I DO NOT understand why Melanie Phillips is still permitted to
appear on The Moral Maze. Her defence of torture in
The Times on Monday is not only disgusting in itself, but
revolves around one very simple message: "It's different when we do
It isn't. The only morally salient difference when we do it is
that it's worse - because of the resources of self-deception and
self-justification that we can bring to bear.
You could defend the BBC by saying that any representative
sample of moral debate in Britain needs a voice for the moral
imbeciles, but that's not actually the basis on which she performs.
If anything, she is a representative of Judaism, a universalist
religion, whose moral messages apply to everyone.
If this seems harsh, consider what she actually wrote.
"Tyrannies torture their own people and their enemies, inflicting
extreme pain in pursuit of coercion, intimidation or aggressive
wars of conquest. There is a great difference between this and the
ill-treatment used by democracies to protect innocent life."
Beneath the inspiring green skies of Planet Melanie, there are
"democracies" that have not tortured their own people or their
enemies, have not inflicted extreme pain "in pursuit of coercion,
intimidation or aggressive wars of conquest". If the human mind can
get that far from earth unaided, it's hard to see why we made such
a fuss about landing a robot on a comet.
One of the odder features of the wars on Planet Melanie during
the past decades is that her side won them. Back where we live, the
wars in which torture was deployed ended in complete and
catastrophically expensive defeats for the West, in both Iraq and
Afghanistan. The consequences will haunt the world for decades.
In fact, Phillips concedes that all we gained from torture was
information that we had already gathered without torture:
"information gathered by aggressive interrogation that corroborated
or clarified scraps of previously obtained but unappreciated
intelligence - and which therefore provided essential pieces of the
In other words, you can only trust an Arab when he's screaming
Until now, I had supposed that the single most repulsive
"enlightened" defence of torture came from the American New Atheist
Sam Harris, who urged the torture of an al-Qaeda operative on the
grounds that, if there were even one chance in a million that he
could tell us something, we were morally obliged to torture him.
Now Phillips appears to prove that really prominent believers in
God can get there, too.
Incidentally, one of the odder details of the US report is that
the CIA outsourced much of their torture to a couple of Mormon
psychologists, who were paid $80 million for their labours. One of
them was later promoted to be a bishop, but resigned after a
TWO more remarkable stories from the New York Times.
The first casts an extraordinary light on the state of race
relations there. It's an account of a black-led church in Harlem
which is distinguished by the number of whites in its congregation:
"The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once called church time on
Sunday morning 'the most segregated hour' in a racially divided
nation. A half-century later, the situation is somewhat more
complex, if not drastically different.
"Black Christians commonly belong to congregations led by white
clergy members, from urban Catholic parishes to Sun Belt
Evangelical megachurches. The traffic, however, has almost never
run in the other direction."
The story zooms in on a French woman and jazz singer, Eloise
Louis, who wandered off the street into a Pentecostal church and
ended up singing in the choir there. Her husband also became a
The paper continues: "What is most amazing about her odyssey is
that, at First Corinthian, she is not alone. Ms. Louis represents a
substantial number of white men and women who have joined this
African-American church. Of First Corinthian's 8,000 members, Mr.
Walrond estimates, about 3 percent are white, including a staff
minister, Willa Rose Johnson."
I wonder what the equivalent figures would be here. I've seen a
number of black Pentecostal preachers here with aspirations to the
big time who feature white wives on their promotional material -
something that may not be as common in the US - and I think that
congregations are likely to be a lot more mixed as well.
ALSO from the New York Times, a charming story of faith
and finance from Holland, where 90,000 bankers are to take an oath
next year, vowing to God to uphold the integrity of the banking
system. This has been mandated by industry bodies rather than the
government, but seems to be taken seriously enough.
Well, it worked for Lord Green, didn't it? Um, didn't it?