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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thank You

In a recent Ed Driscoll post It's a Wonderful Fountainhead he stated:
Of course, atheism doesn’t necessarily mean socialism — even if that’s how it invariably works out...


 And to bring this post back to 2013, to understand why atheism actually does lead to socialism in real life, and as the Salon critic posited, “We all live in Pottersville now,” don’t miss National Review editor-at-large John O’Sullivan’s essay on “Our Post-Christian Society”:

John O'Sullivan in that column Our Post-Christian Society made the following points:
It is often said that we live in a post-Christian society. That is true, but its meaning is generally misunderstood. A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten. In other words a post-Christian society is a particular sort of Christian society. It is quite different, for instance, from a post-Muslim or a post-Buddhist society (if we can imagine such things). At an emotional level, its Christian character explains why many agnostics and atheists nonetheless find Christian hymns suitable and comforting at occasions such as funerals and weddings. Intellectually, its dormant Christian beliefs — notably those about the nature of Man — underpin our ideas on politics and foreign policy, as for instance on human rights. Even the Enlightenment — which strong secularists like to cite as the foundation of Western liberal polities — is an extension of Christianity as much as a rejection of it. In short, though much of what Christianity taught is forgotten, even unknown, by modern Europeans and Americans, they nonetheless act on its teachings every day.

But there are consequences to forgetting truths. One consequence is that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of the Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them. When courtesy is abandoned, we invent speech codes, which are blunter in their impact and repress legitimate disagreement along with insults. When female sexual modesty and male sexual restraint are discredited as puritanical, we draw up contractual arrangements to ensure that any sexual contact is voluntary on both sides. This means that sexual relationships (and their consequences) may occur more often but that they do so in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and legal wariness that poisons relations between men and women over the long run. Above all, when we no longer protect and strengthen the family on the grounds that it is a patriarchal institution harmful to the life chances of women, we encourage the family breakdown that leaves women worse off financially, pushes men into an irresponsible life, and damages their children socially and psychologically.

Family breakdown is in fact the largest single social disaster plaguing the post-Christian society. The family is a natural way of regulating and disciplining us and our ambitions in the activities of everyday life. It makes us frugal; it encourages saving, wealth creation, and the deferment of gratification; it compels us to provide for the future; above all it ensures that children are brought up and taught to become self-reliant, and that the weak, the sick, and the elderly have others to succor them. When the family breaks down, we get crime, drug-taking, impoverishment, psychological problems, and much else at the personal level; and we get a cycle of deprivation, the growth of an underclass, spiraling social-welfare costs, over-government, and severe budgetary problems at a national level. The result of family breakdown is that we have to replace the family with regulation after regulation. Our remedies — easier divorce, better financial arrangements for women after divorce, increased welfare for single mothers, bureaucratic agencies to compel men to make child-support payments, laws and regulations that disadvantage natural family relationships in court decisions on child care and adoption, and much else — never work as well as the stable families they replace. Indeed, very often they make the situation worse.

As someone interested in maintaining a free and prosperous society, this Irving Kristol lecture titled The Capitalist Future touched on several interrelated facets of society:

It is not, then, the economics of capitalism that is our fundamental, unmanageable problem. That problem today is located in the culture of our society, which is in the process of outflanking our relatively successful economy. While the society is bourgeois, the culture is increasingly, and belligerently, not.

Bourgeois society is a society in which certain virtues are accepted as a matter of course by the majority of the people. These virtues—today we defensively call them "values"—include a willingness to work hard to improve one’s condition, a respect for law, an appreciation of the merits of deferred gratification, a deference toward traditional religions, a concern for family and community, and so on. It is a commitment to such beliefs that creates a middle class, which then sustains a market economy. Today the old-fashioned animus against a market economy is being sublimated into an aggressive animus against the bourgeois society that is organically associated with our market economy. If you de-legitimize this bourgeois society, the market economy—almost incidentally, as it were—is also de-legitimized.
...

We have, then, been living through a cultural revolution which at one point threatened to become a political revolution—that flash point was experienced during the student revolution of the 1960s—one of those failed revolutions that was nevertheless enormously influential. In the United States it pretty much forced us to withdraw from Vietnam. It also led quickly and decisively to the capture of the Democratic party by its left wing in 1972, thereby importing a kind of permanent polarization into American politics. And in the cultural world its energies were channeled into what is now called post-modernism, whose basic theme was expressed in Paris, during the student rebellion of the 1960s, by one of the graffiti painted on the walls of the Sorbonne: "All Power to the Imagination." This academic irrationalism is the dominant intellectual mode, not only in the arts today, but in the study of the humanities in our institutions of higher learning.

From a dissenting culture, to a counterculture, we have finally arrived at a nihilistic anti-culture. This anti-culture permits the post-modernists to abolish the distinction between what used to be called "highbrow" art—it also used to be called "culture" without equivocation—and "popular" culture.

 ...

Whereas modernism had calmly accepted Nietzsche’s dictum that "God is dead," it generally interpreted this to mean simply that institutional religion was moribund. But only a handful of modernists jumped to the Nietzschean conclusion that "if God is dead, everything is now permitted": That was implicit in modernism, and more than implicit for those who believed themselves to be the avant-garde of modernism. But only with post-modernism has it become belligerently explicit, and a dominant motif in the culture at large.

For centuries, as the focus on religion as a central human experience continued to dim, the intellectual world remained remarkably complacent. The satisfying rituals of religion, it was thought, could be replaced by an esthetic experience of the arts. In truth, the aura of the sacred has largely been transferred from religion to the arts, so that the burning or even censorship of books is regarded as a greater sacrilege than the vandalization of churches or synagogues. As for the moral code traditionally provided by religion, it was assumed that, since modern individuals were rational moral agents, rational philosophy could be relied on to come up with a code that, if not identical with religion’s, was sufficiently congruent with it so that the practical moral effect was the same. From Immanuel Kant to John Dewey, that has been the basic assumption of secular rationalism and gives rise to the modern quasi-religion of secular humanism. Such a philosophical enterprise, it was believed, would converge on what John Dewey called "a common faith"—a faith in the ability of reason to solve all our human problems, including our human need for moral guidance.

But this is a faith that has failed. Secular rationalism has been unable to produce a compelling, self-justifying moral code. Philosophical analysis can analyze moral codes in interesting ways, but it cannot create them. And with this failure, the whole enterprise of secular humanism—the idea that man can define his humanity and shape the human future by reason and will alone—begins to lose its legitimacy. Over the past thirty years, all the major philosophical as well as cultural trends began to repudiate secular rationalism and secular humanism in favor of an intellectual and moral relativism and/or nihilism.

Bourgeois capitalism began with a kind of benign toleration of religion but a firm commitment to Judaeo-Christian morality. In this respect, Adam Smith and our Founding Fathers were of one mind, one sensibility. Their fundamental error, doubtless attributable to their rationalism, was a complacency about the relation of this morality to its religious roots.
...


The bourgeois capitalist revolution of the 18th century was successful precisely because it did incorporate the older Judaeo-Christian moral tradition into its basically secular, rationalist outlook. But its error was to scissor out this moral tradition from the religious context that nourished it. And so, in the nineteenth century, in all Western nations, we had what was called a "crisis of faith" among writers and philosophers. It was not yet a crisis in moral beliefs. George Eliot wrote that God was "inconceivable," immortality "unbelievable," but Duty nonetheless "peremptory." A few years later, Nietzsche came along to proclaim that Duty was an illusion fostered by the Judaeo-Christian "slave morality." Nietzsche was not taken seriously until the period after World War II—a war that Hitler lost but that German philosophy won.

Today, in our academic and intellectual circles, Nietzsche and his disciple, the Nazi sympathizer, Martin Heidegger, are almost unanimously regarded as the two philosophical giants of the modern era. It is important to understand that their teachings are subversive, not only of bourgeois society and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also of secular humanism, secular rationalism, bourgeois morality—and, in the end, of Western Civilization itself.

...

 But a society needs more than sensible men and women if it is to prosper. It needs the energies of the creative imagination as expressed in religion and the arts. It is crucial to the lives of all our citizens, as of all human beings at all times, that they encounter a world that possesses a transcendent meaning, in which the human experience makes sense. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more de-humanizing, more certain to generate a crisis, than experiencing one’s life as a meaningless event in a meaningless world.

Maintaining a connection to the religious roots of the foundational principals that have made America exceptional probably depends upon traditional religious observance by a meaningful portion of the population.  Those of us who hold dear similar traditional morals and beliefs but are not regular participants in such observance are acting as free riders.  To those for whom it applies, I simply say, 'Thank you."

13 comments:

Hey Skipper said...

From the article:

It is often said that we live in a post-Christian society. That is true, but its meaning is generally misunderstood. A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief.

Stop right there.

I know I stand alone against 7 billion people, but some things are true no matter how many people believe otherwise.

The opposite of achromatic is chromatic; of apolitical, political; aseptic, septic. I could go on, but surely my point is so simple it would be a waste of time.

The opposite of atheist is theist. Theism is the belief that there is one theology that is true. Atheism is the belief that no theologies are true. And atheist is only one religion different from a theist, which means atheism has nothing to say about whether some being outside the material plane exists (See deism and adeism, although, inexplicably, the latter word, not ironically, does not exist.)

Along that vein, agnosticism is, strictly speaking, the position that nothing is knowable about anything outside the material realm.

The reason we live in a post-Christian society is that over the last several hundred years, we in the West have found that the more we know, the more we know we don't know. That is pretty much the universal corrosive of dogma.

Mr. O'Sullivan, by going off the logical rails, misses the cause of the effect.

We live in a post-pre-modern society. No religious dogma can survive the transition from pre to post intact.

It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten. ... At an emotional level, its Christian character explains why many agnostics and atheists nonetheless find Christian hymns suitable and comforting at occasions such as funerals and weddings.

Ummm, no. Supernatural religions succeeded because they tapped some essential vein of humanity. In this regard, Christianity is no different than Islam, or Buddhism, et al.

In other regards, Christianity is very different. But if the human substrate is essentially the same, then Christianity itself is more effect than cause.

Because O'Sullivan so badly confuses effects and causes, he is also at sea on the consequences. If the morals and manners of the "Christian tradition" (a post-pre-modern word scramble if there ever was one) are anything other than completely arbitrary, then they must resonate with the material world.

Which means we don't have to appeal to religion when insisting upon the necessity of mothers, dedicated fathers, and family for a successful society.

Because anything else, no matter your religious persuasion, doesn't work. Claims to the otherwise are not anti-God, they are anti-human.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Skipper, you've come out as an Objectivist!

But, one might ask, what is wrong with being anti-human? It's not an uncommon position among our elites these days (e.g., modern ecological thought).

It is for Howard's reasons that I, even though I am an atheist, attend church on a regular basis. I would like to believe that an atheist society is self sustaining but honestly it doesn't look like a good bet at this point.

Hey Skipper said...

Objecti...huh..wot? Am I supposed to hang my head in shame, or should my chest swell with pride?

I would like to believe that an atheist society is self sustaining but honestly it doesn't look like a good bet at this point.

Either religious arguments for behavior are random statements, or they are related to material consequences.

There are people who would like to believe that an Islamic society is self sustaining ...

As an atheist/agnostic, I appreciate Christianity for being sufficiently grounded in humanity that it has avoided the excesses of theological sanctimony.

Well, OK, in my lifetime.

Interestingly, our elites aren't as anti-human as you might think; at least as far as their own lives are concerned (see Charles Murray's Coming Apart.

My wife and I never go to church. I doubt my critters have set foot in one twice. Yet the material arguments for certain kinds of behavior are so compelling that their conduct is indistinguishable from sincere believers.

Which is why I said that O'Sullivan had his cause and effect gooned up. Dedicated two parent families are the sine qua non. That is demonstrable no matter your religious outlook.

Peter said...

Somebody says the word religion and Skipper immediately hauls out his slide rule and lie detector to measure what the religious believe and tell them in no uncertain terms what they must believe if they are worthy of the moniker. No room for squishy ambiguities in this game. I can almost hear him say "Do you believe the whale actually swallowed Jonah? Well, do ya'? DO YA'?!

Theism is the belief that there is one theology that is true

That is very hamfisted. The charge is that we live in a post-religious or post-Christian society, not a post-theological one. The word theology describes a discipline of inquiry, not objective beliefs. Have you forgotten that most people in Durant's "Age of Superstition" (pompous twit!) couldn't even read?

In all the religion/science wars we have participated in, it has struck me how materialists simply can't get out of the laboratory of measurement and natural history and how so many religious apologists fall into the trap of agreeing to play the game there. Nobody who studies scripture seriousaly should mistake it for alternative science or a survival guide or even a self-help book. It's the story of human consciousness and alienation, and it largely addresses our restless, dissatisfied subjective worlds.

On the level of individual belief, I think the word religious properly describes anyone who believes there is some transcendent reality we can access at least in part and to which we are in some way beholden as we navigate this vale of tears. Proclaiming specific beliefs may be a condition of membership in this or that church, but churches are human constructs and their influence is as much a matter for sociology as theology. Also, the scientific method of objectively testing theory through evidence doesn't work here. Judaism holds one comes to know the truth of the law through following it and I believe Somebody once say "Follow My Way" to a doubter who wanted to argue material reality?.

People don't go to church (many religious don't) because they need weekly refreshers on how the natural universe was created. Nor, by and large, do they go principally for direction on how to behave in their daily lives, although that's part of it for many. They go for spiritual "nourishment" accessed largely through submission, ceremony and community. That's what can make it both incomprehensibe and scary to the non-believer. "Lego My Ego?" Fortunately, most believers understand inconsistency and even hypocrisy have upsides and cross their fingers quietly about some of the specifics.

It's really hard to make the case that general behaviour is "better" in religious societies. However, I do think many religious generally have a clearer idea of what bad behaviour is. I also think the religious are often stronger in the face of adversity, but I'm sure there are a million atheist sociologists just waiting to skewer me on that. Skipper may be right that two dedicated parents are generally enough. But given the sacrfice involved in parenting, why is he so confident that dedication will survive in a world where everyone is taught from grade school there is no wiser or more legitimate authority to judge their lives than themselves? It's not like the stats back him up.

Apologies for the rambling disconnects, although how can anyone NOT ramble on this subject? In the end, there is really no answer to Skipper's materialism except "Your random, meaningless existence doesn't work for me, even if I can't decide whether it is sin, the dreary demands of necessity, ennui or superficiality I fear more". Here, courtesy of William Blake, is my Christmas present to him:

"Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep."

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annoying Old Guy said...

Either religious arguments for behavior are random statements, or they are related to material consequences.

Ah, but now you're moving in a layer where post-modernism actually makes sense. You are conflating what is true about objective reality with what people believe is true about objective reality. People act on belief, not facts, and that's a fact :-). You need to address the sociological equivalent of the "last mile problem" - how do you get the fact you state here into the wetware of the humans in your society? To be self sustaining a society must do that, and I have yet to see evidence that (in general) an atheist society can do that successfully. Driscoll's point about atheism -> socialism is strong evidence against such a thing (if reality were being accurately embedded, they wouldn't become socialist).

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] Somebody says the word religion and Skipper immediately hauls out his slide rule and lie detector to measure what the religious believe and tell them in no uncertain terms what they must believe if they are worthy of the moniker.

I'm wrong in asserting that, in the West, Christianity has changed in response to learning that the more we know, the more we know we don't know?

[Theism is the belief that there is one theology that is true] is very hamfisted. The charge is that we live in a post-religious or post-Christian society, not a post-theological one.

Checking the dictionary, you are right, it is ham-fisted; believing in a theology is not necessary to being a theist. I was taking the second meaning of the word theology (religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed).

That second meaning is essential to the post, because the assertion is that the loss of belief in the set of specific set of religious beliefs called Christianity means ... that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of the Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them.

I disagree with the conclusion. Reality is not relative; therefore, morality cannot be merely relative.

I am not criticizing the religious in any way here. Rather, the morals and manners contained in Christianity do not need belief in Christianity to make sense, because they stand perfectly well on their own merits.

Unlike, say, Islam.

Skipper may be right that two dedicated parents are generally enough. But given the sacrifice involved in parenting, why is he so confident that dedication will survive ...

I cut your sentence off because there is an existential problem sitting in the first half.

There is no denying the possibility that dedication will not survive, in the sense that the conditions of modernity, completely aside from religious belief, are antagonistic to fertility.

In my lifetime, Japan's population will drop by ~15%. By 2060, it will be down 35%. Europe is following the same path, and the rest of the world is catching up.

IIRC, projecting the scope and change in demographic trends, the Earth's population will be down to 3B in 150 years.

Self extinction is about 400 years off.

[AOG:] Driscoll's point about atheism -> socialism is strong evidence against such a thing (if reality were being accurately embedded, they wouldn't become socialist).

If he Driscoll's point had been societal wealth -> socialism, would he be wrong?

That's why I think he has his cause & effect screwed up.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

----
My wife and I never go to church. I doubt my critters have set foot in one twice. Yet the material arguments for certain kinds of behavior are so compelling that their conduct is indistinguishable from sincere believers.
----

You are right in that a man needs not a religion in order to act in moral ways.

Yet, Howard's post strikes at the heart of our modern contradictions. Actually, for all the loathe you direct to "socialists", they are acting within a more logical approach than you.

While there are "reasonable" behaviors, from economic/material point of views, for part of our Christian traditions, there are other parts that are counter to any materialistic thinking. Including objectivism (hence Libertarianism).

There is that dialogue of The Godfather III, when Corleone decides to confess his sins and the bishop tells him:

"Look at this stone. It has been in the water for a very long time,
but the water has not penetrated it.

Look...

Perfectly dry. The same thing has happened to men in Europe.

For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated. Christ doesn't live within them."

I've remembered it because the post comments on how "In short, though much of what Christianity taught is forgotten, even unknown, by modern Europeans and Americans, they nonetheless act on its teachings every day."

In other words, we do cherish the good life those Christian principles helped to set up, but we are hardly aware of that. In the meantime, we look for empty shells to provide for the lack of "logical and well reasoned" modern foundations for our old morality, or pick up new ones in the middle of the road.

But one thing I am sure is bound to fail: the Christian moral order does not survive long if you stand up for it only looking for prosperity.

Peter said...

the Christian moral order does not survive long if you stand up for it only looking for prosperity

Quite true. Also if you stand up for it only looking for good behaviour.

Skipper, I'm having a hard time following you. On the one hand you are adamant that desirable moral behaviour can be disconnected from religion, but then you go all gloomy about our future ability to "dedicate" and being on the road to extinction. I suggest that, while you may be right that some moral behaviour is "natural" and can be shown to have general social utility in itself, you have no answer to an individual who asks why he or she should so behave. People don't organize their personal financial affairs to help with the national balance of payments and they aren't going to dedicate to their families because of longterm collective survival advantages. Isn't that stretching the notion of taking one for the team a little far?

It's strange to see so much focus on collective societal norms and behaviour on a libertarian site. Surely at some point the question stops being what a collective "we" should do and becomes what do you say to John Galt when he asks you whether he should leave his family for the comely assistant who won't stop the come hither looks. Christians have answers, do you?

erp said...

When my kids were small, I solved the problem of why they had to behave in a certain way, by saying it's because that's what civilized people do. Of course, they didn't know what that meant, but got the message and by the time they knew what it meant, message was received.

Like a lot of people, we don't attend religious services, nor belong to any church, but a lot of what I learned from the nuns and found to be true living my life, has been incorporated into the "Do unto to others ..." concept. This gives the power for one's behavior to the individual unlike the simplistic sophomoric "From each according to the abilities ..." which allows some amorphous entity to determine what one's abilities and/or needs are and takes away individual initiatives.

The major message my kids got was to respect others, be courteous and most of all not to take advantage of those who are smaller, weaker or dumber than they.

One last thing, I don't understand why people think that those who don't share their standard of living can't be left alone to find their own levels. We in the middle class anglosphere live differently than those in the Brazilian jungles or African plains or even the barrios of U.S. cities, but why are we so arrogant as to think, if people don't have two cars, dozens of appliances, plasma TV's, smart phones, etc., their lives aren't worth living and we need to step in run things for them. Their legacy is the same as ours, equality under the law and equal opportunities to make their lives that which they will.

Another thing 2 - Equality of outcome as everyone knows means one thing, everyone reduced to the lowest common denominator, read Vonnegut's, "Harrison Bergeron" for more details on how that works out.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "Do unto to others ..."

That's the basis for socialism's popularity as many would like themselves to forced to be part of the collective, both to help others when others are down on their luck, and to be helped by the collective when they are down on their luck. Probably somewhat upside-down from how you'd naturally see it, but if you think about, it's logical.

I personally don't even have a problem with that. A church is nothing, if not a collective, and like Howard, I'm firmly in the "Thank You" camp (he and I have had this discussion numerous times) regarding free-riding on modern Judeo-Christian religion.

My complaint is that The Collective ought not be the central government.

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "It's strange to see so much focus on collective societal norms and behaviour on a libertarian site."

The sub-header for this site is: "Forum for discussion and essays on a wide range of subjects including technology, politics, economics, philosophy, and partying."

I don't see libertarianism in there anywhere. The fact that the bloggers happen to be libertarian leaning is sheer coincidence. :-)

erp said...

Re: collective.

Bret, I also see nothing wrong, in fact, it's a very positive and enjoyable endeavor, with a collective of choice, people joining together for whatever purpose, but that's polar opposite of what socialists want. In fact, the doctors both at Mass General and BWH (Harvard) said they felt the nearly miraculous recovery that our daughter and son-in-law made after their accident was due, not in small part, to both our families joining together to present a solid front of support and solidarity. However, as soon as they felt they were well enough, they resumed running their own lives.