Letters: 19 October 2014

The age of reason

In response to the article, ‘A soul-searching exercise and backsliding’, by John Azzopardi on October 12: Tens of millions of children die annually in agony either from water, sanitation, conflicts and illnesses before reaching adolescence.

Imagine the anguish parents go through – mothers and fathers who pray relentlessly for their children, but their prayers eventually fall on deaf ears – thus the God Azzopardi refers to with such passion can either do nothing or otherwise he doesn’t care, therefore he is either impotent or evil.

But note the different yardstick used by devotees to exonerate God from these calamities. If someone gets good news or one’s life turns to the better, then it is God’s will, if it is devastating news or, as mentioned above, the death by the millions of innocent children, then God must have had a plan that our small minds cannot comprehend or that God is mysterious and who can understand God’s reasoning.

Mr Azzopardi was being radically selective when quoting astronomer Fred Hoyle. For one thing Hoyle is one of the less than one per cent of scientists who believe the fictitious theory of intelligent design.

Creationists and religion devotees have from the beginning eagerly sought things that are hitherto unexplainable by science and attribute them to God. This means that as time goes by and as scientists are giving explanations to things which used to be mysterious to us some time ago, fewer and fewer “miracles” are being attributed to God, hence the term the God of gaps.

Homo sapiens came into being between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. Let us take the most conservative number (100,000) and picture this. After waiting 98,000 years where occurrences such as natural disasters, epidemics and conflicts took place, for some reason God decided to send his only child to perform a number of miracles to the selected few (later he got fed up) and to forgive our sins by morbidly sacrificing his life on a cross. Is there any rational explanation for this? No there isn’t, it is just written in the bible.

I am also appalled but insofar not surprised by the statement where he said that he could never believe in God if it were not for the cross. This confirms, and I hate to break it to Mr Azzopardi, that Catholicism is not a religion that repudiates human sacrifice but rather a cult that condones it or even worse, celebrates it.

While reading the local news this week I noticed that the issue of the teachings of religion in school is in the limelight. I firmly believe that all religions should only be taught in history classes and as a point of reference to our traditions. It is high time all religions are scrutinized like any other subject, issue or policy, thus obliterating all dogmas each religion dictates.

To teach our children that there is a celestial being supervising them throughout their whole life and after life and who cares what you do, who you sleep with and takes sides in conflicts is not only tiresome but morally reprehensible. The view that you only need one book to make reference to love, ethics and morality is unbearable.

Sandro Zammit, Tarxien

Malta's neutrality

In what follows we discuss some points Michael Falzon (MaltaToday, October 5, 2014) raises in relation to an article of ours which appeared in The Times (‘Our Neutrality Clauses’) and to the concept of neutrality in general.

We shall however, refrain from discussing his diatribes against the editor of It-Torca (the latter can do so himself), his anachronistic association of belief in neutrality with ‘anti-west cold war rhetoric’ (an association that reminds one of similar diatribes by conservative and reactionary quarters in Western Europe in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s; for instance the labelling of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament CND as ‘neutralists and communists’), his inane line as to us belonging to a ‘secret group’ (the fact that we do not hark for our 30 seconds of glory on the media, and hence that Mr Falzon does not know about our existence, does not mean that we are a ‘secret group’ – maybe some former politicians with whom he militated as well as other individuals that belong to his current lobby-group may better instruct him as to what a secret group or fraternity really is), his even more ridiculous implicit suggestion as to there being something more than an ‘uncanny coincidence’ between our article and the editorial of It-Torca and the inconsistency of having someone spitting bile on constitutional clauses which he himself voted. We shall focus on other matters.

Falzon seems to equate neutrality as enshrined in our constitution and as understood by ourselves with ‘being neutral when fac[ing] the eternal struggle between good and evil’; holding that to be neutral is to be ‘passive’. This is clearly not the case. The Oxford English Dictionary gives (amongst others) the following meanings of the term ‘neutral’; ‘taking neither side’, ‘not helping either of two belligerent States’.

If our constitution upheld the first sense of the term, then neutrality would indeed entail passivity and not taking sides between different parties regardless of who is right or wrong. Yet, this is clearly not so in the case of our constitution. The manner in which the constitution understands the term ‘neutrality’ is along the second sense; implying that Malta ought not to take part in armed conflicts or join military alliances.

It does not prohibit – indeed it enjoins – that Malta works for peace and justice in the region, something that may entail acknowledging the rights and wrongs of different parties. In the past Mr Mintoff and Dr de Marco did this in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict; recognising the rights of the victims while inviting those guilty of the injustice to mend their ways and to promote their security and legitimate rights in a just and morally legitimate manner.

As a matter of fact, we happen to believe that there are other ways apart from military force to achieve justice, promote rights and well-being and to engage with ‘evil’; a belief that apparently does not cross Falzon’s mind, but which puts us in the good company of figures like Jesus, Gandhi and Luther King.

But even if the situation arises whereby circumstances require that to secure justice and well-being assistance be given to some military venture, the constitution already stipulates that in such cases aid to military ventures may indeed be provided, as long as the mission in question is under the aegis of the UN Security Council. Falzon should be aware of this given that he was one of those who voted for the article in question.

Dumping neutrality to join a military alliance – with many assuming that this is by definition NATO, the thought of forming an alliance with other parties seems a priori inconceivable – will not mean that we take side with good against evil in some eternal manichean struggle which exists only in Falzon’s head. Nor would it entail simply protection against a specific threat, namely the threat that the possible IS takeover of Libya would constitute. It would entail a long-term commitment to an alliance which, while not being the devil incarnate, enjoys no God-given inability to err.

Lino Bugeja’s article itself, the one to which we were reacting in our piece, recognises that the interventions by NATO in Iraq and Libya have been anything but felicitous. That IS has had links with major NATO partners, directly or indirectly (through allies of the US, Britain and France in the region), is known to anyone but the most obtuse.

Falzon also seems to subscribe to the often repeated diatribe that the reference to two superpowers makes the neutrality clauses outdated since one of these superpowers no longer exists. He claims that we on the other hand, consider the wording of the constitution some ‘sacred cow’.

This caricature is to say the least misleading. We never claimed that the wording of the constitution is sacred. Our claim is that the disappearance of one superpower does not make the neutrality clauses in the constitution obsolete either in word or spirit.

It does not make them obsolete in word because logically, what the constitution stipulates does not cease to apply with the disappearance of one superpower. When one has a clause formulated in terms of ‘neither of’ (in this case neither of the superpowers) the implication is that the clause applies to one, to the other or to the two. If only one member of the targeted group remains in existence, the clause applies to it nonetheless.

It is as though I prohibit both Peter and Paul from entering my club. The prohibition does not cease to apply if one of the two parties dies. The disappearance of one superpower does not make the neutrality clauses obsolete in spirit because as we affirmed in our original article, our world is still a world of conflict between different powers, ideologies and economic blocks. The onus is on Falzon to prove otherwise.

Michael Grech, Gharghur and Charles Miceli, Naxxar