In an appalling act of bias, Judge Cherie Blair suspended the sentence of a man convicted of assaulting another and breaking his jaw because the assailant was a “religious man”. Apparently just being a member of a particular cult is sufficient to get your criminal penalties reduced by a few years in her court; the scales of justice aren’t quite fairly balanced for the godless.
At least we have AC Grayling on the case, who sharply points out the ethical bankruptcy of Blair’s position, and then turns around and also slaps around the people who defended Blair. I wouldn’t want to be Hugo Rifkind, who tried to make the tired argument that we need an objective source of morality, i.e. that vicious thug God, and gets dismissed with an excellent lesson in history and philosophy.
This is an awful advertisement for wherever Mr Rifkind studied philosophy. Either that or he was not paying attention in ‘week one’ when it appears (from what he says) his ethics course took place. And he certainly seems to have stopped thinking since then. Let me direct his attention to Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Hume, Kant, and a few dozen others among the thinkers he ought to have come across in his studies, whose ethics are not premised on divine command or the existence of supernatural agencies, but proceed from consideration of what human beings, in this life in this world, owe each other in the way of respect, concern, trust, fairness and honesty. The rich deep tradition of humanistic ethics stemming from classical antiquity has a tendency to make much of what passes for morality in religion (‘give away all your possessions’, ‘take no thought for the morrow’, ‘women must cover their heads in church’) look merely silly or trivial – at least in regard to what is distinctive to the religion, and not part of wider ethics whether religious or non-religious. Indeed Mr Rifkind is somewhat overexposed in philosophical ignorance here, for he ought to know that what is of practical value in Christian ethics is an import from the late Hellenic and Roman schools, mainly Stoicism, in the fourth century CE and later, to supply the want of a livable ethics in a religion that, to begin with, imminently expected the end of the world and had no use for money, marriage, and other aspects of ordinary life. So as the centuries passed it had to look about for something more sensible, and of course found it in the classical pre-Christian tradition. And to put matters in summary terms: the Roman Stoic conception of good character knocks Mrs. Blair’s (and Mr Rifkind’s) into a cocked hat, where they belong.