Wednesday, May 16, 2007 27 Comments

Our planet is infested with pseudo-atheists

The other day I defined Idealism as belief in mysterious universals. I noted that while this pernicious trait appears both in "religious" (paranormal) and "secular" (nonparanormal) belief systems, these days it's much more common in the latter. And I suggested that this may have something to do with the monstrous violence of the Enlightenment era.

For example, there is no way to distinguish someone who worships the Environment from someone who venerates the Great God Pan. In the real world the two will act identically.

Indeed, it's easier to reason with the Pan-worshipper. When he tells you that he needs to save the rainforest because the rainforest is sacred to Pan, the conversation (to a Pan-skeptic such as myself) is over. Both sides can see that there is no common point of reference, and the two of you can start working out how to agree to disagree.

Whereas when the Environment-worshipper tells you about the biodiversity of the rainforest, she has created an endless hairball of arguments which trail off into nonsense everywhere. What, exactly, is "biodiversity," and why is it important? What does "lungs of the planet" mean? Does the planet have a liver, too, and if so where is it? Idealism without holy books is a permanent fountain of conversation, a goldmine for the sophist caste.

The danger of Idealism is that it is a form of rationalism. Rationalism is the assertion that one's received beliefs are products of pure reason. In fact, rationalism is to reason as scientism is to science. Here at UR we believe in reason, too, but we like to work our beliefs out for themselves. Regular readers may have noticed that we've been getting very different results.

My stance on the world should be pretty clear by now. I think the West's replacement of Christianity with Idealism was a disaster. (In fact, since the roots of Idealism in Protestant Christianity are so clear - ideals such as Democracy and Equality simply reek of pure Jesus - it's arguable that Idealism is simply a fanatical strain of nontheistic Christianity. But the idea of nontheistic Christianity is hard for people to swallow and it at least deserves its own post.)

In any case, it's clear that most people who describe themselves as nonbelievers are in fact Idealists, often quite fanatical ones. Our planet is infested with pseudo-atheists. It's horrible.

Most of the people who understand that we live in the Idealist equivalent of a theocracy - an ideocracy, perhaps - are "paleoconservatives." And their intellectual recovery program tends to include a return to pre-Idealist Christianity. Two very perceptive paleos are Larry Auster and Daniel Larison, both of whose blogs I read every day.

Perhaps they'd be horrified to hear it, but there's a certain Voltairean flavor to the work of both these writers. As with most paleos, their writing is just refreshing. Every day, some bloated balloon of Idealistic cant floats in and yields its musty guts to the clear, sharp pen. These gentlemen are the new philosophes, and I'm sure history will treat them as such.

Unfortunately, I am not a Christian. I have no faith. I simply don't see any reason to believe in the paranormal. And while I think the West would be a much better place if it returned to traditionalist Christianity, I don't think this can happen spontaneously and I don't think it can be done by force. Nor do I see any other possibilities.

Christianity is either (a) true or (b) untrue. There is no (c). Since I believe it is (b), a return to traditionalist Christianity from universalist Idealism (what Auster calls "liberalism") is not, in my opinion, a case of truth outcompeting fiction.

Certainly one fiction can outcompete another. Public opinion is at root a matter of fashion. The world contains both fashionable fictions and unfashionable ones. The problem is that, at present, all the fashionable people in the world (except for Taki) are Idealists, and a very large percentage of the unfashionable ones are traditionalists.

I find it simply impossible to imagine any reversal in this pattern, at least until traditionalist Christianity has been entirely or almost entirely extirpated by the Idealists. This looks like it will take at least another forty or fifty years. And at this point, what does traditionalism even mean? It becomes an invention, a fake, the equivalent of Ossian or Kwanzaa.

I will pass over the revolting idea of reimposing Christianity by force. I'm sure it would work, in a sense, because (contrary to Idealist doctrine) people can in fact be conquered and indoctrinated. But I don't believe there's a paleoconservative on earth who would endorse it, even if they could imagine a way of making it happen.

Paleoconservatism, in my opinion, is a tactical dead end in the struggle against Idealist rule. It seems promising, because it seems to offer a large body of supporters - traditionalist Christians - who are relatively uncontaminated by Idealist propaganda, and many of whom are hopping up and down with rage at the various insanities, absurdities and atrocities they see perpetrated with such blithe self-confidence by the Idealist fanatics who run the world. But the actual power of this power base has been diminishing for the last 250 years, and no one has managed to do anything useful with it for at least the last 100. Ought is not the same as is.

This is why I prefer the Voltaire angle. I will do my damnedest to pop any balloon, Idealist or Christian. I am an equal-opportunity pin. It so happens that, contrary to the river of insane paranoia which the Idealist press constantly pumps into our eyeballs, almost all real power in the world is held by Idealists. So the really fat, juicy balloons are the Idealist ones. But I hope my readers, all three of them, will not mistake this for some deference to Christianity.

To me, the best scenario for getting rid of Idealism is one in which, as has happened many times in history both distant and recent, smart young people realize that their elders are pumping them full of premasticated tripe. I think the West needs an Orange Revolution. Therefore, the cultural trend I find most hopeful is the appearance of youth-oriented and thoroughly fashionable outlets, such as VICE and the eXile, which seem to have less of an investment in Idealism than, say, Vanity Fair.

Perhaps someone can correct me, but I have no hesitation at all in saying that VICE is hipper than Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, however, is definitely hipper than VDare (which so far as I know has never published any "Whore-R Stories"). Thus my reasoning on tactics. If any paleos care to correct my misconceptions, the comments section is open.

One reader, George Weinberg, who has contributed many thoughtful comments to UR and hopefully will contribute many more, suggests that non-Idealism is too close to nihilism for his comfort. ("We are nihilists! We believe in nothing!")

I disagree. To me non-Idealism is nothing more than atheism, properly applied. It's my personal reaction to Chesterton's remarkable observation that when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything. I agree with this observation - it matches my own. But I just think it takes work and attention to really "believe in nothing," to be a reasonable person rather than a rationalist Idealist.

To me "nihilism" implies amorality. And morality is at bottom an emotional reaction. It is not a tradition. It is an aspect of human biology. I cannot think of any human culture that has actually been amoral or antimoral - the most murderous tend to be those that spend the most time obsessing about right and wrong. Therefore, I see Nihilism as just another anti-Ideal, a universal that can't be defined because it cannot exist in reality. In other words, it's an imaginary threat that seems suspiciously well-adapted to herd us back toward Idealism.

While I certainly would not endorse the entire oeuvre of David Stove - in particular, I can't make head or tail of his anti-Darwinism - his famous piece What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts does a great job of making the case against Idealism. I'd certainly say non-Idealism is a form of the neo-positivism Stove presents in this cute little rant.

To me, what's so unfortunate about our contemporary version of Idealism is that it's an almost perfect replacement for actual thought.

Modern society is awesomely complex, but not entirely without structure and form. History is not deterministic, but it exhibits recurrent patterns. Classifying these patterns, understanding the flow of cause and effect, distinguishing between vicious and virtuous cycles, is a fascinating, difficult, and (to me, at least) endlessly entertaining task.

In the place of this task, Idealism gives us cant. Its little shrieking lizard-monkey leaps up and tells us that Democracy and the Environment are good, Inequality and Racism are bad. It sometimes even finds ways of purveying this cant that pass, at least to their authors, as humor. The entire Idealist blogosphere considers itself hilarious. It also thinks of itself as the true and only successor to Rabelais, Voltaire and Mark Twain. It's all very depressing.

What's a non-Idealist to do? I mean, of course, besides shaving your head, selling your possessions and coming to live on my paramilitary literary commune, where the food is the only thing more boring than the incessant calisthenics, sonnet drills and rifle practice.


Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"And morality is at bottom an emotional reaction. It is not a tradition. It is an aspect of human biology."

I tend to distinguish between morality (biological /instinctive) and ethics, that huge pseudo-philosophical castle built on top of morality. I suppose I call "ethics" what you call "Idealism". In fact sometimes I call it "morality" too, just like Nietzsche did (though not following him). Ethics believes in inflexible rules--never lie, never steal, etc. It is also remarkably po-faced about behaviour. Morality is infinitely flexible, and also much funnier.

If I had to encapsulate biological morality, it would probably tend towards the goals of: 1. help those (and by extension feel compassionate towards) you consider 'like yourself' (this may be all humanity, or white middle-class Bostonians with an Irish accent), and 2. self-integrity, which generally results in honesty, although is not hidebound by it. I think these two points basically describe how I try to act, though I will add that the 'like myself' category is for me really quite small, and egoistic in a Stirneresque way.

(I noticed that you expressed an interest in Stirner in a previous thread--there's little point in reading about him, since he only wrote one book, which is both great and readily available--you might also want to read "Saint Max", from The German Ideology, online here, the only response to his work of any historical interest.)

May 17, 2007 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger Tim R. Mortiss said...

"If I had to encapsulate biological morality, it would probably tend towards the goals of..."

What do you mean by "helping those you consider like yourself"? Does that involve, say, the plundering of people that aren't like yourself? If it doesn't, then why not? And in what sense your answer to that question will not to be a "huge pseudo-philosophical castle"?

May 17, 2007 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"Does that involve, say, the plundering of people that aren't like yourself?"

Not necessarily... my instincts don't particularly dictate how to behave with people not like me. There is no 'why' about it, I'm afraid. I left "helping those like myself" purposefully vague, because the instincts themselves are vague.

May 17, 2007 at 7:23 AM  
Blogger dearieme said...

Why do you object to fakes? The essentially bogus account of the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War has served the USA well in many ways, hasn't it?

May 17, 2007 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

A pure empiricist would agree with you that either Christianity is true or it is not true, but would make the reservation that it is not possible for us to know which it is. Neither atheism nor any variety of theism is subject to falsification by experiment or systematic observation.

Hume's scepticism was as corrosive to Enlightenment rationalism as it was to the claims of pre-Enlightenment religion. It has always seemed to me that Burke could not have argued as he did were it not for the influence of Hume. If, following Hume, we find no more reliability in the claims of rationalism than we do in those of religion, on what source of guidance in life is a practical man to rely? Burke's answer is that experience proves a better guide than reason. Men are, as individuals, fools; but as a species are wise. Tradition is a distillation of human experience - as Chesterton has said, tradition is "the democracy of the dead." In short, it is what people have found to be a workable solution to the problems of life.

Why the philosophical scepticism of the twentieth century - e.g., logical positivism - did not prompt the kind of response that Hume's scepticism did fro Burke, I do not know. But it ought to be obvious that it should have done.

The notion that moral propositions are logically meaningless could be advanced by an A.J. Ayer in the comfort of an Oxbridge college, because he could there rely upon his auditory to treat him with the manners of Christian gentlemen, though in fact they were probably neither. Such was the residual influence of those traditions in such a place that he was completely safe. Manners will do in a great many circumstances where morals are absent.

Experience, however, would suggest that adhering to a doctrine of the meaninglessness of moral propositions in a circumstance where customary constraints on behavior were weak, if not non-existent, would be quite dangerous. We've seen the results of this amongst the lumpenproletariat of our society. The black slums, for example, have not been uplifted under the regime of liberal secularism, but have been sunk further into depravity.

Moral inversion at the level of political leadership has had practical consequences. We may be free to think that severe traditional punishments for crimes against property or person are barbarous relics of a benighted past, but when this is translated into practice, crime skyrockets. We may be free to think the unwed mother is "more to be pitied than despised," but when this is translated into practice, bastardy skyrockets. And so on:

"Vice is a monster of such horrible mien
That to be hated, needs but to be seen.
But seen too often, familiar with her face,
We first, endure, then pity, then embrace."

The practical result of discarding traditional, religiously-based morality has brought our society, in almost every particular, to the last stage predicted by Pope.

One need not have the fear of God to practice sobriety - one need only have the fear of a degrading addiction and the social disgrace and economic privation to which it inevitably leads. One need not have the fear of God to practice sexual continence - one need only have the fear of getting a woman one has no intention of marrying with child, or of contracting a possibly incurable venereal disease. But in order to have these fears one needs to have some capacity for thought. What do we do about the majority of our society too lacking in critical intelligence to think through, without the aid of religion, how they should conduct themselves in life?

May 17, 2007 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

dearieme -

Indeed it has. The problem is that the Old Glory American mythos has been vigorously rooted out and replaced with Multicultural Environmental Social Justice. It strikes me as quite unlikely that this can be rolled back - at best, I think, we'd wind up with American Environmental Patriotic Social Justice. Not my cup o' tea.

May 17, 2007 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

That's a nice touch, Conrad, linking me to Marx. I'm afraid I have a little more in common with ol' Karl than either of us would like to think.

What we call "ethics" is in fact an ecumenical brand of Christianity - specifically derived from the Unitarian (US) and Nonconformist (UK) traditions. Of course these share the same Puritan roots and evolved in step. The Labor Party used to be considered the political wing of Nonconformism, much as the Centre Party was the political wing of Weimar Catholicism. Likewise, the Republicans were essentially the Unitarian party, until Unitarianism evolved into Wilsonian Progressivism and conquered the world.

So what we call "ethics" is simply the value system of the winners of WWII, or at least its modern descendant. It certainly beats the value system of the losers of WWII - or at least, I think so. But then again, I would, wouldn't I?

May 17, 2007 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael -

Your Straussian argument is presented with great coherence and force. I can disagree with none of it.

The trouble from my perspective is that Burke must yield to practical reality. Would it be ideal to restore traditionalist religion? Sure. Can it be done? I would say no. Burke in many ways produced the ideology of the Holy Alliance. Where is the Vienna of yesteryear? Karl Rove is not the Duke of Wellington.

We can say unequivocally that the destruction of religion in the black slums was not good for the black slums. If we look at the totality of African-American culture before 1960 and after 1960,
the disparity is appalling.

But - the black slums abandoned religion, but not Idealism. They simply got in sync with the ethics of the new Brahmin elite. We agree that this was disastrous. But the spilled milk will not magically return to the broken pitcher. The film cannot run backward.

This is why I focus on puncturing our present Brahmin version of Idealism, rather than restoring the past. People will always be religious. I believe educated elites should respect popular religion, without disdain, and not try to replace it with their own value system.

I certainly don't believe elites can manage popular religion as a matter of policy, which is the Straussian program. After all, they haven't been very good at managing anything else, have they?

May 17, 2007 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 17, 2007 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"I believe educated elites should respect popular religion, without disdain, and not try to replace it with their own value system."

A very Roman attitude. Cicero was an augur; Plutarch a Delphic priest. But both wrote learned treatises against superstition that would now be called Deistic.

May 17, 2007 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Thursday said...

Great post. However, I would think your hope in the next generation is somewhat misplaced. Pure atheism is just too austere and unappealing a creed to ever gain much popularity, even among the elite. Young people, in particular, are just too inherently idealistic, in the larger sense, to ever embrace anything like it. They want to dream wonderful dreams and believe that they will come true. Sure, youthful rebelliousness will drive a few into the true non-Idealist camp, but not many. The hope that "the kids" will rebel against Idealism reminds me of the hope among traditionalist Christians that young people after the 60s would rebel against their parent's licentiousness, while totally neglecting the fact that such a backlash goes against the inherent tendencies of youth. Really, they actually expected young people to lead the charge against sex. Expecting young people to lead the charge against Idealism, I'm afraid, is not much less Quixotic. The best we can reasonably expect is a very mild blowback, a kind of Idealism Lite.

May 17, 2007 at 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Michael Tanner said...

"To me, what's so unfortunate about our contemporary version of Idealism is that it's an almost perfect replacement for actual thought."

Succinctly put. Most people, even many with intellectual credentials, would rather assume a position than assemble a position.

May 18, 2007 at 6:00 AM  
Anonymous loki on the run said...

In any cultural setting, most people are followers, some people are leaders, and some people figure out how to work the system to their advantage.

May 18, 2007 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger ricpic said...

The important thing is not to give in to the impulse to be brilliant. So let me state a boring but bedrock truth. Humanity without God is dead. Why? Because as you, and Chesterton, point out, the loss of God means that Man will worship anything. Doesn't matter that in your opinion God is an invention. He is a necessary invention. THE necessary invention. And that's right, I said He. So don't fight it. Support religion. For the children.

May 19, 2007 at 3:47 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

"In fact, since the roots of Idealism in Protestant Christianity are so clear - ideals such as Democracy and Equality simply reek of pure Jesus - it's arguable that Idealism is simply a fanatical strain of nontheistic Christianity."

Other than a glaring non sequitir, the notion that democracy and equality reek of pure Jesus is utterly preposterous! Outrageously incredulous.

Democracy's origins hail from Greek antiquity, 500 years BEFORE Christ. It's rebirth in the 18th C. from the Enlightenment was in opposition to religion. Nowhere in any biblical text will one find the word "democracy" much less a semblance of its practice. Since Christianity is hierarchical, democracy would be not only foreign to Christians, but anathema. The tripartite Apostolic Ministries (i.e., bishop, priest, deacon) are also hierarchical.

As for "equality," it never appears in the Bible, although "equal" makes about 75 appearances, as in "equal proportions," but always in terms of measurement, never in the sense equal rights, equal protection, equal before the law, etc., that is its sense from the Enlightenment.

Lastly, Protestant antinomianism certainly allowed these non-biblical concepts to enter the the secular sphere, where each individuals is his own "authority" to divine and interpret the scriptures. In fact, in order to preserve each believer's autonomy and authority, such concepts were raised. Most Protestant denominations evolved into various pseudo-democratic institution through "General Conventions" and "Convocations."

This elan was fertile for the Free-Thinkers in the Enlightenment to espouse liberal principles, such as autonomy, individualism, equality, liberty, democracy, free exchange, tolerance, pluralism, etc.

Finally, Rationalism was only one of many movments during the Enlightenment. Empiricism was another. Scientism yet another. Transcendentalism yet another. NONE of which were beholden in any way to Christianity, and most of which were merely "tolerant" of it. German Idealism followed the Enlightenment in the 19th C., and only Hegel can be said to be nominally Christian. Marx and Kant sure as hell were not.

The preeminent philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, and Thomas Reid were atheists. Kant a Transcendentalist. Locke a marginal Christian. Montesqueieu at best a deist. Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Hamilton nominally Christian by membership, not by belief. Deists/Theists all. Thomas Paine an atheist.

Indeed, the Scots each developed a "naturalistic morality" based on the pleasure/pain dichotomy and "analogous emotions" (empathy, sympathy) that was benevolent and other-regarding (all of which would be confirmed by Darwinian biology). Kant's Categorical Imperative is a Rational Calculus outside any and all Religion. Bentham's Utilitarian Calculus the same. All these concepts, save Kant's, precede the Idealism of the 19th C. And only the Idealists can be considered Ideologues; unless all ideation is ideology, in which case, every thought is an Ideology (which would a strange claim). But, Ideology is ordinarily understood to be 19th C. German Idealism, not any feature of the Enlightenment. Indeed, Idealism was a reaction to the Enlightenment.

And whatever one may say of these trends, one cannot say they reek of Christianity. inasmuch as they all opposed Christianity!

May 19, 2007 at 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

You are correct that the Straussian program of managing popular religion as a matter of policy is not likely to succeed. That's why I am not a Straussian, even though you may identify my comments as such. The state should not and need not seek to inculcuate or enforce virtue. It would be enough if it simply avoided discouraging or hindering ordinary people from making virtuous choices.

I am reminded of an ancedote told by John Buchan, of a parliamentary candidate speaking to his constituency somewhere in Scotland, defending Lloyd George's welfare policy on the grounds that it was a practical application of the Sermon on the Mount. A heckler arose and said to the speaker:

"Ye believe in the Bible, sir?"

"With all my heart."

"And ye consider that this Insurance Act is in keepin' with the Bible?"

"I do."

"Is it true that under the Act there's a maternity benefit, and that a woman gets the benefit whether she's married or not?"

"That is right."

"D'ye approve of that?"

"With all my heart."

"Well, sir, how d'ye explain this? The Bible says the wages of sin is death and the Act says thirty shillin's."

One is left to speculate whether the many recent legislative and judicial actions that tend to undermine virtue as taught by popular religion are well-intentioned but thoughtless errors, or are in fact malicious and deliberate efforts to destroy and supplant it.

Your previous posting about the conflict between Optimates (Pareto's "lions") and Brahmins ("foxes") might lead one to the latter conclusion. "Capite nobis vulpes, vulpes parvulas quae demoliuntur vineas, nam vinea nostra floruit."

May 19, 2007 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"Nowhere in any biblical text will one find the word "democracy""

Not true: Gen 17:3, Numbers 4:19 and 22:5, Judges 14:8, Isaiah 32:21, and so on, not even counting the apocrypha.

May 19, 2007 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

GS -

I don't disagree with any of the facts in your very well-informed comment. I just interpret them differently.

The idea that all Christians are morally equal - that is, equal in the eyes of God, regardless of social or political status - is all over the New Testament. The "hippie Jesus" is not an invention.

You are correct that there is no implication of political procedure from this. But what is the most plausible explanation of this? That it was somehow difficult to derive the principle that all should have an equal say, from the principle that God recognizes neither master nor slave? Or that Christianity survived because it was not a political movement - "render under Caesar"?

Perhaps the best way to think of Christianity is as a syncretism of Hellenistic (especially Platonist), Hebraic and Roman traditions. It's not that Jesus traveled into the past and influenced Pericles. The direction is the opposite.

Many of the hierarchical traditions we associate with Christianity, especially of course Catholicism, are very much rooted in its role as the state religion of Late Antiquity. But the humanism is there in the text and it's not at all hard to read.

In retrospect, from today's definition of Christianity, all the 18th and 19th-century thinkers you mention seem anti-Christian. But most of them probably would not have identified themselves as such in life. They would have been more likely to tell you that they were uncovering the real nature of God, eg, God the watchmaker and so on.

It so happens historically that the term "Christian" has fallen on one side of a political divide and the Enlightenment has fallen on the other. So today we think of the Enlightenment as anti-Christian. But a lot of this is spin applied by its, successors the Romantic and Socialist movements, which more openly embraced anticlericalism - and whose definitions of "good" and "evil" in the real world strike me as very consistent with the New Testament.

Imagine you're a Confucian mandarin. To you, all these people are "Franks." You don't care what labels they choose for themselves.

You would notice that the only difference between, for example, the Socialists and the Puritan Levellers, is on the existence of a metaphysical paranormal entity named "God," whose reality it never even occurs to you to suspect. And you would notice that otherwise, they spend all their time worshipping the poor, albeit in a curiously abstract way, and establishing the rule of priest-soldiers.

This is why I find the concept of nontheistic Christianity useful. Ideally a word other than "Christian" could be used, but it's hard to think of anything workable.

May 19, 2007 at 6:54 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Not that I don't appreciate the support, but what translation are you using?

"Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and his burden" doesn't exactly sound like a New England town meeting to me...

May 19, 2007 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

thursday -

I'll answer this one on the main stage.

ricpic -

Have you considered the possibility that advocating Christianity isn't the most effective way to support it?

michael -

I love the Buchan story. The reference to Pareto's fox/lion conflict is also welcome, although I suspect it's a slight overgeneralization of the conflict between Brahmin and Optimate.

As for your question, though, I would say: neither. It is good in intention and malicious in effect.

This combination is very common, because it effectively allows evil conspiracies to form without anyone realizing that they're evil.

The key is that it's adaptive. It's not that it succeeds despite the bad results of its good intentions. It succeeds because of the bad results of its good intentions.

May 19, 2007 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

Sorry, bad joke.


"They would have been more likely to tell you that they were uncovering the real nature of God, eg, God the watchmaker and so on."

True, but in doing so they were shaving off his Christian beard. Herbert of Chirbury, the godfather of Deism, believed in a) God, b) the soul, c) being jolly good, and so on--all the rest is superstition. The Bible barely gets a look-in. Deism also results in taking more and more personal responsibility for one's actions. I therefore tend to think of the historical progression as being:


Each becoming progressively more 'inward', with an increasingly individualist moral code.

May 19, 2007 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Yup. And there's a lot more 'isms' you could squeeze into that list.

I suppose my point is just that drawing a line somewhere down the list and saying "this is Christian, that is not," based on some metaphysical doctrinal conflict - homoousis versus homoiousis or whatever - is not terribly useful. And to a nontheist such as myself, God versus no-God is in exactly this category, weird as I'm sure it sounds to Christians.

So a different word would be nice. But I'm afraid even my linguistic impudence balks at renaming Christianity...

May 19, 2007 at 10:51 PM  
Anonymous bbroadside said...

What I'm gathering from no single source in particular, is a sort of pragmatic hindsight regarding the more antireligious elements of the Enlightenment. To paraphrase, God may not exist, but arguing against his existence deprived people of a useful falsehood that kept them happy and kept them from murder each other.

(Incidentally, I haven't done any accounting of Christian pre-Enlightenment violence to compare it to secular post-Enlightenment violence. Has anyone summed up the total human cost of witch hunts, the Inquisition, the Crusade, etc.? That counts only actual Christian-influenced homicide, to say nothing of lives lost to primitive medicine in era in which, in the mind of the Enlightenment at least, the church(es) blocked scientific advancement.)

My main question for pragmatism is how it treats truth-telling. As we've seen, a lot of major Enlightenment thinkers were non- or anti-religious (at least in the old-fashioned sense of "religious" as metaphysical/superstitious). MM believes "educated elites should respect popular religion, without disdain, and not try to replace it with their own value system." I don't object to respecting ideas one disagrees with, but I can't say what approach atheist and agnostic intellectuals (then or now) should have in talking about the supernatural. Are we talking about some kind of self-censorship? I am reminded of parents trying to maintain the fiction of Santa Claus so that their children will truly enjoy Christmas (no one enjoys being given fun toys by mere family members ... elves and levitating caribou are required).

"Hush! Mustn't let the hoi polloi know that god doesn't exist! If they ask, just tell them no one has proven that god doesn't exist, and by no means should you mention that burden of proof falls on claims of the supernatural in any mature belief system." I'm not trying to be sarcastic (believe me it comes naturally), I just don't know exactly how pragmatism would have the intellectuals behave, other than to Be Not Like Dawkins.

I often see a conflict between telling truth and making people happy. I am asked, Why debunk something (e.g. homeopathy or Uri Geller) that makes people happy? To me, it is all about prediction. Who knows what will make people happy in the future? In order to make people happy you have to make a correct guess. You don't tell your spouse about the new kitten you got her because you think surprises are fun, unaware of her life-threatening cat allergy.

Telling the truth is much more reliable. You don't have to be correct. If you believe god doesn't exist, when in reality he just made himself invisible and created junk DNA to fool us, you still aren't lying when you proclaim your atheism.

To the charge that the Enlightenment is responsible for revolutionary (fascist, communist, etc.) bloodbaths, I think its antireligious architects would reply that while they thought they would make people happy, they were sure they were telling the truth.

July 15, 2007 at 12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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November 6, 2008 at 2:34 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 7:29 PM  

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