Thursday, 9 February 2017

Responsibility and Historical Wrongs

If, dear reader, you are a resident of the United Kingdom, you will most likely be familiar with the newspaper, The Daily Mail.  If you’re not fortunate enough to be British, console yourself with the thought that you are at least fortunate enough not to be familiar with the Daily Mail.

The Mail is one of the more right-wing examples of a printed media establishment that is overwhelmingly right-wing, being vehemently anti-immigration, anti-union, denying climate-change and generally stacking up the standard right-wing views on whatever the left/right, conservative/liberal culture war issue of the day happens to be.  They are (in my own personal opinion) up there with the Daily Express as being fairly loathsome sorts.

Their detractors make much of the Mail’s supposed historical support of fascism prior to World War 2, presumably considering it an indicator of a long-term moral rot that has merely become (slightly) more subtle with the intervening decades, and bring it up presumably in the hopes of embarrassing the Mail and its supporters.  However (and as much as I dislike the newspaper), I would agree with this article that it is entirely irrelevant.

That the Mail, eighty or so year ago supported fascism doesn’t matter.  The people in charge at the time are almost certainly long dead.  Presumably they were responsible for hiring the people who hired the people who hired the people (etc etc) who now work at the Mail, but the modern editors and journalists are not those editors and journalists.  Is the Mail still strongly right-wing?  Certainly.  Do I like it, or the things it stands for?  Certainly not.

I can tell that you’re waiting with baited breath for my stunning segue to some matter of theology or apologetics, so here goes:

Similar arguments to those made against the Mail on the grounds of its historical leanings are made against religion, and specific religions.  The Crusades, the Inquisition, religious persecutions, pogroms, purges and wars were all inspired by religious feeling.

In the case of Christianity in the West, these are now very much in the past.  The religious wars of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are long past, the Inquisitions over, the Crusades done.  Are there still abuses and wrongs being done in the name of Christianity?  Yes, but no longer on the scale or with the violence of time past.  Nor am I arguing that the historical wrongs named above should be swept under the carpet or labelled as unimportant.

The late Christopher Hitchens made a comment regarding how ‘barbarically (religions) behaved when they were strong’.  Of course, ‘religions’ can’t behave in any way, barbaric or otherwise.  They have no independent agency.  Only people can.  Unfortunately they did, and justified it to others and themselves as being religiously motivated.  That they did it would be neither truthful or helpful to deny, but those people are not us, and their justifications and cultures are not ours.

It is vitally important to remember that they were not carried out by the people who now fill our churches.  Claiming that ‘religion’ is violent because people in centuries gone by were violent is nonsensical.  The Christians who did such things are not the Christians of today.  We are not responsible for the sins of our fathers and mothers.  We should learn from them, remember them, promise ourselves that such things should never be allowed to happen again, that we will never allow ourselves to be persuaded that such things are right or good or even necessary evils.  However, neither should we feel personally responsible for them, or allow anyone else to make us feel that the actions of people long dead can be used against us in any kind of rational argument.

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