"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

U.K "riots": Moral decline or civic failure?

In the wake of the riots in London and other cities in the U.K the coalition government has been pointing the finger at moral decline in British society.
"For me it is clear that the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I’ve spoken about for years. It is a complete lack of responsibility in our society. It is as much a moral problem as a political problem"
Says David Cameron.

I understand the rhetoric, but rhetoric it is and somewhat overblown in my opinion. Whilst the behaviour of those looting and “rioting” was reprehensible, the absolute numbers were a tiny fraction of the youth of this country and most of what was seen on our T.V screens looked more like opportunism than anything else.
Incidentally I put “rioting” in scare quotes because, despite the government designating them as such, these weren’t really riots in the sense of organised violent demonstrations of civic malcontent, just bunches of feckless, poorly educated kids with an inflated sense of entitlement looking for an outlet and a new pair of trainers.
Interviews with some of the looters revealed the lack of purpose or rational behind the violence
"We’re showing the rich we can do what we want"
was one of the more depressingly incoherent thoughts from a pair of girls in Croydon.
This not to say there’s no underlying problem here, I just don’t believe it is symptomatic of a recent moral decline, more a lack of education and a poor understanding of civic responsibility.
For example it has been said frequently that the politician’s expenses scandal and the greed of bankers has sent messages to deprived neighbourhoods that taking what you want is acceptable at any cost. But of course bankers have been rich and politicians have screwed their expenses for time immemorial. The fact that we now see this as wrong is more indicative of a moral rise than a decline, a wider understanding that egalitarianism is a thing to strive for and privilege a thing to be avoided. That politicians have been jailed should suggest that the culpable will face the consequences whatever their status.
The fact that the message has not got through to some teenagers in Croydon says more about the lack of political and social awareness in this subset of British youth than it does about moral decline.
I suspect that given the opportunity to hide in a crowd and get free stuff some kids and young adults of all generations past would have taken it, the difference now is that such opportunities are easier to manufacture.
If I were to offer a solution, my short answer would be education. Focus on those areas in cities known to be deprived and problematic, invest in social projects that schools can be a part of, teach civics, discourage tribalism (abolish faith schools) and encourage integration (invest in secular schools and institutions). Some of this takes money, which we know is in short supply, but the potential rewards are great and available in the relatively short term. Morality is largely about mutual self-interest, and a kid that torches local businesses that are potential employers simply does not understand where her own interest lies. This is a failure of civic instruction and these are concepts that parents in these circumstances may not understand sufficiently themselves to pass on. This is therefore a responsibility of society as a whole and good inclusive secular schools are the key.


  1. Interesting that the aetheist solution to the riots is to promote secularism (a subtlely disguised form of aetheist religion) at the expense of faith schools. I wonder how many of the rioters were practicing a moral faith?
    Secular aetheism promotes the amoral ethos that self is God, and and individuals SELF interest is best served by keeping the rules of society. That sounds fine until the selfish individual realises that no one is looking - or takes the lead of the immediate social group, say a mob of rioters. Without a real sense of internal conscience and responsiblitity (rather than evolutionary - survival of the fittest)there is no moral code. (The claim that secular education is the answer lacks evidence). There has never been so much education. It is the secularisation of education that is the problem, as it fails to acknowledge right and wrong and minimises the role of the common good, something that has been foundational to the faith of this nation. Sex education being just one example - What good has come from removing the restraints of marriage and justifying early sexual experience and multiple partners? Then there is the secular TV media, who have displaced the church as the mass moral teacher of children. Well judge by the results - is society better or worse. Then there is the example of aethistic communism .... they had to build walls to keep the people in! Has that created a better society of selfless people? No they don't like giving to charity there either. Real social progress most often stems from the actions of people with the strongest Christian faith WHO stood against SELF interest of the powers that be. The abolition of slavery being championed by Willian Wilberforce. The giving to others of Mother Teressa and many unknowns. The school and university systems almost all began with christian foundations...
    There is no evidence that secular answers that reject Biblical principles actually work to improve anything?

  2. Hmmm! The fact that Christians are capable of good things is beyond doubt. Wilberforce was one of course but don't forget that his opponents were also Christians using the bible to justify slavery. Religion is not a moral force without moral individuals. I have no idea why you would cite Mother Teresa in this context, she was the epitome of religious evil as has been well documented.
    I think your description of sex education is a straw man as no program I have seen is promoting anything other than sex within a relationship (Marriage is immaterial).
    You do not understand Darwinism, but I do not have the time to educate you here. There are many good books available.
    Secular education can and should be morally based, in a "do as you would be done by" sort of framework, but faith based morality is divisive, deontological and antithetical to cohesive society..