Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 12 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.
It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.
The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Two). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Georges Bataille, and – to a lesser extent – André Breton.
Here is part of the essay:
Of all the cultivators of Evil in twentieth century France, none was so devout, so persistent, or plunged so deep into moral and material muck as Georges Bataille. He hungered and lusted for Evil. He was a coprophiliac, and a necrophiliac – committing, by his own confession or boast, an incestuous sexual act, in a state of “arousal to the limit”, upon his mother’s corpse in the moments after her death.
Bataille wrote that human beings, as a species, should move towards “an ever more shameless awareness of the erotic bond that links them to death, to cadavers, and to horrible physical pain.”
He was fascinated by the filthy, the stinking; by secretions, excretions, exudations; by things discarded, damaged, abandoned. “Bataille,” wrote one of his appreciators, “displayed a quasi-religious veneration toward objects and acts that, according to the mores of bourgeois convention, were targets of opprobrium … During the ‘30s, Bataille’s ‘literary’ activities centered on developing a theory of ‘base matter’, items and effluvia that remained impervious to assimilation by the all-consuming maw of bourgeois cultural respectability: feces, menstrual blood, cadavers, the baboon’s brightly colored anus, and so forth.”
But Bataille’s veneration of the disgusting was not just “quasi-religious” – it was intensely religious. It was Gnostic . This the admiring writer goes on to demonstrate, though without referring to the Gnostic precedent. He writes: “Herein lie the affinities between Bataille’s world view and the discourse of ‘negative theology’ or redemption through sin. … The duality between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ obsessed him, but the habitual signs were reversed. He elevated acts of profanation or desecration to epiphanies: singular mystical moments of Oneness with the All. … For Bataille … the act of willfully violating taboos offered privileged access to the holy.”
Raised in a non-believing family, young Georges converted to Catholicism when he was seventeen, and even spent a year in a seminary studying to be a priest. When he became a priest of blasphemy, or holy sinner, he retained all the self-flagellating passion, all the pious devotion and aura of sanctity of the Catholic ecclesiastic. He remained throughout his adult life shut mentally in the box of religion with its atmosphere of incense and sulfur, its fixation on blood, pain, death and sin.
He contended that what was missing in ordinary modern life, what society lacked for full satisfaction, was the “expression of savage needs” that “subsist only at the limits of horror”. And what were the “limits of horror” in Bataille’s dream? Nothing less than ritual human sacrifice. The combination of agony, death, and religious rite was very much to his taste. He wrote: “Human sacrifice is loftier than any other – not in the sense that it is crueler than any other, but because it is close to the only sacrifice without trickery, which can only be the ecstatic loss of oneself.”
His best of all horrors was “ecstatic loss of the self” by choice: voluntary human sacrifice. He wrote: “The movement that pushes a man to give himself (in other words, to destroy himself) completely, so that a bloody death ensues, can only be compared, in its irresistible and hideous nature, to the blinding flashes of lightning that transform the most withering storm into transports of joy.” Oh, the intense joy of dying in excruciating pain! He and others in his circle formed a secret society which was to launch itself with a beheading. Every member was willing to be the sacrificial victim and have his head sawn off – but none would consent to be the executioner.
The external movement that he would have push him to transports of joy was Communism. …
You can find all of it here.
This picture of Christians slaughtered by the Nigerian Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram was published here in August 2014:
It’s remarkable that not even two years ago senior State Department officials were denying before Congress that there was any religious dimension to Boko Haram’s reign of terror.
Why did Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, adamantly refuse to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization? The explanations given by her State Department were, in our judgment, unpersuasive excuses.
So what was the reason? Could the answer have something to do with the Obama administration’s reluctance to acknowledge that Islam is the enemy of America and civilization?
We quote Patrick Poole who writes at PJ Media:
For much of its five-year long insurgency in Nigeria costing thousands of lives, Boko Haram enjoyed no sanction by the U.S. government. That changed just over a year ago when they were finally designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.
That notwithstanding, Boko Haram continues to expand its terror campaign across the north of the country, now controlling an area the size of Maryland. …
The strategic stakes involved for the U.S. are extraordinary, but you would never be able to gauge that from the absence of any alarm from the Obama administration or from either side of the aisle in Congress. Not only does Nigeria have the continent’s largest population at 173 million and the largest economy in Africa, it also is the 10th largest oil producer in the world.
With a failed Libyan state (thanks in no small part to the Obama administration), Egypt — the world’s largest Arab country — fighting its own counterinsurgency in the Sinai, and Islamist insurgencies inflamed from Nigeria to Kenya, the loss of Nigeria to jihadists could be the tipping point to lose the whole of Africa. …
What Boko Haram does:
Within just the past few months, more than 1,000 churches have been ransacked and burned, and hundreds of thousands of Christians are being driven from their homes. …
Neighboring Cameroon … is struggling to accommodate nearly 50,000 Nigerian refugees and another 250,000 from the Central African Republic with extremely scarce resources. Another 100,000 refugees have fled to Niger, with 30,000 arriving just in the past two months. [But] there’s no guarantee of safety in taking refuge in neighboring countries, as Boko Haram has staged cross-border attacks. Inside Nigeria, it was reported that 400,000 refugees are in the Yolo area, severely taxing the city’s resources.
Overall, 1.5 million Nigerians have been displaced by the violence, with 650,000 in the northeast alone. …
Conditions in the [refugee] camps are universally reported to be unsanitary and breeding grounds for cholera and measles. Because resources are stretched so thin, most refugees are left to fend for themselves for shelter, food, and water. As winter begins to set in, observers on the ground … warn of possible mass starvation in the months ahead. …
When nearly 300 school girls were abducted from Chibok in April, it grabbed the world’s attention. … When Boko Haram stormed the town of Lassa on December 3, they carried away 20 more girls.
But while girls are targeted for abduction, boys are targeted for killing. Just last month, dozens of young men were killed when a suicide bomber dressed as a student bombed a morning assembly. This targeting of school-age boys is a pattern for Boko Haram, such as when they attacked a boarding school in Yobe state back in February where boys were shot, had their throats slit, or were burned alive when their dorms were set on fire. …
Last Wednesday, two young girls in hijabs conducted a dual suicide bombing in a high-traffic textile market in Kano city, the largest city in the north. Another 13-year-old girl was found wearing an explosive vest just hours later.
Boko Haram is using young female suicide bombers at an increasing and disturbing rate, though this tactic is not isolated to their operations in Nigeria and has been endorsed elsewhere by preeminent Islamic scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The use of female suicide bombers requires security forces to target women as well as men, and then the terror group is able to use the “abuse” of women being searched as a propaganda ploy.
What is especially troubling is a VICE News report last week that indicated that Boko Haram has dispatched 50 female suicide bombers in the hopes of inflicting 100,000 casualties. …
Boko Haram jail breaks … freed 2,251 prisoners [who] launched an attack on a French cement plant and recovered a large cache of dynamite that could be used for future jail breaks. With thousands of Boko Haram operatives and supporters presently in jails, along with hardened criminals conditioned to violence, targeting more jails will continue to swell their ranks. …
More people are being killed by Muslims terrorist attacks in Nigeria than in Syria or Afghanistan.
Boko Haram was responsible for 801 deaths last month alone …
Boko Haram’s violence is now on par with ISIS in Iraq, which is why in 2013 Nigeria climbed to fourth in the Global Terrorism Index, up from seventh in 2012 and twelfth in 2011. According to the Council on Foreign Relations tracker, the violence in Nigeria from May 2011 (when President Jonathan came into office) to November 2014 has claimed more than 26,000 lives. …
But you would never know how desperate the situation is in Nigeria in light of the absence of any urgency or alarm from the Obama administration or from Congress.
It’s worth repeating: Congress had to drag a reluctant Clinton State Department kicking and screaming to get Boko Haram designated [a terrorist group] in November 2013.
Members of Congress also discovered earlier this year that the Clinton State Department intentionally lied and downplayed the threat from Boko Haram, and worked to kill bills in both the House and the Senate calling for their designation in 2012.
There are considerable national security and other strategic interests for the United States in Nigeria. … [And] the risks of inattention and inaction in Nigeria threaten to jeopardize the whole of Africa.
This video is dated October, 2012.
The world desperately needs a global campaign by all decent sane adults to eradicate religion from every culture of every nation, tribe and clan on earth.
No need to stop the quaint celebrations of old superstitions and myths. Feast days can still be feasted on. The good stories and the fine poetry of the Jewish bible can still be read. There can still be Christmas trees and ecstatic singing in halls on Sundays. Shia Muslims can still whip their bodies with razorblades if they want to. Environmentalists can still sort their garbage into special containers for recycling if they enjoy it. Leftists can still claim that socialism would have worked if only it had been properly tried. It just needs to be acknowledged that no religion is true.
We know that, saying this, we are crying in the wilderness. But still we say it. Who knows but that one day the cry will be taken up by millions, and the long and terrible age of religion will at long last be over?
Today Taliban terrorists entered a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, wearing army uniforms, and massacred more then 140 people, mostly children between the ages of six and sixteen.
They poured gasoline over one of the teachers and burnt him to death in front of his class.
They cut off the heads of some of the children.
Meanwhile, this is what is happening in Britain, where the reigning monarch is head of the Church of England: –
We quote from an article by Hal G. P. Colebatch at the American Spectator:
Christians are being killed in tens of thousands in the Islamic World and Africa. A Christian woman in Pakistan is sentenced to be hanged for drinking from a Muslim cup. An official who tries to save her is murdered by his own bodyguard, who becomes a popular hero, and Jewish babies are murdered by more Islamic heroes in Jerusalem.
The Church of England, meanwhile, devotes its energies to attacking the British Education Secretary for plans to teach “British values” in schools, calling them potentially “dangerous, divisive and undemocratic”. …
The government guidelines were drawn up after it was found schools had been infiltrated by Muslim extremists. [But] the church said it had major concerns about the use of inspectors to police instances of promoting the values that diverged from the politically correct ideas of equality and diversity. …
In October a small Christian school in Berkshire was failed by inspectors for lacking sufficient political correctness, and failing “to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain”. … The school was punished by officialdom for being too British.
The headmistress was questioned by government officials as to why she had not brought in a Muslim Imam to lead assemblies …
There was, of course, no suggestion of reciprocity — that Christian chaplains lead assemblies in Muslim schools … to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain by teaching tolerance, diversity, and respect for other religions, for instance.
It is not hard to imagine how such a proposal would be received, though the recent revelations of the sexual abuse of 1,400 British children in the small city of Rotherham alone by “Asian” [ie Muslim] grooming gangs suggests there may be a need for wider education in such values. Surveys show that a large part of Britain’s younger Muslim population subscribes to extremist propositions, and has provided a large number of recruits for ISIS.
One wonders what would be the response if the Imam [who should be “brought in to lead assemblies”] advocated death for female adultery, child marriage, and judicial amputation for theft, female genital mutilation, stoning to death for homosexuals and the annihilation of Israel? …
Further, if Imams must lead assemblies, why should cults like the orange people or transcendental meditationists not get a look in, to say nothing of the rather larger religions Buddhism or Hinduism? Furthermore, the whole complex paradox of extending tolerance and pluralism to an absolutely intolerant and uncompromising creed is simply denied or ignored.
Another high-achieving primary school, this time in Lincolnshire, has been attacked and denied its “outstanding” rating by government quango Ofsted because the pupils are “too English and too white”. How can it be expected to have non-white pupils if none live in the area? …
The church’s criticism came from its chief education officer, Nigel Genders, who warned against allowing a government definition of “Britishness”. The Church also published a submission to the government warning against such an allegedly “negative” and “divisive” approach.
A government spokesman defending what should not have needed defense, said: “The fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual respect and tolerance were set out by the Government four years ago and have been commonly used since.”
Four years ago? Funny, we thought they were British values for much longer than that: the rule of law from the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215, and democracy of a kind since the Glorious Revolution of 1689 when William and Mary became the first constitutional monarchs, and individual respect and tolerance since the days of King Arthur and his Round Table.
[The government spokesman] continued, wetly, “We believe that all young people should develop an appreciation of these values as this will help them to contribute to and succeed in modern Britain.” …
A senior Anglican Bishop, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a former Bishop of Oxford, said Prince Charles’s future coronation service should be opened with a reading from the Koran.
The gesture would, he claimed, be a “creative act of accommodation” to make Muslims feel “embraced” by the nation.
Hal Colebatch expresses the irritation and disgust we also feel at the Bishop’s “patronizing arrogance combined with cultural shame and masochism”.
He told peers that the Church of England should take the lead in “exercising its historic position in a hospitable way”.
He claimed further that at a civic service in Bristol Cathedral last year authorities had agreed to a reading of the opening passage of the Koran before the beginning of the Christian ritual. This, he said, “was a brilliant creative act of accommodation that made the Muslim high sheriff feel, as she said …
Pause there a moment to notice that the Muslim high sheriff is a she! Also that the opening passage of the Koran is the Shahada – the declaration of faith, the words that are said by a convert to Islam to turn him/her instantly into a Muslim. Did the congregation repeat the words? If so – gosh, Nigel! – do you realize that the entire congregation in the cathedral that day has now become Muslim?
… warmly embraced but did not alienate the core congregation”.
No - the poor ingenuous dears were totally unaware of what was happening to them.
“That principle of hospitality can and should be reflected in many public ceremonies, including the next coronation service.”
Perhaps, to make the embracing even more complete and ultimate, the two Muslims who showed their appreciation of the principle of British hospitality by beheading one of Prince Charles’s soldiers, Lee Rigby, in a London street, could place the crown on the new King Charles’s head. Or should ISIS’s chief headsman be flown in to do the job?
What of Omar Bakri Muhammad, the extremist preacher who is said to have played role in radicalizing the murderers of Lee Rigby and who has attempted to justify the killing of those fighting against ISIS jihadis, using Facebook to say that it is sometimes necessary to kill women and children sheltering in schools and hospitals? What could be more inclusive and multicultural than a place for him at the Coronation with the ISIS executioners?
Or they could invited the Taliban beheaders of children to enhance the inclusiveness of that historic occasion.
Just a suggestion.
Russell Kirk is a Catholic conservative. We were sent the link to an essay of his titled Ten Conservative Principles by a friendly Catholic commenter on our Facebook page.
As (we reasonably suppose) the essay was drawn to our attention to challenge our view of conservatism as atheists, here is our response.
Kirk declares – rightly – that conservatism is not an ideology. In fact, he says, “conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order”.
So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. …
We would look back further than two centuries – to the great new morning of European culture, the Enlightenment. Otherwise, we’ll accept what he has said so far without argument.
It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects …
[While] it is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions … I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims. …
The following articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
Here we start contending with him. While our view of what moral behavior should be is probably the same in many practical instances as Kirk’s, our understanding of why we should behave in these ways, and how we know we should behave in these ways, is different.
That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
We agree with Kirk that human nature can be said to be constant in that it is not transformable as Marxists think it is and should be; and that what is moral and immoral in principle is not altered by time. But only a believer in a god – a benevolent one who concerns himself with human behavior – can state that there is a “moral order” that was “made for man”, and that “man was made for” a moral order.
He goes on to state this Christian view even more plainly:
This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. … Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order.
We think Plato queered philosophy for all time with his conjecture that there are two worlds: this material one where we live our mortal lives, and another one, abstract, ideal, higher, that we knew before we were born, and will know again after we have died. This one, solid as it seems, Plato taught is not real; it is a world of shadows. The other one, the ideal world, is real. To reiterate: What we experience as real is not real; what Plato imagined is real. How did Plato ever sell that notion to his own elite audience? And how come it has survived through the ages? It is the source of the Christian belief that life in this world (the only world we know for sure exists) is a sojourn in a place of testing, a place of sorrows, and has little value: while heaven is the world that matters, a place of eternal bliss. Plato and Christians believe that people’s “souls” go to the higher world when they die if they’ve been good.
While we concede that there is much immorality in our time – as there always has been and always will be – we do not see that there has ever been a “moral order”. The Christian churches did their utmost to force people – with extreme intolerance and appalling cruelty – to conform to their own moral code of mandated love, forgiveness, gentleness, humility and self-sacrifice. (Self-sacrifice because life in this solid world is not important, and martyrdom will win you a place in that rumored heaven.)
… It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society – whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society – no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.
We have no argument with most of that if by “the inner order of the soul” he means the convictions, values, standards people hold. A society composed of individuals who live by high moral standards will be a good society. (Only we see nothing wrong with “gratifying appetites” as long as it is not at the expense of others. The asceticism of Pauline Christianity enters Kirk’s portrait of the conservative here.)
Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
Adherence to custom and convention are not necessarily a bad thing, but should never be an excuse for refusing to change when change is called for. Continuity of social institutions that have been time-tested and found to be useful to human life and happiness is obviously a good thing. But they should not be resistant to necessary change: a matter of evolution rather than decreed reform. Kirk is right in saying here that “Change … ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.” It is a point he returns to when he comes to his tenth principle.
He suggests that the “body social is a kind of spiritual corporation, comparable to the church; it may even be called a community of souls”. We prefer to speak of common interests, of co-operation for mutual benefit, and of patriotism.
Apart from that, we don’t think his discussion of this “second principle” is worth much examination.
Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription – that is, of things established by immemorial usage … Our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.
To put it another way: relying on the wisdom of the ages, continuing with what has been found to work, is often sensible. But again, tradition should not become bondage. As times change, new difficulties arise that need new solutions.
It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.
We do not think private rationality is petty. We cannot avoid making our own judgments. On whose judgment can we rely if not our own? Even if we decide to rely on the judgment of our ancestors, or our parents, or our teachers, or our political leaders, we ourselves judge it right to do so.
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. … Providence [God] moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. …
We agree with that as a general principle – overlooking Providence and the devil. But life in civilized lands is no longer leisurely. Travel is fast. Communication is fast. Catastrophe can come fast upon us. “Conservative” cannot be allowed to become a synonym for “obsolete”.
Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.
Except for his notion that there will be a Last Judgment, we agree with that too.
Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of Imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.
There too, we largely agree. We would not say, however, that human beings are “imperfect”, since we know of no standard of “perfection” against which they can be measured. Christians of course believe in the Fall, in original sin, the inherited guilt of all mankind because of a first man and woman’s disobedience to a creator god. We find that idea repulsive and ridiculous. We reckon that to live is to suffer; that we are all capable of doing wrong, and there are habitual criminals and sadists among us, which is why we need the rule of law; that each one of us in his pursuit of happiness will find other individuals in his way; that rational self-interest is an enormously useful guide to living successfully with others and treating each other well.
Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. … Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress. … [A] sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired. …
We strongly concur. And at last he mentions freedom – but only in passing, in connection with private property. We would put freedom as the highest value.
He pays more attention to “the community” than the individual.
Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. … It is the performance of our duties in community that teaches us prudence and efficiency and charity.
We have cut out most of this section of Kirk’s essay. Of course we are for co-operation with our neighbors to provide for our shared needs and desires, from street lighting to street parties. And while charity is certainly a better means of redistribution than socialism, neither charity nor socialism is a solution for poverty. Self-reliance in a free economy is the best solution.
Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. … In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone’s hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.
Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite – these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.
There is more to this section, but that is enough to convey his point. We agree with it well enough. Only, we would express our view on liberty and restraint differently. We say that the duty of government is to protect the liberty of the nation as a whole and of everybody in it; and that individual freedom should be restrained by nothing but the freedom of everybody else.
Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces … its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate. … The conservative … favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.
Change is essential to the body social … The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.
We agree with him about the forces of Permanence and Progression, and the need for judicious change.
But then again with his final paragraph we take issue. He harks back to Plato, back to the two worlds, back to the Christian illusion that there is a “moral order in the universe”.
The great line of demarcation in modern politics … is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order …
As we most emphatically do …
… and that material needs are their only needs …
As nobody does!
… and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.
We find no “enduring moral order in the universe”, no “order spiritual”. But we share quite a lot of ideas with Kirk’s conservative – enough to make it obvious that you do not have to be a Christian to be a conservative, even in America.
But we find Kirk’s description incomplete. He has left out an idea that we hold indispensable to Western conservatism. (We stress “Western” conservatism because elsewhere the word has other meanings. In Russia, for example, since 1991, the conservatives are those who want Communism back.)
The missing principle is what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. We call it the free market. (Karl Marx, who hated it, called it Capitalism.)
When Kirk stresses the importance of private property, the missing principle is hovering there behind his sentences; but though he expatiates on the virtue and necessity of owning property, he does not declare an opinion on a right and wrong way of acquiring it.
Ideally, we would like to be able to go about our daily business without thinking about government, without being aware of government; confident that we are protected by the law, and by our nation’s military might; free to do what we please, always remembering that “the freedom of my fist ends where your nose begins”. That for us is conservatism.
And here is our portrait of an atheist conservative: a free, self-reliant, rational person; realistically suspicious of human nature; who knows that to prosper he must have something to sell – a good, a skill, a service, an invention – that others will pay him for; who behaves towards others with rational self-restraint, keeping social interaction pleasant with the customs of civility, but being always ready to defend himself with lethal weapons if he has to. He holds justice in high esteem, knowing it is hard to be just but that the effort must never be abandoned. He honors the legacy of freedom and political order that his forebears have won for him. He knows the value of what he inherits, and will preserve it and bequeath it; but he’ll also adapt to changing circumstances, and is not a slave to convention. He knows and fulfills his responsibilities. He expects his fellow-countrymen to tolerate his differences from them as he tolerates theirs from him. He will not want power over others, and not tolerate them having power over him except within limits he consents to. He seeks success and happiness in this world, not expecting to be rewarded or compensated in some rumored “afterlife” on the other side of physical death or political revolution. He does not abase others by pitying them. He does not kneel to anyone, literally or figuratively. He moves at ease in his own country. He says what he wants to say. He tolerates no encroachment on his property. He keeps what he earns (as much as legally possible from government), and spends it as he chooses.
(Hat-tip for the Russell Kirk essay to our Facebook commenter Robert Wilkins)
A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.
Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.
This is from Galileo Unchained, an interesting and amusing site for atheists. We like this piece so much that we are taking the liberty of quoting it in full:
In the beginning … God walked in the Garden of Eden like an ordinary supernatural Joe. He dropped by Abraham’s for a cup of coffee and a chat. He didn’t know what was up in Sodom and Gomorrah and had to send out angelic scouts for reconnaissance: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me” (Gen. 18:20–21).
But, like Stalin gradually collecting titles, God has now become omniscient and omnipotent. He’s gone from needing six days to shape a world from Play-Doh and sprinkle tiny stars in the dome of heaven to creating 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars.
That’s 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg of universe.
And yet, oddly, his biblical demonstrations of power faded with time. From creating the universe, he’s weakened such that appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich is about as much as he can pull off today. He has the fiery reputation of the Wizard of Oz but is now just the man behind the curtain.
Even God’s punishments became wimpier. A global flood, with millions dead is pretty badass. Personally smiting Sodom and Gomorrah is impressive, though that’s a big step down in magnitude.
And it’s downhill from there — God simply orders the destruction of Canaanite cities, and to punish Israel and Judah, he allows Assyria and then Babylon to invade. As Jesus, he doesn’t kick much more butt than cursing a fig tree, and today he simply stands by to let bad things happen.
Maybe God’s power diminishes as the universe’s dark energy increases?
His only existence was in the superstitions of human beings.
Now even that dim identity is fading away.
We have watched the religious retreating until their backs are to the wall.
Once firm beliefs – in the name of which believers would put disbelievers to torture and death – have quietly been abandoned within the stretch of living memory.
It’s not long since Christians believed in a physical Heaven and Hell. After all, a bodily resurrected Jesus Christ has to have a physical dwelling place. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ was physically hauled up into Heaven – the hauling job by angels is called her Assumption – so there had to be some solid ground to put her on once they got her up there. And if sinners were to suffer in hell, they needed nerves and a brain to suffer pain from being burnt with actual fire.
What theologians speak of that now – or of the Trinity? Only simpletons do. Many among the laity do go on believing in an old bearded man named God, somewhere in the sky, dressed in a kind of nightshirt, with his son, a pretty young man – golden curly hair, blue eyes, also in nightwear – seated beside him on something-or-other, among billowing clouds in a rosy dawn. But that’s all for the commonalty in this twenty-first century since the chosen birthdate of the putative Savior Christ; not the great thinkers.
Science has done what it was bound to do: show up religious accounts of how the universe came into being, and how mankind arose, to be nonsense. Highly imaginative nonsense. In some aspects, highly ingenious nonsense. But nonsense all the same.
Theological defense of the existence of “God” has steadily dwindled. It came all the way down to the dogma of “intelligent design”. And that’s also manifest nonsense. Whom does it deceive (not counting the gulls and simpletons)? Our universe is so obviously not designed. A design is for a purpose, and the propounders of the idea can point to no purpose. And where is the evidence of intelligence, when life forms fail, hideous deformities occur, animal survives by devouring animal …. the list of natural events that are easily explained by evolution but not by the idea of intelligent design could be very long.
Proponents of “intelligent design” at least had the sense to drop the notion that the supernatural Designer was benevolent. It must finally come home to even a dull mind that the Designer, or god, who made (for example) Ebola, is not a source of unqualified benefit to humankind.
The defense is worn down to the wire. The result is utter confusion.
The Catholic Church cannot allow the “intelligent designer” to take God’s place; cannot have God reduced to an architect who could shout “Hey presto!” at his drawing board and have his design spring into existence. Or don a robe decorated with moons and stars and meteors, and a tall pointed hat, and take a wand in his hand, and wave it about in some medium of ultra-space and so fill an infinite void with galaxies – and prepare Jesus Christ to be born from the womb of a virgin on the little planet Earth.
But how then can it cope with the challenge of science?
To see its best effort, witness this crap, this stew of anachronistic notions thrown into the pot with gobs of scientific truth. It shows how Roman Catholicism does not know what to say, and can only dither vague denials and assertions that add up to nothing – like these, gabbled just the other day by Pope Francis, head of that once powerful and terrible, tyrannical and cruel institution, the Catholic Church (a relic of the darkest centuries of human history):
Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.
When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.
The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
In other words … God is more a clockmaker than a conjurer of miracles.
Could anything be less like a clock designed to work in a fixed unchanging manner for a particular purpose than this universe of ever-changing matter?*
Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.
A 2006 article in the Vatican’s main newspaper also distanced the Catholic Church from the idea of “intelligent design,” which it said should not be taught in schools as science. …
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, it said. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap”.
Francis’s more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, espoused this view and found the American debate between creationists and those who backed evolution “absurd’. He asked in 2007 why “those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God”. And then went on:
This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.
Skeptics and atheists, though, may agree with the importance of those questions. But they’re still looking for very different answers.
We sure are, bro!
The intellectually beleaguered theologians of the Catholic Church saw that some interpretation, some clarification of this garbage was needed. So they’ve come up with this, from the Catholic News Service, by John Thavis:
Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article
Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.
The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.
At the same time, scientists should recognize that evolutionary theory does not exclude an overall purpose in creation – a “superior design” that may be realized through secondary causes like natural selection, it said.
What overall purpose?
The article, published in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, was written by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy.
The article noted that the debate over intelligent design – the idea that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than adaptive evolution – has spread from the United States to Europe.
The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a “superior cause” – understood though not necessarily named as God – to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the article said.
If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science.
The article said a Pennsylvania judge had acted properly when he ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in schools. [The judge said:]
Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation.
From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.
God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction.
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes .. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap’ …
The article said that, unfortunately, what has helped fuel the intelligent design debate is a tendency among some Darwinian scientists to view evolution in absolute and ideological terms, as if everything — including first causes — can be attributed to chance.
Science as such, with its methods, can neither demonstrate nor exclude that a superior design has been carried out.
From a religious viewpoint, it said, there is no doubt that the human story “has a sense and a direction that is marked by a superior design”.
What direction? Going where? Why?
So if God may not be boiled down to an “intelligent designer”, then what is he? What is this new orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? He’s still “the creator of all things from nothing”. But he didn’t create things exactly as we know them at this passing moment. He launched evolution. By a special “willful” act he had humankind “emerge”. (Whether from earlier ape-like Hominoidea or not is left an open question.) Man’s unique “spiritual element” could not have developed through evolution. So it must have been put in him by God. Man’s spiritual element, it may be inferred, proves the existence of God.
God is a launcher of evolution, into which process he uniquely intervened to create humankind, to which he gave something new in the universe, a “spiritual element”.
This new Catholic God is not very different from the old Catholic God, but he seems to have shed his son and the Holy Ghost. At least neither the Professor of evolutionary biology nor the befuddled Pope says what’s happened to them.
So even the “intelligent designer” fades out. The old Creator is glimpsed as the launcher of a process through billions of years which finally did not result in the creation of humankind. That was a special new creation. For what purpose is still not said.
He is very frail, that being. Very thin, transparent, ghost-like. Going, going … almost gone.
* We do, however, accept Karl Popper’s splendidly explicated thesis that “all clouds are clocks and all clocks are clouds” in his lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”. In his sense only, having nothing to do with theological “intelligent design”, organic things may be said to be clock-like. You can find the lecture here, or in the collection of Popper’s essays titled Objective Knowledge.
Can you call yourself free if restrictions are put on your freedom?
We of The Atheist Conservative say that a person’s freedom should be limited by nothing but everyone else’s freedom.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seems to have a different idea of what freedom means.
He grants that with the first amendment the Constitution enshrines the principal of freedom of religion, but according to reports (see below) insists that “freedom of religion” does not include a right to “freedom from religion”.
So you are free to worship something or other, but not free to worship nothing.
How many ways can the idea be expressed? You are not free not to worship anything at all. You are not free not to worship. You have to worship something. It can be anything at all, but you must worship it. Hold it sacred. The thing. Or the person. Or any number of things or persons. You are Constitutionally obliged to consider it or him or her or them divine.
You are perfectly free to decide which it or him or her or them you consider divine. But you are not free to consider that nothing is divine.
You may choose (for instance) an abstraction, a dead Jew, a rock, a wooden or plaster or cloth or straw or polystyrene object, a devil, an ancestor. Or any number of the same. Or even a mixed bag of all of them – a Deity Allsorts.
That is right and proper and permitted by the Constitution of the United States. But you cannot deny that something or someone is, or a bunch of persons real or imaginary are, or at least that a state of mind can be achieved in which you understand that absolutely everything is, divine.
Not, anyway, according to the Constitution.
Which logically means that the Constitution forbids you to refrain from worshiping something. If you do, you may be in breach of Constitutional Law.
And it may follow that the thing you must worship must also be honored with the performance of rites. Simply believing it to be divine may not be enough. To be religious you must follow some ritual of worship. Otherwise you could just claim to worship your Aunt Sally and never do a thing about it. Even your Aunt Sally herself, if she’s alive on this earth and not moved on, or over, or through, or up to another (imaginary but Constitutionally-acknowledged) world, might not believe you are really sincere.
And this from a judge we have held in high esteem? Did he really say something that implied all that? What in fact did he actually say?
The Washington Times reports only these words of his:
I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion.
And MSN interprets his words like this:
Defending his strict adherence to the plain text of the Constitution, Scalia knocked secular qualms over the role of religion in the public sphere as “utterly absurd,” arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion – not freedom from it.
He probably meant nothing more, after all, than that religious groups may put up their shrines and symbols in public places, and publicly display mottoes with religious references, and that atheist protestors have no grounds in law for objecting.
Austin Cline, who is an atheist, agrees with this view in an essay titled What is Freedom From Religion? But he discusses much more than that issue.
Freedom of Religion Requires Freedom From Religion
Conservatives insist that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and argue against strict separation of church and state. Too often, though, conservatives seem to have a flawed understanding of what freedom from religion really entails and fail to realize that freedom from religion is crucial to religious liberty in general.
It is evident that a person misunderstands the concept of freedom from religion when they say that promotion of the idea is part of an effort to eliminate religion from the public square, to secularize America, or to deny religious believers a voice in politics. None of this follows from a belief that people have a right to be free from religion.
What Freedom From Religion is Not
Freedom from religion is not a demand that one never encounter religion, religious believers, or religious ideas at all. Freedom from religion is not freedom from seeing churches, encountering people handing out religious tracts on the street corner, seeing preachers on television, or listening to people discuss religion at work. Freedom from religion is not a demand that religious beliefs never be expressed, that religious believers never voice an opinion, or that religiously-inspired values never have any impact on laws, customs, or public policies.
Freedom from religion is thus not a social right to never encounter religion in public spaces. Freedom from religion has two relevant aspects: personal and political. On the personal level, a right to be free from religion means that a person has the freedom not to belong to any religion or religious organization. The right to be religious and to join religious organizations would be meaningless if there did not exist a parallel right not to join any at all. Religious liberty must simultaneously protect both the right to be religious and the right not to be religious at all - it cannot protect a right to be religious, just so long as you pick some religion.
What Freedom From Religion Is
When it comes to politics, the freedom from religion means being “free from” any government imposition of religion. Freedom from religion does not mean being free from seeing churches, but it does mean being free from churches getting governing financing; it doesn’t mean being free from encountering people handing out religious tracts on a street corner, but it does mean being free from government-sponsored religious tracts; it doesn’t mean being free from hearing religious discussions at work, but it does mean being free from religion being a condition of employment, hiring, firing, or one’s status in the political community.
Freedom from religion isn’t a demand that religious beliefs never be expressed, but rather that they not be endorsed by the government; it’s not a demand that religious believers never voice an opinion, but rather that they not have a privileged status in public debates; it’s not a demand that religious values never have any public impact, but rather that no laws be based on religious doctrines without the existence of a secular purpose and basis.
The political and the personal are closely related. A person cannot be “free from” religion in the personal sense of not having to belong to any religion if religion is made a factor in one’s status in the political community. Government agencies should not endorse, promote, or encourage religion in any way. Doing so suggests that those who accept the religious beliefs favored by the government will, by extension, be favored by the government – and thus a person’s political status becomes conditioned on their personal religious commitments.
What Religious Liberty Is
The claim that the Constitution only protects “freedom of religion” and not “freedom from religion” thus misses an important point. Religious liberty, if it is to mean anything, cannot merely mean that the state won’t use the police to stop or harass adherents of certain religious ideas. It must also mean that the state won’t use more subtle powers, like those of the pocketbook and the bully pulpit, to favor some religions over others, to endorse certain religious doctrines rather than others, or to take sides in theological disputes.
It would be wrong for the police to close synagogues; it is also wrong for police officers to tell Jewish drivers during a traffic stop that they should convert to Christianity. It would be wrong for politicians to pass a law banning Hinduism; it is also wrong for them to pass a law proclaiming that monotheism is preferable to polytheism. It would be wrong for a president to say that Catholicism is a cult and not really Christian; it is also wrong for a president to endorse theism and religion generally.
This is why freedom of religion and freedom from religion are two sides of the same coin. Attacks on one ultimately serve to undermine the other. The preservation of religious liberty requires that we ensure that the government not be handed any authority over religious matters.
Cline also sets out this for our enlightenment:
Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
In 1779 as a member of the General Assembly, James Madison supported Thomas Jefferson’s historic Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom; after Jefferson left for diplomatic duties in Europe in 1784, Madison became the bill’s prime sponsor. Enactment failed every year from June 1779 until it was finally adopted in January, 1786.
The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom was an important milestone in establishing religious liberty in America and disestablishing official churches.
The Act has questionable opening lines – but read beyond them.
The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom.
Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free;
that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;
that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time;
that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical;
that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind;
that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry;
that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right;
that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;
that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
“Errors cease to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”
“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship … but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions on matters of religion.”
Could freedom of speech be more plainly or strongly supported than by those statements?
They mean that we must be free not only to hold any opinions whatsoever on religion, but also to express them publicly whenever and however we choose.
The time may not be far off when humankind as a whole will be free from religion; when people will learn about the irrational beliefs their close ancestors held with passionate conviction and be amazed that in an age of science they could have swallowed such nonsense.
(Hat-tip Don L)
We dearly love an article we can enjoy examining critically. Best of all we like an opinion that we partly agree with and partly do not.
This article is by Star Parker, whose columns at Townhall on political issues we generally like. And here again we have no quarrel with her political views. It is her conviction that religion is necessary and good that sparks our opposition.
A new Pew Research Center survey of opinion about the importance of religion in American life shows an interesting picture.
Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically. In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence. In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence.
To us, of course, that’s good news.
However, while increasing numbers of Americans feel religion is losing influence, most feel this is a bad thing.
Fifty-six percent say that the waning influence of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing.
In a survey done by Pew in 2012, 58 percent of Americans said religion is “very important” and only 18 percent said it is not “too important” or “not important at all”.
This raises some interesting questions.
One clear one is why, when Americans think religion is very important, has the percentage of Americans who think religion is losing influence in American life increased almost 40 percent over the last 14 years?
Another one is what are the political implications? Certainly, in the Republican Party, there is an increasingly vocal libertarian leaning faction that sees religion as costly political baggage.
Yes – and that is one of the libertarian views with which we are in strong sympathy.
I attribute why almost three fourths of Americans feel that religion is losing influence in American life, while most feel this is a bad thing, to the law of unintended consequences.
She goes on to describe the disaster of welfare policies. We too think they have been – and continue to be – disastrous.
Many Americans have been unwittingly supporting policies for more than a half-century that they thought were good ideas and consistent with their values which have been neither. Now more Americans are beginning to appreciate the damage that has been done and how far the nation has strayed from their own sense of right and wrong.
Take the example of welfare.
When Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was dramatically expanded in the 1960s, it seemed morally correct for government to get more aggressive in the lives of the poor, particularly poor black women. … Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty.
Right. Those have been and are the causes of “intergenerational poverty”.
But we omitted a sentence. It was this:
Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out poverty?
It may well have been the case that Church-taught values contributed to a belief that children should be born to married parents. Many held that belief also because it is plainly best for children to be raised by a mother and a father. The principle is good whether endorsed or not by a religion.
We contend that it is because the state took over the responsibility of providing for children that men could so easily opt out of the traditional role of bread-winner to their families. It was government incursion into private life that did the damage to believers and non-believers alike. Their religion or lack of it had nothing to do with the “unintended consequences” of welfarism.
Now it’s happening in the whole country. As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced family.
Some say today we have competing views about the role of government.
Conservatives and progressives do have different views about the role of government. That is not a matter of opinion, but a fact.
I would say we have competing views about what life is about.
Yes. We think life can be “about” anything that free individuals want to make it. Star Parker thinks that life was created, and the creator had a purpose, and that purpose, though impossible to define, is somehow helped along by this or that set of religious doctrines. About which set of doctrines in particular, there are “competing views” among the multitude of religions, each of which claims to teach “the truth”.
One view – a decidedly secular, materialistic view – sees no mystery in life.
We have a decidedly secular view – materialistic too in that we see the need to sustain our physical existence as well and as pleasantly as we possibly can. But we do not think there is no mystery. On the contrary, we are aware that humankind knows very little. To learn more, to explore what we do not know about our universe and ourselves is the most exciting adventure of our conscious lives, and discovery is the engine of all progress.
Pretending to know that there is a purpose to life known only to a supernatural being who created it but chooses to keep his purpose secret, is to opt out of the great adventure.
The left wing version, which dominates the Democratic Party, says government can solve all of life’s problems.
Or most of them. And it’s a wrong and dangerous belief.
The hard-core libertarian version, found among some Republicans — says just leave everybody alone — you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you — and everything will work out for the best.
That is an absurd encapsulation of the libertarian view. No intelligent libertarian thinks that if people are left to make their own choices, if they are self-reliant, “everything will work out for the best”. Every individual will make his own successes and failures – and take responsibility for them. He knows that government cannot solve “all life’s problems” – and, what’s more, does a pretty poor job of solving the one problem it exists to solve: how best to protect liberty.
The other view maintains that you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society.
A free society starts off with the virtue of being a free society. Freedom needs to be protected by law, and, if it is, crime will be punished, foreign enemies will be kept away, and the people can prosper. How good they are in their private lives remains forever dependent on individual character and choice.
It was what George Washington meant when he said in his farewell address that “of all the dispensations and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.
We are sorry we can only partially agree with George Washington on this. Morality, yes. Religion? What religion has a history that can withstand moral criticism? Some – Christianity and Islam in particular – have a history of carnage and cruelty. That Christianity preaches against both make its actual record all the worse.
It is my sense that more Americans are beginning to wake up to the unintended, damaging consequences of the often well-intended government policies they have been supporting for many years.
More Americans are beginning to appreciate that we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems and that if we want to recapture our freedom and prosperity, we must recapture our virtue.
Certainly. But we won’t do that by returning into the mental darkness of religion. We can do it by limiting the powers of government and recovering the idea of liberty as the highest value. That is political and moral virtue.
The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had a simple comparison for the similarities between Muslims and Lutherans when she spoke at the opening session of the Islamic Society of North America’s convention Friday.
I realized, looking at some of the lectures that you have scheduled, that if we were just to exchange “church” for “mosque” I would see I was in the same place with typical Lutherans.
… About 300 people attended the opening meeting at the Cobo Center. … More than 10,000 are expected before the 51st annual convention concludes Monday.
… The convention’s keynote speech by former President Jimmy Carter is today [Monday, September 1, 2014].
What Jimmy Carter said to the convention is summed up in a few words at the end of this provoking video clip:
But what is this organization with which Lutheran Bishop Elizabeth Eaton finds she has much in common, and ex-President Jimmy Carter is happy to be associated with?
We quote from Discover the Networks’ entry on ISNA:
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was established in July 1981 by U.S-based members of the Muslim Brotherhood …
Today ISNA is the largest Muslim organization on the continent. Its annual conferences routinely draw 30,000 to 40,000 attendees, and its website receives some 2.6 million hits per month. …
ISNA leaders view Islam as being superior to all other faiths and destined to replace them. …
Based on a mid-1980s investigation, the FBI concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood members who founded U.S.-based groups had risen to “leadership roles within NAIT [North American Islamic Trust] and its related organizations”, including ISNA, “which means they are in a position to direct the activities and support of Muslims in the U.S. for the Islamic Revolution”.
Expanding on this, a late-’80s FBI memo said:
Within the organizational structure of NAIT, there have been numerous groups and individuals identified as being a part of a covert network of revolutionaries who have clearly indicated there (sic) support for the Islamic Revolution as advocated by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his government as well as other fanatical Islamic Shiite fundamentalist leaders in the Middle East. This faction of Muslims have declared war on the United States, Israel and any other country they deem as an enemy of Islam. The common bond between these various organizations is both religious and political with the underlying common goal being to further the holy war (Islamic Jihad).
Declassified FBI memos indicate that ISNA was identified as a Muslim Brotherhood front as early as 1987. “The entire organization is structured, controlled and funded by followers and supporters of the Islamic Revolution as advocated by the founders” of the Brotherhood in Egypt, said one source. … And a 1988 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood document bluntly identified ISNA as part of the “apparatus of the Brotherhood”. …
In the summer of 2007, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was based within ISNA’s headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, was tried on charges that it had engaged in fundraising on behalf of Hamas. During the court proceedings, the U.S. government released a list of approximately 300 of HLF’s “unindicted co-conspirators” and “joint venturers”. Among them were … ISNA [and] the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] …
In a June 2008 brief filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, ISNA and its related financial arm, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), petitioned U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis to order that their names be removed from the list of co-conspirators in the HLF trial. The prosecutors, in turn, cited nearly two dozen exhibits establishing “both ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case”.
In July 2008, ISNA’s lawyers conceded that their organization, through its affiliate NAIT, had given financial support to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook. …
On July 1, 2009, Judge Solis upheld ISNA’s designation as an unindicted co-conspirator, ruling that the government had “produced ample evidence” linking the group to Hamas and thereby justifying the designation. …
The International Assessment and Strategy Center arrives at this conclusion:
From Al-Arian, to KindHearts, to terrorism itself, ISNA has publicly distanced itself from extremists only when there was no other choice. As one of the largest Muslim American organizations in the United States, its failure to strongly oppose terrorism is inexcusable, but not particularly surprising when one considers the organization in greater depth. ISNA’s history and past and present leadership are characterized by a long-standing relationship and connection with extremist groups and fundamentalist ideology. It has taken no decisive actions toward reform, such as purging its leadership of those members who have been most clearly linked with extremist views. Ultimately, the weight of evidence pointing toward ISNA’s extremist nature is too great to be explained away by coincidence, circumstance, or ignorance. It must be held accountable for its harmful influence, and certainly does not merit its status as a “moderate” partner of the State Department on the increasingly crucial area of relations with the Muslim community.
And yet –
In September 2013, President Barack Obama praised ISNA for having long “upheld the proud legacy of American Muslims’ contributions to our national fabric” …
The contributions ISNA made to Hamas, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood – which is dedicated to the destruction of the United States – the president did not mention.