Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Difference Faith Makes

A half dozen or so years ago British novelist and columnist A.N. Wilson abandoned atheism and made his way back to Christianity. He talks about his spiritual odyssey here. I mention this because knowing it helps to understand the column he wrote in the MailOnline in the wake of the London riots. In that essay he puts the blame for the wanton destruction and bloodshed squarely on the secularism and materialism that have dominated British society since WWII.

To make his point he contrasts the barbarous, anomic rioters with some of their victims. He introduces us, for example, to the father of one of the three men killed by the thug who deliberately ran his car into a group of men trying to protect their stores from looters:
Raw with grief, in a voice steady but tight with emotion, his appeal for calm on Wednesday was a beacon of hope amid the tumult and carnage of a horribly dark week for Britain.

Hours before he spoke, Tariq Jahan had lost his 21-year-old son Haroon, murdered in the Winson Green area of Birmingham by thugs who drove at him in their car in what appears to have been a racist attack. No one could be more aware of the simmering racial tensions between Asians in his neighbourhood and those of Caribbean ancestry.

Yet Mr Jahan had the dignity, the compassion and the common sense to demand an end to the violence that had shattered his life. ‘Blacks, Asians, whites — we all live in the same community,’ he said. ‘Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home — please.’

There was no mention of feral rats or of the sickness in our society. There were no calls for revenge. If he had screamed for retribution, if he had chosen the emotional occasion of his son’s death to denounce whole swathes of the community, there could easily have been an unspeakable outbreak of racial violence.

Instead, Mr Jahan made an open and straightforward declaration of his faith. ‘I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone,’ he said. ‘And may Allah forgive him and bless him.’

It was a solemn, peaceful message that will make everyone who stereotypes Muslims as terrorists and fanatics feel ashamed of themselves. Tariq Jahan is a deeply impressive man, and like the great majority of Muslims in this country, he is hard-working, clean-living, guided in his conduct by religious belief, and unshakeable in his devotion to the ideal of family life.
But it's not just Muslims like Tariq Jahan Mr. Wilson wants to praise:
In London at the height of the riots, we saw another clear expression of faith when more than 700 Sikhs lined up to defend their temples from potential arsonists in the suburb of Southall to the west of the capital. The Sikhs have a proud tradition of valuing each human being, male and female, as equal in God’s eyes. Theirs is a religion in which family is paramount.

We do not know the size of the bank balance of those Sikhs, any more than we know how wealthy are the Muslims of Winson Green. From looking at the streets and houses where they live, and the shops where they buy their food, it is safe to assume that they are not rich.

It is probable, too, that their teenagers would like to have large-screen televisions and fashionable trainers and BlackBerries. But you can pretty well guarantee they would not have been among the looters.
So what makes the difference between these good people and the looters, destroyers and murderers? Here's Mr. Wilson's answer:
Instilled into them would have been the importance of working hard for money to buy these things, rather than hurling a brick through a shop window to help themselves.

Paramount among their moral values would be concern for others, a sense of altruism that could not be more different from the sense of self-entitlement that has been so grotesquely on display this week. The reason for this is that they are from religious families.

All the main religions are unshakeable when it comes to self-evident truths about right and wrong; about stealing, harming others, coveting goods, instant gratification and so on.
There's much more in Wilson's column to reflect upon, but his message is basically that secular materialism offers society no basis for what most would regard as moral behavior. A secular society is one that produces young people who kill, rob and destroy just for the fun of it, or because they feel somehow entitled to do it. A society that no longer believes in objective, transcendent moral values will soon believe in no moral values at all and significant portions of it will devolve into nihilism as we saw in London a week or so ago.

I wonder how Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, two writers who have loudly and insistently made the absolutely fatuous claim that religion is the source of most of society's problems, would explain the difference between the behavior of the Sikhs or Tariq Jahan and the young secular savages that destroyed so much that was precious to their victims.

"But," someone will object, "not all secularists would behave in such debauched fashion. It's unfair to generalize from the fact that these rioters have been raised in a Godless world to the assertion that secularism itself is the reason for their execrable behavior and lack of values." This objection, though, is a bit like saying that just because not everyone who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day dies from respiratory disease that it's unfair to argue that smoking is harmful.

Secular, materialist worldviews offer no grounds whatsoever for thinking in terms of right and wrong. They tell us that we're really nothing more than animals and that the only values are power, survival, and the gratification of our appetites. They offer no basis for thinking that burning, looting and killing are in any way morally wrong. They have no concept of sin, and consequently they're a moral carcinogen to a society.

You can read the rest of Wilson's thoughts on the riots at the link. They're worth pondering.

The Book on Perry

Pesky Truth has a very well-researched, very even-handed piece on pretty much all of the substantive criticisms, along with responses, that have been leveled at Texas Governor Rick Perry. In all, there are seventeen criticisms examined in the post, and now that Perry's in the race for the presidency you might want to bookmark this site since these criticisms will surely be given wide circulation by the Democrats and their media allies in the months ahead.

The seventeen include:
  • The Gardisil controversy
  • The trans-Texas corridor controversy
  • The fact that he was formerly a Democrat and Al Gore's Texas campaign manager
  • The secessionist controversy
  • The charge that Texas jobs are mostly low-wage
  • The charge that Texas' education system is sub-par
  • The charge that Perry supports in-state tuition for illegals
  • The charge that Perry is gay
  • The charge that Perry is squishy on immigration
There are more at the site. Pesky Truth treats these allegations seriously and strives to give both sides of the story. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about Rick Perry at this point, but I think that what the Left and other of his political opponents are already trying to do to him is shameless.

Yesterday, for example, the left-wing site had an article titled, "Does Rick Perry Have a Porn Problem?" The title implies that Perry has a personal addiction to pornography. It turned out that his problem was that in 1995 he owned stock in a chain of video stores which carried pornographic videos among their other titles. It may be that he didn't even know he owned the stock or what type of merchandise was in the store's inventory.

This type of smear is pretty low, but it's typical of the sort of thing we can expect during the campaign, so it'd be wise for anyone interested in fairness and decency, whether they support Perry's candidacy or not, to at least know the facts about the more common allegations that'll be brought against him.

There are links at the site to other information on Perry as well.