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Moral Maze

Podcast Moral Maze
Podcast Moral Maze

Moral Maze


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  • Is pacifism admirable, immoral, or just impractical?
    Is pacifism virtuous, admirable, impractical, immoral or stupid? War and militarism are in the news every day. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £11bn in defence spending over the next five years, to counter threats from hostile states. It comes alongside news of a new defence pact with the US and Australia in response to Chinese military power. The war in Ukraine has seen advanced weapons rushed in by Western countries to support the fight against Russia. But alongside the talk of battles and territory won and lost, there is also talk of the horrors of war. There are renewed demands for peace, and some say it should be peace at any price. In Germany, protest marchers assert that sending more weapons to Ukraine pours fuel on the fire, causing more death, misery and destruction. They claim to detect a change of mood and point out that the latest film adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a 1929 novel by the German pacifist, Erich Maria Remarque, has just picked up four Oscars to add to its 14 Baftas. Western leaders insist that Russia most lose the war, and be seen to lose, but is it really better to create more bloodshed, sacrifice more lives, in order to achieve something closer to justice? Forcing Ukraine to negotiate now and inevitably cede territory could bring the violence to an end and start the process of rebuilding. Or is that “giving in” and encouraging further aggression by Russia and others? Is pacifism virtuous and admirable? Immoral and stupid? Or is it, perhaps just impractical? What is the moral case for choosing peace over justice? Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: William Crawley Editor: Gill Farrington
  • Breach of Trust
    Breach of Trust When the journalist Isabel Oakeshott broke her promise and passed Matt Hancock's personal WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph, was she morally justified in doing so? She didn't just go back on her word to the former health secretary, but broke a legally-binding Non Disclosure Agreement. She claims that "no journalist worth their salt" would have acted otherwise and insists her obligations to Mr Hancock were outweighed by the public interest served by releasing the messages. But others see it differently. It was, they claim, a decision aimed at promoting her own view that government lockdown measures during the pandemic were excessive. Journalists often cite the "public interest" when it can seem that their actions are more about advancing a particular cause, or about selling their story because the "public are interested". Aside from journalism, when is a breach of trust justified in any human relationship? For many professionals, there's an understanding that confidentiality does sometimes have to be broken. The police, social workers, doctors, teachers and even the clergy grapple with often difficult judgements about the morality of betraying trust. At times, promises are broken with the justification that it's for "the greater good". But is there really no such a thing as a truly solemn "never to be broken" promise? Or are all our confidences, our shared stories and discreet conversations rather loose arrangements, conditional on other loyalties and pressures? In our personal relationships, should we be less ready to make promises we can't keep, and also avoid asking others to do the same? What are the moral limits to our obligation to keep a secret, and how can we know when it's right to breach someone's trust? Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: William Crawley Editor: Helen Grady
  • Leaders with faith
    Leaders with Faith The first hustings in the election of the new leader of the Scottish National Party were held this week. The winner will become Scotland’s first minister. But so far the coverage of the campaign has been more about religion than policy. One of the three candidates, Kate Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and has faced criticism from within her party for saying that she would have voted against gay marriage, had she been an MSP in 2014. She also said that according to her religious beliefs, having a child outside of marriage was wrong. Several of her backers have withdrawn their support and others have questioned whether such views make her an appropriate choice to lead the country. But why should traditional religious beliefs like this be a barrier to achieving high office? Forbes insists that it’s possible to be a person of faith, while still supporting the rights of others. Although she would have opposed the legalisation of same sex marriage, she says that as a “servant of democracy” she would now defend the legal right to gay marriage “to the hilt”. Religious belief used to be seen by most people as a private matter. It was also generally regarded as a positive attribute in a senior politician, evidence perhaps of a strong moral compass. So what has changed in our attitudes to faith and should it affect how we choose our leaders? Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk
  • How should Britain make amends for its colonial past?
    How should Britain make amends for its colonial past? Should museums in the UK return historic artefacts to their countries of origin? Many items displayed in museums were looted in colonial times and now there are campaigns for them to be returned. There's a related question of whether Britain should pay reparations for its role in the slave trade. Attitudes to both of these questions have shifted in recent years. Some of the Benin Bronzes, looted by the British Army in 1897 have been returned to Nigeria. The British Museum is now in talks over how the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon Temple in Greece in the 19th century, might be displayed in Athens. Recently the Church of England set up a fund, worth £100m, to address the past wrongs of its involvement with slavery. The church has expressed shame that it invested in, and made money from the slave trade. The fund will be used to benefit communities affected by historic slavery. Several universities have taken similar steps. But is this an appropriate way to acknowledge the suffering caused during Britain's colonial past? Some believe that while it's appropriate to openly admit Britain's role in slavery, it’s impossible to repair the damage done and it's wrong to expect British people today to pay reparation to the descendants of enslaved people. Others say that the economic cost of slavery is still being felt by those descendants. It's a debt that needs to be paid. It’s also suggested that paying reparation is a valuable step in tackling the racism that still exists today. What moral obligations of restitution and reparation do we inherit from our ancestors? What rights of redress can we claim for what was done to our forebears? How should Britain make amends for its colonial past? Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk
  • Why does God allow natural disasters to happen?
    Why does God allow natural disasters to happen? The devastation following the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has been appalling. Already more than 41,000 people have died. Extraordinary stories have emerged as people have been rescued after spending days trapped under rubble. Those small moments of respite have been greeted with heartfelt prayers of thanks for each life saved. The blame for the earthquake and the shocking loss of life has been placed not on God’s shoulders, but on the planning officials and builders who allowed fragile homes to be built. But if God really is almighty and good, why does he allow natural disasters like this to happen? It’s a recurring moral conundrum, but if God is given credit for the splendour and beauty of nature, why then isn’t he also held responsible for the destruction and suffering caused by forces completely beyond the control of people? Some see this as a compelling argument against the existence of a good and almighty God. Others suggest that we can never fully understand divinity and it makes no sense to apply such crude moral questions to God. What is certain is that religion provides many believers with great consolation in times like this, when sorrow and suffering are all around. Also, many of those providing support in the rescue effort do so inspired by their faith. Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk

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