Magazine article The Spectator

The Syllogism of the Age: Less God, More Crime, Police, Prisons

Magazine article The Spectator

The Syllogism of the Age: Less God, More Crime, Police, Prisons

Article excerpt

Moth-eaten politicians now go to weird lengths to avoid the obvious in explaining the decline in behaviour. The Home Secretary blames yobbos on the Empire. Of course, this is one of the many subjects about which he knows nothing. Among the virtues of the Empire was the way in which it placed exceptional responsibilities on young men. An 18-year-old fresh from school might have to take charge of the welfare, for instance, of 20,000 Sudanese; and wonderfully did most of them rise to the challenge. The moral vice of the Empire was rather different: a certain pomposity among the higher ranks; the kind of self-importance which leads a minister to be driven at over 100 mph because he is `running late for a meeting with the Prime Minister'.

The reason why the young are often cruel, nasty and violent is that there is no longer any force of religion to restrain their lower instincts. Francis Bacon put it pithily: `They that deny a God destroy man's nobility: for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body; and, if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature.' The base and ignoble football hooligans have been deprived by the state which runs their schools of what ought to be a basic human right: a moral education. It is no accident that in big, prosperous cities like London and New York, parents, whatever their religious belief or lack of it, struggle to get their children into schools where morals are taught and enforced, chiefly Catholic and Jewish. They find that where the school insists on good behaviour, academic standards are automatically higher and the pupil's chances in life much enhanced. Critics of the economic polarisation of society, who have accepted the analysis of The Bell Curve, that the gap between the underclass and the educated affluent will widen, have tended to leave out the religious dimension altogether. But it is the most important.

Moreover, I do not think you can separate belief in God as an omnipotent and perpetual justiciar, external to mankind, from the observance of morals. Karl Rahner was right when he argued that, `if men not only cease to believe in God, but allow the very idea of God to vanish from their consciousness, they will become nothing more than a set of fantastically clever monkeys, and their ultimate fate will be too horrible to contemplate'. It was the fallacy of the 19th-century agnostic, a term first popularised by Professor T.H. Huxley, that belief and morality could be separated. Indeed, Huxley said that, shorn of religious 'superstition', morals would actually improve through secularisation.

But his faith on this point was pretty shaky, and with reason. Huxley was always terrified that his strident propagation of Darwin's theory of evolution would be linked in the public mind with immorality if his opponents could find any peccadilloes in the lives of himself and his supporters. A powerfully attractive man until he lost his teeth, he walked a tightrope, when the first 'liberated' women were on the prowl. I have been reading about Huxley since I came across a passage in the diaries of his relative by marriage, Lady Monkswell. Under Saturday 29 June 1895, she writes, 'I hear that Professor Huxley has died, aged 70. He has been the cause of immense trouble, sorrow, expense and estrangement in this family, and has destroyed the faith of many.' This bitterness is all the more striking in that when Huxley's daughter Marion, or 'Mady', married Lady Monkswell's brother-in-law, the painter Jack Collier, RA, she took an instant liking to the professor. …

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