Tag Archives: morality

Why Boxing Should Be Banned


As a teenager I loved watching boxing.  In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS.  Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials.  While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory.  Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.

But boxing must be banned.  Simply nothing else will do.  It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence.  A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.

Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing.  In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:

“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”

The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985.  In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:

“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur.  None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”

The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997.  In 2007 they released this statement:

“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing.  All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”

It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.

Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world.  It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.

Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing.  This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world.  As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.

Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so.  Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher.  But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes.  Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society.  As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.

Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing.  But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face?  Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.

So how problematic might it be to ban boxing?  I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument.  Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent.  But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs.  The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal.  There is clear motive and opportunity.  Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people.  Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble).  I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.

None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training.  The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself.  It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit.  But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.

Another Letter To A Believer

Dear Friend,

You told me that you read my previous letter, in which I challenged the logic of your beliefs.  Allow me now to anticipate the only other way to defend religion that I have ever encountered; that we need religion to be moral.

Before I deconstruct the arguments for this line of defence, it is necessary to make some broader observations with regards to this approach.  Firstly, as with the provision of consolation, arguing that religion makes us moral says nothing with regards to its truth.  Every religious person who is genuinely good may simply have been duped.  Indeed I would say that they certainly have been.  Further to this, I will argue in this letter that they are good in spite of religion, not because of it.  Secondly, it always pains me to have to point out what a dreadful world it would be if people were only good because they feared God’s wrath or hoped for his generous rewards.  Albert Einstein summed it up;

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

So does a belief in God make us behave better?  Are we less likely to be violent if we have faith?  Do religious people treat their fellow human beings with greater tolerance and compassion?  Who is more charitable – believers or atheists?

All we have to answer these questions are the facts.  Facts are everything because they tell us what is really happening, as opposed to what some people may wish to be true or what members of in-groups simply tell each other.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first of all.  Almost every war that has been fought in the past 1,000 years has been a religious war, from The Crusades (1095-1291) to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), through to the Catholic on Muslim genocide in The Balkans (1992-1995).  The Second World War, whilst not explicitly religious, certainly had its worst crimes inspired by religion.  Germany was overwhelmingly Catholic or Lutheran, and both of these are steeped in anti-Semitic traditions.  It is without question that this eased the path to implementing the Final Solution.  Hitler himself was a catholic, and invoked his faith in many of his speeches.

Today, the greatest risk to the destruction of large areas of our living space (and of course the instant death of millions of people) comes from three main threats; a dirty bomb (essentially a small, crude, nuclear device, perhaps as small as a briefcase) delivered by Jihadists, a full scale thermo-nuclear exchange over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or similar between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, both of whom are armed to the teeth with primed nukes, that are pointing almost exclusively at each other.  We should have no doubts in our minds that these are overtly religious conflicts, contrary to the insistence of many misguided liberals and much of the religious lobby.  How can we be sure of this?  Well, because this is what those involved in these disputes tell us.  To provide just one of many available examples, here is an excerpt from the Hamas charter:

“It is necessary to in steal in the minds of the Muslim generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem, and should be dealt with on this basis. Palestine contains Islamic holy sites. In it there is al-Aqsa Mosque which is bound to the great Mosque in Mecca in an inseparable bond…I swear by the holder of Mohammed’s soul that I would like to invade and be killed for the sake of Allah…”

If we can be sure of anything it’s that if we manage to destroy ourselves, it will be for the sake of an imaginary God.

When moving away from the theatre of war and its causes, it can likewise be shown that violence occurs most commonly (though of course not exclusively) among the religious on our streets and in our homes.  In America, where various polls inform us that four out of five people believe in God, only 0.2% of prison inmates profess to be atheist.  When ranking the US States by murder rate, almost all of the traditionally Christian bible belt States appear in the top half of the list.  In France, over 70% of prison inmates identify as Muslim.  Trends such as these are reflected unwaveringly across the entire world, by country and within their own demographic spread.

Surely though, the religious are more charitable?  Unfortunately, every non-bias study that has ever been conducted shows there is a perfect negative correlation between religiosity and the money donated per capita on an annual basis.  As Daniel Dennett noted:

“Needless to say, these results strike so hard at the standard claims of greater moral virtue among the religious that there has been a considerable surge of research initiated by religious organisations attempting to refute them.  One thing we can be sure of is that if there is a positive relationship between moral behaviour and religious affiliation it will soon be discovered, since so many are eager to confirm their traditional beliefs about this scientifically.  Every month that passes without such a demonstration underlines that it just isn’t so.”

And what of compassion and tolerance?  What does religious scripture demand relating to these noble traits, and is it reflected in how religious people act toward their fellow humans?

Let’s start with slavery.  Religious people are often credited with being at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in America.  Whilst on the surface this may appear to be the case, we should pause to question what really motivated them – was it an adherence to scripture?  What does the Bible have to say about slavery?

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have, you may buy slaves from the nations that are round about you.  You may also buy from strangers and their families who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.” (Leviticus 25:44)

Was the New Testament, often (mis)credited with righting the wrongs of the brutal Old Testament, any better on the subject of slavery?

“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“The slave who knew his master’s will and did not act will receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47)

Jesus clearly expected us to keep slaves and to beat them.  Oh merciful Lord!

Abolitionists did not have scripture on their side.  As with other social reforms, it was in fact the pressure of modern secular values and ethics that drove change, in spite of religion, not because of it.  The doors have only ever opened from the outside.

Two of the greatest struggles of the twentieth century with regards to social reform – those of equality for women and homosexuals have been, and are still being fought, almost entirely against religious groups. When we examine religious doctrines, it’s easy to see why.

Things start pretty badly for women in the Bible.  They are at first an afterthought, born from the spare parts of man, and not even given a name.  Eve, as we know her, is then the instigator of the original sin, and so responsible for the burdens of mankind until the end of days.  The subordination of women to men in the eyes of God is clear and their only purpose and chance of saviour comes as a wife and a mother.  There is nothing else in this life for a woman in the good book except to serve men.

The Koran makes great play of the impurity of women, especially during menstruation, so much so that men must not come into contact with them.  The Koran also informs us that the word of two women is required to equal that of one man.

“To the male goes the equivalent of the portion of two females (of inheritance).” Koran 4:11

“Men are in charge of women because Allah hath made one of them to excel over the other…so good women are obedient.  As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart and scourge them.” (Koran 4:34)

The first prayer a Jewish man must recite every day includes the giving of thanks to God for not making him a woman.  These attitudes, combined with the dogma of the virgin birth (an event we now know was not even in the original transcripts that eventually made up the Gospels, but rather was added later via what appears to be a deliberate mistranslation to enhance the case of Jesus’s messiah status), its illusions of purity and incitement of fear of female genitalia, have had terrible consequences for women through the ages, up to and including our own.

In Western societies, whilst it is bad enough that some countries did not give women the vote until after the Second World War (France, 1945, Belgium, 1946, Switzerland, 1971), there has been the constant need for women to fight for control over their own bodies, and to remain vigilant in the face of the ever present threat from the Godly.  In Ireland, where the Catholic church still calls the shots, abortion is illegal, and a tide of archaic reforms are creeping their way across the Bible belt in America, cynically obstructing women from access to sexual health information, birth control, even preventing rape crisis centres from advising on abortions.  In Ohio for example, laws have just passed that effectively cut off state funding to planned parenthood clinics and women are now obliged to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds before they can have an abortion – ultrasounds they must pay for themselves.

In societies that have been, or still are influenced by the teachings of Mohammed in particular, female genital mutilation (FGM), honour killings, dowry payments, gang rapes, acid attacks, niqabs, forced arranged marriages, lashings or even stonings due to a suspected lack of virginity (even after being raped) are things that we have become all too familiar with.  The honour of man before Allah is more important than the life or freedom of the lowly, lesser, impure woman as depicted in the Koran.

Homosexuals have fared little better under the gaze of the religious.  Once more, scripture is the source of their on-going misery:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”  (Leviticus 20:13)

Study after study (see: http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society.aspx) shows us that well over 90% of Muslims the world over believe homosexuality to be morally wrong on the basis of doctrinal instruction.  The Talmud informs us that a man without a wife is only half a man.

As a result, religious lobbies in Western societies have continually campaigned against the legal rights of homosexuals, against their equal treatment in the public sphere and against their admittance into armed forces.  Unconscionably, it took until 2011 for America to allow openly gay people to join their military.  Only this year (2013) have France and England legalised gay marriage, much to the dismay of almost every key religious figure, including the new, supposedly liberal, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Elsewhere, homosexuals are actually in danger of arrest or worse.  Russia has just made public displays of homosexuality illegal after a despicable campaign by their Orthodox Church and there are currently nine countries, all deeply religious societies, where the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death (Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Somaliland, Mauritania, & The Maldives).  Uganda is on the brink of becoming the tenth, due in no small part to the efforts and the funding of evangelical Christians in America. (see: http://www.godlovesuganda.com/film/story/)

There are many other areas of public life where religion also imposes its dubious morals at the expense of the suffering of others.  The great Catholic cover-up of crimes of sexual abuse against children within their midst I have written of previously, and the religious obstruction of embryonic stem cell research, currently one of the most promising areas of medical research because it has the potential to produce cures for so many chronic conditions, is breath-taking for its arrogance and callousness.  It is essentially saying that a small cluster of cells in a petri dish should be of greater concern to us than a living person who is in pain or dying.

Approximately 100,000 children die each year from cancer, and many of them without access to painkillers.  A belief in God means believing that this is his will and that it is the best thing that could happen.  Furthermore, you must also believe it is righteous for many of these children to go on to suffer for all eternity in the fires of hell for being born to parents who worshipped the wrong God (or no God at all).  If it is not obvious to people that such interpretations of these tragedies are repugnant, then there may be no helping them.

It is time we came to our senses and ceased trying to make this awful outlook on life compatible with our innate desires to minimise suffering and maximise happiness.  It is time we are all honest enough to accept that some belief systems are simply ill-equipped to promote the sort of universal kindness we must surely aspire to.


Twitter Debate: Should The West Intervene?


Today I had the pleasure of meeting Peter McCabe on Twitter.  As it turns out, we were both simultaneously inflamed by a discussion of the Syrian crisis that was taking place on The Andrew Marr Show this morning – but for very different reasons!  We ended up debating the virtues or otherwise of Western intervention in foreign affairs for much of the day.

I am of the view that the West has a responsibility to combat tyranny wherever it feasibly can, even if this involves the use of military action, assuming it appears reasonable to imagine it will improve the situation and set that particular country on the long path towards peace, freedom of speech, the emancipation of women and all the rest of it.  I also think in many cases it is essential for our own long term security.  I hope I am not misrepresenting Peter when I say that he is of the view that military intervention is never justified and can only ever hope to make a situation worse.

This is of course a common disagreement, raging not just between the left and the right of the political spectrum but also within their own camps.  I consider myself very much of the left and share it’s commonly held views on almost everything.

Whilst the restriction of 140 characters hardly inspires flamboyant prose, and does tend to lend itself to defending an attack without leaving room to fully clarify one’s true position, I think we both did quite well to cover many of the key aspects of this philosophical question.  Here is our debate (which I publish with Peter’s permission) – please do go to my contact page and let me know what you think either of us got right or wrong on this most critical of issues…

At this point we both agreed that we wanted to watch the football, and had in any case probably exhausted whatever we could reasonably hope to communicate via this particular media.

Pew Study: The World’s Muslims – Religion, Politics & Society

Pew have just released (April, 2013) the results of a study conducted over four years (2008 – 2012), aimed at detailing the attitudes and beliefs of Muslims across the globe.  It is a thought provoking read – the full report is available here:


Pew are a global leader in research.  Their mission statement reads:

“Pew is a global research organisation, operated as an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental organisation dedicated to serving the public.  Pew applies a rigorous analytical approach to inform the public.”

With respect to this research, here are the top line details:

The study included a sample size of 50,000 people, spread across 39 countries.  The interviews were conducted in the participants’ homes.

This is Pew’s description of the methods they used to ensure random samples:

“Interview teams were assigned to designated random routes at the block or street level and followed predetermined skip patterns when contacting households. Within households, adult respondents were randomly selected by enumerating all adults in the household using a Kish grid or selecting the adult with the most recent birthday.”

Before I get to some of the points I wish to highlight, it should be noted that the figures below represent the percentage of Muslims in any given country, not the percentage of the total populations, although of course in many countries in this study, this is tantamount to the same thing.  It is worth keeping in mind that the combined populations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia alone equal 700 million people, with approximately 95% in total identifying themselves as Muslims.

To begin what I’m afraid is a most depressing tale, I will include Pew’s own explanation as to why not all results are available for every country:

“In some countries, pre-test results indicated the need to suppress certain questions to avoid offending respondents and/or risking the security of the interviewers. In other countries, interviewers considered some questions too sensitive to pre-test. Thus, not all questions were asked in all countries.

For example, interviewers in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Morocco indicated that certain questions about sexual preference and sexual behaviour were too sensitive to be asked. Questions on these topics were either eliminated or modified in these countries.”

Finding out that your interviewers lives may be at risk simply for asking questions must have been an ominous beginning.

The research dealt with attitudes towards issues including suicide bombing, Shari’a, honour killings, wearing of the veil, sexuality, sexual equality, abortion, western culture and many more.  Below I’m only highlighting four charts, but I would implore you all to view the entire study.


For this first chart, the results represent the ‘no’ responses.  So 70% of Muslims in Afghanistan believe men should decide what women wear.  I’ve chosen to include only those countries who came in at under 50% in relation to the question.


In this second chart, the results represent the ‘yes’ answers.  I have included only those over 50%.

No selection was necessary to highlight the problem for this third set of results


All available responses are also included for my fourth example – the results represent those who answered ‘yes’ or ‘often justified’


It’s impossible to exaggerate the alarm bells these results should set off in our minds.  With regards to the question on suicide bombing, the answers for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt alone represent 100 million people.  It also seems fair to conclude that over a billion Muslims think that homosexuality is immoral.  To say that at least 80% of Muslims believe a wife must always obey her husband, appears on this evidence to be a generous, conservative estimate.

As a snapshot of the levels of tolerance and commitment to sexual equality in Muslim majority communities, this study deals a tragically disheartening blow.  The response from liberal Muslims and non-Muslims alike must be an urgent call for reform.  This can only be initiated by a commitment to honest conversation and a preparedness to critique Islamic doctrine (ideas, not people).  An over willingness to obfuscate the truth or cry ‘Islamophobia’ (a disingenuous term that conflates the criticism of a book with racism ) can only hope to hinder progress.

None of this is a denial of the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent, unjustified and must be resisted with every sinew.

Finally, please remember that those who suffer most at the hands of religious fascists are Muslims themselves, especially Muslim women, homosexuals and free thinkers.  I choose to stand with them.  Please join me.