Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kindness of Believers

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.
Edmund Burke

I was at a fascinating talk last night by Anthony Daniels - aka Theordore Dalyrmple - organised by The Iona Institute.  He ended his talk with the above quote from Ireland's greatest political philosopher Edmund Burke. Anthony is an atheist who believes in the importance of religion as a source of moral behaviour. You can get a flavour of his unique perspective from this recent podcast. He laments the decline of virtue, and in his talk he argued that the decline was responsible in large part for the economic crisis here in Ireland and elsewhere.

Not only is an absence of virtue synonymous with immiseration, its presence is synonymous with prosperity. Take the results of Gallup's global survey on civic engagement which I mentioned before.  It seems that helping strangers, donating to charities and volunteering are good for your material wellbeing. Nor, as Gallup explains, is it just a case of the 'rich' helping others. Income doesn't influence civic engagement, and the causality may even go the other way...

As for religion, the Gallup survey shows that people for whom religion is an important part of their daily lives are significantly more likely to help strangers etc than those for whom it isn't important. I expect we will increasingly rely on the 'kindness of believers' in the years ahead as governments implode under the weight of their unsustainable liabilities.

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