Saturday, March 17, 2012

Maybe we're talking a cycle of boorishness here. To be sure, even during the High Middle Ages, with the Catholic worldview reputedly at its apex, the village atheist (yes, every village had one, legends parading as historical accounts of the Crusades and Inquisition notwithstanding) was inevitably the village boor as well. No doubt he defended his boorishness as a necessary counteractive to the prevailing superstitions of his day.

But something happened between the Siege of Vienna and French Revolution: the village atheist became ascendant. He gained political power. Alas, he proved himself no more apt (far less, in my view) than his Christian predecessors to wield it in socially desirable ways. Fred Reed, as usual, has an interesting take on the matter:

"I find myself wondering why the ruling classes of America are so grindingly antagonistic to religion. I understand having no interest in religion. I do not understand the animosity.

"One might say, 'The world’s religions are so many, so internally inconsistent and contradictory of each other, and so dependent on assertions which seem to me not to be factual, that I cannot believe any of them.' The position is neither unreasonable nor rabid. One holding it might go about his affairs, leaving others to believe as they chose. He might respect the faith of others without sharing it, might regard religions as harmless and colorful folklore, might indeed regard them as socially beneficent.

"In the Unites [sic] States, though, we see something very different: an aggressive hostility to religion, a desire to extirpate it and, though no one quite says this, to punish its practitioners. A curious witch-hunt continues in which people seem to look for any trace of religion so that they can root it out. I would call it vengeful, except that I do not know for what it might be revenge.

[. . .]

"A common reading is that the sciences have become a sort of secular religion, with the Big Bang replacing Genesis, and evolution as a sort of deanthropomorphized god chivying humanity onward and upward. There is a large element of this, yes. The self-righteous intolerance directed by disciples of evolution against religion assuredly resembles the intolerance of religion against heresy. Does this explain the anger of the rooters-out? Is it partly that believers in America tend to be Southern or Catholic, both of which are regarded as politically inappropriate conditions?

[. . .]

"Yet note the decline of even non-religious contemplation of such matters as meaning and purpose, right and wrong, ultimate good, and so on. It is not that people behave worse without faith, but that they cannot explain why they do not. The use of the sciences as a substitute for belief in God or gods has produced a religion that cannot ask the questions central to religion. It has also made discussion of such questions a cause for eliminating the offender from the guest list for the next cocktail party.

"But this does not answer the question of why the hostile stalking of religion that pervades the ranks of the educated and influential in the United States. In almost all times and places, disbelief and secularism have existed, yes. Few educated Romans actually believed in Jupiter the Lightning Chucker. There have been Cathars and Wiccans and Manicheans and innumerable agnostics. Yet, so far as I know, only communism and Americanism (is that the word, perhaps?) have tried to eradicate religion.

"Mexico has separation of church and state, and yet a bus driver can display a crucifix without upsetting anyone. I do not know how many Thais are believing Buddhists. Certainly Buddhist symbols are visible everywhere, and it doesn’t seem to have engendered disaster. Why the angry rejection in the US? I will get email telling me that it is a Jewish plot, like everything else, but in fact it is the default attitude of the educated. Why? Who cares?"



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