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James Meek: ‘Don’t get found out’ – America’s 11th commandment.

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.

Continued in the LA Review of Books | More Chronicle and Notices.


One Comment

  1. wrote:

    This is not well thought out. It’s not enough to say that you don’t believe? Instead, you have to have some top-down, authoritarian set of moral principles or its ‘Don’t get found out’? Nonsense. The word agnostic simply means that one admits that he does not know. Atheist means he does not believe. Neither position represents a philosophical system in itself. It is even possible to be both an atheist and an agnostic at the same time. Neither limits to any great extent what one can in fact believe – allowing only that the atheist does not believe in a deity. Why then would morality necessarily be missing for either the atheist or the agnostic? Both are free to follow any number of moral codes. Human beings have the ability to reason. Not everyone needs to be handed a set of mandates from some father figure in the sky in order to discern right from wrong.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 21:22 | Permalink

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