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The blaming of cats

20 March 2015

IN A week distinguished by wide-ranging and energetic silliness, it is hard to know where to start.

Why not with Professor Richard Dawkins? There is a delightfully batty passage from Peter Singer, who is regarded by Professor Dawkins as one of the greatest living philosophers, in the course of an essay on countering Islamic extremism: "Those considering joining an extremist Islamic group should be told: You believe every other religion to be false, but adherents of many other religions believe just as firmly that your faith is false. You cannot really know who is right, and you could all be wrong.

"Either way, you do not have a sufficiently well-grounded justification for killing people, or for sacrificing your own life."

And what exactly is the authority which tells them that they cannot really know they are right? Oh. A professor of philosophy from Princeton. And if they do not accept his authority, what is the comeback? That "some people are not open to reasoning of any kind, and so will not be swayed by such an argument." The confidence that anything worthy of being called "reasoning" must lead to Singer's conclusions is really rather touching.

Meanwhile, Professor Dawkins, preaching on Twitter, explains: "You're entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. 'Bach is great' and 'FGM is evil' are opinions. 'You're a pig's cousin' is a fact." But if moral judgements are merely matters of opinion, what possible force can they have? We know that Professor Dawkins does not really believe that his opinions have no more weight than mine or yours. But why does he believe he believes it?


THESE are high mysteries. Better to consider the murderous beast of Bath and Wells.

Louis the cat does not look as if he could terrorise a provincial high street; yet, according to The Guardian, he left a traumatised dog-owner huddled in the gutter after he ambushed her spaniel.

"This dangerous, semi-feral cat pounced like a wild lion in the jungle on to my dog Millie's head. . . I pulled the lead backwards and went flying down the kerb, into the gutter and ended up in a heap in muddy rainwater, in the gulley in the market place. That cat has serious issues," Mandie Stone-Outten, of Shepton Mallet, said.

The cathedral spokesman was quoted, too: "It's difficult to say whether it was Louis, unfortunately. While he can be rather aloof with our visitors, we know of at least two other ginger cats in the area who also enjoy strolling through the streets of Wells. Most importantly, we do hope the dog and her owner have recovered from the experience which must have been a shock for them both."

This is quite clearly a cover-up. The most likely explanation is that one of the Chapter has been bitten by a gargoyle, and was thus turned into a were-cat. Since it would be extremely embarrassing if the Dean of one of our great cathedrals were to be found on all fours, snacking on spaniels in the marketplace, the authorities are blaming an elderly tomcat. But can the story be sustained if the infection spreads to a cathedral that has no cat? Watch this space.


OF COURSE, worse things could happen after a gargoyle bite. He might invite a group of Muslims in to pray. I cannot make sense of the row at St John's, Waterloo - partly because I know that most Muslims would regard the group that met there as ludicrous liberal apostates.

Some of the quotes in John Bingham's story in the Telegraph hint at the real emotional dynamics at work: Stephen Kuhrt explaining that "that would never happen in a mosque", which seems to me to miss the point that this particular group would certainly not be allowed to meet in most mosques.

Then there was the Revd Robin Weekes, of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, which is not, so far as I remember, a part of the Church of England at all. He was offended on behalf of Christians "who believe that there is only one God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 'And it is especially offensive to those who are being persecuted around the world for their faith in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.'"

This is the logic of primate warfare, and of small siblings quarrelling. It is no less powerful for that. It divides the world up into teams, and wants to make sure not so much that our team wins, as that the other team does not win, and most certainly does not gain any advantage.

The persecution of Christians in Pakistan and elsewhere is, indeed, horrible. But to suppose we can stop it, or make the victims' sufferings more bearable, by stopping liberal Muslims from consorting with liberal Christians, is logic almost worthy of Professor Dawkins.

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