Religion = Honesty?Religion = Honesty?
By now, even people – like me – with very little interest in sport will have heard about the controversy surrounding the cricket test match between England and Pakistan. Long story short: Pakistan were accused of ‘ball tampering’ and the dispute that followed led to a stand-off between the team and the umpires and Pakistan ultimately forfeited the match.
I’m sure there’s more to it in the detail, but to use an obvious pun, I don’t really give a toss. Let’s face it, in sport, these controversies arise all the time. Hardly a month goes by without some news of an athlete stripped of their medal because they’d been taking some hay fever medication with a banned ingredient, or some Grand Prix driver forced to start from the back for some reason unfathomable to the layperson. And then of course there’s football…
At the end of the day, it all seems rather over-inflated… grown men either whacking balls (or each other) away or chasing after them for whopping great salaries.
But two responses to the England-Pakistan match in the media caught my eye. Both leave unpleasant tastes in the Humanist mouth.
Firstly, The Guardian made it a race/religion issue. In it’s leader on Monday, the paper said:
“The dispute was not between England and Pakistan, which may allow the forthcoming one day series to continue. But it can only fuel the alienation felt by some British Muslims at a time of great strain.”
Shahriyar Khan or the Pakistand Cricket Board and Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach seemed keen to run with this theory and appeared to accuse Darrel Hare, the umpire, of fomenting WW III.
In a very sensible editorial, The Times took them to task:
Shahriyar Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, appears most confused. “What a wonderful sight it is to see cricket between Pakistan, a Muslim country, and England, where the majority are Christian. Why destroy this over a technicality?” he asked. With respect, Shahriyar does not know his technicalities from his elbow. The rules of cricket are not a technicality; Muslims and Christians, in this context, are. The most stupid, the most catastrophically misguided aspect of this debate is the one that insists on bringing the world of religious politics into a row about cheating in a cricket match.
Hair, we are told, has added to the volatile relationship between East and West. So, presumably, the next time London or Bali goes up, we can attach his decision to the list of liberal hand-wringing explanations for the atrocity. “Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon — and that Aussie bloke who called Pakistan for ball-tampering at the Oval. Well, what did we expect?” It is shocking the way a decision made purely in a sporting arena has been so self-servingly transferred to the political.
“All the Muslim players are sensitive individuals who are very opposed to terrorist activities,” Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, said. “To accuse Pakistan of cheating brings these tensions to the fore. I wonder whether Darrell realises the consequences of his actions.”
What consequences? What tensions? Are we meant to applaud Woolmer’s Pakistan team for their sensitivity in not endorsing mass murder? Are we meant to worry that, having been accused of ball-tampering, they now will?
Pure insanity. Or political opportunism. Either of which, rational people ought to knock for a six.
Secondly – and this is what really got my goat – former cricketer Geoffrey Boycott writes in The Telegraph:
“Ball-tampering is a sensitive issue for the Pakistanis and that is why they staged their protest yesterday. They wanted to make a statement because the reputation of the team and the integrity of Pakistan cricket had been called into question. You have to remember that the Pakistan players are deeply religious and pray five times a day, so an allegation of cheating hurts them.”
What on earth makes Boycott think that the more religious people are, the more they will be hurt by accusations of cheating or dishonesty? Does he really imagine that non-religious people are any less concerned about being thought of as fair and honest?
Why do we have this knee-jerk assumption in society that religious people are automatically more virtuous than the rest of us? (Let’s face it, the evidence is often quite the reverse.)
Is it not perhaps the very fact that this common assumption exists that religious groups are allowed to get away with so much? If people aren’t apologising for them, they’re cultivating an ever growing blind-spot. Even people who are not religious have some ‘reverence’ for the vicar. Instead of mocking their insane moonbattery, many of tend to think that the pious are more “spiritual” than their neighbours, more “virtuous”…
And of course, it is this tosh that allows religious commentators to tell politicians with a straight face that - even if people don’t believe in a god - religion instills essential ethical and moral concepts in the developing mind. Without our CofE grounding, even Atheists would be morally adrift… or so they say.
No, the fact that the Pakistan team is very religious should in no way be relevant to assessing their propensity to cheat (or not to cheat) or the level of offence they take at the accusation.
The fact is, no one likes being called a cheat.