Love, marriage, religion and evolution

Marriage

The unlikely winner of the Great British Bake Off TV show was a wife and mother of Bangladeshi origin who surprised many by being a well adjusted Muslim at ease with her British/Bangladeshi identity. She also appeared recently in a long running radio show, Desert Island Discs, in which the guest imagines being cast away on a desert island and selects eight recordings that they would like to take with them.

Interspersed with excerpts of the music the interviewer chats with the guest and Nadiya Hussain proved to be a charming and likeable wife and mother with no professional experience in baking who had entered the competition on a whim.

In the course of the conversation it emerged that her marriage had been arranged by her family and that she had only corresponded with her fiancé by phone until the day of their engagement when they met for the first time, despite that her 11 year marriage has proved to be successful.

Romantic love

To the Western mindset an arranged marriage seems completely alien. In our culture romantic love has always played a central role in art, literature, drama and music. Just about every pop song is about love, unrequited or otherwise and it is central to most movies. TV is awash with romance in soaps and popular dramas and advertisers use it extensively in order to sell products.

From the Middle Ages onward the western notion of romantic love has had an uneasy relationship with sex; for much of the time in drama for example it was disguised with coded messages that an audience could understand but that didn’t offend religious piety. However in response to Victorian prudishness, during the 20th Century sex has become progressively more overt and we now live in an age of explicit pornographic sex that runs parallel with the idea of romantic love.

We are of course evolutionarily programmed to procreate and in all societies cultural and social practices (like marriage) have evolved in order to provide the best environment for rearing young. Human offspring require many years of nurture before they are able to flee the nest and the cooperation of the two parents has proved the most successful environment since they have the closest genetic relationship with their children. Romantic love provides a means by which mates are selected as well as being an adhesive bond that keeps couples together for the duration.

But traditionally marriage was also a cooperative and financial arrangement by which the man would support his family leaving the woman with primary responsibility for child rearing. However during the last 60 years everything has changed: contraception, feminism, male work opportunities and even an acceptance of single sex parents has resulted in a rethink of what constitutes marriage and the family, what was an evolutionary imperative has become a lifestyle choice. In this chaotic environment the increase in marriage failures and break-up of co-habiting couples has increased, 40% of all marriages now ending in divorce. This is often a disaster for children and creates a burden for society with single parent household often requiring welfare payments.

Arranged marriage

Under pressure from the media and their peers’ even couples with modest incomes expect their wedding day to be spectacular and often have an unrealistic expectation of marital life and men in particular are seldom prepared for the dramatic shift in the couple relationship when babies are born so perhaps it’s time to look again at romantic love as the only driver for marriage. The marriage of Nadiya Hussain was arranged by her parents who clearly had her best interests at heart. She was young and possibly ill equipped to make decision that would affect her entire life and her parents used their life experience to guide her to the “right” choice. They had identified a husband who they considered to be a good match for their daughter but she had no opportunity to fall in love with him before they were married.

To western eyes the idea that two people who had not even met but would be bound together in a life-long union is an anathema, it seems more like a business arrangement, devoid of romance and running counter to our “natural” instincts and culture and I’m not about to propose that we should adopt arranged marriages, Nadiya herself says that she doesn’t want this for her own children (at least that’s what she says now). But her experience does offer another narrative and exposes a weakness in our society that encourages us to believe that it is possible to meet a stranger, fall in love and live happily ever after as invariably unrealistic.

It is still a mystery why we find someone attractive but most of us will have experienced the powerful emotion that is romantic love. We are led to believe that “love conquers all” but it can and does often blind us to the reality of a permanent relationship. We don’t know how we will feel 5, 10 or 20 years hence and there is also the temptation of being attracted to another once the excitement of being newly wed wears off so making the right choice is critical for the individual and society.

As we acquire so much of our own behaviour from our family environment it’s not surprising that a couple who have experienced the failure of their parents’ relationship find themselves ill prepared to make a success of their own. Nadiya’s choice was made by her parents who tried to find a partner who was a perfect fit for their daughter. I imagine they were diligent in their task or perhaps they just got lucky.

For most of us the choice of partner will be based simply on mutual attraction and for men in particular a major part of it is sexual attraction so how can we improve the decision making process in order to reduce marital breakup? In England children receive personal, social and health education PSHE, (it is devolved in the remainder of the UK) that is intended to help youngsters navigate the sexual turmoil that is adolescence and teach them about forming relationships. This clearly isn’t sufficient to counter the continuing level of marriage failure.

Marriage without God

Falling Church attendance along with polling and Census data suggests that for the majority of British people religion plays little or no part in their lives, the exceptions are invariably those from immigrant communities, like Nadiya so the obligations associated with a marriage sanctified by God are largely absent and many choose to co-habit and not marry at all.

To the non-religious the idea of an obligation to a third party is somewhat anachronistic but in any relationship, especially marriage, it should be an important component. In this case the obligation is to your partner often in the form of vows and in absence of religious ones many couples compose their own. However without any objective appreciation of what married life will be like these are easily ignored and violated in the years to come.

Many couples live together for some time before making the long term commitment of marriage however the data suggests that this doesn’t increase the likelihood of their marriage lasting either. Although mediation and counselling are available they tend to be sought when relationships have irretrievably broken down. So perhaps the only way of improving the prospect of an enduring marriage is training couples how to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise.

So I propose that in addition to PSHE in schools an additional component should be Relationship Training that would include conflict avoidance and resolution and would be beneficial in many other areas of a youngster’s life as well as helping to prepare them for marriage (or co-habiting) in the future. It should also include the practical issues like financial management, the effect of pregnancy and child care on couples and of course the significance of sex within marriage.

The family is the heart of all human societies whether primitive or modern and there are obvious reasons why it should be nurtured and supported particularly in relation to public policy. Marriage or it’s equivalents in which the birth parents cooperate in the rearing of their offspring is clearly an evolutionary development but it has also become a social convention that fosters the love, security and continuity that are essential for the wellbeing of children and therefore for us all.

Footnote 1: These comments should not be taken as criticism of adoption of children by Gay couples as this clearly is successful when dedicated and loving parents nurture a child with whom they have to biological link, however from a purely evolutionary perspective this is an aberration.

Footnote 2: The ubiquity of pornography is too big a subject to include in this article but does have a significant effect on the topic.

Religious circumcision is child abuse

Ban Religious Circumcision

The protection of children is a universal characteristic in a civilised society. We recognise the physical, sexual or emotional abuse of a child as one of the most serious crimes and make strenuous efforts to identify and severely punish perpetrators. And yet one crime is repeated day after day, year after year but goes unrecognised, that crime is genital mutilation for the purpose of religious identity. Just as the Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime in Germany were tattooed with identification numbers so tens of thousands of infants are routinely mutilated in order to satisfy the “obligation” of religious faith.

The practice of FGM “cutting” out the sexual organs of young girls has finally been recognised as grotesque but the removal of the foreskin of infant boys is no less an abuse albeit without some of the more profound consequences. Male circumcision is sometimes necessary for medical reasons but for the vast majority it is done as part of religious ritual. There can be no moral justification for this practice; it is simply part of the grand scheme that serves to perpetuate a particular religious faith. It is a cruel irony that the primary instigators of male circumcision, Judaism and Islam are in almost continuous conflict with each other.

So called scholars of either faith will offer religious justification for the practice and also claim other benefits like improved hygiene which has proved to be utterly false. In a secular society the rights of all faiths and none should be equally respected but this should never allow the human rights of individuals, especially children, to be ignored in the pursuit of religious faith, there should be no exemptions from our laws on account of religious belief or cultural practice. There are of course large numbers of people who subscribe to these faiths and governments in the developed world are afraid of challenging religious belief and ritual which some will also share personally but until they do we cannot call ourselves a civilised society.

Imagine this…

Image this

US President Donald Trump quickly enacts his (anti) NATO policy that no longer offers the guarantee of a US response if another NATO member is attacked.

Putin still smarting from Russia’s expulsion from the Olympics is anxious to assert its power and influence and invades eastern Ukraine, this time without the pretence that no Russian military are involved and quickly moves west to encircle Kiev claiming it is necessary in order to protect all Russian speaking Ukrainians.

Already at the point of ejecting Turkey because it is no longer a democracy NATO is crippled by indecision and cannot agree any response.

President Trump unilaterally imposes tariffs on many imported products and raw materials effectively ending the post war era of free trade. He also threatens China that the USA may default on its huge debt. This causes another worldwide economic shock with the collapse of major financial institutions that cannot be baled out this time.

Quantitative Easing is no longer and option and the only other weapon available to central banks, negative interest rates, in the US, EU, UK and elsewhere has no effect on the contraction of the economies but causes corporations and individual to halt all but essential spending adding to the cycle of decline.

Having been drastically reduced in Southern Europe already State pensions are slashed in northern Europe and in the UK the Pension Protection Fund cannot cope with the number of companies that can’t meet their pension liabilities leaving many who have paid into company funds with the complete loss of their pensions.

Europe is plunged into even deeper economic turmoil as the fundamental flaws in the Euro are fully exposed. Right wing parties make huge electoral advances and in Germany the spectre of Nazism looms once again as democratic forces seem unable to hold the line. Migrants welcomed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel are attacked and many killed.

Greece bedevilled with bail out debt and the migrant crisis faces the collapse of civil society and is no longer a functioning state as marauding gangs steal and pillage at will as no public sector workers including the police, military and healthcare have received payment for months.

The EU parliament and Commission are temporarily dissolved and all national borders are reinstated. What little trade there is is hampered by long delays at custom controls. Global air travel is hugely diminished, tourism all but non-existent.

Seizing an opportunity amid the global economic turmoil Putin sends a large military presence to its enclave on the Baltic of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, thus posing a direct threat to the two NATO/EU member states. Mass demonstrations in both countries offer Russia the pretext that they are protecting their citizens from attack by NATO.

President Trump continues his refusal to back the NATO threat of a military response if Lithuania or Poland is threatened. Islamist terror attacks increase in the USA and Trump orders all Muslims to attend loyalty screening centres. Building of the much heralded wall between the USA and Mexico has made little headway and streams of illegal immigrants swarm over the border.

Despite Article 50 having been enacted UK Brexit negotiations are halted and we are left in a limbo, half in-half out. Ironically immigration has dropped to much less than the tens of thousands the Brexiteers wanted as hundreds of thousands of UK citizens who have been living abroad return home.

In China several large banks that have lent money for speculative development collapse and unemployment increases at an unprecedented pace. Street demonstrations in Hong Kong spread to mainland China causing a state of emergency to be issued.

North Korea for so long dependent on China for economic support faces mass food riots as finance is withdrawn. In order to distract from his country’s ills Kim Jong Un instigates further ballistic missile tests one of which goes astray landing on the north coast of Honshu in Japan. President Trump suddenly becomes aware of “U.S.-Japan Joint Declaration on Security” that appears to offer military support in the event of an attack on Japan. He hurriedly issues a statement confirming his administrations “America First” policy that precludes regional military intervention in East Asia.

This emboldens China to intensify its development of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea resulting in the termination of diplomatic relations with China by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

In Syria ISIL has been defeated and the Free Syrian Army, no longer receiving US support throws in the towel. Bashar Al-Assad who has remained in power begins to consolidate his grip on the country again helped by Russia who now has several permanent air bases in the Latakia region causing alarm to many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean including Israel.

The Olympic Games in Rio that was beset with transport strikes, ticketing problems, sponsor withdrawals, cancellations of events and the impeachment and imprisonment of President Dilma Rousseff has left an economic as well as political crisis that results in a coup by the military in order to restore order.

With the further collapse of the oils price Venezuela has also been paralysed by a military coup and Cuba, a beneficiary of previous Venezuelan administrations, is in total disintegration causing many Cubans to attempt the perilous sea voyage to Florida. True to his word President Trump sends them straight back and many perish.

Instability in Europe continues but ironically (after Brexit) the UK finds itself in a less perilous position than many of its neighbours. After the prosecution of the main protagonists in the EU Referendum debate for dishonesty the Tory Party are in such disarray that they are forced into a General Election. The Labour Party having split cannot capitalise on the situation as Real Labour and Labour fight in the courts over assets and rights. The LibDems are still a tiny party and the only well organised and competent force in British politics is the SNP. Legislation is hastily drawn up that allows the Scottish and UK parliaments to work together in a government of national unity and Nicola Sturgeon becomes the Prime Minister of the UK.

The severe reduction in pharmaceutical research leads to the much feared scenario of Antibiotic resistant bacteria resulting in a tuberculosis epidemic across much of the world along with hugely increased death rates in hospitals due to untreatable MRSA infections.

Australia and New Zealand whose geographical isolation has protected them from Antibiotic resistant contagion impose a “temporary” ban on all travel in and out of their countries (except between the two). Realising that their economies will be severely impacted both enact economic policies in order to make them self sufficient at least in food production. In an attempt to maintain stability they implement a policy of nationalisation of most key industries and the introduction of a maximum wage.

All climate change targets have been abandoned as States scrabble to use any indigenous fuel they posses. The UN despite trying to unify the competing demands from member states has become totally ineffectual and the Security Council hasn’t met in months so President Trump withdraws all US funding from it and gives notice for it to quit its headquarters in New York. Some wags have speculated that it won’t be long before the TRUMP logo is seen emblazoned on the building.

Although an independent state Belarus has very close military and economic ties with Russia and readily accedes to Putin’s request to allow it to use southern Belarus in order to support its military incursion into Ukraine. This greatly alarms NATO as it puts even greater pressure not only on Poland and Lithuania but Latvia that also has a land border with Belarus. The close proximity of Belarus with Kaliningrad creates the fear that Russia’s plan maybe to isolate the three Baltic states from the rest of the EU. Once again President Trump resists any NATO counter measures but to everyone’s astonishment he invites the Russian president to the USA saying that Putin is “my kinda guy”.

As all coalition personnel including advisers have now left Afghanistan the Taliban quickly overrun the government and resume control while in Pakistan they have forced the government into implementing full Sharia Law. Bangladesh quickly follows suit leaving India sandwiched between two hard-line Islamist states. Inter-communal violence intensifies as India tries to calm its Muslim population that has been infiltrated by extremists.

Trump and Putin meet in Camp David both seeing this as an opportunity to bolster their prestige at home and this works well for Putin who is lauded on his return home having received guarantees from Trump that Russia’s plan to increase its sphere of influence in Europe would not be resisted by the USA.

However for President Trump this was not the situation; as many had predicted he is now floundering, his woeful ignorance of geo-politics is exposed and his simplistic policies at home are unravelling as the economy nosedives, leaving those who formed the majority of his supporters much worse off with repossessions and unemployment rising. As he didn’t manage to persuade other world leaders to revoke the Iranian nuclear deal, a resurgent Syria signs a joint defence deal with Iran which poses an increased threat to Israel. The US religious right, always great supporters of Israel are pressing Trump to offer guarantees for Israel’s security which is in contradiction to Trump’s isolationist “America First” policy, leaving the Republican party wondering how on earth they came to support the Trump presidential nomination.

The future continues…

Vote Maybe

EU vote maybe

Ignorance and belief are invariably fellow travellers as Islamic terrorism amply demonstrates but it is a wide spread phenomenon that occurs in every aspect of our society; as any marketeer will tell you belief in the brand is their holy grail and they create desire by exploiting our gullibility. One of the most dispiriting aspects of the EU Referendum was that it further exposed our political system as one where leaders manipulate the ignorance of the populace at large using over simplified messages that turn speculation into fact and fact into justification for policy commitment.

The protagonists in the EU Referendum exploited this ignorance of the electorate at large by feeding them with half-truths and even lies that were so easy to believe because they simply reinforced existing prejudices and beliefs. Neither side (but particularly #Brexit) made any attempt to explain the complexities of the issues or concede their opponents point of view. #Brexit assured us that the 27 remaining EU states would accede to our every demand and the negative economic consequences that we are now experiencing would not occur and the #Remain side would never accept that immigration in the tens of thousands was totally impossible while we are still members of the EU.

The issue of sovereignty played strongly in the Leave campaign and relied upon the nostalgia of older voters who sought to put the “Great” back into Britain. This and a sense of powerlessness in the wake of globalisation produced the slogan “We want our Country back” but these were really proxies for the fact since (and even before) the economic crash of 2008, many at the bottom of the social pile had felt disenfranchised and excluded from any economic revival and ignored by those in power. And ironically those who derided the lack of democratic accountability in the EU (despite having elected MEPs) happily ignored our own unelected House of Lords that is stuffed with political placemen, bishops and even some hereditaries.

Referenda are a crude tool by which to frame decision making, their binary nature doesn’t allow for shades of grey and the nuances that should be part of any serious determination of policy. We live in a representative democracy and although those representatives, our MPs, are elected on a personal and political party platform they aren’t mandated to simply follow the instructions of those who elected them. This is the paradox of our democracy but up until now no one has come up with a better system, however it relies upon a respect for and trust in the political class and that has been diminishing for many years. Our leaders cannot simply “dismiss the people and appoint a new one”, for democracy to fulfil our expectations we need a better educated and informed electorate.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man”

Boris as PM no thanks

Politics is always about judgement but it should also be about integrity and the EU Referendum debate has shone a harsh light on the main #Brexit protagonist Boris Johnson. In a 2013 interview Johnson said “I’d vote to stay in the single market. I’m in favour of the single market. I want us to trade freely with our European friends and partners.” What changed his mind? The last three years has seen the immigration crisis arrive in Europe (although not in the UK), and this has ignited a long smouldering resentment of immigrants amongst older, usually less well educated voters and this is the cohort that can be guaranteed to turn out at election time.

To an ambitious politician this was too good an opportunity to miss. No longer are they “friends and partners” but now apparently “the European Union is pursuing a similar goal to Hitler in trying to create a powerful superstate.”

Johnson’s lack of integrity has been further exposed by his use of totally bogus statistics in the campaign, not half truths but full blown lies (see previous post), his bumbling persona hides a gigantic ambition that would probably make him Prime Minister if we vote to leave the EU.

Many #Brexit supporters are from poorer, working class backgrounds without private medical insurance and who rely on the NHS. Johnson has told them money saved from #Brexit could be spent on the NHS however in 2003 he was an advocate of privatisation saying “if NHS services continue to be free in this way, they will continue to be abused like any free service.”

Judgement and integrity are requirements of a Prime Minister but so is competence. Can you imagine Johnson on the world stage negotiating with Putin or Clinton; they would regard him as a buffoon and then disregarded as a statesman. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” but please not this one.

Truth is the first casualty…

 

Michael gove as vicar

If the argument for #Brexit is so good why do Gove and Co. need to tell so many lies to convince us of its merits? The #Brexit camp are evangelising zealots believing their own rhetoric with each Pastor piling on one false claim after another. With virtually all the economic institutions and forecasting bodies lined up against them they keep repeating that these esteemed academic organisations are either lying or in the pay of the Establishment which is ridiculous. Add to that our global friends and partners who all advocate #VoteRemain and their response is like a child shouting “ I don’t want to hear”!

These are downright lies not half truths:

Britain sends £350m a week to Brussels.
No it doesn’t it’s £ 136m

U.K. will be liable for future Eurozone bailouts.
No we won’t.

EU could scrap Britain’s rebate.
No it can’t.

U.K. had given up its ability to veto EU treaties.
No it hasn’t.

U.K. can’t stop the EU’s budget going up.
Yes we can we have a veto.

Britain will be forced into an EU army.
No it doesn’t, it would require our agreement.

Freedom of movement allows criminals to enter Britain.
No it doesn’t. EU law allows Britain to refuse entry to people “on grounds of public policy, public security or public health”.

The #VoteRemain side has also been economical with the truth but to nothing like the same extent. The fact that #Brexit will be a leap in the dark is incontestable, for all its flaws we are in the EU so we know how it works so there isn’t anything like the same degree of uncertainty and risk if we stay in.

The only fact that #Brexit can muster and it is a very significant one is that outside the EU we will be able to deny EU nationals from entering the UK. To their discredit the #VoteRemain campaign will not acknowledge this fact. However if we impose restrictions it seems reasonable to assume that the EU will do the same and who will fill the vacancies in the building and agricultural sectors?

Bizarrely immigration is an issue even in areas like the north east where there are few immigrants, however immigration has changed the character of many towns and cities and myths abound about benefit tourism and queue jumping. This increase in people from abroad has happened over many decades and we the electorate have never been asked if we wanted it that is why people are angry and willing to risk all voting #Brexit.

The Brexiteers also rely on a nostalgic vision of Britain as it was in their history books, with the Great put back in but the world has moved on and this sentimental attachment to the past will hold Britain back if they get there way.

#VoteRemain, not with religious certainty or even much enthusiasm but because the alternative is a naive pipe dream.

US Constitution and the Koran

Same but different

A senator from Florida was interviewed on the BBC this morning and although she is a fervent supporter of gun control when asked about the right to own guns per se she seemed surprised by the question and referred to the US Constitution that allowed gun ownership more than 200 years ago. The Orlando shooting brings two issues, not normally considered together; US gun control and the tenets of Islam that motivate Moslems to kill innocent people. Many Americans make a distinction between a terrorist massacre motivated by an alien ideology and a mass shooting by someone considered to be mentally disturbed or a psychopath. But both are made possible by the availability of firearms anywhere in the USA.

The US Constitution has become as sacred to many Americans as the Koran is to most Moslems. Although it is occasionally updated the US Constitution has received only 27 amendments (like the abolition of slavery in 1865) since the 1st in 1791.

Guns occupy a special place in the US consciousness; to many Americans they represent the pioneer spirit, the self reliance of those who forged a path across the continent in the early days and exemplified by the celluloid heroes of the 1950’s. Every nation romanticises it’s past but in America it seems a particularly powerful force that can limit progress. To anyone outside of the USA the lack of gun control seems utterly crazy as does the fact that an organisation that is in fact just a club, the National Rifle Association, can have such a powerful influence on US policy and law making.

Islamic terrorists often refer to their past glories, the great Muslim caliphates and in particular the Ottoman Empire that lasted for 400 years but one fact cannot be avoided, the Koran itself not only allows but mandates Muslims to commit the most despicable acts on non Muslims and demands equally obscene punishments for fellow Muslims who defy its edicts, the fact that the majority do not is hardly reassuring.

Both the US Constitution and the Koran should be regarded as historic documents that inform but not dictate policy and behaviour. For Islam this can only be achieved by Muslims themselves demanding this change; the circumstances today are very different from origins of Islam 1400 years ago. Similarly the US Constitution should be regarded as having been appropriate for a new nation more than 200 years ago but inadequate for a country that claims to lead the free world in the 21st Century.

Islam: Fear and Self-Loathing

Islam: fear and self loathing

I have a theory that the rise in Islamic terror is all about sex. The young men who are attracted by jihad are the generation that has grown up with internet pornography. Anywhere in the world they are only a few clicks away from a deluge of images and videos showing every sexual practice. Commentators often use the term “consuming pornography” but let’s be frank that means masturbation and masturbation (for both men and women) is haraam (forbidden) in Islam.

It is likely that many young Islamists consume pornography, porn was found on the laptops of the 7/7 London bombers and it is clearly impossible for a young Muslim man to reconcile the constant titillation in this highly sexualised world with the strict religious observance demanded by his mosque and family.

Repressed sexual urges can often find other outlets, aggression towards others or self harm but also as Freud claimed sexual sublimation can be responsible creativity and great art. The Abrahamic religions: Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Christianity and Islam are all obsessed with sex or rather limiting sex to within certain religiously acceptable confines. These attitudes are of course generated from a male perspective since their god was a man and take no regard of a female opinion.

Although many sexual practices are condemned by these religions homosexuality is regarded as one of the most sinful. The Christian Old Testament (Leviticus 20:13) decrees that “they should be put to death for their abominable deed” but it is Islam that is the most ferocious in its condemnation with countless grotesque punishments.

One theory for this loathing is that the authors of the most hostile texts were latent homosexuals themselves and there is evidence that unrealised homosexual desire can motivate extreme anti-homosexual views. In the USA numerous gay hating pastors and politicians have subsequently turned out to be gay themselves.

The Orlando murderer Omar Mateen had visited the Pulse Gay nightclub on several occasions before the massacre. Whether he was a latent homosexual is not yet clear but what is beyond dispute is that he was a Muslim and the teachings of the Koran mandate the killing of homosexuals. The religious and homophobic motivation for this attack are inextricably linked and we should recognise this fact. The solution in the medium term is to hope that Islam can be reformed as parts of Christianity and Judaism have been but in the long term let’s wish for a world without belief in religious fantasy.

How healthy is our democracy?

Is democracy working?

With much of the EU debate about it’s democratic deficit how healthy is UK democracy? Turnout even in UK general elections has decreased, from 84% in 1950 to 66% in 2015 and in elections to the European Parliament has plateaued at around a paltry 35%. Voting is of greater importance to those aged 55 plus, who in the 2015 general election averaged about 77%, than the 18-34 age group that averaged less than 50%.

These baby boomers (55 plus) have generally faired very well, building up considerable personal wealth with equity in their homes and often retiring on generous, final salary, pensions. Contrast this with the 18-34 year olds most of whom find it impossible to buy a home, many saddled with student loan debts that their parent’s generation avoided. This inter-generational unfairness has as yet failed to motivate the young into taking action and that includes voting. But who can blame their indifference as there is no party that is actively supporting their cause? Political parties formulate policy according to where the votes are so it is no surprise that many are skewed in the favour of older voters, like the triple lock on pensions. It is also a curious irony that this cohort, that has benefited most economically from EU membership, is also the group most likely to support #Brexit.

A healthy democracy is dependent on the majority of citizens being engaged in the political process but an increasing distrust of the political class and their unwillingness to address issues that are of concern to ordinary people has led to cynicism and alienation, that is particularly evident in the EU referendum debate; supporters on both sides but particularly those who want to leave the EU have insulted the electorate with ludicrously exaggerated claims and erroneous statistics leaving the electorate to fall back on preconceived opinions and prejudice rather than evaluating unbiased evidence.

The passions aroused by our membership of the EU have always been based more on sentiment than reality. The #Brexit camp make great play of the democratic deficit in the EU while happily ignoring the fact that we have an unelected House of Lords stuffed full of political appointees, not to mention Bishops and the remaining hereditary peers and of course a hereditary monarchy. They rely, as did the Scottish Nationalists in their referendum, on a mix of romantic nostalgia and archaic nationalism.

Although the emergence of UKIP clearly indicates that there has been a concern about immigration particularly in blue collar areas, the referendum was called not so much to satisfy a national demand but to resolve the long running conflict within the Conservative party and was therefore a grossly irresponsible decision by David Cameron since it might quite likely result in our #Brexit. Either way it is unlikely to heal the Tory strife, rather it is likely to amplify it.

The Labour party under Corbyn has been a disaster; the ability for anyone (from Trotskyites to Tories) to vote in the Labour leadership election after a donation of just £3.00 was not so much an exercise in democracy as either an incompetent decision by the then Labour leadership or a cynical attempt at drag the Labour party to the unelectable socialist fringe.

So we are left with a referendum that hangs in the balance but with around 6 million people still not registered to vote. Perhaps #Brexit will win, by gaining the majority of votes, that’s democracy but to have done so without most voters really understanding the issues, perhaps not a healthy democracy.

We need to talk about god

We need to talk about god

Islamists justify the brutality of their actions by citing the Quran that explicitly sanctions and even mandates many of their atrocities against non-Muslims (or more specifically, non-Sunni Muslims). Our response in the non Muslim world has been to claim that their literal interpretation of religious texts should be modified in the same way that Christianity has quietly abandoned much of the barbarity than can be found in the Old Testament.

This approach raises several problems as Islamists will inevitably challenge the authority of any non-Muslim to interfere in Islamic doctrine and most importantly because it measures one religious ideology against another and helps to validate the notion that religion per se is a natural component of 21st century society. What is required is the total debunking of all religious belief and that means we need to talk about God. Most belief in God is derived from belief in a particular religion as very few people believe in God from outside of religious conviction. Of course some people have a vague notion of there being something unknown or even unknowable outside ourselves, or that they have feelings that they describe as spiritual.

Life without God

In the UK (in common with much of Europe and Australia/NZ) religion plays little part in daily life even for those with “spiritual” leanings, the exception being within immigrant communities in these countries. However religion does play a significant role in the institutions of the State and for the UK at least in education (see previous post). Many public ceremonies include a religious element; prayers, hymns, attendance of the clergy and within our Constitution the monarch is head of the Church of England that is also the “official” religion of the UK. Religion is still a part of education with a daily “act of worship” required in every State school. Religious education is part of our curriculum and treats all religious beliefs as requiring serious study without submitting any to rational scrutiny.

So any examination of the existence of God is absent from political and educational discourse, instead we are assumed to accept that he (and it is invariably he) exists and that any discussion should be around the nature of God and how different religions interpret his commands. At which point we return to the original flaw that is the comparative merits of competing religions rather than the rejection of all on the grounds that supernatural fantasies should play no part in a modern society.

The case against God is overwhelming and well documented in books like The God Delusion but prior to a scientific explanation for phenomena when superstition was endemic it was perfectly natural for our distant ancestors to believe in creation myths and a life beyond death as their lives were powerless, brutal and short but today there is no excuse to maintain this delusion.

The atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam cannot be overcome by military, economic or diplomatic means, they must eventually be argued out of existence using the power of reason. That means undermining belief in the pre-ordained and the supernatural, exposing religious texts as fabrications and offering an evidenced based explanation for all that religion, including Islam, once sought to explain.