Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Secular Right and Knowledge

I've always been perplexed by the ignorance otherwise intelligent atheists show with respect to Christianity, given the time they spend bashing it. Here is the latest post by Heather MacDonald, a writer I don't miss at National Review or City Journal. In those contexts, she displays an obvious intelligence, attention to detail, and dedication to getting her facts straight. You get a different MacDonald on the Secular Right, however; here she seems intent on hitting Christianity with any stick she can find, and doesn't let history or elementary logic get in the way. Spot the black hole in this passage:

That the Catholic hierarchy could be embarrassed by relic veneration, when nearly every Catholic Church in Europe proudly displays its lavish, silver and gold jewel-encrusted reliquaries allegedly housing this bit of Jesus’ femur or that bit of a saint’s bladder, shows how the religious practices that once filled out a world still untamed and unexplained by science grow ineluctably more remote.

As Mark in Spokane gently points out in the comments, it doesn't make much sense for an orthodox Christian to venerate a relic of Jesus' femur, given that the central event of Christianity is the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. In fact, Christianity is to that extent empirically falsifiable: The discovery of Jesus's bones would decisively refute orthodox Christianity and put the Catholic Church out of business for good. This was understood even at the time of the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:64).

The perplexing part of this is that conservatives generally understand that it is necessary to understand one's enemy to defeat him. This is why conservatives often understand Marxism and socialism better than many socialists do. Yet when it comes to religion, the Secular Right seems to hold on to religious ignorance almost as a badge of honor. I wonder who should be more embarrassed: The third world peasant with a second grade education who venerates the relics of a saint (but who understands the meaning of the Resurrection), or the North American, college-educated, cosmopolitan atheist who, despite decades of higher education, hasn't yet gained an elementary understanding of the religion she bashes?

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Secular Right

The relationship of conservatism to religion has been on my mind lately, sparked by posts such as this over at the SecularRight blog. Heather MacDonald typifies one sort of modern atheist, the kind that sees religious belief as obviously absurd. For her, the difference between Harold Camping (the force behind the recently unfulfilled prophecy of the apocalypse) and mainstream believers is trivial: It is only because Camping has made an empirically falsifiable prediction that he is distinguishable from mainstream believers at all.

What interests me is the conclusion that seems to clearly follow if we accept that the mass of men are in the grip of irrationality. If belief in God is patently irrational, and most men believe in God, then most men are irrational. How then, can they be trusted with political authority in the form of the vote or, even, authority over their own lives? Is it not reasonable to place an authority over them for their own benefit? The individual freedom involved in limited government only works if men are capable of governing themselves. It doesn't seem an accident that the New Atheists tend to be of a left-wing political persuasion (e.g. Christopher Hitchens or Daniel Dennett).  What is unusual and, perhaps, ultimately incoherent, is the notion of right-wing atheism.