Latest posts on Christian Aid

Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

Places Christians shouldn't go A quick tour of Christian Hate?'s case against Christian Aid

Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Charity, politics and Christian Aid

Gosh, haven't posted on Christian Aid since July. Shame on me. Here's a letter I sent to the Times the other day. The background is here, here and here. They doubtless thought the topic had had enough of an airing after all that. Or else they just didn't like my letter.

'Sir, Earlier this year Christian Aid produced a policy report entitled "Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability", which continued the charity's long history of biased campaigning against Israel. Replete with criticisms of Israel, it mentions Hamas only once - as a victim of Israeli actions.

'Christian Aid, 22% of whose income comes from government grants, describe the document as being "aimed at UK and European Union policymakers". To complete the symbiotic picture, we need only recall that a well-trodden career path leads from the aid charities to the largesse-dispensing Department for International Development.

'Where such relationships exist between big business and the state, I imagine that someone like Baroness Kennedy would have little difficulty perceiving them as undemocratic, lacking in transparency and potentially corrupt. At the very least, the law should insist that charities choose between being the kind that collect state handouts or the kind that seek to twist elected legislators' arms over contentious political issues. They should not expect to be both.

'Yours faithfully,


(sources here, here and here; I first raised this issue here)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on James Watson

I see the Health Editor of the Times agrees with me about the meaningfulness of IQ testing. He should go far.

Before leaving the Watson theme, I shouldn't omit to mention one of the reasons why the liberal commentators have been passing round the smelling salts: his reported suggestion that, if it becomes possible to identify foetuses which are carrying the 'gay gene', women should have the option of aborting them.

This is a scandalously immoral reason for killing a child, is it not? Not a bit like the humane, caring reasons for which abortions can be legally performed on the NHS.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indie refutes James Watson: could do better

Fair dos to the Indie. True, Steve Connor does his rather less than convincing best to patronize James Watson. And once again, the paper's readers are invited to misunderstand Watson at the most basic level: the crucial qualification 'on average' is missing when Connor says he has made 'remarks implying that black Africans are less intelligent than white westerners'. But at least Connor robustly defends Watson against the charge of racism - a charge which has been quite unashamedly (and successfully) levelled with the intention of silencing him.

Why does the patronage fail to convince? I must first reiterate that I'm totally unqualified to say whether Watson is right or wrong. But take this old chestnut from Connor: 'people who are good at IQ tests are merely demonstrating little more than they are good at IQ tests'. Then, a couple of sentences on, we discover that, where Chinese Americans are concerned, high scores in IQ tests correlate impressively with an ability to get into the top universities. It's politically OK to point this out, you see - and, no, I'm pretty sure it's not because Harvard and Stanford select their students simply by giving them IQ tests.

I suspect we can infer from this that, whatever it is exactly that IQ tests measure, it correlates rather strongly with skills which are crucial for societies seeking to lift themselves out of poverty. Like, say, China, or like, say, sub-Saharan Africa. Not that it's all you need (Koreans are near the top of the league, but that's little consolation for Kim Jong-Il's subjects), but you've got problems if it's in short supply. If we're going to dismiss IQ testing as an arbitrary construct, we could just as well say the same about our perception that Africa is poor, and save ourselves a lot of worry. But I doubt if a postmodern logic as consistent as that would commend itself to Mr Connor.

And what of environmental influences on IQ? Only responsible for 30% of the variation (and that admission by Mr Connor is an indication of how far the nature v. nurture battle lines have shifted over the last 30 years), but you can certainly do a lot with that 30%. What you can't do is eliminate the variation. So, whilst it's true that abundant food has made today's westerners far taller than the half-starved peasants we're descended from, we obviously haven't all become equally tall.

Suppose (to keep the argument on safe and neutral terrain) the braininess gene was more abundant in Scotland than in England. There would be plenty of environmental things the English could do top up their IQ levels, but if the Scots were simultaneously doing the same things the gap would remain.

These are not points I would dream of making for James Watson's benefit. They're not rocket science, let alone genetics. But it strikes me that Mr Connor would be well advised to do a little more thinking before he makes so bold as to accuse the co-discoverer of the double helix of being simplistic.

Another case for the Thought Police

If a priest writing about religious affairs in his parish magazine can be 'looked at' by the boys and girls in blue, it's but a short step to 'looking at' a Nobel laureate talking about his own scientific field.

He may be right, he may be wrong. Biology was never my strong point, and when it started to involve cutting up rats I baled out at the earliest opportunity, so clearly the world does not need to hear my opinions on the subject. If he's hopelessly, absurdly wrong, let's have the reasons splashed over the front page of the Indie (they could even offer Stephen Rose a chance to teach rather than preach, just for a change). And please believe me, I hang on Keith Vaz's every word, I really do. It's just that I would like the option of hanging on a word or two from James Watson before I make up my mind.

If may I be permitted a little recycling, this (and its follow-ups here and here) will save me the bother of repeating myself.

And I'll tell you what really gets me about the article. It's the sheer sanctimoniousness of it. Affecting moral outrage and a high-minded concern to rebut a racial slander, it is actually a piece of gross character assassination in itself. Does Watson really think that 'black people [a]re less intelligent than white people', with the implication that he considers himself entitled to automatically treat every black person he encounters as a dimwit? Of course not. So is the Indie scribe too stupid to understand that propositions about group averages (however misguided they may be) provide no basis whatsoever for prejudging or discriminating against individuals? Or too set on making mischief to be interested in pointing it out?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Home Thoughts from Abroad

What kind of Britain will I be coming back to next year?

Look on the bright side: one where the Thought Police aren't too happy in their work. Though I'm sure that, given time, new recruitment and training strategies can be devised to transform the canteen culture appropriately.

(via Laban, from whom I also learn that there is a new religious establishment in the land; evidently the C of E got disestablished while nobody was looking)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reasons to be frightened

'If the Professor was merely prejudiced then his suggestion that Jews monopolise American foreign policy could be lightly dismissed as another manifestation of his hatred. I wouldn't be, as I said I was, frightened.

'Instead I am faced with a lucid, liberal intellectual lending his support, apparently through careful sifting of the evidence (but without any justification I can see), to a contention supported by Nazi Jew haters. And that, that I do find frightening.'

- Daniel Finkelstein on Richard Dawkins - read the rest here. Myself, I'm somewhat less impressed by the Dawk's lucidity and liberalism. However, taking him as one manifestation of a much broader trend among the lucid and liberal in their own estimation, the quote above makes an excellent summary of the raison d'être for this blog. It was frightening when I started two-and-a-bit years ago, and little has changed for the better since.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A case for reform

Another from my trawl through Norm's recent posts.

It's not exactly news that George Bush takes a dim view of the United Nations Forum for Denouncing Israel Human Rights Council. We know who's pulling his strings, don't we?

But it's come to something when the Council's President publicly agrees with him.

Dawk v. The Lobby

Well, the Mearsheimer and Walt bandwagon has hit the road, and guess who's leapt on board:-

'When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.'

(via that model of thoughtful and non-triumphalist atheism, Norm)

Yes, our leading purveyor of religiophobic bigotry also has a sideline in racist mythology. What a surprise. The irony is that the Dawk's credibility is founded on the perception that he's a scientist. Which I dare say he was, once upon a time.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Praise of Idleness?

So good old Max Weber was on to something after all with his Protestant Work Ethic. So, at least, say researchers from Bath University who claim to have found that Protestant countries have the highest employment rates.

If it's true, it's fascinating that the effect still persists in an age in which nominally 'Protestant' countries are not exactly noted for the extent of religious piety. In other words, the work ethic is still weaving its spell over people who never go near a church.

Of course, it's easy to think up 'Yes, but what about...?'s. E.g. the richest part of Germany, with the lowest unemployment rate, is overwhelmingly Catholic Bavaria. And the Catholic Irish aren't exactly doing badly now that external circumstances have at last given them half a chance.

One or two more are raised by the collection of religious spokespersons whom Ruth Gledhill feels obliged to consult. They make points of varying convincingness. Taking Irene Lancaster first, I'm sure the researchers wouldn't dream of denying the strength of the Jewish work ethic, but there is the problem that Jews have normally been in a small minority and thus not able to exercise a decisive influence on the societies in which they live.

Concerning the anonymous Catholic spokesperson's contribution, yes, I'm sure Pope Benedict has said lots of good things about work, but Catholics don't always take a huge amount of notice of what the Pope says...

I suspect Catholicism and Hinduism are alike in that they point both ways: there is a work ethic, certainly, but it is in competition with an ideal of world-renunciation which is much less strong in either Protestantism or Judaism.

Coming to Islam, our spokesperson says 'it was not possible to make an accurate comparison with Islamic countries because too many of this countries were dictatorships or monarchies, where the original values of Islam had been suppressed.' Begging a question or two, perhaps?

I confess to being a little disappointed that Ms Gledhill couldn't find a spokesperson willing to say 'our religion glorifies idleness, and jolly good too'. Maybe he/she was still in bed when she phoned.