In which Fat Martin comes for lunch, and a theological debate ensues

Fat Martin Luther came for lunch here in Rio the other day. I served vermicelli, as I always do for him. “Why do you always feed me this rubbish?” he asked, after pushing it around his plate for a while. “Oh sorry, Fat Martin,” I said, “I forget you’re not so keen on a Diet of Worms.”

He gave me a long stare. “Nearly five hundred years, and that’s still funny?” he asked irritably. “And why must you always call me Fat Martin?”

“Well to be honest, Fat Martin,” I replied, “it’s because I’m amused by the contrast between your obsession with sin and the overt evidence of extensive indulgence in at least one of the seven deadly ones.”

“Popish superstitious nonsense,” he countered. “We are saved not by our works but by our faith.”

“That sounds suspiciously antinomian to me,” I admitted, “but actually that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about. This whole sola fide and justification business.”

“What of it?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Euthyphro dilemma—”

“—The what?” he interrupted.

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know, Fat Martin. You did the scholiast stuff before you got all vernacular and protesty. Euthyphro, where Plato points out the definitional problem of an all-good omnipotent deity. Either good is defined by Him—that whatever He wills is necessarily good—in which case we can know nothing of Him, for His acts can be entirely arbitrary; or He simply always acts according to what is good, in which case there would seem to be something ontologically prior to Him—goodness—and His actions would appear to be bound.”

“Greek rubbish, fit only for the Schools.”

“Well you have to admit he has a point. And what I’ve been thinking is that your ideas about justification and freedom of the will seem to be somewhat inconsistent on this point: that as far as the workings of justification are concerned you sit on one horn of the dilemma, but as far as its distribution is concerned you sit on the other.”

“How so?” Fat Martin was interested now. He may not have time for the Greeks, but he loves a good wrangle.

“Well, the whole concept of being saved by faith alone kinda requires that we know that God will act in a certain way. That is, He has promised, through His Son (who is also Him—always confuses me, that bit), that He will save those who believe in Him and His promise. You bang on about this quite a bit, you know, and often emphasise the nature of the promise. He has promised something, so we can have certainty that He will do it. This only really works if we accept the secondary horn of Euthyphro: because otherwise God could entirely renege upon His promise, and that would be fine because He is God and if He reneges on His promise then this is necessarily good. For sola fide to work, and for us to be able to know it will, God must be bound by what is good, and what is good must be accessible to human reason.”

“And?”

“Well, there’s a problem, then, when we get onto the distribution of this. Because not everyone believes, not everyone will be saved. Fair enough, but you also insist—actually, quite correctly—in the absence of freedom of the will. You got into quite a spat about this. The saving belief in God is not taken by the individual as a freely-willed act, but is granted, by the grace of God. But then we come into a problem, because of the apparently arbitrary distribution of this. It seems resolutely unfair, doubleplus ungood, that people are not saved by their merits, or by their works, but by the whim of the deity. All people are necessarily equally deserving of hellfire, yet God selects some but not others to be given the saving grace of belief in Him. Doesn’t this require the exactly opposite view of the dilemma? We can only reconcile God’s goodness with this arbitrary allocation of grace if we accept that whatever He does is necessarily good, and that we should not attempt to reason about his acts using the human understanding of goodness. So which is it? If I cannot rely on God not acting arbitrarily then I can have no grounds to believe His promise; but if He cannot act as He pleases, how can we understand the random allocation of grace?”

Fat Martin was silent. He’s well known for his temper, and I worried he might be building up to a paddy. But eventually, slowly, he spoke. “I never thought of that,” he admitted. “You kinda got me there. I suppose I’d better take it all back. The whole shebang.”

“It’s a bit late for that now, you know,” I said as I passed him the bread.

He chewed it thoughtfully. And then suddenly gagged, coughed, and, red-faced, spat out two Brazilian coins which were buried in the dough. “What is this?” he shouted, perhaps relieved of an excuse to rant. “Are you trying to choke me?”

“They’re a gift for you,” I answered.

“Do you usually give gifts like this?” he inquired furiously.

“I’m sorry, Martin. I thought you were a fan of the Real Presents.”

Fat Martin stared at me again. “Fuck you,” he said, eventually. He does have a potty mouth on him, does Fat Martin.

Fat Martin is not amused

Fat Martin is not amused.

One worthy, I feel, of Keats himself

As well as being the mother of her country, Evita had a string of artistic and cabaret gifts which she employed to calm the General down when was he was in one of his moods, or sometimes to entertain house guests. A particularly popular talent was her ability to—in the gentlest and sweetest of timbres—fart out the tune of the national anthem, and other popular songs.

The composer Maurice Ravel, an old bridge partner of the General, was visiting once and was treated to this most exquisite and private of musical performances; the experience inspired him so much that he rushed off and immediately penned that classic suite, Le ton beau de cul Peron.

(And yes, I know that’s a gratuitously split infinitive. I do these things deliberately to annoy you, you know.)

On Theresa May and extremism

Theresa May’s McCarthyist credentials took quite a boost today, as she announced a drive against “entryist” infiltration of the public sector, charities, and businesses. The Home Office definition of “entryism” is, according to the Guardian, “extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas.” Those devious fuckers, hey?

What’s odd about this definition is, the repeated use of “extremist” aside, it seems a remarkably good definition of exactly why most people do enter the public sector. One presumes that Theresa herself sought to gain a position of influence—it seems unlikely that one becomes Home Secretary by accident, or against one’s will—and one presumes that she did so in order to be able to promote her own bigotry—sorry, agenda. So is she an entryist? Well that will have to turn on whether you consider her an extremist or not, because that seems to be the only thing that picks out an entryist from an ordinary, principled public servant. Fortunately, Theresa herself has provided a definition of extremism: “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

Can we talk about Saudi Arabia, now? Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, it is a theocratic monarchy. In Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International, the security services carry out arbitrary arrests, detain people for considerably longer than the country’s laws permit, and generally act outside the rule of even those atrocious laws that are in place. In Saudi Arabia there may be a level of individual liberty for well-behaved Muslim men, but Theresa herself would not be allowed to leave her own house without being covered from head to toe and in the company of her husband or other family member. In Saudi Arabia “freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and the government severely restricts it in practice” (and that’s according to our own best buddies). Taking Theresa’s fundamental British values as given (and here is not the place to quibble about them), it rather seems that Saudi Arabia is opposed to all of them, and therefore under Theresa and the Home Office’s own definitions, is a ripe candidate for the epithet “extremist.”

And this is odd, because Theresa—who is so determined to root out extremism in the public sector—was one of those who, in the recent cabinet dispute about whether or not to continue selling the services of precisely that public sector to precisely that extremist regime, lobbied Cameron to keep the contract in place.

Of all the contortions and contradictions that this and previous governments and ministers have engaged in to suck up to their oil-providing masters in the Gulf, this has to be one of the most revolting. To engage in a witch-hunt against “extremism” in the public sector whilst actively advocating the whoring out of that same public sector to the country which competes with North Korea for the most extremist regime on the planet takes a level of hypocrisy that beggars belief.

To avoid any doubt: Theresa May, by definitions of her own government, has actively promoted that our public services actively engage with extremism. Chances of her duly and unceremoniously turfing herself out on her ear? Fucking zero, of course.