A Voice in the Civil Liberties Wilderness

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 27th, 2009

The UK Liberal Democrats are proposing what I think is a dream legislation on civil liberties. I can’t help smiling when I read the list of measures. If we live in an open society, all these civil rights should be a matter of course.

In a more philosophical sense, these reforms can avoid the concept of “natural rights” by considering they are “rights of the state” over the individual that must be abolished.

* Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
* Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
* Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
* Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
* Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
* Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
* Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
* Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the Information Commissioner and reducing exemptions.
* Stop criminalising trespass.
* Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
* Prevent allegations of ‘bad character’ from being used in court.
* Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
* Prevent bailiffs from using force.
* Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
* Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
* Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
* Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
* Scrap the ministerial veto which allowed the Government to block the release of Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
* Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
* Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras. Lib Dems

Basically a work of genius 🙂 But the existing powers that be are likely to resist this attempt to moderate their influence…

Anti Citizen One

PoMo Musings: “Biblical Literalism”

Posted by on February 23rd, 2009

Here are two simple examples of why Biblical Literalism is slightly insane.

1) The Book of Genesis includes two completely different accounts of creation – thus a literal interpretation requires one to be abandoned – thus negating literalism.

2) The Gospels of Matthew and Mark relate the same story concerning the Jewish customs for divorce. One Gospel (Matthew) has Jesus uphold it (though differentiating between circumstantial permissibility and wholesale approval) and in another (Mark) he completely rejects it – thus a literal interpretation requires us to ignore one or other of the evangelists – thus negating literalism.

For the Postmodern reader of scripture the abandonment of literalism is not a problem. In fact it presents the reader with an existential choice – Jesus’s parables often end in a question to the listener – “What would you do in this situation?”

Much of Jesus’s ethical teachings orientate around the concept of “right-mindedness” rather than a strict adherence to a legalistic “right actions”.

For this Postmodern reader the fact that Gospel accounts vary and report the same story from different angles or even from contradictory ones adds to the narrative a hint of authenticity. Much like when reporting a motor accident the insurance company will take the accounts of as many witnesses as possible (aware of and indeed perhaps hoping for a subjective account – in order to give as broad a picture as possible) so too the New Testament accounts have the ring of subjective authenticity to them.

Perhaps most critical of all though for the Postmodern reader and indeed for any Christian – the trouble with Literalism is fundamentally laid bare in the Ten Commandments.

If we take the Bible to be literally the Word of God – including or ignoring its inconsistencies or contradictions – then we grant to it (as Creationists do) the power of objective and absolute infallibility. And surely the more closely we look at the human elements in the texts and the more we learn and can infer about the authors who contributed to it we should be concerned that any absolute literalism in biblical interpretation is in breach of the 2nd commandment that warns against idolatry. If we grant the text of the book absolute power and unquestionable authority – then surely this is a direct challenge to the authority that Christians attribute to God – and that would be idolatrous.

And this surely must be the most unpalatable contradiction of all in the worldview of Biblical Literalism.

Censorship….. the Movie!

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 19th, 2009

I was considering avoiding the controversy around Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna” but I have decided to brave the waters… The basic argument seems to be:

  1. The Koran contains statements that call for the spread of Islam and unbelievers to be killed.
  2. Act of violence are justified and inspired by the Koran (this is implied visually but not stated literally)
  3. Islam wants to impose its views on us [liberal Westerners]
  4. Being under threat, we must respond by defeating this ideology (as done to Communism)
  5. Muslims should renounce passages that call for violence.

Ban Ki Moon condemned the film for itself being extremist.

I want to add some observations that were not in the film.

  • The Koran has statements that non-believers should not be harmed.
  • Not all Muslims want to impose their beliefs on others. (On the other hand, extremists would say “then they are not Muslim” but anyway) See also 2:256, 18:29, 109:6
  • Getting inspiration towards violence from a holy book depends on the supply of the book, being told to read it and to take it seriously – and also to take a particular pro-violent interpretation. All this takes human influence. To say that words on a page are wholly responsible for violence is an over simplification.
  • Just because liberal views are “under threat”, it does not mean we should label the view as “evil” or attempt to defeat it. To do so is the antithesis of liberalism! As long as pressure comes from preaching and political action, why should a liberal society resist? Unless we don’t think liberalism can survive without being hypocritical? (Which is a possibility.)
  • Apparently some (most?) Muslim scholars do call for sections of the Koran to be interpreted and not to be taken literally.

When Geert Wilders attempted to travel to the UK to show his film, we was denied entry as he was deemed a “public safety threat”. I’ll tell you what is a public safety thread: a government who censors a descenting voice. If Wilders called for violence (he didn’t – I think?), he would be a loose canon – but it is the protests from hysterical people who feel themselves “offended” that are the threat to public safetly (even if there is a threat at all). The ironic thing is I probably would not have bothered watching this rather superficial film if they had not blocked his visit!

Anti Citizen One

PS There is an excellent audio episode of The Moral Maze concerning the origin of morality. (Titled poorly as “moral relativism”). Also, congratulations to them on the 500th episode broadcasted!

Terror (State vs Individual)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 17th, 2009

There are interesting happenings on the terror front:

“We want to move away from just challenging violent extremism. We now believe that we should challenge people who are against democracy and state institutions”, he [a Whitehall insider] said. BBC

Interestingly, it is legal to hold views that are anti-democracy and anti-state. My worry is what does “challenge people” mean in this context? Pressure people to avoid conservative preachers? This is similar to having black lists of people suspected of being anti-government (and McCarthyism) and since “challenge” probably does not mean legal sanction, the people who are black listed have no legal recourse in the case of false accusation.

This ties in to the view of a study by the International Commission of Jurists. The use of extra-legal measures against society are the biggest menace to our “open” society.

Mr Chaskelson, chairman of the panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.

“The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework.” BBC

This also agrees with a former head of MI5.

“It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism – that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said. BBC

The two things we need to consider in a response to terrorist threat are:

  • Is the mere accusation of terrorism being used to silence rational debate by assuming the guilt of the accused?
  • Do the proposed measures mitigate or aggravate the problem? What evidence supports this claim?

I have to think about the curious case of Geert Wilders

Anti Citizen One

How Truth Is Produced (An Example)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 11th, 2009

1. False information published on wikipedia
2. Newspaper publishes false information based on wikipedia article
3. Wikipedia is corrected to the original information
4. Wikipedia is updated to reflect the false information and cites the newspaper report as a source.

Balance is restored…

Also, public opinion may be substituted for wikipedia.

PoMo Musings:- “History”

Posted by on February 11th, 2009

Written History is a subjective faction/fiction that is constructed according to the agenda of its author – who creates a narrative account that may or may not correspond to the facts-as-they-are.

The anxiety generated by an acknowledgement such as this – is that as the mists of time ever seperate us further from the events – so too are we further removed from that “evidence” which ought to be most compelling.

WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 7th, 2009

… he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it.

Thoughts on Recent News

Posted by on February 4th, 2009

I have been lacking in posts recently as I have been both lazy, mentally drained and suffering from sporadic cut-offs thanks to a shoddy modem/router.It is with pleasure then I announce “I’m back!”

I was interested to see AC1 comment on recent news as I was planning on doing so myself – and at the same time air some of my more unusual views.

There are really three main news items that are capturing my attention at the moment:

1) The lifting of the excommunication on a holocaust denying Bishop.

2) The Edinburgh “Gay adoption” row, and

3) The Christian Nurse.

Holocaust Denial

The first story is troubling for me as a nominal Catholic, although I should celebrate the hoped for “return to the fold” of schismatic Catholics to the church – a precursor for a greater ecumenical push between world religions – I am dissappointed that the Holocaust Deniar Bishop Williamson has not been publicly disciplined.

There is an interesting tension here that revolves around freedom of speech – a matter much discussed on this blog. We needn’t repeat the arguments over and again – suffice to say though that I feel extraordinary pain that in the name of freedom of conscience Bishop Williamson’s evidentially wrong and misinformed beliefs concerning the scale and nature of the holocaust should be permitted the oxygen of publicity that his office and his rehabilitation to the Church has afforded him.

A very interesting article concerning this tension between censorship and freedom of conscience can be found on the hermeneutic of continuity blog. Where a traditionalist priest struggles with the notion of freedom of conscience and the spreading of error. His resolution interpreted in the Church’s conciliar teachings are that freedom of conscience is a responsibility rather than a right and that we have the responsibility to pursue that which is true – therefore in the context of Holocaust denial the overwhelming weight of evidence and testimony to the horrors of the “Shoah” should suffice to encourage mass censure of this mans false beliefs.

Gay Adoption

In principle I have no objection to Gay adoption. I am unconvinced by those arguments (usually motivated by a pre-existing heterosexually dominant bias) that the classic mother/father unit is always the best environment to bring up a child. There is no reason why a Gay couple (whatever their status in law i.e. married, cohabiting etc.) or indeed any couple (whether their relationship be sexual or not) cannot provide a safe, caring, loving and nurturing environment for the upbringing of children.

The role of sexuality and sexual orientation has minimal impact on the upbringing of children (indeed I may be understimating how positive such an upbringing may be in terms of encouraging a pluralistic attitude with regards human nature).

It is to put it bluntly “wrong” to suggest that a Gay couple could distort the emotional and sexual development of any children in their care. Homosexuality is a) not infectious, and b) not acquired. The sexual orientation of any children who have been placed in the care of homosexual couples is wholly incidental.

However. I am troubled by the Edinburgh case that has been in the news recently. Namely two young children have been placed in the adoptive care of a Gay couple, despite the protestations of their maternal grandparents who insist they are capable and willing to care for them themselves.

Generally where family is available – and they are deemed to be fit to bring up children – then priority should be given to the family – not because it is in the family’s interests but because it is in the childrens interests. Living with your grandparents (in theory) should be far less of a major upheaval than living with total strangers.

Edinburgh Social Services have deemed that the grandparents are unable to adopt the children because firstly they are too old (grandfather 61, grandmother 49), and secondly because they are too ill (grandfather has angina, grandmother type 2 diabetes). Having informed the grandparents of their decision they then told them that the children would be adopted by a gay couple. The grandparents claim they did not object to gay adoption (though they did not favour it) but they did object to their being disqualified. The reaction of social services was very blunt – the objection must clearly be homophobic and unless they changed their attitudes and became more open minded they would never be allowed to see their grandchildren again.

My opinions very briefly are that despite news reportage I may give some benefit of the doubt to social services – age and health should be taken into consideration regards suitability for adoption. However I would like to know if the judgement that disqualified them was made by a doctor or by a social worker. Are they medically unfit to adopt – or is this just an opinion formed by a non-medical professional?

I am also worried about the increasing power that the state is taking over society. To threaten the grandparents with permanent loss of contact unless they conform to an opinion that social services approves is potentially dangerous. Are we in thought police territory yet?

(I’m aware that in the previous section I was concerned with limitations to freedom of conscience yet here I am arguing total liberty – I’m not being inconsistent so much as highlighting the extraordinary tension between the two positions.)

My final concern is that the press have manufactured this into a homophobic issue.

Christian Nurse

This story fascinates me. The nurse asks a patient if she would like a prayer said for her, patient declines, takes no offence (though considers it weird), mentions it to the nurses colleague the following day, nurse gets suspended.

What is a nurse/nursing? My definition (which I consider fairly accurate) is that a nurse is a medical health practitioner who offers a more “holistic” service than that which can be provided by a physician.

Thus the nurse not only carries out the physicians instructions re: medication, dressing of wounds, general health care provision etc, but also provides support, basic counselling skills, caring observation of the patients welfare status and so on.

Part of this “holistic” approach focuses on the “spiritual” well being of the patient. I will post more on the beneficial uses of religion and spirtuality in health care soon (this story broke shortly after I started gathering materials for it).

The definition of “spiritual” well being in a multi-denominational and plural society necessarily needs be very broadly defined. Indeed one could describe the terms “spiritual” and “well being” as identical (i.e. not referencing any transcendent factor).

In this context then one would be hard pressed to suggest that asking a patient if they wished to be prayed for was a bad/wrong thing to do. One could argue that this approach (though overtly religious) was part and parcel of a holistic caring approach to the patient that a nurse ought provide.

Now for some problems and analysis.

1) The nurse had previously been warned about her behaviour (having been caught handing out prayer cards to another patient).

2) Though the nurse offered to pray and freely accepted the refusal such an overt statement may seem evangelical (forcing of ones beliefs).

3) Such an offer may be liable to offend.

The first issue is interesting – she has “previous” and has seemingly gone against the wishes of her local primary care trust. It is therefore (whether the policy is correct or not) an internal disciplinary matter. It is not a global persecution of expressions of the Christian faith (though one may argue it is a more localised persecution). What is more interesting though is that neither the prayer card, or prayer request patient made a complaint. Offence was neither intended nor taken – yet offence has been registered by a third non-interested party. Again (a common theme in this post) there seems to be a tension between freedom of conscience and institutional censure.

The second issue is a strange one. I dislike being evangelised (and yet I am a person of faith). Clearly a person who does not share the same faith or who is a non-believer altogether may feel irritated at being evangelised and preached to. This is a problem again with freedom of conscience and living in a plural society. Should a person of faith assume the “worst” and keep their beliefs private? Or should they be allowed the freedom to express themselves – partically when its expression has benign intent.

As I noted on a previous comment – a famous atheist once remarked (in suprisingly conciliatory tones) that if ones worldview was such that you believed in good/evil, life after death, eternal bliss etc., then you would have to really hate someone not to want to share the “good news” with them.

In this case I think offering to pray for someone – an expression of good will here – another way of saying “I hope you get better soon” – is not evangelising.

The late Irish comedian Dave Allen (no friend of organised religion) used to close his shows with the phrase “and may your God go with you.”

I think it is inevitable that in a plural society there will be a diversity of beliefs regarding God, the spiritual etc. Many of religion and many of no religion – it is therefore important that we recognise benign sincerity wherever we see it and understand though we may not share the same “language game” that good wishes may be expressed in a variety of idiomatic ways.

The third issue is curious and follows on from the other two. Offence may not be intended but may be taken – such is the fragile nature of intepretation and translation between language games. The patient in the story said she thought it unusual – insofar as though she wasnt offended she could see how some people might interpret the question “shall I pray for you?” as meaning “God you look awful – beyond medical help – you’re best chance is a miracle!”

My only comment on this is – (and again this reflects the overriding theme of this post the tension between freedom of conscience and censorship) – if were constantly vigilant to the fact that what we say may be interpreted in ways we never intended and that the seemingly benign may transform before our very eyes into something heinous – then most likely we would be struck mute for ever!

Personal Concluding Thoughts

I had the misfortune of being seriously ill a couple of years ago and of being thoroughly dependent upon the care provided by visiting nurses. None of them to my knowledge openly prayed for me or asked about my spiritual wellbeing. And yet in their actions a broadly spiritual concern was expressed – and I am perpetually grateful to them for it.

I did in my sick bed recieve from concerned individuals good wishes (of a secular variety) and also expressions of religious sentiment.

There is some research that suggests that praying for someone (and informing them of it) may be cathartic to their recovery. There is also conflicting research that suggests the effects to be negligible.

Personally I found it a) satisfying – it is nice to know people care, but also b) irritating.

I found it irritating for three reasons philosophical and theologically formed.

i) I am quite fatalistic – it is not so much that something happens for a reason, but that things happen and one must make do with ones circumstances – Although I was in pain, and distress I quickly came to be at ease with my situation – it was out of my control, therefore I let go of my attachment to suffering. Consequently my suffering became redemptive, enlightening even, and I learnt more about myself in a short space of time than I had ever known in all my previous years.

ii) I am quite cynical and humble – God (if you happen to believe in Him) surely has far more pressing concerns than to worry about little old me and my ailments. Don’t pray for me, beg him to stop earthquakes, floods, famines, war, pestilence, and so on.

iii) I am a philosophical and theological disciple of the Rhineland School of Mysticism – exemplified by the teachings of Meister Eckhart. Prayer is a human institution – a psychological reaction to circumstance – it is not bad of itself but it can become an object of fetishistic attachment. It can be an obstacle to letting go of attachments, a vehicle of selfishness and a barrier to simply “being.”

In the New Testament Jesus is reported as praying on only a handful of occasions. Usually they are private affairs. Throughout them though is one common theme – that of the resignation of the self-will –  not mine but “thy will be done.”

This is the crux of ‘Christian’ prayer as Jesus is supposed to have taught it.

Eckhart summed up the selfishness of our attachments and our abuse of prayer when he said:

but if they should fall sick they would wish it were God’s will that they should be better. These people, then, would rather that God willed according to their will than that they should will according to His. This may be condoned, but it is not right. The just have no will at all: whatever God wills, it is all one to them, however great the hardship.

Eckhart coined the phrase Abegescheidenheit which loosely translated can mean living without a why. The lucky man is attchment free and is content with whatever befalls him, sickness, health, weal or woe.

Therefore this nurse’s case is in my humble opinion – no great offence to society or to the healthcare profession. In fact I would propose that her goodwill is such that it overflows and she is a fine model of what the nursing profession can be. Her suspension is therefore heavyhanded and sad reflection of the ease of misinterpretation. I wouldnt mind betting that the patient who mentioned it in passing, now wishes she had remained silent.

What this does represent though is perhaps an immature approach to her faith and to prayer. We all wish the sick to get better, we all wish to live long and happy lives. But life is not like that – the evidence is all around us to see. For some people this is a damning condemnation of the supposed goodness of God and perhaps demonstrative of His non-existence. For others it is simply demonstrative of the selfishness of the human ego that we should seek to define God’s will as compatible with ours. Some people find the approach of the via negativa uncomfortable, is a God that allows suffering or who shows no inclination of goodness worthy of our attention and worship?

The nurse didn’t do a bad thing, and is being wrongly persecuted. But the nurse most likely should have persisted in her caring capacity without the need for a public expression of her faith. By her actions alone – and indeed by the actions of the entire medical proffession – we may judge for ourselves what manner of persons they are. And if a patient requests some form of explicit expression of benign goodwill such as a prayer then regardless of ones personal beliefs one should be willing to offer it knowing that it is part of a holistic approach to wellbeing.

News Items

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 3rd, 2009

I noticed the incoming US president has distanced himself from the pro-torture policies of Bush administration. This is a wise decision and supports the US constitution (Fifth Amendment) and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which was partly US authored). He has fallen short by not investigating crimes – including war crimes – perpetrated in the so called “war on terror”. Those who authorised torture and other abuses will probably say “we did it to defend the interests of the US”. But who are they to decide what whose interests are? Obviously, they are not particularly well qualified if they violate their own founding principles! Again, political expediency has overcome justice:

“If there was any effort to have war-crimes prosecutions of the Bush administration, you’d instantly destroy whatever hopes you have of bipartisanship,” said Robert Litt, a former Justice criminal division chief during the Clinton administration, Newsweek

Regarding Guantánamo Bay,

…[Obama’s] advisers are wrestling with what to do about the remaining 250 detainees there, especially those considered dangerous. Newsweek

The only options are due process under the law or release. Since the procedures used to apprehend and detain them were illegal, no prosecution could ever be fair. They must be release and further harm they might inflict is the fault of those who used illegal procedures. Before anyone criticises me for being naive, remember the 5th amendment agrees with my interpretation (not to mention the second sentence of the US Declaration of Independence – but that is too “natural rights” for me).

In other news,

A Christian nurse from Weston-super-Mare has been suspended for offering to pray for a patient’s recovery.

Community nurse Caroline Petrie, 45, says she asked an elderly woman patient during a home visit if she wanted her to say a prayer for her. BBC

Although this is not the first complaint against the nurse for this behaviour, I feel her managers are acting as if “through the looking glass”. One woman’s spiritual view is not particularly threatening or offensive, particularly when compared to much more significant issues. If we want to remove Christian bias in the health care system, perhaps we should have a discussion on euthanasia, gene therapy, etc without resorting to spiritual arguments? That would be more worthwhile then martyring this one person. Incidentally, Kierkegaard probably would say being victimised in this way is a necessary part of being a Christian.

Anti Citizen One