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Nick Cohen
Tuesday 18th May 2010
On Being Told off by Melanie Phillips

In an interview to promote her new book, Melanie Phillips is asked a tough question. Why, if as she maintains, leftish secularism and atheism, have weakened the West by promoting moral relativism, are people such as myself, Christopher Hitchens and Oliver Kamm at the forefront of arguing against the appeasement off radical Islam.

 Christopher and Oliver can speak for themselves - no, really, they can. In my case, Melanie says that I do not fully understand the conflicts of our time because I am obsessed with "the right," and see the fact that Western liberals and leftists are allying with or making excuses for "the far right" of Islamist clerical reaction as a great betrayal of their principles.

I have two responses.

1.Obviously "far right" like "far left" are lazy terms. I accept that what unites fascists and communists is more important than what divides them. Similarly what unites democratic leftists and conservatives - that they both believe in democracy, for instance - is more important than their arguments over economic and social policy. Still you have to have some label for ultra-reactionary beliefs which seek to impose a totalitarian dictatorship by promoting the oppression of women, homophobia and the demonisation of Jews. Traditionally in Europe, such movements have been associated with Catholic ultras and fascists. They were indeed a long way from small-state, free-market conservatives but not so far away by any means from "blood and soil" conservatism.

2 What does she think frighten clerical fascists the most? What  does she believe will eventually bring down the Mullahs in Iran, the Saudi royal family, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood? I don't believe it will be the spread of Christianity to the Middle East which will do it, but demands for democracy, freedom of speech, freedom from religious persecution and, above all, for the emancipation of women.

In other words it will be my ideas that win this battle, not hers.

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December 16th, 2010
2:12 PM
I have not read Melanie Phillips' opinions yet, however, from the comments here I guess that what she might mean is that perhaps the West without religion, does not have a meaningful identity. Can 'democracy' replace religion in that sense? No, because, in any case, eg, Hitler came to power through democracy. Not having religious belief, seems secularists hold that everything is relative, whereas traditional Christianity, for example, teaches that the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, which relate directly to God, are connected with all the other virtues. Even though adherents fall short of living up to the virtues, broadly speaking it seems that over history there has been change in a positive direction, moving gradually closer to the ideal. For example, at one time in Christian England, there were terribly cruel methods of execution whereas today one can hardly believe that a Christian country could ever have allowed such cruelty. For readers who are interested, a brief summary of parts of the Christian catechism: The two great precepts are: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut.6:5) and: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev.19:18), both carried forward from Judaism. Judaism also emphasizes: "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you. Have the same love for the alien as for yourself" (Lev.19:34). The principal virtues are listed in the catechism as: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, on which are stated to hinge all other virtues. The ‘7 Corporal Works of Mercy’: 1. To feed the hungry 2. To give drink to the thirsty 3. To clothe the naked 4. To harbour the harbourless 5. To visit the sick 6. To visit the imprisoned 7. To bury the dead. The ‘7 Spiritual Works of Mercy’: 1. To convert the sinner 2. To instruct the ignorant 3. To counsel the doubtful 4. To comfort the sorrowful 5. To bear wrongs patiently 6. To forgive injuries 7. To pray for the living & the dead. The ‘7 capital sins or vices & their contrary virtues’: 1. Pride................Humility 2. Covetousness.........Liberality 3. Lust.................Chastity 4. Anger................Meekness 5. Gluttony.............Temperance 6. Envy.................Brotherly love 7. Sloth................Diligence The ‘Four sins 'crying to heaven for vengeance': 1. Wilful murder. 2. The sin of Sodom. 3. Oppression of the poor. 4. Defrauding labourers of their wages. The ‘6 sins against the Holy Spirit': 1. Presumption. 2. Despair. 3. Resisting the known truth. 4. Envy of another's spiritual good. 5. Obstinacy in sin. 6. Final impenitence. The ‘8 Beatitudes’: 1. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 2. Blessed are the meek; for they shall possess the land. 3. Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. 4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice; for they shall have their fill. 5. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. 6. Blessed are the clean of heart; for they shall see God. 7. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. 8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (All of the above is part of the Judeo-Christian heritage, and is probably shared by other religions also, such as Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism.). Two virtues emphasized in Islam are: Compassion and Mercy, in the five-times daily prayer of Muslims: "Praise be to Allah, Lord of Creation, The Compassionate, the Merciful, King of Judgement Day. You alone we worship, and to You alone we pray for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favoured, not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray." Traditional Christian doctrine is that Jesus is God and offered Himself on the Cross in atonement for the past and future sins of the world. That doctrine is unique to Christianity. That Christianity has a powerful socio-political message can be seen in the (rarely quoted, in general) following: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the King will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt.25:31-46).

Melanie Phillips
July 2nd, 2010
7:07 AM
I've only just seen Nick's comment. I suggest people listen to the interview clip to which he helpfully links to understand what I was actually saying.

June 14th, 2010
3:06 AM
Melanie Phillips's arguments are at best disingenuous, and at worst dishonest. The only real issue with the claims of Xianity is: Are they true? And clearly, the answer is NO!

Tina Trent
May 28th, 2010
10:05 AM
Do you really think the people in the pews are so dumb and submissive? The tide long ago turned for a healthy and vigorous understanding of unto Caesar -- at least in my country (which might explain the health of faith here). Western Christianity is not without faults, large and small and yes, manifested largely in its leadership, but the faith of the very substantial masses is also indistinguishable from their sense of justice and freedom -- and obligation to defend our values. Ignoring this is terribly simplistic. Reality is terribly complex.

May 25th, 2010
9:05 PM
Multiculturalism requires us to assume most people want peace, rainbows and harmony, indeed that the better angels of our collective nature will prevail.

May 19th, 2010
5:05 PM
I have written a transcript of one of Mel's Millenarianism videos at the blog. She talks a lot of sense in her identification of how "religiously" certain beliefs are held these days. So, I think it is wrong to dismiss her out of hand. Though I am with you, Nick on what/who will win the struggle against religious (Islamic) fundamentalism. It surely isn't AN Other brand of religious fundamentalism.

Brian Stewart
May 18th, 2010
11:05 PM
It was I who posed the "tough question" to Melanie Phillips. If only there was a recording of our narrow but deep disagreement after the microphone was turned off. She was even more explicit in pressing the false and ugly idea that without the support of our own faith delusions, jihadists will not be confronted and defeated. Keep up the good fight, sir.

May 18th, 2010
5:05 PM
Quite so, Nick. I think that easily MP fits into a position defined by Fritz Stern in The Politics of Cultural Discontent as "revolutionary conservative". Neoconservative? Moi?

May 18th, 2010
4:05 PM
My response would have been one of relief that Mel was distancing herself from me. It also strikes me as strange that such a weakened, relativistic West has managed to do more war-fighting in the last ten years than in the previous thirty.

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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