Thursday, February 28, 2013

All The Pope's Men

As a tired but nevertheless prayerful old Bavarian bowed out, he allowed himself a parting shot heard not merely around the world but in Heaven itself, one that will echo down the arches of the years to the end of time - the new man must clean house at the centre, and he and his successors must keep it clean thereafter.

To describe Benedict's address to his last audience as revolutionary is to overstate the impact of the majority of revolutions. In these days in which no public activity seems to be undertaken without prior consideration of its legacy, if a legacy must be sought from the Ratzinger papacy then this was it, with bells on - a pope has declared the papal bureaucracy to be part of the problem, not the solution, the clerical equivalent of Eisenhower's railings against the military-industrial complex, and life on Vatican Hill will never be the same again.

It would not surprise me in the slightest if the next pope's first orders, given perhaps only days after assuming office, will be to redraw the orders for the holding of conclaves in such a way as to debar cardinals who either are or have been the subjects of civil or criminal process from participating, thus assuring Roger Cardinal Mahony of his rightful place in ecclesiastical history. It will say much for the work of reforming the mechanisms of church government that may soon be underway that one day that particular change may be viewed as being a minor one.


A Short Thought On The Resignation Of Cardinal O' Brien

"The only thing he thought he might be condemned for was for abiding by the terms of the confessional, and if by that action he had offended the king or state, he asked for forgiveness." -

"Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."

It will be for history to determine whether Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien has just given the people of Scotland a lesson in humility, a godly quality often notable by its absence in this society, that they might do well to heed.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Things You Can't Believe You Really Wrote

"I now believe that, if the right to seek asylum is still to exist under British law, every person seeking that status in the United Kingdom should be compelled to wear an electronic tag."

Belive it or not, that was actually me

What a plonker.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Some Thoughts On ITN's Reporting Of The Allegations Against Cardinal O'Brien

It was interesting to see that tonight's ITN's early evening broadcast placed allegations of historic misconduct against a provincial bishop who is one month away from retirement, allegations which do not thus far seem to involve any suggestion of criminality on his part and which also do not seem to suggest that any civil action is being contemplated against either him or his diocese, above the potentially ruinous scandal which is engulfing a party of government and which raises serious concerns regarding both the conduct and character of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Although the journalists who doorstepped Massgoers as they left St. Mary's Cathedral this morning seemed to be as ignorant of the fact that they were speaking to one of Scotland's richest men as their editors, this seemed to be a very unusual set of editorial priorities.

The canonical process which is now underway against Cardinal O'Brien seems to be some sort of glorified workplace grievance procedure for the clergy, with four active complainers and a fifth acting as shop steward. That is the impression I receive of what is actually going on. However, all allegations of this kind cause scandal, and leave a foul taste; and as very many things in life really boil down to timing, one can only speculate on just why they have come into the public domain at the very end of Cardinal O'Brien's active career and just before his involvement in a conclave, the highest and most severe duty that holders of his office ever have to discharge.

Although it's all very odd, I'm sure that everyone's acting in what they consider to be the best interests of the Church. 

Comment is welcome, but please note I won't be online for a few days so do not be surprised, never mind offended, if your comments don't appear immediately.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

On The Modern Legacy Of Henry VIII

Although his observations on the appearance of the initials 'FD' on British coinage show that Giles Fraser is certainly an intelligent man, his otherwise rather odd commentary on the how the papacy is really just a job leaves scope for many questions.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has resigned. The reason why the term 'resigned' is appropriate to describe his action is that not having been crowned, he cannot be said to be abdicating. He is certainly not 'abdicating' any responsibility; when a Prime Minister resigns, another Prime Minister is appointed through a process of election - the Conservative Party seems to conduct such business in a manner not unlike the College of Cardinals, with the Parliamentary party effectively going into conclave. It may be glib to do so so, but it seems worth pointing out that the Catholic Church's record of electing subsequently capable and effective candidates seems considerably higher than that of the Conservative Party; while such processes in the Catholic Church have resulted in the catastrophically scandalous but thankfully unusual reign of Rodrigo Borgia, when the Conservatives last did it they, and therefore we, ended up with John Major. To my mind, such a diversity of outcomes is only explicable through the acceptance of an article of faith, that the Holy Spirit works through the conclave for the good of the Church and its members, and one can't really add anything to that. 

However, Canon Fraser goes on to heap very heavy criticism upon Henry VIII, a figure upon whom, to my perhaps uncharitable mind, heavy criticism could be poured very often. There have been few sharper critics of his reign than Dickens, who described it as 'a spot of blood and grease upon the pages of English history'. Yet while one can easily accept all of the criticisms that Canon Fraser heaps upon Great Harry, what is quite startling about that reign is the modernity of his terror. 

For example, in his outstanding book 'The King's Reformation' (ibid), G. W. Barnard refers to the outlawing of pilgrimages. Although they certainly serve a devotional purpose, pilgrimages also offer opportunities for people from different places and backgrounds to come together in common cause. The tyrant of a religious people would naturally be disinclined to see pilgrimages flourish, if only because the pilgrims would be likely to talk to each other about conditions in their several parts of the country. 

When reading that, one was struck by the similarities between Henry's attitude to travel and those of the Soviets; one got the impression that if he could have invited the internal passport, he would have done.

One's next thoughts concerned just why rail travel in this country seems to have to be as expensive as it is.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Resignation Of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

In a world riven through with ideology, it is humbling to witness such humility, the antithesis of ideology, in action; and in days when ideology is expected to hold the answers to all of life's difficulties as well. If only our own partisans, and those who make idols of nations, were so critical of their own capabilities as His Holiness has been of his.

This is not mere leadership, for sometimes the greatest leadership a leader can show is stopping leading. In resigning office in the very simple and gracious manner he has, His Holiness has given good example to every other officeholder in the world; and no earthly teacher, such as he is, could ever provide a wider or better lesson than that.

One can be sure that this decision will not have been taken without great prayer and reflection, and it is disquieting to think how many column inches will be filled with futile theorising in respect of his successor's identity in the weeks ahead, as if a conclave were some sort of demographic beauty contest. The office it will elect is God's to fill, and many journalists would better serve both their readers and themselves by occasionally mentioning that. 

This resignation is not a maneouvre. There is no personal angle for His Holiness in this move. There is no triangulation involved in this, nor any attempt to court a demographic. This is the action of a man with the burden of the world on his shoulders who has realised that he cannot bear it any longer; and for the world's sake, and not his own, he is passing it to someone else. If he thought that he could continue, he would; but he can't, so he won't. 

I very much doubt whether he will make many appearances in public after he departs from office; it may be unlikely that his health will permit them. In gratitude for his unfailing service, his piety, his prayerfulness, his devotion to study, his gentleness and his simplicity, he will have the prayers of all his flock; may his health improve; may his successor be as devoted to the care of his flock as he has been, and ignore the stinging arrows of the world; and in all things may the most holy, most sublime will of God be done, praised and exalted, now and forever.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Horses For Courses

Notwithstanding the idea that 'Red Rum' might soon become a euphemism for medium rare, or 'Black Beauty' for well done, the whole mutton dressed as lamb scandal of horseflesh sold as beef is in its own way quite comical, merely showing that the human capacities for avarice and venality remain as alive and active today as they ever been. If nothing else, it shows us that flawed humanity is still going strong. 

It was almost funny listening to Owen Paterson on the news, saying that the processors and retailers had a self-interest in correcting this; at a time when people do not know whether the meal in their freezer that they thought was made from beef might really be made from horse instead, the last thing they might need to hear is a recitation from the canticles of Adam Smith. 

It was also almost funny listening to David Cameron saying that this wasn't a food safety problem but a labelling problem instead; the thought occurred to me that the good crisis was not being allowed to go to waste, and that Cameron's comments were a softening up for beef being less widely available, and people having to rely on meats like horse instead.

Hopefully nobody will die as a result of having unwittingly consumed horse drugs not intended for human consumption; if anybody does, somebody should go down for many years.

Meat processors as the new bankers; where is Upton Sinclair when you need him?

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How The Emperor Decius Handled Civil Servants Who Didn't Get With The Program Where State-Sanctioned Morality Was Concerned

"And the edict finally arrived, almost exactly as foretold by Our Lord in His truly terrifying words: 'So as, if possible, to trip up even the elect'. Anyway, terror was universal, and of many public figures some at once came forward through fear, others who were in state employment were induced by professional reasons, others were dragged forward by the mob. Summoned by name, they approached the unclean, unholy sacrifices. Some came white-faced and trembling, as if they were not going to sacrifice but be sacrificed themselves as victims to the idols..."

Dionysius of Alexandria, recounting the proscriptions of Decius in that city, recorded by Eusebius in 'The History Of The Church', (trans. G. A. Williamson), page 277.

Although the two situations are of course in no way comparable, it will be interesting to see what action, if any, is actually taken against civil servants in England and Wales who refuse to facilitate homosexual marriages on the basis of conscience.

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The Imagined Reactions Of A Radical Feminist To Yesterday's Parliamentary Vote On Homosexual Marriage

The first might be, "What is everyone getting so worked up about? After all, marriage is only a piece of paper."

The second might be, "Marriage is slavery; so if two women married each other, who would be enslaving whom?"

I've no idea what the third might be.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On Today's Parliamentary Vote In Favour Of Allowing Homosexuals To Marry In England And Wales

If anyone considers the above image to be in poor taste, I would remind them that I am the author of this blog, and if I feel like remembering those who really know what being discriminated against is like, and who could really be doing with a measure of equality, I'll do it if it feels right.

If the debate on Narvik was anything like this, it's a wonder we won the bloody war. 

I only flitted in and out of what seemed like a buttock-bustingly long session, but my favourite highlight from what I saw was Debbie Abrahams' interjection on Ian Paisley that marriage was all about love, only for him to answer that and then take an interjection from Chris Bryant about marriage being about mutual society instead. It's about love! No, it's about mutual society! Love is about mutual society! No, mutual society is about love! It was as if Charles I and his goons had burst into the House of Commons singing 'Love Changes Everything' as they went.

It was clear that all speakers' minds had been made up before they got on their feet, and equally clear that not one word said by anyone made the slightest dent on any opinion held by anyone else. Accordingly it wasn't really a debate, and doesn't therefore deserve the name. It should instead be remembered more as a collective exhalation of breath; a democratic burp. 

Oh, the future was plain to see, and it's quite clearly more of the same. What was, to my mind, the unpleasantly authoritarian and exclusive suggestion of Margot James, that continued opposition to homosexual marriage within Conservative circles means that the party hasn't been reformed enough, is a message upon which the party's leadership will assiduously and tenaciously latch. Today the political class, a beast that's often talked about but rarely seen in one place, was on parade for all to see, and it was not a pretty sight. For groups that claim to be in favour of diversity, it's quite clear that the one area in which our centralised parties do not encourage diversity is that of thought. 

The mean-spiritedness which comes so naturally to many on of the left is shown by this entry on 'Harry's Place',  one of those many blogs I've read about rather than actually read, which describes Stephen Timms MP, who indicated that he'll vote against the bill at a later stage, as an 'idiot former Labour minister'. This is an interesting contrast to the example of the left's incompetence provided in the same post, with its description of Frank Roy and Jim Sheridan as Conservative MP's; news which will certainly come as a surprise to both them and their electorates in Labour's west of Scotland heartland.

It was, of course, ironic that the political class gathered in numbers to debate an issue which will only and ever affect a tiny proportion of the population on the day it was revealed that an elderly woman named Gloria Foster had died after having been left without food, medicine or water for over nine days after a care agency had closed down. We will no doubt learn why this was allowed to happen in due course, but you'd think it would be the sort of situation that Parliament is really there to address; not to try to change that which cannot be changed, nor redefine that which has already been finally defined. Today, on one of those apparently very few days when every member of the House of Commons seemed to be in attendance, there might not have been one word said about Gloria Foster in the chamber all day; and if that was the case, that's a scandal. That's exclusion. That's inequality.

There is one principal lesson that can be drawn about our Parliament from all this. 

That lesson is that if devolved democracy is good when it justifies inflicting elected so-called 'Police Commissioners', Frankencops without constitutional precedent and for whom there is no apparent justification other than that the Americans have them, on some parts of the country, devolved democracy along American lines could be good in other areas. Accordingly, the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 should be repealed (if that has not happened already) and a primary system introduced for all candidates for Parliament. 

Yes, we should have primaries to select who is going to stand for election to Parliament. The obsessive centralisation of all political functions over the past thirty years is the consequence of having had a Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who even at the summit of her career never overcame the grossly provincial conceit that the British government operated on precisely the same lines as a Lincolnshire grocer's shop. The public finances were in the iron grip of someone who might very well have believed that the best places to keep money were either the loft or the mattress, and who may have all her life been petrified that people are going to cheat her. Pace all those commentors who have sweated blood and tears trying to work out why Thatcher centralised everything that wasn't actually nailed down, there might have been nothing more to it than that, with millions of people being cast out of work on the basis that as she was looking after the pennies the pounds would look after themselves. 

Yet one catastrophic aspect of this centralisation has been the central selection of candidates for Parliament, with democracy reduced to a rubber-stamping of whoever is put in front of the electorate. The need for primaries might perhaps focus a few minds more closely on what is important to their potential electorates; and quite a few of the self-satisfied faces on display today, such as that of Willie Bain, might benefit mightily from the challenge of a primary (I'd love to know where the Scottish Catholics he trumpeted as being in favour of gay marriage were found; I imagine there might be a statement from our bishops on the way about that one, once Peter Kearney stops singing 'We Shall Overcome').

All in all, an inglorious day for Parliament; the day on which the phrase 'the old ball and chain' assumed a whole new meaning.

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UKIP Will Win Eastleigh

It wasn't the lie. 

It wasn't the repeated affirmation of the lie. 

It wasn't the revenge for the other lie that brought the lie into the open. 


Quote Of The Day

Remember that one, the next time you hear a British journalist bleating about the freedom of the press. The press must be free to tell you what to think, and you must be free to accept their vision.



Any avowedly disinterested (or, more accurately, incorrectly instructed) atheocrat or atheosecularist who quotes from the Book of Leviticus during any argument about sexual morality, policy or practice is using it in the same way as political ignorants quote the example of The Third Reich, as criticised in 'Godwin's Law'.

A good example of this appears in today's 'Guardian', provided by the grand-daughter of the man who invented the concept of the 'dominant minority'.

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'The Sunday Assembly'

Please remember two things. 

The first is that it's not charitable to mock other people's beliefs. 

The second is that these 'overwhelmingly young, white and middle class' people are cleverer than you and me, if only because they'd be the first to say so.They are absolutely sure that God does not exist, and are all probably deeply familiar with the Flying Spaghetti Fairy Sky Dawkins and all her works. 

Working on the established principle that superstition is the bedfellow of scepticism, you could probably pay off your mortgage in one go by offering to read these characters' tea leaves for them at a fiver a pop.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Dominant Minority

So those Conservatives more attached to power than principle are willing to get into bed with the dottier type of Liberal Democrat to try to push through a law permitting homosexuals to marry, a law which is of absolutely no relevance to that at least 95% of the country's population which is not homosexual. At a time when we (or more properly our sons) seem to be being dragged into another open-ended military commitment, this time in a part of the world we haven't engaged with since the days of Mungo Park, it's gratifying to see one's conceit that all politics is crap conducted for the gratification of politicians being verified once again. The Blessed John Henry Newman put it rather more elegantly - 'to touch politics is to touch pitch', and he was spot on.

I could not care less whether the law permits homosexuals to marry other homosexuals or not, if only because the state exists to say what is legal and what is not legal. The function of the Catholic Church is to tell people what is moral and what is not moral. In my view, it's what the Catholic Church says about these things that matters, and no Liberal Democrat with too much time on their hands, or no Tory willing to sell the pass for another term of office, is going to change my view on that one way or another. The two of them can legislate to their hearts' contents. It will not change what I think about the nature of marriage, which is that the only valid form of marriage which is capable of existing is that entered into by one man and one woman, preferably for life, and that being able to pass a law saying something else only means that you can pass a law saying something else.

This is an almost heretical thing for a British person to say, so I'm going to thoroughly enjoy saying it - my country now means less to me than my Church. There, I've said it. I couldn't really give a toss either who's on the throne, or who's in Downing Street, or, going from the sublime to the ridiculous, who's in Bute House. In the days when you rendered to Caesar, Caesar's birth name didn't really matter, nor did the faction from which he had sprung; they were just Caesar, identikit powerlings sent to remind the people that God's way is better than Caesar's. It's just the same now, really. The current Caesar is the one who was in the Bullingdon Club, while the next one might be the one who's father was a famous Marxist historian (although we can say with certainty that it's not going to be the one who's married to the Spanish lawyer, that's for sure), but that's all OK. The next Caesar will have a different name and will follow a different faction at the chariot races, but they'll still be Caesar. The only substantive difference between Caesar's ways of doing things then and doing them now is that changes of administration tend to be a bit smoother these days; but that's just about it. They're still Caesar, tediously demanding your gold and the blood of your sons while expecting that you follow their usually defective moral example. The gold is a price worth paying for a quiet life, the blood can be dealt with by just ignoring them and the defective moral example by telling them that we'll make up our own minds about that sort of stuff. 

In the matter of gay marriage, the Liberal Democrats are behaving in a manner quite precisely described by Arnold J. Toynbee in 'A Study Of History'. AJT hit the Lib Dems right on the head, by describing how a 'creative minority', usually a very vigourous and praiseworthy force within a civilisation, can decay into a 'dominant minority', one that has a stranglehold on power but which has nothing to offer but the advancement of its own wee pet causes, one of the principal ones of which is always, always the pursuit of its own entertainment. In some respects, being governed by a coalition which includes the Liberal Democrats has been marvellously instructive, in that we have been forced to pay far more attention to their agenda than we would ever have done otherwise, and it's been fascinating to see just how regressive, how backward, they really are. We already knew that they had turned their backs on Edison, preferring windmills and waterwheels to dynamos and reactors, but they just can't stop themselves. Lords reform? Yes, the 1890's really will be an interesting decade, by Jove! Gay marriage? One must find out what Mr. Shaw and Mr. Wells have to say on the subject; I hear they have been discussing it with Sidney and Beatrice. 

The Liberal Democrat agenda is dotty bourgeois nonsense, every last word of it, and only goes to show that after 2,000 years of Christianity the human capacity for not merely producing but also following dotty Caesars remains undimmed, and that the conversion of the world remains as urgent a task now as it was in the days of Pilate. Caligula made his horse a senator - it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Liberal Democrats wanted theirs to be able to join the House of Lords.

As for Mali, when the history of the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition is finally written, it should be called 'The Last Fling of Beau Geste'. If Cameron and Clegg are serious about wanting to fight with the French in North Africa, they should do what generations of disgraced public schoolboys have done before them, and join the Foreign Legion.

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The Former Oases Of Peace

"Those were the years during which one could spend the night on the terraced roof of the convent conversing and looking at the stars, so clear and bright. Now we would probably be mistaken for terrorists by the soldiers on patrol.

That world has been struggling for years, with growing fatigue, to remain faithful to its history as an open community. Many Western religious have been repatriated. Blocks of cement and garrisoned streets often mark in Pakistan the presence of churches and Christian schools.

The criminal violence is accompanied by the petty and fearful ambivalence of almost all the political and governmental forces of Islamabad. An entire community is hostage to this violence. The cement that should protect it seems to be the metaphor for a forced separation from a country that is going down the wrong path of sectarian hatred and self-destruction.

Prisoners for offenses they did not commit, like Asia Bibi, in prison since 2009 and condemned to death for blasphemy, who has become, against her will, the symbol of the sufferings of her community. Or like Younis Masih, in prison for seven years, also for the accusation of blasphemy."


Eternal Rest Grant Unto King Richard, O Lord...

and may perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace; and may his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

(I find it somehow rather pleasant that King Richard's remains were identified using a forensic technique developed in the city in which he was found, at the institution responsible for finding him).


Friday, February 01, 2013

Refuting Richard Dawkins In One-Liners - An Occasional Series

Further to my observation of last night that "(s)uch obtuse belief in the rightness of one's own opinions, even in the face of evidence so bountiful you can cite it in one-liners, is one of the hallmarks not of bigotry but incurable oppositionalism", I've decided to have a go at refuting Professor Dawkins as many times as possible but also using as few words as possible. This will be a good intellectual challenge for someone like me, intent as I am on denying the power of the intellect.

OK. Professor Dawkins has said that religion is 'redundant and irrelevant'. Today the BBC reports that,

"A resurgence of risky sexual practice could be behind a failure to curb HIV in gay and bisexual men in England and Wales, researchers suggest.

New infections were static at about 2,300 a year between 2001 and 2010, despite rises in early diagnosis and far more people taking medication."

Could lust, the desire not to love a person but to possess them instead, be a factor in this? Maybe? Perhaps? Still think religion's 'redundant and irrelevant' if by proscribing lust it might help slow the spread of STDs?


On The Oppositionalism Of Atheists

The news that the University Marine Biological Station at Millport might close down is obviously very bad news for the people who work there, and they all have my sympathy. 

Unless I'm very greatly mistaken, this is a former Royal Navy facility to which a Mr. Pask, a sometime biology teacher at St. Paul's School in the 1940's, took three of his more interested pupils on field trips. Their names were Jonathan Miller, Eric Korn and Oliver Sacks. I quote from memory, so my apologies to all concerned if I am incorrect, but I have a very strong memory of Dr. Miller recalling, in a BBC documentary on his career which was broadcast over the 2011-2012 Christmas holiday, how Pask, a committed and evangelical atheist, set out to undermine the three's religious beliefs as soon as the train north had pulled out of the station; a personally fulfilling task for him, perhaps, but one that had nothing to do with the job he was there to perform, an unprofessional act not dissimilar to playing Solitaire on your PC at work when you're meant to be working.

These encounters obviously affected Dr. Miller very deeply, otherwise he would not have felt the need to mention them during an hour long documentary on a life lived for eighty years thus far, and counting. Certainly both Dr. Miller and Professor Sacks seemed to have found Pask's arguments, such as they might have been, persuasive. The latter later became one of the medicine men of the so-called 'Freedom From Religion Foundation'; a perhaps unusual intellectual posture for one who spent forty years associating with The Little Sisters Of The Poor, but I guess it takes all sorts.

A similarly aggressive form of atheist antevangelism is recounted by Alain de Botton, with his reminiscence of how his father, the late financier Gilbert de Botton, rounded savagely on his younger sister when she expressed an interest in God at breakfast one morning (she was eight at the time). It might have been the case that de Botton realised that the course of acquiring substance on which he was set, or perhaps the manner in which was achieving his goal, was directly contrary to the laws of God, and therefore could not bear even the mention of His name. Whatever his real motive, he died a rich man, and by the impression that his aggression clearly made on his son I'm sure his family never mentioned God's name around him ever again.

This has all been brought to mind by hearing that the redoubtable Richard Dawkins has apparently described religion as 'redundant and irrelevant'. It would certainly be both more interesting and very much more newsworthy if he had declared religion to be important and relevant, but as far as what he has actually said is concerned one need only say 'Well, not if you're a Malian'. 

Such obtuse belief in the rightness of one's own opinions, even in the face of evidence so bountiful you can cite it in one-liners, is one of the hallmarks not of bigotry but incurable oppositionalism. God help him, there is probably nothing that anyone, anywhere could say or do that would make him even start to reconsider his opinions. To have such faith in one's opinions must be a great privilege. No matter that no atheistic scientist or businessman of the modern era has yet risen from the dead to peer review the Gospels. No matter that the places in which the young have been corrupted away from God by those for whom it would be better for them to be cast into the sea with millstones round their necks, even such places as the Marine Biology Station at Millport, soon to be abandoned to the Firth of Clyde's timeless wind and rain, don't endure, or that the lives of the old persecutors hold no lesson for the new persecutors other than that they will be as unsuccessful as their predecessors. No matter that you can point to the endurance of Christianity and fairly observe that the odds on its survival and growth are firmly in its favour - without even mentioning that's because He who created odds said it would be so. All no matter. No matter what, Dawkins will not believe.

While he can be as annoying as an unscratched itch, in many ways I do feel very sorry for him; if only because he seems to be an academic who is resolutely unwilling to learn.