Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

Books on God and Religion

March 17, 2018

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.


Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Charismatic experiences
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.


The Jimmy Dore Show on the Smears against Corbyn for his Response to Salisbury Attack

March 15, 2018

Mike over at Vox Political has already put up a piece commenting on the Tory and right-wing Labour attacks on Jeremy Corbyn for his response to the government declaring that Putin is responsible for the nerve gas attack in Salisbury on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Corbyn stated in his speech that he totally condemned the attack, but wants absolute proof that Putin is responsible before blaming Russia and retaliating. This is just too much for the Tories, who when they find themselves confronted by a real statesman, rather than someone who just sabre-rattles and strikes nationalistic poses, immediately start lying. So the Labour leader has been vilified as Putin’s puppet, and for failing to condemn Russia for the attack in Salisbury. Despite the fact that Corbyn has condemned the attack. And the Beeb in their coverage was absolutely delighted when they showed the Tories cheering on the Labour backbenchers, who attacked Corbyn. This must have been music to the ears of their news editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who presented that piece. But Mike’s article shows how Corbyn is absolutely right, along with the support he has amongst thousands of people online sick and tired of Tory and Blairite lies, people who also make extremely good arguments in the Labour leader’s favour.

In this piece from the Jimmy Dore show, the American comedian and his co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano, also discuss the smears against Corbyn. They make the same points Mike has made, and then apply it to the situation in America, where the Republicans and the Corporate Democrats are doing their level best to smear Bernie Sanders. And so Sanders has been reviled as racist, misogynist, wearing expensive clothes, you name it, they’ve flung it at him. This is, Dore states, how the establishment deals with anti-war progressives. It’s also, as they point out, the way the Democrats are attacking Trump. He’s being attacked as Putin’s puppet by that section of the Democrats that is now even further right than the Republicans.

He goes further, and describes his own vilification and smearing by his right-wing opponents. He has 300,000 subscribers to his channel, which is much smaller than The Young Turks’ 3 million. But he’s been smeared, his videos edited to make it appear that he’s saying things he isn’t and misquoted. He states that mostly he doesn’t respond to the smears, as this would elevate them and bring them to more people’s attention. With the exception of the Washington Post, when he decided he’d have a little fun. He makes the point that when Bernie announces his candidacy for the presidency, the abuse against him is going to make that against Corbyn pale.

Dore also makes the point that all this material from the intelligence community, like MI6, which supposedly points in the direction of Putin, really isn’t convincing either, given the way the intelligence services lied about there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And Steffi Zamorano also finds it very strange that the British government is leaping to attack Putin, but has declared that everyone in Salisbury is safe, and has not called the incident a terrorist attack.

Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was sacked and smeared because he was too honest, is also very critical of the identification of the nerve agent used in the attack. This has been identified as Novichoks, a toxin created by the Russians. But he presents evidence that casts considerable doubt on that identification, and the assertion that the Russians must be responsible. He concludes

1) Porton Down has acknowledged in publications it has never seen any Russian “novichoks”. The UK government has absolutely no “fingerprint” information such as impurities that can safely attribute this substance to Russia.
2) Until now, neither Porton Down nor the world’s experts at the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were convinced “Novichoks” even exist.
3) The UK is refusing to provide a sample to the OPCW.
4) “Novichoks” were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured from common ingredients on any scientific bench. The Americans dismantled and studied the facility that allegedly developed them. It is completely untrue only the Russians could make them, if anybody can.
5) The “Novichok” programme was in Uzbekistan not in Russia. Its legacy was inherited by the Americans during their alliance with Karimov, not by the Russians.

His article on this explicitly compares it to Saddam’s non-existent WMDs. See:

Some of the commenters on this blog have also pointed out that with an election coming up, and May seven points behind Corbyn, she definitely needs to start sabre-rattling to get the nationalists on her side. Plus, international tensions are delight to the arms industries, who want to sell more kit to our forces. And Porton Down, our chemical weapons research centre, has now been £50 million to build a new research factory. Which is just amazing, considering the government is pleading that there isn’t enough money to support the NHS, the sick, disabled, unemployed, the poor, schools or provide anything like the funding a really civilised society needs.

And as for supplying money to Porton Down, this comes rather late. As Mike points out, Labour set up a special regiment to deal with chemical weapons attacks. But this was closed down by Cameron in 2011.

And the backbench Labour rebels, who were attacking Corbyn seem mostly seem to be members of the Labour Friends of Israel. So the Israel lobby in the Labour party is seizing its chance to attack Corbyn, and try to get back into power that way. More smears by those, who manufactured the smears that Labour is full of anti-Semites and Nazis. I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised. They’re very strongly connected to the corporatist Blairites, and it was Blair, who put pressure on MI6 to ‘sex up’ the dossier so it would provide a pretext for the Iraq invasion. So more lies from them.

Putin is a thug. In Russia he actively stamps on and persecutes opposition parties and politicians. Journalists and other critics of his regime are regularly beaten, and many have died in very suspicious circumstances. 14 other Russians have also died in similarly suspicious circumstances over here. But we have to be absolutely sure that he is responsible, not jump to conclusions, and make sure our response is proportionate and reasonable.

But May’s hysterical nationalism will play well with the jingoistic hordes of the Scum, Fail, Express and the rest, who will even now be salivating at the thought of making her into another belligerent Thatcher. Even if that means precipitating another, dangerous crisis in international relations.

RT Reports on People Attacking Robots and Driverless Cars in California

March 9, 2018

This is a very short video – about 2 1/2 minutes long – I found over on YouTube by RT. It reports attacks on driverless cars and other robots by the good folks of California. The other robots attacked include a robot guard, designed to shoo the homeless away from business entrances, which was put out of action several times, and a robot burger chef. The machine is basically just an arm and hand, which is shown flipping burgers, and laying them out ready for the bun. The attacks on this machine have included comments about it taking people’s jobs.

The piece cuts to an expert, who says that when you have predictions that mechanisation will destroy half the jobs in America, which will cause massive social dislocation – people are going to be angry. He then makes the anodyne statement that they have to find ways to make automation work for the benefit of everyone.

There is no way under capitalism that automation will work for everyone. Value under capitalism is determined by scarcity. The scarcer and more vital a product or service is, the more people are willing to pay for it. Hence the neoliberal dictum that there must be a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’ to bring down wages, whatever George Osborne and the other liars in the Tory party say about reducing unemployment. Making half the workforce unemployed will create immense poverty, but I can see the Tories and their backers salivating over that, as it means jobs will become more precious, and the working and lower middle class more dispirited and willing to put up with even worse condition to get them.

Of course, one solution would be to nationalise the companies not using a given proportion of human labour, so that their profits could be used to benefit everyone, perhaps through a universal citizen wage. The Polish SF author, Stanislaw Lem, mentioned this option in one of his short stories in Tales of Pirx the Pilot. But there’s no way this is going to happen, as the Tories and other apologists for capitalism will scream blue murder about the sanctity of private industry. Even when that industry is destroying jobs for private profit.

There needs to be a complete change in the structure of our society, if such widespread automation goes ahead. And it should begin by kicking out the Tories and the other corporatist politicos.

Channel 4 Report into Italian Hipster Fascists

March 5, 2018

After the Fascistic policies and behaviour of the Israeli state and its advocates over here, there’s the return of Fascism proper to Europe. I found this Channel 4 report into the Italian Fascist party, CasaPound, on YouTube. CasaPound is a miniscule Fascist party, which takes its name from the American Modernist poet and Fascist, Ezra Pound. Casa is Italian for ‘house’, so I suppose you could translate the party’s name as ‘Pound House’ or ‘House of Pound’. They seem to have been founded by an extreme right-wing rock singer, shown growling out his wretched songs at one of his concerts. The party holds rallies, at which their squadristi respond with the Roman salute. And the iconography of Italian Fascism – the Fasces – the bundle of sticks with the axe projecting from it – and Mussolini’s ghastly fizzog are everywhere.

The reporter is shown round their headquarters by a woman. On one wall, when you go in, are the names of various prominent Fascists, written in different colours and sizes. The reporter’s guide tells him that they have this put there, as their counterpart to the Roman household gods that guarded their homes. One of the names on the wall is that of the notorious British Fascist, Oswald Mosley. The building also acts as a hostel, putting up the homeless – but only if you’re Italian. By which, presumably, they mean ‘White Italian’. The party also runs food banks and provides free medical care, such as health check-ups and electro-cardiograms. Again, only for Whites. As the woman explains in the video, only full Whites can be members of the organisation. A White person married to an immigrant cannot be a member, each of whom pays a subscription to the organisation. Along with the names of prominent, infamous Fascists, there’s also their flags and insignia, including that of the infamous Golden Dawn, responsible for the beatings and murder of immigrants and leftists in Greece.

The reporter comments that the place is very military, like a barracks. And it almost goes without saying that Casapound is viciously anti-immigrant. There’s a clip of a rally at which one of their speakers states he wants two ships in the Mediterranean to intercept the migrant vessels and send them back to Libya. The reporter also makes the point that they are trying to exploit the death of a young girl for their political gain. It’s not certain whether the girl died of a drug overdose, or was murdered, but three immigrants were arrested in connection with her death after her dismembered body was found deposited in two suitcases. The next day, a man with very extreme right-wing views opened fire and killed six migrants. The stormtroopers of CasaPound state very clearly that they don’t want immigrants coming to Italy bringing drugs and crime, and that if they had been in power, the girl would still be alive.

At the moment, CasaPound are politically negligible. They need to get three per cent of the vote before they get anywhere the Italian parliament, and there are many other Fascist parties. But the video does show the return of the blatantly Fascist right into Italian politics, even though it’s currently at the fringes.

The video’s important, not just for showing the re-emergence of proper Fascism in Italy, but because it also shows and confirms some of the observations the American radical journalist, Chris Hedges, has made about the way Fascism returns after the liberal elite abandon the working class. Hedges stated that the new Fascism in America took the form of complete little worlds, in which a person could become completely immersed. He was talking about the religious right, and the megachurches, which provide a more-or-less complete environment separate from the secular world outside. CasaPound offers much the same. It’s a lifestyle, as much as a political party.

As well as watching the emergence of Fascism in America, Hedges himself saw it appear during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He states that when the liberal elite abandon the working class to pursue neoliberal policies, which benefit only the business elite, the working class not only turn against them, but against the liberal values of multiculturalism, anti-racism, feminism, gay rights and so on. And again, you can see that here. The welfare services provided by CasaPound for the racially pure show this clearly. Healthcare has been cut, so that many Italians cannot get a doctor. So CasaPound provides one. The party’s squadristi state that the Communist party used to do this, but they don’t appear in the communities any longer. And so their place has been filled instead by CasaPound. Again, the organisation is providing a total social environment, including welfare support, that the state and the supposed parties of the Left have retreated from under the assault of neoliberal free trade dogma. This also affected the Communist Party in Italy, which in the 1980s began to explore other paths to power rather than the methods dictated by Russian experience. In doing so, they became much less radical, despite their Marxist ideology. I can remember the Financial Times in the 1990s stating that they were no more left-wing than the SDP in Britain, the right-wing Labour splinter group that amalgamated with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems.

I don’t know how much of a threat Fascism actually poses in Italy. It’s certainly there, at the margins. But CasaPound are nowhere near as powerful as the Alternative fuer Deutschland, who are also real Nazis with a bitter hatred of Jews and immigrants, and which have just managed to get themselves into the Bundestag. At the moment the major populist force in Italy seems to be Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Party. But this does indicate the way the country could move, if something is not done to bring down the rise in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hostility on one hand, and destroy the neoliberalism that is impoverishing people across the world, and creating such anxieties on the other.

Tories’ Comments about Universal Credit and Self-Employed Show They Don’t Care About Small Businesses

March 2, 2018

Mike this evening put up a post about how the Tories are trying to justify the removal of benefits to the self-employed under Universal Credits by claiming that it ‘incentivises’ them. Mike makes the point that it clearly shows the cruelty behind the Tories’ policies. They’re all about cuts and making things harder, not about rewards. It’s always, but always the stick, not the carrot.

I’d have thought that to be self-employed, you have to be very well self-motivated anyway. I’ve heard from my father amongst others that to run your own business, you have to get up early and go to bed late. And about half of all small businesses fold within the first two years.

The self-employed and small businessman have it bad enough already, without the Tories making worse. And I think they should seriously consider voting Labour.

Oh, I’ve met enough small businesspeople, who say that they won’t vote Labour, because of the old canard that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’. That hasn’t been true since the rise of the Social Democratic consensus in the Labour party. As articulated by Anthony Crossland, this said that you didn’t need nationalisation or worker’s control, provided there was social mobility, a progressive income tax and strong trade unions. All of which have been destroyed under the onslaught of Thatcherism.

But even before then, socialist thinkers like G.D.H. Cole were arguing that Labour should also seek to protect small businesses as part of their campaign to defend and advance the cause of the working class. Cole was one of the most prolific of Socialist writers, and was one of the leaders of Guild Socialism, the British version of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Even after that collapsed, after the failure of the General Strike, he still beleived that workers’ should have a share in the management of the companies in which they worked. So definitely not a sell out to capital, then.

I am also well aware that many small businessmen are resentful of workers gaining wage rises and further employment rights. They argue that they can’t give themselves pay rises, because of the economics of their businesses, before complaining about how much it would all cost them. Well, perhaps. But they can decide how much they charge, and what they intend to pay themselves. And they control their business, not the people below them. I’m sure it’s true that some white collar workers are better paid than the self-employed, but that’s no excuse for not paying your employees better wages.

But a wider point needs to be made here: the Tories don’t support Britain’s Arkwrights, the s-s-small businessmen, who were personified by the heroes of Open All Hours, as portrayed by Ronnie Barker and David Jason.

And yes, I know about all the rubbish about how Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, who slept above the shop when she was a child. But Thatcher, and her successors, was solidly for the rich against the poor, and big business against the small trader. That’s why they’ve given immense tax cuts to the very rich, and put the tax burden on the poorer layers of society. It’s why, despite repeated scandals, they will never willingly pass legislation to force big businessmen to pay their smaller suppliers promptly and on time.

And it’s why they will always back the big supermarkets, no matter how exploitative and destructive they are. George Monbiot in his Captive State has chapters attacking them. Not only are they parasitical, in that they pay their workers rubbish wages, so that they need to draw benefits, benefits that the Tories really don’t want to pay, they also destroy the small shops in the areas they move into. And they screw their suppliers with highly exploitative contracts.

In an ideal world, the big supermarket chains would be nationalised or broken up as monopolies.

The small businessperson needs to be protected. They, not the big supermarkets, create employment and healthy, living communities. They should be protected, just like the working and lower middle classes, which includes them, should.

And the only party I see willing to do that is the Labour party. Remember when Ed Balls said that Labour ‘wanted to grow your businesses’ to the small traders about this country? It was sincere. I think it was wrong on its own, as it shows how Labour under Blair had abandoned the working class, and was concentrating on hoovering up middle class votes. But ‘Red’ Ed did have a point. It should’t be a case of either the working class, or small businesses, but both the working class and small businesspeople.

Because the small businessman too deserves protection from exploitation. Which they will never get from the likes of Thatcher, Dave Cameron and May.

One Eighth of Bristolians Living in ‘Fuel Poverty’

March 2, 2018

‘Points West’, the local BBC news show for the Bristol region had a little report Wednesday night on the number of people in Bristol living in ‘fuel poverty’. This term, they explains, applies to anyone, who pays more than ten per cent of their income in heating costs. And there are 25,000 of them in Bristol. This is one-eighth of the city’s population. This is higher than in the surrounding country districts, but nationally about 11 per cent of the population are hit by it. They programme then interviewed some of the people, who had a choice between heating their homes, or eating.

They also talked to a Tory MP from over the other side of the country, who is trying to introduce legislation to improve matters. This won’t address issues like low wages and benefits, which are the root cause of this. No, he just wants to make sure everyone has proper loft insulation. David Garmston, the interviewer, tried to press him about the problem of low incomes, but he refused to be drawn, merely saying that he thought that Theresa May was concerned about this issue, and returning to his main concern of getting people cheap loft insulation so that everyone has it. And there the interview ended.

1/8 of the population of Bristol, or indeed, anywhere else, in fuel poverty is too many by far. The Tory’s plan for everyone to have state-sponsored loft insulation is a good starting point, but it’s only a starting point, not a solution.

And I don’t believe that Tweezer or any of the other Tories have any interest in the plight of the poor or those on low-incomes. Indeed, Tory policy for the past eight years or so has been solidly based on keeping wages and benefits low. Wages have either been frozen, or when they have been raised, the increase is deliberately set below the level of inflation. Benefits are being cut, and new ways invented all the time to throw the poor and disabled off them.

May and her squad of privileged thugs have promised that they’ll introduce a cap on energy prices, but this will not arrive for several months. Always assuming that it will arrive at all. The Tories have form for broken promises, and this is going to be one of them. I think they only made the promise because the problem of fuel poverty was too great to ignore, and that Corbyn and the Labour party had promised to solve it by renationalising part of the electricity grid. The prospect of any assault on the precious free market and private industry absolutely terrifies them, even when it is absolutely obvious to anyone not blinded by Thatcherite ideology that the free market doesn’t work. And so to stave off the threat of nationalisation, they’ve had to make a few promises of their own to regulate energy prices. Promises that I doubt they have any intention of keeping.

It’s been estimated that if the electricity network had been kept within the state sector, electricity prices would be 10 to 20 per cent cheaper.

This could all come back in Corbyn gets in and nationalises the grid. Which will mean cheaper electricity for consumers, but reduced profits for the energy companies, who donate to the Tory party, on whose boards no doubt many Tory MPs sit, and whose interests the Tories are keen to represent, against the wellbeing of the rest of us.

Don’t believe Tory lies. If you really want to see fuel poverty reduced, vote for Corbyn and the renationalisation of the electricity industry.

Andrew Marr Praises Steven Pinker’s Book on Science, Rationality and Free Markets

February 28, 2018

Mike has posted a number of pieces on his blog commenting on the right-wing bias displayed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show. One recent example of this was his comment to a Tory guest, who came on immediately after he had given a hard interview to someone from the Labour Party. His interview of the Tory was softer, and at the end of it he leaned over to tell her that she had done ‘very well’. Or something like it.

I’m not surprised by this bias. Marr is a fan of the free market, the sacred ideology at the heart of Thatcherism, against which no-one is allowed to blaspheme or question. He was in the I newspaper a few weeks ago praising Steven Pinker’s new book, which argues that the world has got immensely better due to science, reason and markets. Pinker’s a neuroscientist and atheist polemicist. The book’s a successor to his previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature. This was written to refute the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest period in human history. This argument has been made in defence of religion, as much atheist polemic is based on the violence and bloodshed that has been generated by religion. But the 20th century is a problem, as the massacres and genocides there took place within an increasingly secular world, and in the case of the horrors committed by Communist regimes, were perpetrated by aggressively atheist regimes. And in the case of the Fascist regimes, it’s questionable how religious they were. General Franco in Spain believed that he was defending Christianity from secularism and materialism when he launched his attack on the Republican government, and horrifically many Christians did support the Fascist regimes against the supposed threats of Communism and Socialism. I’m well aware that Hitler claimed that he was doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in persecuting the Jews in Mein Kampf, but in his Table Talk he has nothing but contempt for Christianity, and wants astronomical observatories set up near schools as part of a scientific campaign against the religion. Hitler’s own religious beliefs seem to have been a kind of monistic pantheism, possibly not that far removed from those of the Monist League, who also sported the swastika as their symbol. As for Mussolini, the Italian dictated signed the Lateran Accords with the papacy, in which the Pope finally recognised Italy’s existence as a state in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. But il Duce had started out as a radical socialist, and many members of the Fascist party still were vehemently atheist. Much depended on the religious opinions of the local Fascist ras whether Roman Catholic religious education was taught in the schools in his area. I don’t wish to go into this argument now, whether these regimes were really atheist or not, or if the 20th century really was the bloodiest period in human history. I just wish to make the point that this was the issue at the heart of Pinker’s previous book.

Pinker’s new book apparently tells us that everything’s getting better, including the environment, and Pinker marshals an impressive arrays of facts. But all this said to me was that people and governments have become more ecologically conscious. It does not mean that we aren’t facing the devastating loss of an extraordinary number of this planet’s animal and plant species, or that we face catastrophic global warming which may make the Middle East uninhabitable.

But even more questionable is Pinker’s and Marr’s assertion that modern, post-Enlightenment society has been immensely improved thanks to the science, reason and markets. In the case of science and reason, at one level the statement is obviously true. Human life has benefited immensely from scientific advance, particularly in medicine. But the view that science and reason didn’t exist before then is one that many Medieval scholars would strenuously reject. In contrast to the stereotypes, the Middle Ages actually wasn’t anti-science. There are poems from the 12th-13th centuries celebrating it, and the new knowledge that was flooding into Europe from the Islamic world. The 15th century English poem, The Court of Sapience, lists the various branches of knowledge known to the medieval world, and celebrates them as the area of ‘Dame Sapience’, an idealised personification of wisdom. As for superstition and the occult, historians have also pointed out that the Middle Ages were also an age of scepticism as well as faith. Medieval theologians wrote texts arguing that visions of demons were more likely caused by a full stomach interfering with the correct functioning of the nerves, and so causing bad dreams. Others doubted whether the seers, who claimed to be able to identify thieves through peering in bowls of water or other reflecting surfaces, had any such powers, and were simply using common knowledge to put the blame on notorious thieves. And in contrast to what Marr apparently thinks, free market capitalism did not suddenly emerge in the 18th century with the French Physiocrats and then Adam Smith. In fact, some Christian theologians were arguing for free trade as far back as the thirteenth century.

As for free market capitalism benefiting humanity, the evidence today is that it really doesn’t. The neoliberalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan has done nothing but make the lives of the poor much poorer across the world, and in so doing has increased international tension and political violence. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, shows how the strong economies of the world’s developed nations were all created, not by free trade, but by protectionism.

This is very clearly not something any true-blue Thatcherite wants to hear. But it also shows the strange, cult-like nature of the ideology of free trade capitalism. A number of writers have pointed out the apparently illogical, absolute belief its supporters have, even when they are shown the plentiful evidence to the contrary. They still go on believing and demanding free market solutions, even when it is abundantly clear to everyone else that not only do they not work, they are even causing immense harm. And Marr is clearly one of these true believers. He also seems to have uncritically accepted the view that science, reason and free market capitalism were all products of the Enlightenment, when academic historians have been pushing the origins of science and capitalism further back to the Middle Ages, and demonstrated that the Age of Faith was also one of Reason, however irrational it now seems to us.

Marr’s praise of the book and its promotion of the free market also gives more than an indication of his own political beliefs, and why he is much less sympathetic to left-wing guests on his show than those from the right. He’s another member of the cult of neoliberal market capitalism, and this has to be protected at all costs from unbelievers. Even when he and the Beeb swear impartiality.

John Wycliff’s Arguments for Pacifism

February 18, 2018

Last Sunday I put up a piece about the Lollard sermon, The Perversion of the Works of Mercy. The Lollards were the late fourteenth-early fifteenth century followers of the English theologian and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was a kind of proto-Protestant, who denounced the corruption of the church, rejected the papacy and maintained that the Bible should be the sole authority for Christian doctrine. The Perversion of the Works of Mercy attacks the way people have turned away from performing their Christian obligations to feed, clothe, give drink to the poor, visit and care for the sick and prisoners, and instead do this all for the rich and powerful. It’s a powerful message for today, when the Tories’ official policy is to increase the tax burden of the poor, in order to give massive tax cuts to the rich. The Tories are also cutting benefits to the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled as part of this programme of making the rich even richer, while at the same time claiming that the destruction of the welfare state is all for the benefit of the poor themselves. It’s saving them from ‘welfare dependency’, and is encouraging them, in the notorious words of Norman Tebbit, to get on their bikes and look for work. It’s all part of the Tory and Thatcherite embrace of the Victorian attitude of ‘less eligibility’, which stated that conditions of state aid should be as harsh as possible in order to deter people from taking it up, and encourage them to take any job, no matter how low paid or exploitative.

Wycliffe was also a pacifist. I also blogged a month or so ago about a book I found on his pacifism in the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue. Wycliffe’s pacifism is also discussed by Basil Cottle in his The Triumph of English 1350-1400 (London: Blandford Press 1969). Here’s the passage where he discusses Wycliffe’s rejection of war, quoting the medieval theologian himself:

In each particular, Wyclif’s views are revolutionary, and his treatment of of war is typical of this: those who go to war cannot with justice say the Lord’s Prayer. ‘And before the seven axingis that Crist techith in the Pater Noster meneth … algatis to axe in charite, and thefore men that liven in werre ben unable to have their axinge; but thei axen ther owne dampnynge in the fifte peticioun, for ther thei axen that God for3yve hem ther dettis that thei owen to Hym, ri3t as thei for3yven men that ben dettours unto hem.’ [And for this reason the seven askings that Christ teaches in the Lord’s Prayer mean… at all events to ask in charity, and therefore men that live in war are unable to have what they ask; but they ask for their own damnation in the fifth petition, because there they ask that God may forgive them their debts that they owe to Him, even as the forgive men that are debtors to them.] But what was the situation in which the divided Church now found herself?-the Pope offering indulgences t6o those who would fight against the antipope (a subject extensively treated in a sermon on Martyrs) , and Bishop Despenser of Norwich leading his beastly and futile ‘crusade’ of 1383 against Flanders: ‘now men seyen that thei shulden, bi lore of ther feith, werre upon Cristen men, and turnen hem to the Pope, and slee ther persones, ther wyves, and ther children, and reve hem ther goodis, and thus chastise hem. But certis this came nevere of chastyment of Crist, sith Crist seith He cam not to lese lyves bu save hem. And hefore this is chastyment of the fiend, and never chastyment of Crist, that uside pacience and myraclis.’ [Now men say that they should, by the teaching of their faith, war upon Christian men, and win them over to the Pope, and kill their persons, their wivs, and their children, and rob them of their goods, and thus punish them. But certainly this kinid of punishment never came from Christ, since Christ says He came not to destroy llives to save them. And for this reason this is a punishment from the dreadful fiend, and never a punishment from Christ, who used patience and miracles.] Yet ‘blynde heretikes wanten witt as ydiotis, whan thei seien that Petre synnede not in smytynge of Malcus ere, but 3af ensaumple to preestis to fi3t’ [blind heretics lack understanding, like idiots, when they say that Peter did not sin in striking off Maclhus’s ear, but set an example for priests to fight]-though Christ prevented him from fighting further. ‘Lord, where this Pope Urbane hadde Goddis charite dwelling in him, whan he stired men to fi3te and slee many thousaund men, to venge him on the tother People and of men that holden with him?’ [Lord, did this Pope Urban have ~God’s charity dwelling in him, when he incited men to fight and kill many thousand men, to avenge himself on the other Pope and on men who belong to his side?] The friars, says Wyclif, preach to a bellicose text- that the English must get in first with their attacks on their enemies in other countries, for fear they do the same and sin be increased on both sides; a hideous doctrine of sinning so as to good.)

Cottle goes on to observe that ‘This new pacifism may have distasteful to readers who still enjoyed the memory of Crecy and Poitiers and to the old soldiers who must have figure among the 1381 malcontents’ (the Peasant’s Revolt). (pp. 235-6).

This hatred of war was shared by Sir John Clanvowe, soldier, diplomat, courtier, poet, crusader, and the author of the Boke of Cupide. This was so similar to Chaucer’s works, that for a time it was accepted as that great poet’s own composition. Clanvowe himself died in a village near Constantinople. Clanvowe wrote

‘The world holt hem worshipful that been greet werryours and fi3teres, and that distroyen and wynnen manye londis, and waasten and 3even muche good to hem that haan ynou3, and that dispenden oultrageously in mete, in drynke, in clothing, in building, and in lyuyng in eese, slouthe, and many oothere synnes.’ [The world considers them honourable who are great warriors and fighters and destroy and conquer many lands, and waste and give much property to them that have plenty, and spend outrageously on food, drink, clothing, building, and living in ease, sloth, and many other sins.] (Cottle, op. cit., p. 253).

Cottle himself says of this passage that ‘the attack here is almost on rank, and Clanvowe is disgusted that it is of these proud and vengeful people that ‘men maken books and soonges, and reeden and singen of hem for to hoolde the mynde of here deedes the lengere here vpon erth’. [Men make books and songs, and recite and sing of them so as to keep the memor of their deeds the longer here on earth.] (p. 254).

As I said with my earlier post about the Perversion of the Works of Mercy, I’m not putting this up to attack Roman Catholicism. I despise religious intolerance and don’t want to provoke any more sectarian religious hatred. I’m also deeply impressed with the various Roman Catholic organisations, clergy and lay people that genuinely work for the poor and those in the needy, and radical groups like Doris Day’s Catholic Workers. My point here is to show merely that religious radicals, like Wycliffe and Clanvowe, despised the way the poor were ignored and treated by the rich, and condemned war as fundamentally unchristian.

This is an attitude that attacks and refutes the vicious opinions of the religious right, with their prosperity gospel – that Christ wants everyone to be rich, and if you’re poor, it’s your fault – and is solidly behind the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. These wars aren’t being fought to protect America, Israel or anyone else. They’re fought purely for the profit of immensely rich multinational corporations, who hope to profit from the theft of these nations’ state industries and oil reserves. As the above texts show, they would have been thoroughly condemned by Wycliffe and Clanvowe.

May’s Speech to Rich Tory Donors: This Is What the Lollards Warned You About

February 11, 2018

Sunday is the Christian holy day, so I thought I’d include here a particularly relevant piece of radical Christian polemic against the rich and powerful and their neglect and oppression of the poor from the 15th century.

A few days ago Mike put up a piece reporting Theresa May’s speech at a fundraising banquet for rich Tory donors. To get in, you had to pay £15,000 for a ticket. The long reign of Thatcherite neoliberalism in this country has led to a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer sections of society – the working and lower middle classes – upwards to the extremely rich. Thatcher, and her fanboys and -girls – have cut and privatised benefits and services to the poor, with the specific intention of making the bloated rich even richer, though tax cuts, massive subsidies, and exploiting the very state industries, that they have privatised and sold to them.

The Lollards were a proto-Protestant sect of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, who followed the teachings of the Yorkshire priest and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was disgusted by the corruption of the church and society in his day. He advocated the Bible in English, holy scripture as the only source for religious authority, clerical marriage and proper concern for the poor. And he and his followers were bitterly critical of the friars, as they were generally perceived to have neglected their vocation of teaching and preaching Christianity to focus on serving the rich for their own material gain.

The text here is ‘The Perversion of the Works of Mercy’, which inveighs against the way Christ’s commandment to feed, give drink, and clothe poor people, and visit those in prison, as well as other holy works, have been so corrupted so that those, who feign moral rectitude and Christian charity now spend their time doing this for the rich and powerful instead. Here’s an extract. You should be able to understand the late medieval spelling and vocabulary.

Hou Sathanas [Satan] and his children turnen werkis of mercy upsodoun and discyven men therinne and in here five wyttis.

First Crist comaundith men of power to fede hungry pore men. The fiend and his techen to make costy festis and waste many goodis on lordis and riche men and so suffer pore men sterve and perishe for hunger and other myschevys. Ye, men that feynen hem [them] ful of charite and religion gadren proper goodis to hemselven and festen dlicatly lordis and laides and riche men and suffer here pore brethren begge for meschef and fare ful harde.

Crist comaundith to yeve drynk to thrusty [thirsty] [men] and wymmen. The fiend and his techen to puveye high wyn and spised ale and strong for riche men and lordis to make hem drunken and chide and fighte and foryete God and his lawe, and to suffer pore, that han nought of hore owene and may not labore for febilnesse or sikenesse and blyndenesse drynke water and falle in feveris or ellis perische.

Crist comaundith to clothe nakyd men and wymmen whanne thei han noght of here owene. Thereto the fend and his techen to yeve costly clothis and manye to riche men and mynstralis and shavaldours {Northern slang for robbers] for worldly name and suffer pore men have nakid sidis and schakynge lippis and hondis for cold that woo is hemwith the lif. Ye, prelatis and men singular religion, that taken the charge to ben procuratouris and dispenderis of pore mennus liflode, clothen fatte horsis with gaie sadlies and bridles and mytris and croceris with gold and silver and precious stonys, and suffren pore men and children perische for cold. And yit these prelatis and newe religious comen in staat of Cristis povert and his apostlis, and techen and crien that whatever thei han is pore mennus goode. Yit riche men closen dede stockis and stonys with precious clothis, with gold and silver and perlis and gaynesse to the world, and suffren pore men goo sore acold and at moche meschefe.

Crist trechith to herberwe [harbour, accommodate] pore men that han non houses ne penby to peye for here innys [inns, lodging]. The fend and his techen to herberwe riche men and lordis with grete cost and deyitte for worldly worschipe and suffer pore men wander in stormys and slepe with the swyn and many tymes suffer not hem come withinne here yatis, and so to fynde many excusacions and coloure this doynge, Ye, ypocritis of privat religion maken grete houses and costy and gaily peyntid more than kyngis and lordis bi sotil beggynge and confessions and trentalise and mayntenynge of synne, and herberwe lordis and riche men, and namely ladies, and suffer more men lie withouten or geten houslewth at pore men or ellis perische for wedris and cold.

Crist techeth to visite sike men and counforte hem and helpe hem of sustenaunce. The fend and his techen to visiten riche me, lordis and ladies in here prosperite and lykynge to be holden kynde [high born] and curteis, and to comforte eche other in synne and to have lustis of glottonye, lecherie and other schrewidnessis; but of pore men that ben beddrede and couchen in muk or dust is litel thought on or noght. Yit ypocritis of feyned religion vistien not fadirles children and modirles [motherless] and widewise in here tribulacion, and kepe not hemself unbleckid fro this world as Seynt James techith; but visite off riche men and wymmen and namely riche widewis [widows] for to gete world muk by false deceitis and carien it home to Caymes’ {Cain’s] castelis and Anticristis covent [convents] and Sathanas children and marteris [martyrs] of glotonye.

Crist techith to visit men in prison and helpe to delyvere hem in good manere and counforte hem bi almes-yevinge. The fend and his prresonen pore men for dette whanne thi ben not at power to paie and traveil night and day and liven ful harde and toylen with trewthe and susteynen wif and children…

From Middle English Religious Prose, edited by N.F. Blake (London: Edward Arnold 1972) pp. 239-41.

Clearly, this is a piece of sectarian polemic, and isn’t entirely fair. Historians have pointed out that the church was suffering serious poverty and neglect the time, which affected many of the lower clergy and monastic institutions, so that they simply weren’t in any position to perform their Christian duties of aiding the poor themselves.

And my point here is not to attack the Roman Catholic church, as I know many ordinary Catholics and Roman Catholic clergy are deeply involved in caring for the poor. But simply to make the point that the issues the Lollards inveighed against are still present and embodied in the Tory party and people like Tweezer. In the Middle Ages, it was the church that had the function of providing whatever welfare services there were to the poor, as well as the personal charity of great lords. But since Thatcher, public institutions and the welfare state – the modern, secular equivalents of these religious institutions, have been run down for the profit of the rich.

And there’s also a distinct religious parallel here too, though it’s with the evangelical Christian Right and their prosperity gospel. Tweezer is a vicar’s daughter, who claims that when she was a child she was a ‘goody two-shoes’. Lobster has pointed out just how many right-wing Christians gathered around IDS and now Damian Greene in the DWP. The evangelical Right in America believe that God doesn’t want you to be poor, for whom they have nothing but contempt. One particularly self-righteous Republican politico – it might have been Ted Cruz – even declared that the poor should be taxed more. ‘Because it’s what Christ would have wanted’. No, and this moron should read the Gospels before opening his mouth.

And I’m still furious at the way a large number of right-wing pastors made it clear that they didn’t care if one Republican candidate was guilty of molesting underage girls. He stood for their values, which were for the rich, and against the poor. And, of course, gays. Which shows how selective their concern over changes and violation of traditional sexual morality is.

These hypocrites have done as much harm to Christianity as Dawkins and the militant atheists. Many of the atheist polemicists are socially conscious people, whose rejection of religion is partly based on the way the religious don’t live up to their ideals. And as history has shown, and these pratts continue to show, all too often the atheists have been right in this criticism.

And in there moral condemnation of the fawning over the rich at the expense of the poor, the Lollards were right. And this text from six hundred years ago shows up the Tory party and its hypocritical supporters in the Christian religious right as it is today.

Merkel Claims May Begs Her to ‘Make Me an Offer’

January 31, 2018

Remember when the Tories were trying to convince everyone that Tweezer was ‘strong and stable’, and could be trusted to get us a good deal on Brexit? Oh, how times have changed!

Mike put up a story yesterday, reporting that the German Chancellor has been making jokes at our PM’s expense about her negotiating style. According to die Kanzlerin, all the negotiations between her and May go round in circles, with both of them saying exactly the same things. May will say, ‘Make me an offer.’ Merkel will reply, ‘We don’t have to. You’re leaving.’ At which point May will repeat her first request. Merkel then repeats her reply, and the conversation goes on, round and round in circles.

See Mike’s article at:

Now before we go any further, it needs to be said that domestically Merkel is in a precarious position. She’s hung on to power, but her decision to welcome the wave of Middle Eastern refugees from Syria and North Africa a few years ago has damaged her popularity, and boosted that of the Nazi AfD. I also gather that there are problems about whether or not the SPD will join her grosse Koalition. They joined a coalition with her before, only to find their share of the vote declining as Merkel’s Conservative Christian Democrats took the credit for genuine improvements in the benefits system, which had actually been done by the SPD. The pressure’s on Merkelt to make herself look strong for the voters in Germany.

But this actually shows how weak May is. If this is right, then it shows how May actually doesn’t have anything to negotiate with. As we’re leaving the EU, they don’t actually have to make any concessions to us whatsoever. But the country needs them to, as does May personally. And so her remark to Merkel, ‘Make me an offer’, sounds less like an invitation by a skilled business negotiator in a Hollywood drama to productive talks than begging by a desperate and embattled PM. It also seems to show that May can’t talk, except in clichés she’s learned from the movies. Or had programmed into her by her handlers at Tory Central Office. But the cliché, coming as it does from Hollywood, is there to convince someone that actually she’s a tough negotiator. Perhaps she’s trying to persuade Merkel that she’s going to be able to make an offer Merkel can’t refuse. In which case, she and the Tory hordes behind her are very, very sadly deluded.

May needs an offer, any offer, even if it’s one she has no option but to reject, in order to show the Tory faithful and the voting public that she is able to negotiate any kind of settlement at all. And Merkel is determined to show her the opposite: that she’s in absolutely no position to demand anything.

Thus the Brexiteers, far from leading Britain back into a resurgence of pride and sovereignty, as people like Jacob Rees-Mogg would have us all believe, have actually done the opposite. Repeated studies have shown that Brexit will damage our economy, and the process has left the Prime Minister suppliant and begging before Merkel and the other leaders of the EU.

So much for ‘strong and stable’.

Not that Young Master Rees-Mogg is upset. Mogg makes his money, or a fair part of it, from investments, and so hopes that by going outside the EU and turning Britain into a low tax, low regulated economy just outside the EU, they can make Britain into a colossal tax haven for the global financial industry. No matter that the rest of the British economy, such as manufacturing, and its working people, have already suffered because of the Thatcherite promotion of the financial sector. Mogg’s a true blue, Tory aristocrat, who has consistently voted to give him and his class generous financial rewards, while cutting welfare for the poor, the disabled and working class. This shows his priorities, and those of the Hard Brexiteers that stand behind him. Whatever deal he wants to negotiate will very definitely not benefit anyone, who isn’t a millionaire investment banker.