By JAMES MEEK [interviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books] – It sometimes seems in this kind of northern European, northern American, post-Catholic world, you are either religious, in which case you are probably smug about having a moral code that has been given to you by God, by the Bible, or even the Koran, or you’re smug about not believing in that. But there’s a gap there, because if you are one of these nonbelievers, or almost-nonbelievers — agnostics, I suppose — then are you really just going to define yourself as somebody who doesn’t believe?
That’s not enough. I don’t believe myself, but I believe that the believers have a very good point when they say to the nonbelievers: Okay, you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe that Moses went up Mt. Sinai and broke the 10 Commandments, so what do you believe? Or where are you getting your sense of right and wrong from? And it’s never seemed more evident in my country, and I think it’s very much true in America, as well, that it’s as if everything else has fallen away and the real moral constraint now is the 11th commandment, as it’s jokingly called, which is “Don’t get found out.”
In all these scandals that we’ve had recently — whether it’s bankers rigging a key interest rate or the scandals involving care homes for the elderly where nurses treated the patients very badly, or the Jimmy Savile scandal — it’s as if the people who do it and the people who are trying to stop it happening again are all focusing on procedures and rules to make sure that people are found out. And that’s fine, that’s good, but it’s not enough.