitler’s motives came far more from a belief in organised religion, than it ever did from some sort of Christopher Hitchens style Atheism. It is simply wrong of you to have suggested that, it cannot be presented in any other way.

Another reason why it is wrong to have suggested that it is Atheists who have no basis for morality, is that it would appear you chose to ignore the absolute atrocities committed throughout the history of religion, in the name of religion. Atheists did not imprison Galileo. Atheists did not torture people of other faiths. Atheists did not start a war, killing innocent people, over a piece of land in the middle of the desert. Atheism did not behead, torture, rape, encourage our “brothers” to kill in the name of our religion like the Catholic Church did in the 16th Century, or like Protestant England did around 1534 onwards. Atheism is not responsible for the idea that it is perfectly acceptable for a grown man to suck the blood out of the mutilated penis of a baby boy, like the Jewish Mohel is employed to do. It wasn’t Atheists who called for Salmon Rushdie to be beheaded, simply because he wrote a book. It wasn’t Atheists who burnt down a Danish embassy, simply because a cartoon “offended” them. It wasn’t Atheists who moved to the Colonies of the United States and began the biggest mass genocide up until that point, in history. It isn’t Atheists who shoot abortion doctors in America. It isn’t Atheists who go to Uganda and profess that condoms actually cause AIDs. It isn’t Atheists who torture and kill people in Africa simply for being in love with someone of the same sex, because their vicious dogmatic hatred tells them that is acceptable. It isn’t Atheists who blocked the entrance and constantly picketed and threatened staff at a cancer unity, and made that cancer unit in England give it’s donation back to the writers of Jerry Springer the Opera because they considered it “blasphemy”, thereby depriving that cancer unit of key equipment. Religions claims on morality are bordering on laughable, given the history of it. Where is the morality in that? Those people aren’t Atheists. They are religious, and they genuinely believe what they are doing is right by their God. Christianity even has ten commandments, in which most of them are just rules on how to not make God jealous, rather than something like “do not molest children”. You chose to ignore all of this, and by doing so, presenting just one simplistic version of what morality is, you managed to make a bunch of people who clearly could not think for themselves, sat in front of me, say constantly “great point!! Atheism is fucking nonsense”. And again, for our Atheist debater to have not picked up on any of this, was incredibly frustrating. What you essentially did, was ignore the immorality of religion over the years (which is so vast, I don’t even know where to start) and point to the holocaust, as evidence for where a lack of moral basis can lead, and even that was flawed because as seen, Hitler was Roman Catholic. So that entire five minutes of your argument was just invented history.

On to the subject of Atheist morality itself, you suggested we have no basis for morality. I would argue that my basis for my sense of morality comes from the progress society has made to get to the point we are at now. It is all a process of Natural selection. My basis for morality is the history of morality. We have acquired such “codes” if you will, to survive. The same can be said for religious evolution. Have you noticed that people who have so-called “Conversions” almost always convert to a religion that is predominant in their culture anyway? I never see a person in Leicester suddenly decide they need to convert to Taoism. It is rare to find a person in Leicester suddenly, out of nowhere, decide they had a religious experience in which they saw an elephant with a blue face and several arms, it will almost always, in the West, be a conversion to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. There will be the odd one or two discrepancies, but if research were undertaken on this, I’m fairly certain we’d find that “conversions” are very much influenced by cultural values already quite strong in whichever area one grew up. This, i’d suggest, is because religion updates with the rest of society. If we were to abide by the Biblical or Quranic “ethics” of 1500 years ago, I cannot imagine we’d all be too happy.

You argued that Atheist morality cannot have objection meaning. Well, nor can religious. Religious people will always argue that their book can be interpreted in many ways, so by definition, it is subjective. An Islamic fundamentalist will no doubt read the Quran far differently to how you do. Does that mean he is wrong? Why is he wrong? He is interpreting the Quran in his own way. He is getting out of the Quran, how his mind interprets it. So on the one hand an Islamic scholar may completely deplore Islamic fundamentalism, and on the other an Islamic scholar elsewhere may condone it. Subjective morality based on apparently objective values. If Christians were to interpret the Bible in the way that early Christians did, then the institute of marriage now would be between a man/rapist/child molester and his virgin woman, another woman, another woman, a few more women, a hostage, a rape victim, and the female children of parents who have just been slaughtered. But never a homosexual, because that is apparently where they draw the line, quite amusingly.
So religion itself can be very subjective, because it rules are ambiguous and in many cases, very out-dated (as of my interpretation, i’d guess you might interpret it differently – proving my point).

To his credit, he emailed back almost immediately with:

Hi Jamie
Thank you for your email
I will read thoroughly and respond appropriately
But one thing you need to understand, I never claimed Atheists have no moral foundation or are immoral, not once did I say this.
What I said was that in absence of God you do not have a conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity. In other words there is no foundation for objective morality.
With regards to the Nazi Germany point, I never claimed that Hitler was an atheist! My point was that if we take social pressure as a foundation for objective morality then we cannot fully condemn such atrocities which were the result of social pressure.
You really need to listen to what I am saying, and not skew what I say via your previous experiences with religious people etc.
I will respond in more detail. But in the mean time please read “Ethics” by J L Mackie (who was a leading atheist philosopher) and you will see that according to the atheistic perspective there are no objective morals. They are just relative.
Warmest Regards
Hamza

I never said I thought he’d told me that Atheists are immoral.
The line:
“My point was that if we take social pressure as a foundation for objective morality then we cannot fully condemn such atrocities which were the result of social pressure.”
…. is a again misleading, because if we take Religion as a foundation for objective morality, we cannot fully condemn such atrocities that are committed by people who genuinely believe what they are doing glorifies God.

Also, the line:
“a conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity”
is very unnerving, because a concept, by definition, is surely man made? And so a concept cannot transcend human subjectivity. A conceptual anchor is just another way of saying a theory. A concept cannot be an anchor because it is not, by definition, truth. Surely a conceptual anchor could also be a political theory…….. like Fascism? To its adherents, it transcends human subjectivity.

The greatest adversaries of morality, are those within the religious community, who sincerely believe that the acts of great cruelty and evil that they commit, are permitted and encouraged by their God and that they will be receiving a reward in an afterlife for committing such acts.

If your book of “objective morality” can permit such acts, or be interpreted to apparently condone such acts, then I do not want your objective morality; it’s fucking horrific. I never once claimed, nor do most Atheists, that we base our moral foundation on social pressure. I certainly don’t. I base it on the one rule that outshines every other when it comes to morality: Treat others as you would be happy to be treated yourself.

Are we honestly saying that for hundreds of thousands of years, the evolving man raped and murdered his way across the World, and then, in the middle of the Desert, 1500 years ago, God suddenly said “okay this needs to stop”. How ridiculous.

Surely an objective truth is objective to the person making the moral statement, unless he is lying. So if there is only subjective morality and I say “It is moral to slaughter millions of Jewish people“, that is objective to me, in the same way as a Muslim suicide bomber would argue that it is morally right to fly a plan into a building.

The reliance on a God for the basis of objective morality, is subjective also because one cannot prove, or come anywhere close to proving the existence of God, and so one cannot prove, or come close to proving the existence of objective morality. I have just as much evidence to say that my God is a man with three heads and talks to me when I am asleep, and has told me that it is morally acceptable to kill all men with ginger hair. If we are to take the Theist argument, then that is my new basis for objective morality. You can be as absurd as you wish, and claim that that particular absurdity provides you with a foundation of objective morality, without offering any proof into the existence of the very thing that apparently gave you the morals in the first place.

Moral objectivism is contradictory, because it updates itself when new evidence is presented to the contrary. So it is subjective by nature. Maybe moral conservatism is a better term. If we are the follow the “objective morality” of the Old Testament, we must surely be arguing the case for slavery? Have the moral objectivists succumbed to so-called “social pressure”? Was the “objective morality” of the Old Testament simply “objective morality” within the context of the time period, in which case, it isn’t objective.

Suicide bombing is almost monopolised by religion. Shooting abortion doctors is definitely monopolised by religion. Chopping the foreskin off of a baby is definitely monopolised by religion (it is also a crap argument for design, if you have to cut off the foreskin of a babies penis, had God messed up when he created foreskin?). Marrying off children to older men is definitely monopolised by religion (and the Catholic Church is REALLY trying hard to make paedophilia a monopoly held by religion). “Objective morality” sent by “God” necessarily makes otherwise good people do awful things they would not normally do. Where would anyone get the idea that it is okay to mutilate a child’s genitalia, without their “conceptual anchor” saying so? Is that really what we’re calling a morally superior system?

How are we to judge whether what organised religion tells us is an objectional basis for morality, is moral in itself? How can you say for certain that it isn’t the work of Satan trying to mislead us? How am I to judge the morality of your Holy Book? Where does the objective foundation for my judging your Holy book come from?
It remains, that even if you conclude that objective morality can only come from God (which I absolutely don’t accept), there is no way to know that that basis, is moral in itself, for that you require belief.

Tortzis continued:

Whatever basis you select or decide for our sense of morality it will always render morals subjective, unless its God.

Take evolution and social pressure for instance. They both change and therefore make morals relative to biological or social changes.

Why must moral facts, come from a God? We can, as Atheists, say rationally that causality plays a role in our morality. We can say that by a given action, this will happen, we can deduce a moral judgement. David Kelley in “Logical structure for objectivism” (which I’ve just picked up at the library, for this very reason) states:

” Material needs such as needs for health and food: these values contribute directly to survival.
Spiritual needs such as needs for conceptual knowledge, self-esteem, education and art: these values are spiritual in the sense that they primarily pertain to consciousness, and contribute to survival by helping Reason to function properly.
Social needs such as needs for trade, communication, friendship and love: these values are social in that they occur only through interaction with others. Logically, their status as values is due to the fact that they contribute to the fulfillment of spiritual and material needs.
Political needs such as needs for freedom and objective law, which are needs concerning the organization of society. These provide the context for fulfilling our material, spiritual and social needs”

It is a similar point to what Maslow was getting at. Objective morality, they argue, is based on causality. Like religion though, the basis of that morality is quite clear, whilst the implementation may differ from person to person. My need for love being that with a member of the opposite sex, will be different to my gay friends, but the need for love itself, is objective. This doesn’t then lead us to say that that particular objective structure, could lead to the rise of Hitler or people like Hitler. Because you must introduce context to the action, because context is reality. Killing a snake as it about to bite us and killing someone on the street are two entirely separate things. The state of ourselves, the state of the thing being killed, the action needed to perform the killing, all lead to different results. One way, we are saving ourselves, the other way, we are a criminal who just murdered someone. The Bible states “Thou shalt not kill”. There is no context to that, we just must never kill. So, actually that is not objective, because it isn’t based on reality, because it doesn’t take into account context, and context is always necessary to make moral judgements. Dogmatic subjectivism cannot give moral answers. As we see every day with the way religious people use their religion to carry out horrific acts.

Thomas Paine noted this, two centuries ago:

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

Are we to claim that those cruel and tortuous executions, that unrelenting vindictiveness is objectively moral?

So, i’d go one further and suggest that kinship is also a factor. In fact, i’d suggest objective morality is a very deep mental process that cannot be summed up with just “God”. It is a process of learning. It is kinship and the recognition of others right to life as we recognise it in ourselves. It is knowledge, education, health, freedom, friendship and love, and causation, leading to what it is that will make us happy without hurting those around us; treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. If we hadn’t developed this system of “codes”, we would not be here now, we would have been one of 99% of natures victims. If I bring God into the equation, I may treat others as I wish to be treated…. unless they’re Gay, or a non-believer, then I should unquestioningly presume they are going to hell, but just after I have sold my slave.

We have evolved to have certain characteristics; love, aggression, hate, friendship, compassion, anger. We note which ones give a positive response from others, and so that becomes a part of our moral decision making process.

Besides, I think I have found a moral in the Bible, that I actually like:

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
John 20:25

I interpret this very subjective passage, to mean that one should question everything, until you see what is being fed to you as truth, demonstrated for you. I like that moral. I will stick to that moral, because that moral leads me to logically conclude that the god of the Bible, does not exist.

If we are to accept that the foundations of objective morality come from God, then why worry about anything that He has created? Humans existing and living in parts of the World that are largely uninhabitable? The fact that we have natural disasters that aren’t in anyway the fault of humanity? It’s all part of God’s plan. Why care? Do we have to care for the sake of reward in an afterlife, or fear of punishment? Is that moral? If my boss is saying to me “you either come to work, or you stay at home, but if you stay at home I will sack you”….. then morality suddenly has a context factor introduced, which renders it almost immoral; i.e – I am going to work, because if I don’t, I will be punished.

The morality of the Quran and the Bible seem to be “I, God, made you sick, with a sickness that I created, and now I have given you the chance to be well, but if you don’t get well, I will have you tortured for eternity”. If I were to enact that kind of regime on Earth, I would surely be labelled immoral by many different people, including the religious.

I find it simply absurd, that apologists of organised religion can have the nerve to claim they have a foundation for objective morality, when people within their own faith cannot even agree on its rules. It is a contradiction beyond anything I think I’ve ever stumbled across.
The mere idea of objective morality is just as troublesome, if not more so, than moral relativism.
Perhaps we should call religious “objective morality“….. “non-thinking morality” or “blind acquiescence morality“.

There are actually no amoral primate social groups anywhere in the World. Even Baboons have codes of conduct. The biologist Edward Wilson describes instances where chimps jump into water to save drowning mates. He suggests this is a primitive version of morality.

Michael Shermer, the American scientist has noted that certain traits are noticeable in great apes:

attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.

This suggests a rather primitive form of moral codes, to aid the survival and progress of a social group.

I would argue that morality is innate, it has evolved along with humanity over millions of years. It is an essence of solidarity and survival. For a good person to commit a great evil, is far more often committed because the person believes they have permission from a God to commit such an evil. Evil people will always do evil things, good people will only do evil things for their “conceptual anchor” be it a political concept or a religious concept. A suicide bomber who blows himself up outside of a hotel or a school, is not necessarily born with the belief that killing innocent people including children is a moral act. Their interpretation of their faith is what guides them to commit atrocities, so how fucking dare the religious apologists try to suggest that they have the monopoly on objective morality, because for too long all it has achieved is the casting of a vicious and violent and hateful shameful shadow over humanity.

I would also go one step further and claim that religion came about as a product of morality, not the other way around. Fear of punishment was a great way to get humanity to obey certain rules of conduct, very similar to how Hitler used the abstract “conceptual anchor” of Nationalism.

Is it true that without a divine dictator, everyone would do exactly as we wished? We would all be murdering our way through life? No. Of course not. Morality is socially evolved, and a product of survival. Nothing else.

“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities” — Voltaire


Racism in America: Lincoln

March 2, 2011

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought with it the utopic notion that racism in the United States of America was over. I certainly do not the doubt the momentous appointment of an African American man to the office of President of a country that was built on racial genocide and slavery. A country that less than a century ago, during the life time of my grandparents, did not allow a white child to attend the same school as a black child simply on the basis of race. The elevation of a black man to the highest office in American politics is symbolically another step on the road to tackling the evils of racism.

This blog isn’t meant as an analysis of Obama. He is essentially part of an establishment that favours financial institutions, oil companies and private health insurers above the lives of the less wealthy, and panders to the apparently widespread American belief that the very wealthy deserve massive tax cuts at the behest of the most vulnerable. He is no different in that respect regardless of his skin colour.

I wanted instead to focus on the beliefs of America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and his complex and often contradictory approach to slavery. Like Jefferson before him, it is almost impossible to figure out where Lincoln stood on the issue, and conflicting books are widespread. Lincoln’s party politics and his true beliefs seem to be confused much of the time, and yet history tends to stick entirely to his party politics regardless of the motives. I wanted to explore those motives more in depth.

Yesterday I went along to see an hour long lecture by Professor Richard Carwardin, the President of Corpus Christi College Oxford and winner of the Lincoln Prize for his book “Lincoln: A life of purpose and power“, a favourite of George W.Bush. Obviously there is a very limited and narrow version of Lincoln’s life one can present in just an hour, but Carwardin alluded to Lincoln as a great emancipator, as if he had been way a head of his time and the progressive champion for the freedom of black slaves, willing to fight a war for its eradication.
I would argue differently.

Lincoln wasn’t happy with the fact that slavery had become an issue by the time he took office. Lincoln told the esteemed journalist Henry Villard;

“I will be damned if I don’t feel almost sorry for being elected when the niggers is the first thing I have to attend to.”

Lincoln was not prepared to go to war for the abolition of slavery in itself. He had agreed to back an amendment to the Constitution, penned by the Representative from Ohio, Thomas Corwin, that would have made it Unconstitutional for Congress to amend rules or abolish slavery. Lincoln backed it.
The Corwin amendment read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State

In his inaugural address, Lincoln referenced the proposed amendment, stating:

“Holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Interestingly, the amendment passed Congress by the two-thirds majority needed, but was never fully ratified in the State legislatures, and is still up for ratification, as it was never thrown out. If it had been fully ratified, one must wonder just how different the U.S would look today. The fact remains though that up until the outbreak of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln supported a Constitutional Amendment rendering it impossible to abolish the institution of slavery.

The worry from the Republican Party of the Lincoln years, was not so much the moral implications of ethical dilemma of the owning of slave labour, but the economic problems it creates. They worried that slave labour merely worked to undermine wages of the poor white working classes, and just created a new dominant class known as “Slave Power”. They worried that the Slave owning classes in the South were just violent and expansionist people with a goal of Empire. This paranoia wasn’t without merit, but it was borne out of the relatively new Nation’s deep suspicion of Empire and too much power. Lincoln charged that the Southern Democrats and slave owning classes were out to take over Cuba and the war on Mexico seemed to confirm those suspicions. The Civil War Confederate cry of “States rights!!” was simply the right for the very wealthy land owners in the South to keep and abuse people with darker skin, and the right to centralise power within very few hands. Only the free States were fighting for States rights.

Lincoln’s famous signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is doubtful whether the proclamation actually freed any slaves whatsoever. Depending on your source, it was either the greatest achievement of the short Presidency of Lincoln, or it was useless. No one really knows. One thing is for sure, Lincoln signed the proclamation as a further attack on the South (rightfully so). In September 1862, he demanded they return to the Union or he would free their slaves. Not “and i’ll free your slave“. It’s an ultimatum. If you rejoin the USA, you get to keep your slaves… if you don’t, we’re freeing them. He is more concerned here with preserving the Union – an abstract concept – than ending slavery. The Proclamation not only didn’t free slaves in the Confederacy, it didn’t free slaves in the slave holding States in the Union – Kentucky and Maryland.

The Proclamation looked good for Lincoln, as it put real pressure on the Confederacy. France and Britain were very anti-slavery, and he needed support and recognition of the legitimacy of the USA in a war that at the time, no one knew which way it might go. With the support of France and Britain, and so legitimacy, it helped Lincolns case. It was similar in a way, to how old European powers gained legitimacy. When Henry Tudor took the Kingship away from Richard III, he was a nobody on the European stage and England was at civil war, much like America. Tudor needed an air of legitimacy, so he married Elizabeth of York; she happened to be the niece of Richard, and daughter of King Edward IV. This was the legitimacy Henry required, and won. He rather secured himself, by marrying his son – Arthur – off to the daughter – Catherine of Aragon – of the most powerful family in Europe; the King and Queen of Spain. The marriages and alliances were all about protecting himself, and securing his throne, not about love nor about the wellbeing of his Kingdom. Lincoln signed the Emancipation declaration, to protect his Throne by winning the support of the English and the French. Up until the Proclamation was signed, it seemed Britain was on the side of the Confederacy, having been involved in the provision of the British made warships the CSS Alabama and the CSS Florida.

Lincoln knew the Proclamation, which freed black slaves in Confederate States that fell to the Union forces, would compel black slaves and freed slaves to help the Union armies. He stressed in a letter to his friend James C. Conkling:

“I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union.”

The freedom of the slaves with the passing of the 13th Amendment was a tiny ripple in the water. Saying to a group of people who have had no access to education, to family ties, to survival, to anything other than a system that treated them as less than human for so long, that they are now “free”, is worthless. It is not freedom. It would take another 100 years before the real reforms were introduced. Lincoln was not a head of his time. The abolitionists were calling for equality, not just the ending of slavery. Economically, black Americans would be held down for more than a century in place of White privilege. Lincoln may have given them freedom, but he certainly did not give them anything anywhere near equality, and he knew it.

Even the banning of slavery expanding into new territories was a rather obscure policy that was not designed for the sake of the wellbeing of black Americans, rather it was an attempt to keep black people from being shipped to America full stop. It was a white supremacist policy that today would be deplored as vicious and racist. Lincoln, when talking about the banning of slavery expanding to new territories stated that he did not want the United States:

…….to become an asylum for slavery and niggers

The expansion into the West was an opportunity to spread the white race for Lincoln, who had no desire to see black people live there, stating in 1858 in Illinois, that:

in favor of our new territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home … as an outlet for free white people everywhere, the world over.

Lincoln was therefore using race as an unnecessary social divide. Race had only really became an issue, during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Up until then, nobody really cared what race you were. White slaves existed in the Colonies way before black slaves. The worry was that they would join hands and rise up, so race was used to divide them. Tell a poor white slave that he is more important in God’s eyes than a poor black slave, and suddenly there is no chance they will rise up together and overthrow the economic powers that hold them both down.

In 1853, Lincoln backed the Illinois State law that banned freed black people from moving to Illinois. They weren’t so free afterall. Lincoln it seems, was obsessed with the division of black and white, and even Mexicans, whom he referred to, out of the blue, for no reason, as:

“most decidedly a race of mongrels. I understand that there is not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white.”

He was a power obsessed, white supremacist.

The great emancipators in the Congress and the abolitionist leaders who pressured and pressured for Lincoln to keep to his line on abolition. Thaddeus Stevens, in the House of Representatives, and Chairman of the Ways and Means committee was a committed Abolitionist. This man was ahead of his time. He helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. He protected the rights of Jewish and Chinese Americans and he defended the rights of Native Americans. Stevens was a hero of the Civil War era and should be remembered as such, far above Lincoln. But one man stood out as great, even beyond that of Thaddeus Stevens, and that man was Charles Sumner, the Senator from Massachusetts.

Charles Sumner absolutely hated the institution of slavery. As did his father before him. He argued that freeing the slaves would achieve nothing, unless it was accompanied by a raft of legislation promoting equal rights both politically and economically. This was 100 years before equal rights began to take shape. He is responsible for one of my favourite quotes from history, that I tend to live by when shaping my political thoughts:

“The Utopias of one age have been the realities of the next.”

Sumner argued in a court case, that segregation was an abomination. The year was 1848. The case was Roberts VS Boston. It lead to the ban on segregation on the basis of race in all public schools in Massachusetts. It was over 100 years before the rest of the country would catch up.

Sumner’s extraordinary career taught me that it is okay to think radically, even if the rest of your contemporaries think that you are an idealist living in a dream land. The contemporary Senators did not like Sumner for his radical ideas on racial integration and equality, one Senator suggested that Sumner was unimportant and should be ignored:

“The ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm.”

It is a myth that Lincoln was a great emancipator and forward thinker and it is a great injustice that men like Charles Sumner go unrecognised and ignored by history.
Sumner’s face should be on Mount Rushmore. Not Lincoln’s.

Anyway, as Sumner argued, The Proclamation was meaningless, the 13th Amendment was the result of much pressure put on the administration. Lincoln himself once remarked quite tellingly:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

He stresses exactly why he felt compelled to free the slaves. It was not on grounds of compassion or freedom or respect for the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, far from it, he did it for the sake of his own power:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Abraham Lincoln was not a great emancipator. Nor was he one of the great forward thinking abolitionists of the time. He was a racist and a white supremacist who put his own position and power above that of the rights of a group of people who had different coloured skin. It is quite extraordinary that history teaches us that President Lincoln was one of the great Presidents who ended the horrific institution of slavery. The reality is far more ambiguous. It is much like the celebrating of Columbus day as a great day in American history, when in fact it simply marked the beginnings of a mass genocide. History should be taught with equal weight to both interpretations, if the subject is as ambiguous as that of President Lincoln and the question of slavery.