“Religions are pernicious destructive forces,” Steven Pinker says, and explains why.
The much respected magazine, National Geographic, carries in its latest issue an article on atheism. It is titled: The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion.
The author is Gabe Bullard. He writes:
There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.
But nones [those who are affiliated with none of the religions] aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world — sub-Saharan Africa in particular — religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)
Yes. And devout Muslims are pouring into Europe by the million: an extraordinary event that will entirely change the character of Europe, but which Gabe Bullard does not seem to have noticed.
And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills” — which essentially decriminalize discrimination — are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.
Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference. Organized around skepticism toward organizations and united by a common belief that they do not believe, nones as a group are just as internally complex as many religions. And as with religions, these internal contradictions could keep new followers away.
These are not “divisions”. There never was a solid phalanx of non-believers that could split apart. These are different opinions. That is all.
“Keep followers away”? “Followers” who want a cut-and-dried non-believing ideology that they can accept holus-bolus as the religious accept the doctrines of their faiths? Absurd!
If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. Fifty years ago, Time [magazine] asked in a famous headline, “Is God Dead?” The magazine wondered whether religion was relevant to modern life in the post-atomic age when communism was spreading and science was explaining more about our natural world than ever before.
We’re still asking the same question. But the response isn’t limited to yes or no. A chunk of the population born after the article was printed may respond to the provocative question with, “God who?” In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average. And 11 percent of Americans born after 1970 were raised in secular homes.
Scientific advancement isn’t just making people question God, it’s also connecting those who question. It’s easy to find atheist and agnostic discussion groups online, even if you come from a religious family or community. And anyone who wants the companionship that might otherwise come from church can attend a secular Sunday Assembly or one of a plethora of Meetups for humanists, atheists, agnostics, or skeptics.
The groups behind the web forums and meetings do more than give skeptics witty rejoinders for religious relatives who pressure them to go to church — they let budding agnostics know they aren’t alone.
But it’s not easy to unite people around not believing in something.
It’s also totally unnecessary.
“Organizing atheists is like herding cats,” says Stephanie Guttormson, the operations director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is merging with the Center for Inquiry. “But lots of cats have found their way into the ‘meowry’.”
Guttormson says the goal of her group is to organize itself out of existence. They want to normalize atheism to a point where it’s so common that atheists no longer need a group to tell them it’s okay not to believe, or to defend their morals in the face of religious lawmakers.
But it’s not there yet.
Why does anyone need a group to tell them that it’s okay not to believe in something they don’t believe in? But we accept that there are such people, and so agree that the group should “organize itself out of existence”.
The article then goes on to discuss who the atheists are in terms of race (fewer blacks than whites, it says), the sexes (fewer women than men, and the predominance of white men a manifestation of “privilege”).
Of course no one can possibly count the atheists of the world. We get Third World commenters on our Facebook page who tell us that they have to keep their atheism secret for fear of persecution and even death.
Gabe Bullard calls the distribution he alleges a “problem” of “diversity”. His article is right up to date with its fashionable lingo.
To do him justice, he does quote one atheist – Mandisa Thomas, a black woman – saying that “the demographics of nones don’t accurately reflect the number and diversity of nonbelievers; it just shows who is comfortable enough to say they don’t believe out loud.” And: “There are many more people of color, there are many more women who identify as atheist.” And: “There are many people who attend church who are still atheists.”
The cheeriest part of his article is this:
Compared to past campaign seasons, religion is taking a backseat in this year’s U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump is not outwardly religious (and his attraction of evangelical voters has raised questions about the longevity and the motives of the religious right).
But then he goes on:
Hillary Clinton has said “advertising about faith doesn’t come naturally to me”. And Bernie Sanders is “not actively involved” in a religion. … Aside from Ted Cruz, the leading candidates just aren’t up for talking about religion.
Apparently he does not recognize that Leftism is a religion. It is THE secular religion. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both devotees of it. Bernie Sanders could be fairly called a high priest of it. They are as piously Leftist as Ted Cruz is Dominionist.
Bullard ends on a jocular note:
For all the work secular groups do to promote acceptance of nonbelievers, perhaps nothing will be as effective as apathy plus time. As the secular millennials grow up and have children of their own, the only Sunday morning tradition they may pass down is one everyone in the world can agree on: brunch.
We hope so.
What have atheists said about the article?
Atheist Jerry Coyne writes at his website:
National Geographic publishes article on atheism and secularism, but descends into Authoritarian Leftism and slanders against Harris and Dawkins
Well, it’s time to cancel your subscription to National Geographic — if you still have one. For a while it’s been turning into a religiously-infused tabloid rather than the educational nature/anthropology magazine that I loved of yore. In several posts I’ve documented its increasing tendency to coddle religion … and it’s only going to get worse since the magazine was taken over by Rupert Murdoch.
Now the magazine has hit its lowest point yet, polevaulting the shark in a new piece by journalist Gabe Bullard, The World’s Newest Religion: No Religion. While starting off as a decent bit of reportage about the rise of nonbelief and secularism, it suddenly descends into slander and clickbait, highlighting the “privilege” of nonbelief, the dominance of atheism by white males, and accusations that the “leaders” of atheism (whom they name) are misogynists.
And there is a comment made at Patheos which we like, although we very seldom agree with its Leftist atheists on anything except atheism itself.
The comment is made by Terry Firma. (He goes on, however, to say what he likes about the National Geographic article.)
I wonder if any serious major publication would refer to people who don’t play sports as athletes, but that is essentially what NatGeo is doing here. Atheism is no more a religion than off is a TV channel, than being bald is a hairstyle, and than not-collecting-stamps is a hobby. People who assert that atheism is a religion either haven’t given it much thought or are trying to get a rise out of atheists.
Another Sunday, another cheerful laugh at religion.
From Evil Bible:
Top Ten Signs You’re a Fundamentalist Christian
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and “dehumanized” when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the “atrocities” attributed to Allah, but you don’t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in “Exodus” and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in “Joshua” including women and children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs — though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most “tolerant” and “loving”.
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in “tongues” may be all the evidence you need to “prove” Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a “high success rate” when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.
Speaking of heaven and hell, how do Christians explain that souls in heaven are blissfully happy while other souls are in endless unrelenting torment in hell?
If they claim that the Saved feel Christian pity and compassion for the Damned, that would qualify the bliss, surely – bringing it well short of perfection.
So are the Saved Souls in an eternal state of Schadenfreude as they watch or imagine the Damned writhing in perpetual agony?
(Hat-tip for the link to Stephen Sterne)
Here is a Christian conservative‘s statement about atheists:
It’s often remarked that atheism is simply religion by another name (as the officially atheist, now deceased Soviet Union demonstrated). Else why would atheists be so adamant and aggressive about their beliefs? Not only do they choose not to believe in God, or even a god, but they demand that their fellow citizens submit to their ideology and purge all evidence of the (Christian) religion from the public square.
The passage comes from The Devil’s Pleasure Palace by Michael Walsh.*
It may be “often remarked that atheism is simply religion by another name”, but the frequency with which the remark is passed doesn’t make it either true or intelligent. NOT believing is not believing-in-another-way, any more than NOT smoking is smoking-in-another-way.
We would agree that Communism is a kind of religion. We would also agree that the dogma of Communism often excludes belief in a divine being.(Not always.”Liberation theology” is Communism taught by Christian priests who have married St. Paul to Karl Marx.) But it does NOT follow that the non-belief is identical with the Communist faith, or is the essence of it, the vital active ingredient that generated all that was wrong with the Soviet Union.
Though all atheists might be “adamant” about their non-belief (just as all believers are adamant about their belief), very few are aggressive about it. Of the millions of non-believers in the free world, how many “demand that their fellow citizens submit to their ideology”? I’ve never met or heard of one who does. And “submit” to what “ideology”? There are some in America who demand that public displays of Christianity be removed from the public square. And a very silly demand it is too. A small number of silly atheists in America insist that if crosses or Christmas “nativity” scenes are placed on public sites, they should have the right to put some atheist symbol or tableau beside them. A symbol or tableau is then hastily invented, having meaning only for the inventors, none whatever to other atheists.
Because: Atheism is NOT a religion, or an ideology, or a system, or a tradition. It has no symbols or rituals. It has no orthodoxy or heterodoxy.
Atheism is a decision, made by individuals. A private conclusion they draw from thought. It’s a denial of dogmatic claims that they find have never been proved, seem to them unprovable, absurd on their face, and ever more absurd the more they test them against observation, experience, learning, coherence, intuition, taste, and common sense.
*Encounter Books, New York, 2015. Our quotation comes from page 136.
… not the solution.
As if the world were not being rocked by a war of religion, Dennis Prager writes at Townhall that there is not enough religion in America:
The most profound thinkers in America are conservative. There are, of course, bright liberal and leftist thinkers, but I can’t think of one who approaches the depth and wisdom of the best conservative writers and thinkers. What liberal historian, for example, approaches the understanding of life and history that author Paul Johnson has exhibited in his many works of history? Who on the left matches psychiatrist/writer Theodore Dalrymple’s insight into the underclass? What left-wing columnists understand human nature, the state of mankind, or contemporary America as do George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell, or many of the leading columnists at publications such as National Review, City Journal, Commentary Magazine or the Wall Street Journal?
I write this to make it clear that my admiration for the leading conservative writers, columnists and thinkers is deep and abiding.
Ours too. We have no quarrel with anything he has said so far (though we admire the Catholic writer, Paul Johnson, with a little less enthusiasm than he does).
There is, however, a “but.”
The vast majority of leading conservative writers, just like their liberal colleagues, have a secular outlook on life. With few exceptions, the conservative political and intellectual worlds are oblivious to the consequences of secularism. They are unaware of the disaster that godlessness in the West has led to.
Maybe because it is not “godlessness” that has led us to disaster, but godfulness – most obviously the godfulness of Islam.
Most leading Republicans and most of the wealthy donors to the Republican Party — in addition to virtually all libertarian politicians and think tank scholars — are either uninterested in the death of Judeo-Christian religions and values in America and the West, or they’re OK with it. They think that America can survive the death of God and religion, that fiscal and other forms of conservatism without social conservatism can preserve America.
First, to use the hyphenated term “Judeo-Christian” is to link two things together that are opposed to each other; an ideology of justice and an ideology of anti-justice.
Judaism’s highest value is justice, usually called “righteousness” in its bible. Unfortunately, many an instance of what the pious men of old considered to be “righteous” or “just”, is not easy to reconcile with the idea of justice that we, the heirs of the Enlightenment, understand it to be. But as an ideal it could not be bettered, or even matched – except by the ideal of freedom.
Christianity was a revolt against Judaism. It substituted love for justice as the highest ideal. It commanded “Resist not evil”. It preached forgiveness, self-sacrifice, self-abasement. It condemned “the sin” but “not the sinner” – absolving him of responsibility and rewarding him with love and forgiveness. Anti-justice. Anti-Judaism.
Our ideals – freedom, reason, justice – were bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment; that brilliant dawn that dispelled the terrifying intolerant rule of religion. Why do Christians pretend that Christianity does not have a cruel and bloody past?
Dennis Prager seems to think of those old religions as really nice, sensible, polite, well-dressed, well-spoken, well-washed, well-exercised, clean-cut, all-American, common-sensical codes of morals. They are not, and they never were.
It shows how effective the secular indoctrination in our schools and media has been, that even the majority of conservative thinkers are not only secular themselves, but seem to have no idea how much of the American civilization rests on religious foundations.
We wish we could believe him that “the majority of conservative thinkers are secular”. Maybe the majority of the best of them are, but there are dozens of opinion writers in the conservative ranks who write continually about God. This Christian Conservative website, Townhall, provides endless examples. (We read it every day and find sound conservative views in it too.)
They don’t seem to understand that the only solution to many – perhaps most – of the social problems ailing America and the West is some expression of Judeo-Christian faith.
Which expression would that be?
He finds one.
Do the inner-city kids who study the Bible and go to church each week lead wasted lives, join gangs, bear children out of wedlock or commit murder? …
Probably not most of them. Which is good, of course. But the implication that there is no way other than by religious instruction they they could be raised to live their lives well, is not defensible.
And why do secular conservatives think so many affluent and well-educated Americans have adopted left-wing dogmas, such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism as their religions? Because people want to – have to – believe in something. And if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism. Why are evangelical Protestants, theologically conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews and practicing Mormons almost all conservative? Because they already have a religion and therefore don’t need the alternate gods of leftist faiths, and also because Judeo-Christian religions have different values than leftist religions.
We agree that “feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism” are religions. But not that “if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism”.
It doesn’t have to be. We are living proof that one can be an atheist and believe in all the values of conservatism: individual freedom, the rule of law, small government, a free market economy, strong defense, and the political wisdom of the Constitution. But freedom to us means freedom from the tyranny of any orthodoxy – which excludes every church. And we add reason to our high values – and that excludes every religion.
When these conservatives – people who revere the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence – read the founders’ assertion that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”, do they believe what the founders wrote? Or were they just echoing the irrational religious beliefs of their time, as people on the left believe?
Although on this point we might be in agreement with something the left believes, yes, we do think they were “just echoing the irrational religious beliefs of their time”. Well, not exactly echoing them – more modifying them. They were (at least some of them) skeptical men, men of the Enlightenment, who thought that though a god must have created the universe, he thereafter declined to have anything more to do with it (which is what “deism” means – and they described themselves as “deists”).
When these conservatives see the components of what I call the American Trinity – the words “liberty,” “In God We Trust” and “e pluribus unum” inscribed on every American coin – do they regard “In God We Trust” as no longer necessary?
President John Adams warned: “Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion … our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Do secular conservatives think he was right or wrong?
Partly right, partly wrong. Moral, yes. Religious, not necessarily at all.
The problem is not that most leading conservative thinkers are secular; it is that they don’t seem to understand that a godless and Judeo-Christian-free America means the end of America, just as a godless and Judeo-Christian-free Europe has meant the end of Europe.
If Europe had not been marinaded in the self-destructive morality of Christianity for two millennia, would it now be letting in hordes of its worst enemies in the name of “compassion”? Would it be accepting the prospect of its subjugation by Islam without resistance? Would it let its young girls be turned into sex slaves by Muslim criminals without objecting for fear of hurting the Muslim criminals’ feelings? Would it be abandoning freedom of speech (an Enlightenment value) out of deference to a dogmatic, intolerant, savage religion?
No. Europe is dying of Religion, not of Reason.
And yes, America could too.
For a little Sunday fun, here’s a video demonstrating that Jesus Christ was one of the ancient sun-gods.
Though it was published in 2008, we found it only recently.
We cannot vouch for every “fact” asserted in it being true, but we enjoyed watching it.
(For our own view of “Jesus Christ” see the essay by Jillian Becker, The Birth and Early History of Christianity, listed under Pages in our margin.)
In an article on the suicide of Europe, containing much we agree with, the excellent and erudite Victor Davis Hanson writes at the National Review:
Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.
And it is that point in particular that we want to discuss.
But first – the important points he makes:
Because of what Europe has become, it now has few viable choices in dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. Its dilemma is a warning to Americans that we should turn away from a similar path of national suicide.
After suffering serial terrorist attacks from foreign nationals and immigrants, a normal nation-state would be expected to make extraordinary efforts to close its borders and redefine its foreign policy in order to protect its national interests.
But a France or a Belgium is not quite a sovereign nation any more, and thus does not have complete control over its national destiny or foreign relations. As part of the European Union, France and Belgium have, for all practical purposes, placed their own security in the hands of an obdurate Angela Merkel’s Germany, which is hellbent on allowing without audit millions of disenchanted young Middle Eastern males into its territory, with subsequent rights of passage into any other member of the European Union that they wish. The 21st-century “German problem” is apparently not that of an economic powerhouse and military brute warring on its neighbors, but that of an economic powerhouse that uses its wealth and arrogant sense of social superiority to bully its neighbors into accepting its bankrupt immigration policies and green ideology.
The immigration policies of France and Belgium are unfortunately also de facto those of Greece. And a petulant and poor Greece, licking its wounds over its European Union brawl with northern-European banks, either cannot or will not control entrance into its territory — Europe’s window on the Middle East. No European country can take the security measures necessary for its own national needs, without either violating or ignoring EU mandates. That the latest terrorist murders struck near the very heart of the EU in Brussels is emblematic of the Union’s dilemma.
As far as America is concerned, a fossilized EU should remind us of our original and vanishing system of federalism, in which states were once given some constitutional room to craft laws and protocols to reflect regional needs — and to ensure regional and democratic input with checks and balances on statism through their representatives in Congress. Yet the ever-growing federal government — with its increasingly anti-democratic, politically correct, and mostly unaccountable bureaucracies — threatens to do to Americans exactly what the EU has done to Europeans. We already see how the capricious erosion of federal immigration law has brought chaos to the borderlands of the American Southwest. It is a scary thing for a federal power arbitrarily to render its own inviolable laws null and void — and then watch the concrete consequences of such lawlessness fall on others, who have been deprived of recourse to constitutional protections of their own existential interests.
Europe’s immigration policy is a disaster … Europeans — for a variety of 20th-century historical and cultural reasons — often are either ignorant of who they are or terrified about expressing their identities in any concrete and positive fashion. The result is that Europe cannot impose on a would-be newcomer any notion that consensual government is superior to the anarchy and theocracy of the Middle East, that having individual rights trumps being subjects of a dictator, that personal freedom is a better choice than statist tyranny, that protection of private property is a key to economic growth whereas law by fiat is not, and that independent judiciaries do not run like Sharia courts. It most certainly cannot ask of immigrants upon arrival that they either follow the laws of a society that originally made Europe attractive to them, or return home to live under a system that they apparently rejected.
All good so far. Then:
I omit for obvious reasons that few present-day Europeans believe that Christianity is much different from Islam, and apparently thus assume that terrorists might just as well be Christians.
But he hasn’t omitted it, has he? A bitter regret has stepped quietly into the article and lingers by the door – a regret that Europe has (broadly speaking) abandoned its religion.
He goes on, cogently again:
… In Europe, immigrants are political tools of the Left. The rapid influx of vast numbers of unassimilated, uneducated, poor, and often illegal newcomers may violate every rule of successful immigration policy. Yet the onrush does serve the purposes of the statist, who demagogues for an instantaneous equality of result. Bloc voters, constituents of bigger government, needy recipients of state largesse, and perennial whiners about inequality are all fodder for European multicultural leftists, who always seek arguments for more of themselves. …
Which is the case in America too. As he says:
The same phenomenon is with us in the United States … [where] importing the poor and the uneducated expands the Democratic constituency. …
The Western therapeutic mindset, which maintains that impoverished immigrants should instantly have what their hosts have always had, trumps the tragic view: that it is risky, dangerous, and sometimes unwise to leave one’s home for a completely alien world, in which sacrifice and self-reliance alone can make the gamble worthwhile — usually for a second generation not yet born.
Demography is Europe’s bane. One engine of unchecked immigration has been the need for more bodies to do the sorts of tasks that Europeans feel are no longer becoming of Europeans. …
Again that is also true of America.
But more curious is the reason why Europe is shrinking — the classic and primary symptom of a civilization in rapid decline.
Europeans are not having children for lots of reasons. A static and fossilized economy without much growth gives little hope to a 20-something European that he or she can get a good job, buy a home, have three children, and provide for those offspring lives with unlimited choices. Instead, the young European bides his time, satisfying his appetites, as a perpetual adolescent who lives in his parents’ flat, seeks to milk the system, and waits for someone to die at the tribal government bureau. After a lost decade, one hopes to hook up with some like soul in her or his late thirties.
The last eight years in the U.S. have seen an acceleration of the Europeanization of America’s youth.
Socialism … insidiously takes responsibility away from the individual and transfers it to the anonymous, but well-funded, state. … Why seek children and the honor of raising and protecting them when the state can provide all without the bother and direct expense? Why have a family or invest for the future, when the state promises a pleasant and politically correct old-age home?
Without a Second Amendment or much of a defense budget, Europeans not only divert capital to enervating social programs, but also have sacrificed any confidence in muscular self-protection, individual or collective.
Even postmodern nations remain collections of individuals. A state that will not or cannot protect its own interests is simply a reflection of millions of dead souls that do not believe in risking anything to ensure that they are safe — including their own persons and those of their family. Finally, Europe is Petronius’s Croton. It does not believe in any transcendence as reified by children or religion. If there is nothing but the here and now, then why invest one’s energy in children who live on after one dies? Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.
Europe’s perfect storm is upon us. A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort. In the Middle East, the fundamentalists are growing in numbers, and they most certainly do believe that their own lives are nothing in comparison to the Phoenix-like resurrection of their Caliphate and the sensual pleasures in the hereafter that will reward their martial sacrifices in the here and now. Of all the many reasons why immigrants to Europe so often dislike their generous hosts, the simplest may be because they so easily can.
… It would take another St. Jerome (“All were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew. Who could believe this?”) to chronicle the Western tragedy.
As a general rule, whatever Europe is now doing, we should do the opposite — for our very survival in an increasingly scary world.
So, an article saying much that needs to be said.
But we come back to this: Europe “does not believe in any transcendence as reified by children or religion. If there is nothing but the here and now, then why invest one’s energy in children who live on after one dies? Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.” And: ” A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort.”
His argument is that Europeans now do not think, or feel, or believe that there is any larger purpose to be served than the achievement of their own private personal ambitions and pleasures; no goals beyond their own individual lives worth putting their energies into. Previous generations believed they had a posterity in their children, the continuation of their families; and/or in the immortality of their nation; and/or in a spiritual afterlife.
And that is true. They did.
Then their nations were taken away from them, blended into a monstrous political entity called the European Union. What Frenchman, or Italian, or Englishman will ever say: “Breathes there a man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself has said/ This is mine own, my native … European Union”?
And what of their losing the desire for descendants? That’s harder to explain. In addition to the fading away of marriage, the dread of the expense of children, the shrinking from the emotional risk of entering into the responsibilities of relationships, there is a much larger source of discouragement; what one might call a cosmic despair: our knowledge of global doom. By “global doom” I don’t mean “global warming”, but the certainty that this world in which we exist and act, will one day itself cease to exist. It may be only in about 3 billion years that the final doom will come upon it, but go it will, for sure.
Whether or not those explanations are the right ones – perhaps among many others – it is a fact that Europeans are not having enough children to ensure the survival of their nations, even if they were to take back national sovereignty from the bureaucratic dictatorship of the EU.
This means they are discarding the future, as individuals and as a bridging generation between their nation’s yesterday and tomorrow. And because they have no future to work or build for – what have they to defend? So when another culture, a savage culture that arose and remains in the ignorant Dark Ages and knows nothing of the physical destiny of this planet, invades their continent, and increases with many children, and believes that making war ensures their endless and dominant continuation on earth and immortal happiness after death, there is nothing effective standing in its way. No one to bar the gates. No one to fight back. The imaginary spokesman of the dying European culture with no stake in the future says, “Come in, if you want to. Take what you want. Do as you will. I won’t be around much longer to know or care what happens here.” (“A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort.”)
Hanson suggests that the Europeans’ discarding of the future, and consequent abandonment of the greatest civilization the human race has ever attained, is not only tragic – which it is – but also immoral. He implies this by adding to the causes – familial, national – that kept European Man going for centuries, the cause of religion. He plainly considers it a highly desirable thing that human beings should believe that their time on earth is not the whole of their existence. He believes in an afterlife as formulated in Christian doctrine. The quality of that afterlife for each individual may depend on how the individual Christian behaves in his earthly life. Hoping for heaven, he will be good according to the precepts of his faith. (Now that is true of Catholics, whose church allows that good works as well as “the grace of God” can bring one to heaven. But many Protestant sects, most notably Calvinists and Lutherans, teach that only God decides your eternal destination, and he does that even before you are born, so what you do can make not a jot of difference to the iron ruling. The only encouragement such churches offer the faithful is that if you live dutifully, obedient to the commandments of your God, you will be perceived as a person destined for heaven, and thus perceived, you may live in hope.)
One way or another, Christianity – Hanson seems to assume – helped Europeans be strong in defense of their inheritance, prolific in procreation to ensure their posterity, and above all continent in their appetites for the hope of heaven.
And that may very well have been true. But we deny that lack of religious belief now is a cause of the self-inflicted doom of Europe. It seems plain to us that lack of interest in this life – beyond personal attainment and pleasure – is at work.
Atheism does not assume that “ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be”. Some atheists might assume it, but there is nothing about atheism that logically involves any such assumption.
Atheists are more likely to strive harder in this life to know, to achieve, to build, to love and hate, defend and attack, as well as to think and enjoy, than those who believe that their final, greater, and possibly happier destiny is in another world. Atheists who learn and build are very likely to want descendants to continue their discoveries, further their achievements, and add to their works, since only those they beget and what they bequeath will survive their death.
By that reasoning, atheism could have been the salvation of Europe. We might propose that far from the loss of Christianity dooming the European nations, it is the legacy of Christianity as self-abasement, non-resistance to evil, the choice of self-sacrifice, and the love of martyrdom that has primed Europeans through their inherited moral culture to let this death happen to them. And if that is so, what we are seeing is the logical end of Christian history in the age of science.
But as the Christian religion peters out in disbelief, its acolytes perish unresisting at the hands of other – passionate – believers.
Now if only Muslims could be persuaded to abandon their faith, their belief that they must conquer and subdue all others and gain an afterlife in paradise … what then? Europeans might still be dying out, but at least not in agony and terror.
No god, or supernatural messenger of a god, ever wrote a single word or dictated anything to any human being.
Persons who set down “God’s word” may have thought that a god told them what to write; felt that a god told them what to write; believed that a god told them what to write, but they themselves, mortal inhabitants of this natural world, wrote every line, every sentence, every law, every commandment, every story, every poem, every prophecy, every proverb in every “holy book” that ever was. If those who wrote were not the same as those who composed what they wrote, it is certain that the composers were also mortal men.
This must seem so obvious to atheists as to be hardly worth saying. It is so clearly a fact. Incontrovertible.
But billions of people do not accept the fact. And among the billions are thousands, possibly millions, of intelligent, erudite, and even reasonable people!
One such intelligent, erudite, and reasonable man is Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim and reformed “Islamist”, who founded Quilliam, “a London-based think tank that focuses on ‘counter-extremism’, specifically against Islamism, which it argues represents a desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam on society”.
In conversation with atheist Sam Harris, Nawaz argues for a reformation of Islam through constructive interpretations of its “holy scripture”. [We are concerned here only with Nawaz’s side of the discussion. What Sam Harris says is well worth reading.]
The chief “holy book” of Islam is the Koran. Muslims believe it is “God’s final revelation to humanity”. They believe it was dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, who first appeared to him when he was forty years old as he lay in the Cave of Hira in the year 609, and that the full “revelation” was delivered at intervals through the rest of his life, a period of 23 years. Muhammad was illiterate. He recited to his companions what he said the angel Gabriel recited to him, and they wrote it down.
Nawaz asserts – for which we applaud him: “Islam is, after all, an idea; we cannot expect its merits or demerits to be accepted if we cannot openly debate it.”
And he argues: “Any given subject has multiple interpretations, which demonstrates that there is no correct one. [His emphasis.] If we can understand that, then we arrive at a respect for difference, which leads us to tolerance and then pluralism, which in turn leads to democracy, secularism, and human rights.” And: “My organization … [takes] the unequivocal view that no place on earth should seek to impose any given interpretation of religion over the rest of society.”
He sums up his mission thus:
A complete overhaul of cultural identity patterns and a reformed scriptural approach is required. … Such scriptural reform must involve denying those who approach texts vacuously … from absolute certainty that theirs is the correct view …
The greater part of his contribution to the discussion is concerned with differences of interpretation of the “holy scripture” by the learned men of Islam: his point being that the Islamic texts have been and still can be subject to interpretation; and that new interpretations can assist a reform of Islam for this age, when bad interpretations are inspiring or causing evil actions by large numbers of Muslims banded together in terrorist organizations.
Maajid Nawaz has bravely assumed “the responsibility to counter” the “scriptural justification” for Islamic “extremism”. He sees this as a way to make Islam compatible with the values of the West. We take his word for it that such interpretations are possible, and that spreading them through the Islamic world may help to bring about his obviously meritorious ends.
Let us assume – wishing him well with his project – that his interpretations of Islamic “holy scripture” (the hadith as well as the Koran) are enormously and wonderfully attractive and persuasive; that hundreds of millions Muslims come to accept them, perhaps even a majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today. The very case he demonstrates, that the texts are forever open to interpretation cannot but mean that there will still be bad interpretations, still likely to inspire evil actions.
How likely is it that a reformed Islam will become so prevalent that “extremist” interpretations inspiring “Islamism” will be completely and forever abandoned, totally superseded, obliterated? If likely, then that would be, of course, a good result of Maajid Nawaz’s movement. But if unlikely, then his proposed remedy for the savagery, the cruelty and mass murder being carried out by such organizations as al-Qaeda and ISIS, is no remedy at all. It is worth trying. It may lessen the effects of Islamic “extremism”. But it is no remedy.
As long as there are multitudes who believe that they are in possession of “the word of God”, and that God tells them to harm others who do not believe the same as they believe, there will be no remedy.
In time, perhaps, religion will die out as a motivating force of human activity. We long for that to happen. But we cannot see that it will happen any time soon.
1. Islam: A Dialogue, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, Harvard University Press, 2015.
2. page 88
3. page 105
4. page 109
5. pages 116,117
6. page 121
After the First World War, most intellectuals were Socialists of one shade or another, the spectrum ranging from pale pink Fabianism (the equal-sharing classless society must gently evolve) to blood-red Marxism-Leninism (the inevitable victory of the proletariat must be achieved by violent revolution).
As a great many Jews were intellectuals, there were a great many Jewish Socialists. Quite a lot of them lived in the lower-rent parts of New York. They were the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Because America was an open society where it was possible for free enterprise to be rewarded with prosperity, many did well enough to afford a college education for their sons. Yet they (not all of them, but the ones we’re concerned with here, who were probably the majority) did not approve of the open free-enterprise society which gave them the opportunities they had seized successfully. Not at all. They and their sons had an ideal, and they clung to it: an equal-sharing classless Socialist society – like, if not necessarily exactly like, the Russians had under Stalin.
Strange “cognitive dissonance”? Yes. But that’s how it was.
Bernie Sanders is one of those sons. To read about his family, his early life, his education, his political opinions is to read about thousands like him.
Now that he is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, he expresses opinions that belong to the pink end of the spectrum; but those he has expressed in the past would place him at the blood-red end – and he has never repudiated them.
Daniel Greenfield writes at Front Page that when Bernie Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, between 1981 and 1989, …
[He] enumerated detailed — and radical — foreign-policy positions and explained his brand of socialism.
[He believed that] “the basic truth of politics is primarily class struggle”; that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production”. …
Politics is primarily class struggle is classic Marx. Government control of the means of production, think Communism. … Bernie Sanders is still touting the support of Marxist economists. …
Sanders was a big fan of the Sandinistas … [He] marveled that he was, “believe it or not, the highest ranking American official” to attend a parade celebrating the Sandinista seizure of power.
It’s quite easy to believe, actually, when one wonders what elected American official would knowingly join a group of largely unelected officials of various “fraternal” Soviet dictatorships while, just a few feet away, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega bellows into a microphone that the United States is governed by a criminal band of terrorists.
And Sanders vocally defended the Marxist murderers.
The lesson Sanders saw in Nicaragua could have been plagiarized from an editorial in Barricada, the oafish Sandinista propaganda organ.
“Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy? No, their crime in Mr. Reagan’s eyes and the eyes of the corporations and billionaires that determine American foreign policy is that they have refused to be a puppet and banana republic to American corporate interests.”
President Reagan had deplored an atrocity committed by the Sandinistas: forcing Indians into a church and setting fire to it. He had also objected to their driving the Jews out of the country. The Sandinistas’ henchmen attacked a synagogue with firebombs while shouting “Death to the Jews”, “Jewish Pigs” and “What Hitler started we will finish”. And …
The president of the synagogue that the Sandinistas had attacked was forced to sweep the streets, a scene reminiscent of Nazi behavior in occupied Europe, before being forced to leave the country with [nothing but] the clothes on his back.
The synagogue was seized and transformed into a Sandinista youth center decorated with Anti-Zionist posters.
The Jewish community of Nicaragua fled to Miami and Costa Rica.
But that is …
Nothing Bernie Sanders cares about. …
All of which re-raises a question often asked: Why do a majority of American Jews go on voting for the Democratic Party when it has become openly anti-Israel and is sliding ever nearer to the blood-red end of the Socialist spectrum?
Answer: Because their Leftism is their religion.
The great ex-Communist authority on Communism, Sidney Hook, writes interestingly on this question:*
The political fortunes of the Communist Party in the United States began to decline precipitously as the war continued. It took another nose dive after the Soviet Union invaded Finland … Meanwhile the the details of the close collaboration between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were beginning to percolate to the West. Even radical circles critical of the Kremlin’s duplicity were stunned by the news that Stalin handed over to the Gestapo scores of German-Jewish Communists. …
The comparatively large following the Communists had among the Jews gradually dried up, but a sizable segment remained [who were] professionals, especially teachers. One who found this phenomenon puzzling was John Dewey. I remember him once asking me to explain how after the Nazi-Stalin Pact so many Jews could still be numbered among the Communist faithful. I explained it in part as an expression of their idealism. Most of them did not identify themselves as Jews. They were citizens of the world – the ideal Communist world of the future. To them what was happening to the Jews as a consequence of policies adopted by the Kremlin for raison d’état was part of the cost of historical progress.
There were other reasons why so many Jewish Communists remained faithful to the Communist Party line despite Stalin’s willingness to placate and appease the author of Mein Kampf. The political life of the Communist faithful was their whole life. It defined not only their intellectual allegiance but a network of social, emotional, and personal relationships that constituted a vibrant community. To break with the Party was tantamount to a self-imposed exile from its sustaining warmth into a cold, hostile world, in which they could hardly be integrated.
For many of the older generation of Jewish Communists, there was perhaps a deeper reason. Most of them had been reared in the orthodox Jewish religious faith, in which the whole of life from rising to retiring at night is organized around its central dogmas. These determine a complex pattern of prayers and ritual pervaded by a spirit of piety and unquestioning acceptance of the Divine Presence. Emancipation from this mode of life meant at first a gradual and then ultimately a total rupture, culminating in a conversion to the atheism of Marxism and a total rejection of Judaism as a parochial and confining creed. Yet psychologically those who still remained faithful to some of the ideals of prophetic Judaism were drawn to a movement that, despite its militant secularism, provided a mode of life every whit as integrated and sustaining as the religion they had abandoned. They could feel themselves once more, even if persecuted, a chosen people not of God but of history, a vanguard, liberated from the exclusionist and chauvinist prejudices of their forefathers, preaching a salvation open to all mankind.These Jews were naturally reluctant to break their ties with the Communist movement, hoping against hope that the Kremlin would mend its imperial, totalitarian, and racist ways. When at last they were compelled to disavow the Soviet Union, they were for a long time bereft, psychologically akin to to those who after a crisis of belief surrender their religion. At the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, despite the shock, many of the faithful could not yet make the excruciating wrench with their past.
Sidney Hook may be right. Those may be the (emotional) “reasons” why Jews cling to the Left even as Jews are ever more abused by their fellow Leftists. Because it’s their religion. Because, as their religion, it’s their whole life. Because it would be painful to break with it.
But we are talking about intellectuals. People who are supposed to be devoted to Reason. How would it really hurt them to switch their votes to the side where every candidate has emphatically declared his and her support for Israel?
Those “reasons” look more like excuses. And at this point in history, they are unacceptable.
It is a simple matter for anyone who can think to see the way the wind blows, how the land lies … and change his mind.
Bernie Sanders is a relic of a bygone age. How nice it will be when everyone can see that so is the far-left Democratic Party, and the entire ideology of Socialism, in all its shades of red.
*Out of Step by Sidney Hook, Harper and Row, New York, 1987, pp.306-307.
(Hat-tip for the Hook quotation to Robert Kantor)
Afterword: We have written that Communism is Secular Christianity (see under Pages in our margin). Now we declare it to be the The other Jewish religion. We deny that there is any contradiction between the two statements. Communism is secular Christianity, and it is the other Jewish religion. Only neither Christians nor Jews (as far as we know) are generally aware that it is both those things.
Many stories like this one (dated April 19, 2012) can be found on the Internet:
A Sri Lankan woman is currently facing decapitation by sword on a witchcraft charge in Saudi Arabia …
Who brought the charge, and why?
A Saudi man complained that in a shopping mall his 13-year-old daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way, which happened after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman,” reports the daily Okaz.
After the local man denounced the Sri Lankan for casting a spell on his daughter, police in the port city of Jeddah found it sufficient cause to arrest the woman.
She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by decapitation.
Witchcraft and sorcery imply only one measure in Saudi Arabia – beheading. And it works this way in practice: last year in the kingdom at least two people – a woman in her 60s and a Sudanese man – were beheaded on witchcraft charges.
Hugh Fitzgerald writes today at Front Page:
From Saudi Arabia comes the news that the mutaween, the feared religious police under the control of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who patrol the streets and regulate the daily life of the populace, are now being given five-day courses in how to recognize, and then how to neutralize, a small army of wizards, witches, ghosts, demons, fortunetellers in the Magic Kingdom. Apparently it’s a big problem. Why, there have even been reports of leprechaun-like creatures – possibly they’ve wandered down from the Old Sod to end up in the Empty Quarter – who find it great fun to persuade innocent Saudis to break the rules of Sharia. All these dealers in the magical and supernatural will be hunted down, and dealt with sternly, by the Saudi religious police — “sternly” can mean anything from long prison sentences to decapitation.
Such worries are not new to the Saudis, however — the official anti-witchcraft unit within the Ministry of the Interior was first formed in May 2009.
The reason the Saudis are so worried about wizards and witches is that the Saudi people, like other Muslims, are especially vulnerable to the appeal of the occult. Muslims learn from the Qur’an that there exists an intelligent creature (the only other intelligent creature in the universe, according to Islamic doctrine, aside from humans and angels), called the Djinn (or Jinn), whose meddling with humans explains Evil, as well as health and illness, wealth and poverty, that Man as a creature of fate – where everything may be inshallah but is not necessarily hunky-dory — may enjoy or endure.
Evil djinn — not all djinn in Islam are bad – can take possession of people and cause them to behave in wicked ways.
This is not foreign to, but part of, orthodox Islam. Fortunately, there are those who, after appropriate training, can become qualified exorcisers of the evil djinn, using special Qur’anically-approved healing methods. There are also those who have not undergone training to be exorcists and who use methods which have not been approved, and this gets them into trouble with officials even if their methods prove effective. The Saudi witchcraft-hunt offers us a glimpse of the Bizarro-World that we enter whenever we penetrate the world of Islam.
In the West, we hardly bother to denounce those who claim to be witches and wizards, exorcists and fortunetellers, that is, all who lay claim to supernatural powers, because we know, as rational creatures, that they are frauds and fakes, they cannot possibly have these powers. And because we don’t believe any of that stuff, we don’t worry about them in this, our Western world, the dutiful child of the Enlightenment and rationalism. If we punish any fortunetellers or magicians at all, it’s only because they have charged for services we know are worthless and we want them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains. Witchcraft has not been taken seriously, i.e. as effective, since Salem, when outside it was 1692.
But in the Islamic world, magic (bad or black magic and good magic) is everywhere and taken very seriously – i.e., thought to be effective – indeed. In the Islamic world, belief in witchcraft, magic, sorcery of all kinds, is widespread. Fear of black magic is pervasive. Fortunetellers, witches and wizards, exorcists of bad djinn are to be found everywhere. And this is because Magic and the Occult are very much a part of Muslim teachings and Muslim life.
The Occult – the Djinn – transmitted by the Qur’an, helps to explain the widespread belief in other kinds of sorcery and magic in the Muslim world. But it is not the whole explanation for that belief. The heightened vulnerability of Muslims to the promise and threat of assorted wizards, fortunetellers, sorcerers, and exorcists, as compared to the sturdy resistance of rational Western man, is to be explained also by the more general effect of Islam’s encouragement of the habit of mental submission, and its punishment of skepticism. A good Muslim never questions any of the teachings of Islam, and the observant Muslim state (as Saudi Arabia certainly is) punishes those Muslims who dare to demonstrate the least display of skepticism (the end-point of that skepticism is apostasy, punishable by death). The result is that Muslims, even without the whole business of the Djinn, inhabit a mental universe of encouraged credulity.
Well, not all of that is true. While it is important to remember that the Enlightenment was confined to the West – and that it did not touch Islam – it did not abolish Western superstition. Christians continue to believe the impossible. They believe that a virgin gave birth; that God is both One and Three, and all-human at the same time as being all-divine; that “Jesus” walked on water, brought a dead person back to life, and performed various other impossible feats; that he himself came back to life after being dead for three days; that he now lives eternally in a physical heaven … The list of magic events and conditions in which Christians believe could be very long.
In addition to which, many Christian denominations, including Catholics, do practice exorcisms. So do most of the organized religions. Commonly, a ritual is performed, a priest says this and that, and at the end of it a claim is made (often if not always ) that “an evil spirit” has been expelled from a person who was “possessed” by it.
Christianity and Judaism draw a firm distinction between “magic” and “miracles”.
We fail to see the difference.