The distinguishing mark of modern society, G K Chesterton once wrote, is a hatred of religion. If that was the case more than 100 years ago, you could magnify it 100 times over for today. Hatred is the crucial word. Not apathy or indifference, but a violent reaction of the type that can lead to intemperate, illogical language even from clever people.
Such language was to be heard again this week following the report that a Catholic priest, Father James Chesney, had been suspected of organising an IRA bombing that killed nine people, some of them Catholics, in the village of Claudy in 1972. Here was yet further proof of the iniquity of the Church following hard upon the scandal of the child abusers.
Any believer, Catholic or no, will have found it profoundly shocking that a priest could have organised the taking of innocent lives. But no one, as far as I could see, considered it so shocking as to be improbable. It was pointed out that it was a long time ago and that Father Chesney was dead, but those of us who remember the events in Ireland in the early 1970s remember the endless saga of false accusations, the multiple cases of miscarriage of justice, the internment of countless innocent Catholics, the dirty tricks campaign pursued by British intelligence, etc.
That does not mean the accusations against Father Chesney are false, but I would have been more inclined to believe them if they amounted to more than just accusations. Mere suspicion will be enough for the God-haters, but we believers, remembering what happened before, would welcome something a little more substantial before we condemn.
Awkward questions that need answers
Dr Norman Hunt, the pathologist who examined Dr David Kelly and who this week has described his death as "a textbook suicide", is one of 43 pathologists on the Home Office register qualified to investigate suspicious or violent deaths. In his fascinating book The Strange Death of David Kelly, Norman Baker, now the transport minister, raises the interesting question of why Dr Hunt, relatively inexperienced at the time, should have been chosen to deal with what was a sensational case.
Coincidentally, the same kind of question is now being asked about another pathologist, Dr Freddy Patel, who on Wednesday was found guilty by the GMC of five instances of neglect and incompetence and may now be struck off the register. Despite the fact that he was under investigation by the GMC, Dr Patel was selected by the coroner to examine Ian Tomlinson, who had died after last year's anti-G20 demonstration in London.
Unlike Dr Hunt, Dr Patel was not on the Home Office register. After this week's GMC's ruling, the Tomlinson family issued a statement asking how Dr Patel's appointment "could have been approved by the City of London police who paid part of his fee".
So long as these questions – like those relating to Dr Kelly – remain unanswered, we are fully entitled to believe that in both instances there has been a cover-up.
Let the punishment fit the crime
Things must be bad if even an old Tory lawyer like Kenneth Clarke can say that too many people are being sent to prison. But you will still read regularly of prison sentences being handed out to those who will gain nothing by being sent to jail.
One of the latest cases concerned a Mr Jeffrey Lendrum who was caught trying to smuggle peregrine falcon eggs out of the country. He was given a two-and-a-half year prison sentence at Warwick Crown Court by judge Christopher Hodson, who told him that "these are birds which enhance the attraction of the countryside for all".
In fact the number of people likely to appreciate the sight of peregrine falcons is small. But the judge was quite carried away. "Environmental crime," he went on, "strikes not only at a locality but in some measure at the planet and its future."
You could just as well argue that the future of the planet is threatened by the artificial breeding of hundreds of savage birds of prey, just as it is by sending men like Mr Lendrum to prison. But it's considered bad form to say that sort of thing nowadays.
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