Towards A Good Samaritan World

Saturday, November 13, 2004

My and Nato's debate about secularism, religion, tolerance and authoritarianism continues in the comments of my "Atheism and Tolerance" post, and Nato has also added a new post on "Atheism and Authoritarianism" on his blog. His post makes my blood boil, but it's not his fault really: he's just voicing the condescendion towards religion that characterizes broad swaths of the general culure. He calls the repressive nature of atheist states a "tautology," but points out that when atheism emerges peacefully in the context of a tolerant state, this is correlated with a tolerant state. He doesn't deal with the key points that undergird my position: that tolerance emerged in Christian countries motivated by Christian arguments; and that the secular religions which have been synonymous with atheism in many places and linked with modern atheism for most of its history are not merely repressive but totalitarian, grotesquely surpassing the repressiveness of any regimes that preceded them. Whatever... There's a very good thread at Belmont Club on the topic of religion and democracy if you want more on this question. Let's start with the condescension:

And of course, failing to control the message the children of the faithful receive is rightly perceived as a threat. Lancelot Finn, for example, worries that merely "conveying a vague sense that the whole world can be explained without reference to God" is sufficient to "turn my son into an atheist".

Failing to control the message? Earth to Nato: no one is proposing to pull scientific books off the shelves, to prohibit atheists from speaking on the radio and television, or even to bar atheists from teaching in the schools. It is not Christians who feel the need for message control here. But we need the resources-- children's time, facilities, personnel, and so on-- to positively instill the message. Christianity may be faith in part but it also involves a tremendous amount of learning. Christian theology, though ultimately aspires to signpost various errors to keep the faithful on the "strait and narrow path" towards the mystery of faith which can never be finally articulated, is complex, and has built up over many centuries. One could devote one's entire education only to learning Christianity (though the study would lead a person into many other disciplines along the way) and still one's knowledge would be incomplete. What we are afraid of is not that a rival, secularist synthesis of knowledge will eclipse the Christian worldview; we are afraid that the vast amount of tax dollars and of our children's time that is devoted to constructing this rival, secularist synthesis will leave us without the space to instill a knowledge of what the Christian faith is in our children. The Christian faith will never be refuted, but it can be marginalized and (in large part) forgotten.

Nato speculates that:

I think the persecution complex evinced by so many Christians is really an excuse explaining away the long-term decline of their faith.

This is a variation of the "secularization hypothesis," but this hypothesis is being discredited:

One of the apparent surprises of the last decades of the twentieth century was
the explosion of religious vitality throughout most of the world. The "surprise"
included the surge of Islam from the Middle East across through Indonesia and of
Evangelical and Pentecostal movements in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the
United States. The term most often used by the media and other elites for this
surge of religiosity is "fundamentalism"–a term that conveys the very bias that
causes them to be surprised by the phenomenon.

Indeed, Nato is right that "religious belief has actually fared worse in industrialized states with official religions," but this does not prove that "the government" is not "acting as a missionary proxy for secular humanism," which it certainly is. This is merely the latest incarnation of Tertullian's old saying, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Religion has flourished in America, where there has never been an established church, but declined in Britain, where there is one. Now in Russia Orthodoxy, long since decimated by Soviet persecution, is undergoing a revival. Ultimately, the atheist indoctrination of the Soviets, or the secular humanist indoctrination imposed on us by American liberals on the pretext of bogus constitutional interpretation, backfires, because those trained in scientific materialism soon come to understand it as implausible and a form of insane nihilism [see below], and ultimately return to religion, which recognizes the human soul and has some capacity to acknowledge and to answer existential questions.

A partisan of Christianity might reason, then: bring on the persecution, it will only make us stronger! But I disagree. For even if the Church always survives, persecution ultimately carries huge costs. People become confused and unhappy. Sometimes great crimes are committed as people's moral compasses go haywire. The birthrate falls as people lose touch with the moral framework that motivates family life. The love of adventure cools, the intellect atrophies, art fizzles out. Russia, after seventy years of communism, is an Orthodox country once again, but it remains deeply ravaged and spiritually impoverished by the ordeal of communism. America's years under the "liberals" left a legacy of social breakdown, of slowing economic growth, and of intellectual sophistry which we are now slowing struggling to roll back-- though it was much less severe than in Russia, since America's Christian backbone was never broken. As for modern Europe, the contrast between its glorious past and its humdrum present hardly needs highlighting.

[UPDATE: Hmm... "insane nihilism?"... should've edited this more before posting... I was rushed... I think I'd gotten myself worked up with indignation against the Bolsheviks ravaging Russia. Got carried away. I'm not a pro at this yet, sometimes I misfire.

But I wanted to add: One cost of persecution is that religion is impoverished and often takes more dogmatic forms. A person deprived of a Christian education is more likely to insist on the literal truth of the Bible.]


  • You make some good points. One need only ask two questions. 1)Are Muslims generally safe (free to worship unmolested, have their basic civil rights protected), in Christian nations? 2)Are Christians generally safe in Muslim nations? You could substitute any other religious systems for Christianity and Islam here, such as Atheism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. These questions applied with a little common knowledge and common sense quickly reveal that the two most dangerous state religions are Islam and Atheism.

    By Blogger Dory, at 11:46 AM  

  • If atheism must always be communist/socialist, then yeah, atheist governments are always going to be really awful. But it seems to me that the governments that have existed so far have been ideologically communist/Leninist first and atheism was just a part of that. Actually, Maoism might not even be considered irreligious, what with all the Confucian justification embedded in it. It would interesting to see what drawbacks one would discover in an Objectivist state, but it certainly would likely compare well to, say, Iran, or 17th century Spain.

    Anyway, I don't advocate an atheist state any more than most Christians advocate a Christian state, but I don't see how conflating atheism and communism is convincing as other than a rhetorical tactic.

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:18 PM  

  • My not-particularly-conciliatory response is posted.

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:21 PM  

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