Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christianity, national greatness, and Godwin's Law.

Charles Moore wrote an editorial piece for the The Telegraph arguing, essentially, that terrible consequences will befall any western nation than rejects Christianity.

Moore employs a number of tactics to convince the reader that secularism is wrong-headed, and that Christianity is the way to go.  He appeals to a sort of bizarre pragmatism:

"Note that neither is insisting – though they probably believe that it is – that what the religious leader preaches is necessarily true. Note, too, that neither is saying that a religion, let alone a religious organisation such as a church, should hold political power. But what they are saying is something like the message of the parable of the house built on rock and the house built on sand. They have seen a good bit of how the world works: they recommend building on rock."
 He seems to be saying here that religion is a good foundation to build a society on, even if it is not true.  Certainly if you are looking for a means to control the populace, religion serves that purpose well. I don't see this as a good thing, though.  In a government with democratic elements, a healthy state depends partly upon a well-educated and freethinking populace.  Fearmongering is also an effective strategy for managing the populace, but I wouldn't encourage it.

He makes the argument that without God, we would just enslave each other:

"At least two things are missed in this God-is-dead political order. One is that it ignores the basis of so many of the ideas it advocates. These ideas are not the result of intellectual virgin births in modern times. They have parentage. They could not have been conceived without Christian thought about the intrinsic dignity of each human person.
One of the main reasons that slavery was abolished in the Christian world (though it took a shamefully long time to happen) is that St Paul taught that no slavery could be approved by the faith because “we are all one in Christ Jesus”. Unfortunately, it is not naturally obvious to humanity that slavery is wrong. People like enslaving one another. The wrongness has to be re-taught in each generation. Post-God, it is not clear on what basis to teach it."

This is so wrong-headed that I barely know where to start.  Let me begin with the obvious: the Bible explicitly supports slavery, and was still being used to argue in favor of slavery for more than a thousand years after Paul was dead and buried.  Christian thought has both opposed and supported slavery.  Further, slavery has been banned in nations all over the world, regardless of whether those nations were Christian or not.  The Christian belief structure itself is not inherently anti-slavery, and therefore gets no credit for abolishing slavery. Obviously there were many Christians who fought hard (generally against other Christians in their own society) to get slavery banned, and I don't deny for a moment that some were inspired by their faith to do so, but even the New Testament supported slavery: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ." (Hilariously, Moore later offers that "Presumably, secularists and atheists do not read the Bible as much as Christians do..." In America at least, this is plainly not true)

I seethe at Moore's suggestion that "it is not naturally obvious to humanity that slavery is wrong."  Slavery causes suffering, and humiliation.  It destroys families.  It strips a person of the dignity that is their right as a human being.  All one has to do to recognize the horror of slavery is to imagine oneself as the slave.  I require no god(s) to tell me that slavery is wrong, and I seriously doubt that Mr. Moore does either.   Modern Christianity understands that slavery is wrong, but the Bible itself utterly fails in this regard, and Moore fails utterly to make a logical point.    That slavery is unacceptable in modern times is a point for humanity, not for religion.

His argument here is just an extension of the prejudice that secular people are intrinsically, necessarily amoral.  That is a sentiment that inspires hatred and distrust towards non-believers, and it is immoral to propagate it.  Our morality is part of what makes us human, and to deny our morality is to dehumanize us.  Take the phrase "Atheists have no way to know right from wrong." and substitute another group for "atheists".  Try "women". Try "blacks".  Degrading and offensive, yes?

Then he seems to argue that if a Christian nation abandons Christianity it will descend into something like nazism:

"The secularists also do not stop to contemplate Mrs Thatcher’s warning about what happens when people cut Jesus out of the life of society. She was thinking, I suspect, not so much of nations where other faiths predominate, but of that area which people used to called Christendom, now loosely known as “the West”.
The Nazis repudiated Christianity. The French and Russian revolutions did so too, and denied God also. All three persecuted believers. Some of the revolutionaries had been right about the abuses of power by the Church, but all were proved wrong about what human beings do when a political and social order underpinned by Christianity is destroyed. It was indeed, to use Mrs Thatcher’s word, “terrible”: it produced the rule of terror."
This is just a continuation of his previous theme that people cannot be moral without religious belief.  It also ignores that Hitler was Christian, that Hitler believed he was doing God's will, and that 94% of Nazi Germany was Christian.  Not only was the Vatican disturbingly silent as the Nazi atrocities went on, but the contemporary Catholic Church has defended that silence as the right thing to have done.  A Christian population is clearly not an inoculation against nazi style facism. Further, America's Christian demographic is between 60% and 79% of the population, depending on whose numbers you want to believe.  In the UK, Christians are about 72%, so the U.S. and the U.K. are both already much less Christian than Nazi Germany was.  Though religion can and does cause atrocity, I am not drawing the conclusion that Christianity leads to nazism or anything like it.  My point is only that Moore's assertion, that declining Christianity will bring horrors upon us, is complete and utter bullshit.  If he were correct, we'd be throwing homosexuals (or someone) into gas chambers right now instead of fighting for their civil rights.

Moore then retreats to "facts":
"But my point is the factual one: is it true that Christ cannot successfully be taken out of the life of society? Yes. And was Ibn Khaldun right that no nation can prosper and be powerful without religion taught by a great preacher? Certainly in the era of monotheism, he would seem to be more right than wrong. Ever since, in 312, the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky and heard a mysterious voice say, “In this sign, conquer”, all prudent leaders have needed the mandate of heaven."
Nothing that he has said here is factual.  Certainly religion is present in great nations, because religion is present virtually everywhere. By Moore's logic religion is also required for a nation to fail, for an empire to decline, for a people to go to war, or for a nation to be good at baking lovely pastries.  Constantine may claim to hear divine voices mandating a "righteous" bloodbath, but I do not believe him, and would be unimpressed with the morals of such a god anyway.  In my view, in societies with democratic principles, the mandate that leaders need is from the people.

The drivel goes on.  Moore then resorts to tactics intended to chill his secularist opponents:
"This, from a sceptic’s point of view, is about as good as it is likely to get. If you start extirpating Christianity, it will start fighting back. And even if – highly unlikely – you beat it down, behind it will come the more implacable, much more shamelessly political adherents of Islam."
Extirpating Christianity?  Secularists want religion out of the public sphere.  The most strident atheists want only to convince religious people, via free speech, that religious beliefs are in error.  That's it.  They want to talk about religion in unflattering terms, to criticize your position via public discourse.  This places Christians under no threat whatsoever; they are absolutely free to ignore those arguments and continue about their lives.  No one will storm houses to confiscate crosses.  The notion that Christianity is under siege is no more than the sentiment that criticism can be uncomfortable.  Criticism will not hurt people, though we do hope it may change some minds.  Does he not understand that by defending religion as necessary to a great nation, that he is also defending the Islamic theocratic influences he tries to frighten us with? What does he mean by "it will start fighting back."?  Arguing back?  Ok, I welcome that.  Discussion is part of the engine of democracy.  

I have a competing assertion to make:  No modern nation can be great without a dedication to science. We have plenty of examples of nations that are and are not well versed in science.  Where science lacks, we see tyranny, poverty, and ignorance.  Look at your modern hospitals, are they centers of faith healing or of medicine based in science?  Which, in your view, is more important to the military: religious zealotry, or modern weaponry?  Is the explosion of food production due to the divine multiplication of loaves, or due to the technological revolution of farming?  What drives our economic engines - innovation, or prayer?

Where science flourishes, so do the people.  When a nation strives for greatness, it must strive for science.

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