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
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,
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
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
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