When will we say “Enough!”

When will we say "Enough!"

The women with whom I spoke – currently and formerly incarcerated at “Chowchilla” prison (as the Central California Correctional Facility is colloquially known), this state’s highest security women’s prison – are watching as biological males begin to self-identify as females and transfer in. Washington state, which has a similar policy, has already allowed a rapist and serial killer of women to transfer into the women’s prison. As is true in Washington state, California requires no sex reassignment surgeries or hormones for men to become eligible for transfer to the women’s prison. Self-identification is enough. With good reason, these women are terrified.

Abigail Shrier, ‌Incarcerated Women Brace for Influx of Male Inmates

This is insanity imposed on us by a tiny minority of highly-educated ideologues and idiots. I’m sick of it. I’ll never knowingly vote for an unhinged, narcissistic Donald Trump-type, but I’ll vote for sane people who will try intelligent ways of stopping this sort of thing.

Helpful glossary

Populist worries

We worry desperately about money—not because of obsessive acquisitiveness, but because constructing a bulwark against a failing culture requires heaps of it. (How much is private security, in the absence of a police force? Private school, in the absence of non-racist public ones? Non-woke doctors, who will fulfill their oath to heal us? How much is all this going to cost, and how will we possibly afford any of it?)

Abigail Shrier, Don’t Judge Me

Interesting point. The overall article, though, is a defense of Ohio Senatorial candidate J.D. Vance against a wild screed in The Atlantic (which journal I didn’t renew, though I might some day).

Rod Dreher, too, vouches for Vance. As a Hoosier, I have no horse in this race.

Young ideologues

The youth is an intellectual merely, a believer in ideas, who thinks that ideas can overcome the world. The mature man passes beyond intellectuality to wisdom; he believes in ideas, too, but life has taught him to be content to see them embodied, which is to see them under a sort of limitation. In other words, he has found that substance is a part of life, a part which is ineluctable.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

I highlighted it, but apparently didn’t take it readily to heart.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment not only helped us to discover the Atom bomb but also gave us the intellectual means to use it without great guilt.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

I’m pretty bearish on "the Enlightenment," starting with the congratulatory name. I may write at greater length on this some day.

A crack in qualified immunity

"[W]hy should university officers, who have time to make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies, receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting?"

Justice Clarence Thomas, via Jonathan Adler.

Justice Thomas got his tacit wish very recently in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Arrogant University of Iowa Administrators once again (yes, the University is a recidivist) decided that relatively conservative Christian groups should be brought to heel by stripping them of recognition until they stopped being, well, relatively conservative.

The 8th Circuit held that the individual administrators cannot shield their pocketbooks from individual liability for dollar-damages by claiming "qualified immunity" — because qualified immunity requires that the law be at least a bit murky, and the law against public institutions’ viewpoint discrimination is crystal clear.

Yay for the 8th Circuit!

Affective primacy

You can feel affective primacy in action the next time you run into someone you haven’t seen in many years. You’ll usually know within a second or two whether you liked or disliked the person, but it can take much longer to remember who the person is or how you know each other.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind. I experience that regularly, but I didn’t know there was a name for it.

How the BoBos Broke America

Third, [the BoBos have] come to dominate left-wing parties around the world that were formerly vehicles for the working class. We’ve pulled these parties further left on cultural issues (prizing cosmopolitanism and questions of identity) while watering down or reversing traditional Democratic positions on trade and unions. As creative-class people enter left-leaning parties, working-class people tend to leave. Around 1990, nearly a third of Labour members of the British Parliament were from working-class backgrounds; from 2010 to 2015, the proportion wasn’t even one in 10. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the 50 most-educated counties in America by an average of 26 points—while losing the 50 least-educated counties by an average of 31 points.

… In 2020, Joe Biden won just 500 or so counties—but together they account for 71 percent of American economic activity, according to the Brookings Institution. Donald Trump won more than 2,500 counties that together generate only 29 percent of that activity. An analysis by Brookings and The Wall Street Journal found that just 13 years ago, Democratic and Republican areas were at near parity on prosperity and income measures. Now they are divergent and getting more so. If Republicans and Democrats talk as though they are living in different realities, it’s because they are.

[T]he educated elite tended to be the most socially parochial group, as measured by contact with people in occupational clusters different from their own. In a study for The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley found that the most politically intolerant Americans “tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves.” The most politically intolerant county in the country, Ripley found, is liberal Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which includes Boston.

With their amazing financial and convening power, blue oligarchs move to absorb any group that threatens their interests, co-opting their symbols, recruiting key leaders, hollowing out their messages. “Woke capitalism” may seem like corporations gravitating to the left, but it’s also corporations watering down the left. Members of the blue oligarchy sit atop systems that produce inequality—and on balance their actions suggest a commitment to sustaining them.

David Brooks, How the BoBos Broke America

Great article to read and argue with. I say that as someone who almost certainly qualifies as a BoBo. The second paragraph in particular was an eye-opener.

Da Press

I have finally internalized the lesson that the press is too biased to merit reliance. All of them.

So how is one to know what’s going on in the world? Curate the least unreliable?

Next lesson: we’re not meant to know what’s going on far, far from kith and kin.

UPDATE: Someone who apparently feels as I do about this suggests that BBC World News is still reliable. I’m going to try it.

Viktor Orbán week

Tucker Carlson is in Budapest this week, which is the worst thing about Budapest I can think of off-hand. (I tried watching him to see what he had to say about Hungary, but I couldn’t get past his initial, dishonest, manipulative demagoguery about other things.) This has given the usual suspects an occasion to publicly affirm that they’re still on the left-liberal team, and gives Rod Dreher yet another chance to push back.

[W]hat sets [Viktor Orbán] apart from American conservative leaders is that he recognizes the nature of the crisis, and is prepared to act boldly to address it. He believes that contemporary Western liberalism has surrendered to a civilizational death wish. I prefer the (possibly flawed) ways that Orban is meeting the crisis than the ways that the American Right is failing to do same.

Which is the only power capable of standing up to Woke Capitalists, as well as these illiberal leftists in academia, media, sports, cultural institutions, and other places? The state. That’s it. This is disorienting to Anglo-American conservatives, who are accustomed to seeing the state as the enemy, and institutions of civil society, especially business, as friends of freedom. It’s no longer true, and people on the Right who want to fight soft totalitarianism had better start to understand this. This is why American conservatives ought to be beating a path to Hungary and Poland (as well as to Spain, to talk to the Vox party, and to other European countries to learn from non-Establishment populist parties).

Rod Dreher.

Yes, I do include Rod in the unreliable sources. I could qualify that assessment, but suffice for now that he has backed up his "on balance" defense of Hungary with facts, whereas its foes have shown me no more than hand-waving, epithets, hyperbole, and "everybody-knows-ism." I’m more inclined to credit Rod.

The Spectator is closer to the situation than I am, and here’s its take:

Brussels’s problem is not really with Poland or Hungary. More fundamentally, ‘unity in diversity’ has become anathema to it. It cannot accept that the geographical borders of Europe do not neatly overlap with the European Union’s ideological fault lines.

‌Hungary, Poland and the EU’s ‘diversity’ problem

Ack-bassward

I’m not going to get into the history or beliefs of Orthodox Christians, beyond saying that the tradition began with the Schism of 1054 when millions of Christians who were unhappy with the direction of the Catholic Church (on theological and political grounds) broke away to form their own tradition.

Ryan Burge, Orthodox Christians Are More Republican Today than Twelve Years Ago. Why? – Religion in Public.

You’d have done better to say nothing at all, Ryan, since what you said is ass-backward. Here’s a more accurate account:

The unity of the universal church was disrupted over the 11th through 13th centuries as an increasingly willful Patriarch of Rome broke away from the other four great Patriarchates, taking the West into schism from the rest of the Church.

Little, nutritious bites

…they trained students to be spelunkers of their personal identities and left them incurious about the world outside their heads.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal

Even the man we nailed on a tree for a lookout said little about it; he told us evil would come.

Les Murray, New Selected Poems

Adiaphora

The essential point I want to make here is this: elite liberals, as a class used to comfortable and orderly lives, were massively freaked out by the election of Donald Trump, and what they have demanded in turn is not a new and better political movement but for everyone else to be freaked out too … Feel the way that we feel or you will be exiled.

Liberal Democrats want the bad things they say they fear to happen; that much is obvious. They would rather the bad things happen and be proven right about the threat than for the bad things not to happen at all. This is porn. It’s all porn.

Freddie deBoer, ‌Orange Cheeto Man Bad?


The Spectacle of Latinx Colorism
The idea of sameness can devastate as much as it can connect.
By Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

They lie awake at night at the New York Times worrying about different things than I worry about.


open letter from a distinguished surgeon – Snakes and Ladders


I was gratified to read Federal Judge Imposes Sanctions on Lawyers Who Filed Frivolous Election Suit – Reason.com

May this be the first of many sanctions against rogue lawyers who joined in spreading manure about Election 2020.

I know that a lawsuit is preferable to riots in the streets, but you can’t just throw any crap on paper and call it a good faith legal claim. There’s junk law just as there’s junk science.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Who is Cultural Proximate to the U.S.?

There is a genuine rift in conservative thought on immigration, illustrated by contrasting takes on the National Conservatism Conference speech of Amy Wax.

Much of the commentary on Wax’s comments have been reactive in the bad sense, accusing her of racism. I’ve looked at the most controversial parts (I’m having trouble finding a transcript or, now, even the video on the Conference’s YouTube channel) and I summarize it thus:

We should have an policy bias toward immigrants who are culturally proximate to us rather than culturally distant. That means a bias in favor of  Western European immigrants. And that — let’s face it — will mean a disproportionately white batch of immigrants, though race is not our real criterion.

My three representative conservative takes are those of Rod Dreher, David French and Mark Bauerlein.

Dreher came out first:

I can see some problems with Wax’s proposal. What does it mean to be “Western”? Russia is a European country, and a Christian country, and a country of white people … but it’s not really Western. Should we limit Russian immigration? Ghana is an African nation that is vastly more Christian than, say, Sweden, but it’s certainly not Western, and it’s in the Third World. Would America be better off with a policy that favored atheist Swedes over Christian Ghanaians? Asians — South Asians and East Asians — are not Western, obviously, not Christian, and many of them do not live in what we consider the First World. Yet they tend to be “model migrants,” in that their children obey the laws, study hard, and achieve professional success disproportionately. Is an immigration system that puts them at a disadvantage over Europeans better for America?

It’s certainly debatable, but one of Wax’s points is that we can’t even talk about it, because it is widely assumed that any immigration system that results in disproportionate racial impact is racist and therefore bad.

French came close behind. For him, Amy Wax’s speech wasn’t racist, but it was wrong:

  1. Western Europeans are not necessarily more culturally proximate because there’s “quite a bit of evidence that nonwhite immigrants (including nonwhite immigrants from developing countries) do very well in a key measure of American assimilation — economic industry.”
  2. Western Europeans are decidedly less culturally proximate insofar as “American culture and European culture have been drifting apart for decades on a key metric — religiosity. Secular nationalists may not care about this, but European-biased immigration is secular-biased immigration, and that will alter American culture in appreciable ways.”
  3. “[O]ne of the core, virtuous objectives of the new conservative nationalism [is] social cohesion [but] the most polarized population in America is the white population.”

Bauerlein just appeared in print on Wax, and he clearly implies that she’s right about Western European cultural proximity:

A cardinal premise of leftist thought is that cultural traits run deep. They reach down, past behavior, to unconscious values and concepts, shaping how we think. I went to graduate school in the 1980s, when critical race theorists and postcolonialists talked about “Western ways of knowing.” …

This is why we must take the outrage over Amy Wax’s remarks at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington earlier this month with a grain of salt …

What her detractors haven’t addressed, however, is Ms. Wax’s assertion of the deep acculturation that makes people who they are. This must be respected. The great divide Ms. Wax identifies is between peoples that have passed through the Enlightenment and peoples that haven’t. Immigrants from countries that don’t have a tradition of individual rights, free markets and fair elections must undergo a firm and steady induction if those mores are to sink into their souls. Social conservatives and identity-politics leftists agree on this: People can’t easily drop their heritage and adopt another one.

It is liberals and libertarians who think that migration is a smooth process. They imagine a world of free and flexible people who pick and choose the elements that will form their characters. Neither conservatives nor progressives trust this cosmopolitan faith. They know that culture molds character.

Ms. Wax’s great sin in the eyes of the left wasn’t her recognition of cultural differences and incompatibilities. It was, instead, her frank declaration of the West’s cultural superiority …

This outspoken praise for the West is anathema to the left, but not because the left hates the idea of cultural superiority. Far from it. The left most definitely believes in cultural superiority—but the kind that runs the other way. To them, the West isn’t a story of the advancement of rights and scientific knowledge, as Ms. Wax believes. It is a record of exploitation, enslavement, colonialism, environmental devastation and imperialism against suffering and benign non-Western peoples. When we speak of the West, the U.S. and whites, we must confess guilt.

This is a dogma in academia, advocacy groups and the Democratic Party. No, it’s a taboo. It has extraordinary force, too, having intimidated Republicans for decades. Amy Wax violated it. She’s not afraid. The left knows it, and if she isn’t punished, she may inspire others.

This debate doesn’t neatly fit the other rift, that between procedural liberalism (David French) and “virtue conservatism” or “substantive good conservatism” (Sohrab Amahri). Which group has which preference? I think Bauerlein and Amahri are converging in general, but would Amahri join French in prefering the black and brown Pentecostals?

For the time being, though, Amy Wax wins: we conservatives are talking, and disagreeing, about ideas that were taboo very, very recently.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

  1. A Rabbi goes to bat for his tradition – and mine.
  2. Two cheers for sequestration.
  3. The Secret Unity of Muslims and Sikhs.
  4. America’s Enlightenment, and Evangelical, Foundings.
  5. NIMBY and The Good Life.
  6. The Absurdity of Categorical Discrimination Bans.
  7. Geddoutahere!

Continue reading “Thursday, August 9, 2012”

Atheist Delusions I

I recently read David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale, 2009). Although Hart is Orthodox, a world-class philosopher, and not half bad at popularizing, I hesitated to buy it.

For one thing, I’ve read plenty of books on the supposed historical conflict between “religion” and science, and my views have been pretty settled for rather a long time now. (Were I a scientist, I’d share them, but I’m not — and can’t imagine that they’re of keen interest to others.) I’m unfazed when I read some “New Atheist” screed. “Been there, done that, and other atheists do it better,” is my attitude in a yawn.

For another, I bogged down on Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth.

But people I respect kept recommending it, and it sounded as if he might take a different tack on The New Atheists. They were right.

I may be posting some more on this book over the next few days or weeks. What I post now is just some select thought.

First of all, Hart doesn’t make the mistake of arguing, in effect, that Christianity is safe and harmless and perfectly compatible with modernity, as if modernity were the measure of truth:

It is not difficult, for instance, to demonstrate the absurdity of the claim that the rise of Christianity impeded the progress of science; but if one thereby seems to concede that scientific progress is an absolute value, upon which Christianity “respectability” somehow depends, one grants far too much … That Christendom fostered rather than hindered the development of early modern science, and that modern empiricism was born not in the so-called Age of Enlightenment but during the late Middle Ages, are simply facts of history, which I record in response to certain popular legends, but not in order somehow to “justify” Christianity. And I would say very much in the same regard to any of the other distinctly modern presuppositions — political, ethical, economic, or cultural — by which we now live. My purpose in these pages is not (I must emphasize) to argue that Christianity is essentially a “benign” historical phenomenon that need not be feared because it is “compatible with” or was a necessary “preparation for” the modern world of its most cherished values … Above all, I am anxious to grant no credence whatsoever to the special mythology of “the Enlightenment.” Nothing strikes me as more tiresomely vapid than the notion that there is some sort of inherent opposition — or impermeable partition, between faith and reason, or that the modern period is marked by its unique devotion to the latter. One can believe that faith is mere credulous assent to unfounded premises,  while reason consists in pure obedience to empirical fact, only if one is largely ignorant of both.

Second, Hart isn’t trying to spark a religious revival, and a war against the New Atheist featherweights, on some utilitarian grounds that we need “religion” even if it’s false. For a few examples:

To be honest, my affection for institutional Christianity as a whole is rarely more than tepid; and there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard-pressed to muster a kind word from the depths of my heart, and the rejection of which by the atheist or skeptic strikes me as perfectly laudable.

I can honestly say that their many forms of atheism that I find far more admirable than many forms of Christianity or of religion in general.

I should note here — not in order to strike a mournful note on departing, but only to clarify my intentions — that I have not written this book as some sort of frantic exhortation to an improbable general religious renewal. Such a renewal may in fact take place, I imagine, as the spirit moves, and as a result of social and political forces I cannot hope to foresee. I have operated throughout from the presupposition that in the modern West, the situation of Christianity and culture at large is at least somewhat analogous to the condition of paganism in the days of Julian, though Christianity may not necessarily be quite as moribund. I do not, at any rate, anticipate a recovery under current circumstances, and I cannot at the moment envisage how those circumstances might change. Even in America, I assume, despite its special hospitality to transcendental ecstasies and enduring pieties, the intellectual and moral habits of materialism will ultimately prevail to an even greater degree than they have in Europe. And neither a person nor a people can will belief simply out of dread of the consequences of its absence. In one sense, Christianity permeates everything we are, but in another it is disappearing, and we are changing as a result; and something new is in the centuries-long process of being born.

(I heartily agree with Hart about lacking any deep commitment to “institutional Christianity as a whole,” and my appreciation for the superiority of some honest atheism to some Christian traditions.)

Third, Hart not only mocks the poseurs of the New Atheism, but mounts a systematic attack on myths about Christian history. He’s no Polyanna, but he ably defends Christianity (not “religion” generally, and he explains why) as a social and cultural revolution that is innocent of much of what it routinely and insouciantly stands accused of:

  • Special Irrationality
  • Destruction of sources of pagan wisdom and philosophy
  • Constraint on human freedom
  • Misogyny
  • Opposition to science or any special promotion of bad science
  • Persecution
  • Provocation of war — including “The Wars of Religion”

I would send one caution, however. I’m reminded as I read Hart, of the late Francis Schaeffer (not the mouthy, living Frank Schaeffer). Like some of Schaeffer’s polymath musings, I suspect that Hart’s history wouldn’t 100% hold up as history in a room full of historians, and that his social psychology (I think that’s probably the best phrase for his speculations about why the New Atheists have caught on better than their arguments merit) wouldn’t fare perfectly well in a room of whatever academics are expert about that.

But that’s a risk of writing of writing a broad book on a multi-faceted (or is it Hydra-headed?) phenomenon. Hart’s book overall strikes me as solid and moderately important.

Just don’t expect the push-back to cease. Hart doesn’t expect it and neither do I.