Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Ethics of Murder

We wrote last week about the murder of Hatun Sürücü - killed, apparently by her brother, for being "too German" and rejecting the marriage arranged for her.

Pupils at her school, we wrote, welcomed the murder and saw it as an entirely reasonable punishment. Now the Berlin-based CDU party wants to force these pupils to go on courses of ethics and philosophy.

Well, at least they're trying to engage with the problem. But they might have done better to compel the pupils to contemplate the life of the man who gave their school its name - Thomas More.

More knew all about ethics and faithfulness and, for that matter, being murdered for mixing them up the wrong way. His master, Henry VIII, was titled the "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope. But that didn't inhibit the monarch from cutting off More's head for failing to smooth the way for Henry´s first divorce. Moral qualms led More to the scaffold.

The lessons? Take your pick: - Sometimes it's better not to condemn unethical faithlessness. Sometimes ethics can lead you into trouble. Sometimes it´s better to go with the flow. Or - a martyr´s death awaits the morally steadfast.

We very much doubt the CDU's ethics and philosophy programme will inculcate such values, helpful as they might be for the murderous Muslim pupils. But it is criminally naive to pretend that a horror of murder can best be taught in a philosophy course! The uses to which Nietzsche has been put are surely warning enough. The pupils are much likelier to learn that there are no easy answers, in the realm of abstract contemplation as on earth, and this, as a result, will confirm them in their approval of the primitive and barbaric murder.

The well-meant ethics and philosophy courses, inasmuch as they teach the children anything practical, will furnish them with the semantic ingenuity to justify any amount of unspeakable, unChristian cruelties.

St Thomas More will be looking down on all of this with a quizzical, half-amused eye.

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