Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick

A leftist personage emits a Quotation of the Day, which I receive second-hand from a centrist personage. Here is today’s QOTD:

An interesting coincidence of events, suggesting a certain theme….

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

– Arnaud Amalric (d. 1225) (at the siege of Béziers in 1209 during
the Albigensian Crusade, when asked which of the townspeople to spare)

(Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)

A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case.

– Finley Peter Dunne (1837-1936) (Mr. Dooley’s Opinions, “Casual Observations”)

The most dangerous madmen are those created by religion, and … people whose aim is to disrupt society always know how to make good use of them on occasion.

– Denis Diderot (1713-1794) (Conversations with a Christian Lady)

Throughout human history, the apostles of purity, those who have claimed to possess a total explanation, have wrought havoc among mere mixed-up human beings.

– Salman Rushdie (b. 1948) (“In Good Faith,”
Independent on Sunday, London, 4 February 1990)

Is uniformity [of religious opinion] attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.

– Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17)

Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons.

– Ibid.

(Yes, today is the 274th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of these United States and a fervent believer in liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state – which is why he is often excoriated in right-wing religious circles today. But – mirabile dictu – it is also the 498th anniversary of the birth of Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), daughter of Lorenzo (but not “the Great”) de’ Medici, who became the queen of France’s King Henry III and with him planned the St. Bartholomew’s Night Massacre (1572), in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered in their beds. The event was timed to coincide with the wedding of the (Huguenot) Henry of Navarre, who (perhaps not surprisingly) converted to Catholicism (“Paris is worth a mass.”) and was crowned Henry IV in 1589. But wait! There’s more! On this date in 1598, Henry promulgated the Toleration Edict of Nantes, which protected freedom of belief in France, ended the Wars of Religion, and gave Protestants some measure of government influence – at least until Louis XIV revoked it in 1685, which forced thousands of Protestants to flee the country. One is reminded irresistibly of the comment of Lucretius (ca. 94-55 B.C.) in De Rerum Natura:

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

(So much wrong could religion induce.)

True then; true today. Aren’t historical connections fascinating?)

The author of QOTD grasps the wrong end of the stick, as he often does. Religion doesn’t make fanatics, it attracts them (but far from exclusively). Just as the “religions” of communism, socialism (including Hitler’s version), and progressivism do (and with much greater frequency).

I doubt that the number of murders committed in the name of religion amounts to one-tenth of the number of murders committed by three notable anti-religionists: Hitler (yes, Hitler), Stalin, and Mao.

How America Has Changed

I believe that the morals and the mores of a populace change observably over time. That’s certainly true of Americans, even if it isn’t true of, say, many tribal peoples of distant lands. This post takes a look at how American morals and mores have changed, generally for the worse, in my lifetime.

I am an American of humble birth, with a lower-middle-class to upper-lower-class upbringing in the Upper Midwest. I’m a graduate of a huge, tax-funded university more known for its sports teams than its scholarly attainments. And I’m a person who was never fully enveloped by the bubble of elitism, even though I spent forty years living among and working with highly educated and affluent elites. (See my “About” page for more of the gory details.)

And what do I see when I look out at the America of today? It’s an America where so many collegians can’t bear to hear or read ideas unpalatable to their tender minds; where those same collegians require days of mourning to recover from the unexpected electoral victory of Donald J. Trump; where liberal elites generally view Trump’s victory as a sign that ignorant, uneducated, racist whites have conquered the country; and where many of those same liberals who had promised to leave the U.S.A. if Trump were elected but are, unfortunately for the U.S.A., reneging on their promises.

What I see are a lot of people who should be transported back to the lower-middle-class and upper-lower-class environs of the Upper Midwest of the 1940s and 1950s, where they might just learn how to face the realities of life.


Politics wasn’t a preoccupation in the bad old days because relatively little was expected (or wanted) from government. There was Social Security, State unemployment benefits, and workers’ comp — all of which relied heavily on taxes and “contributions” — and that was about it. I guess there were some welfare payments for the truly indigent, but there weren’t extended unemployment benefits, State and federal subsidies to keep students in college and out of the work force, low-income tax credits, low-income housing subsidies, etc., etc., etc. But those are all loose change compared with the real budget-busters: Medicare, Medicaid, and their vast expansion under Obamacare.

And despite having a much smaller government and a few recessions, the rate of economic growth then was higher than it is today.

Moral: Less government means less political strife — and greater prosperity, to boot.


Almost everyone belonged to one, but few people made a big deal of it. Now, it’s de rigeur to belong to the Church of Redistributionism, Alarmism & Pseud-science (CRAP) — and a big deal if someone doesn’t belong. Religion hasn’t withered away, it’s just taken a new and more virulent form.

It used to be accepted that government wasn’t in the business of establishing or suppressing religion — and only a few woolly-haired progenitors of political correctness thought that a Christmas display on government property was an establishment of religion. Now, government is expected to force the doctrines of CRAP down everyone’s throats. That’s “progress” for you.

What’s worse is that the “progressives” who are doing the shoving don’t understand the resentment that it causes, some of which bubbled to the surface on November 8.


Bullying was common and accepted as a fact of life. The smart, skinny kid who wore glasses (that was me) could expect taunts and shoving from the bigger, dumber kids. And he might sometimes fight back, successfully or not, or he might devise avoidance tactics and thereby learn valuable lessons about getting through life despite its unpleasant aspects. But unless the bullying became downright persistent and turned into injurious violence, he didn’t run to Mama or the principal. And if he did, Mama or the principal would actually do something about the bullying and not cringe in fear of offending the bully or his parents because the bully was a “disadvantaged” (i.e., stupid) lout.

Bullying, in other words, was nothing new and nothing worth mounting a national campaign against. People dealt with it personally, locally, and usually successfully. And bully-ees (as I was occasionally) learned valuable lessons about (a) how to cope with the stuff life throws at you and (b) how to get along in life without having a government program to fall back on.

Life is a risk. People used to understand that. Too many of them no longer do. And worse, they expect others to carry the burden of risk for them. I’ve got enough problems of my own, I don’t need yours as well.


People of similar backgrounds (religion, neighborhood, income) and tastes (sports, cars, music) tend to hang out together. True then, true now, true forever — though now (and perhaps forever) the biggest clique seems to be defined by adherence to CRAP (or lack thereof).

Aside from cliques consisting of bullies, cliques used to leave each other alone. (I’m talking about cliques, not gangs, which were less prevalent and less violent then than now.) But the CRAP clique won’t leave anyone alone, and uses government to bully non-members.

Irony: The very people who complain loudest about bullying are themselves bullies. But they don’t have the guts to do it personally. Instead, they use government — the biggest bully of all.


There was lots of it, but it was confined mainly to members of the male preference. (I’m kidding about “preference”; males were just males and didn’t think of themselves as having a preference, orientation, or birth-assignment. The same went for females.) And it was based on evolved norms about the roles and abilities of men and women — norms that were still evolving and would have evolved to something like those now prevalent, but with less acrimony, had the forces of forced change not evolved into CRAP.

Women probably comprised half the student body at Big-Ten U where I was a collegian. That was a big change from the quaint days of the 1920s (only thirty years earlier), when female students were still such a rarity (outside female-only colleges) that they were disparagingly called co-eds. Nationally, the male-female ratio hit 50-50 in the late 1970s and continues to shift in favor of women.

There’s plenty of evidence that women are different from men, in the brain and non-genital parts of the body, I mean. So disparities in emotional balance, abstract thinking, mechanical aptitude, size, running speed, and strength — and thus in career choices and accomplishments — will surprise and offend no one who isn’t an adherent of CRAP.

The biggest sexists of all are feminazis and the male eunuchs who worship at their feet. Together, they are turning the armed forces into day-care centers and police forces into enforcers of political correctness — and both into under-muscled remnants of institutions that were once respected and feared by wrong-doers.


There was plenty of that, too, and there still is. The funny thing is that the adherents of CRAP expect there to be a lot less of it. Further, they expect to reduce its prevalence among whites by constantly reminding them that they’re racist trash. And what does that get you? More votes for Donald Trump, who — whatever his faults — doesn’t talk like that.

Racism, like sexism, would be a lot less prevalent if the CRAPers could leave well enough alone and let people figure out how to live in harmony despite their differences.

Living in harmony doesn’t mean being best buddies with the persons of every skin tone and sexual preference, as TV commercials and shows are wont to suggest. People are inherently tribal, and the biggest tribes of all are races, which really exist, all CRAP aside. Racial differences, like gender differences, underlie real differences in intelligence and, therefore, in proneness to violence. They also betoken deep-seated cultural differences that can’t be overlooked, unless you happen to have a weird preference for rap music.

It used to be that people understood such things because they saw life in the raw. But the CRAPers — who are the true exemplars of cosseted white privilege — haven’t a clue. In their worldview, where the mind is a blank slate and behavior is nothing more than the residue of acculturation, racism is an incomprehensible phenomenon, something that simply shouldn’t exist. Unless it’s the racism of blacks toward whites, of course.


It was for the brightest — those who were most likely to use it to advance science, technology, the world of commerce, and so on. It wasn’t for everyone. In fact, when I went to college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were already too many dumb students there.

The push to get more and more dumb people into college is rationalized, in large part, by the correlation between income and level of education. But level of education used to be a sign of drive and intelligence, which are the very things that strongly determine one’s income. Now, level of education is too often a sign that an unqualified person has been pushed into college.

Pushing more and more people into college, which necessarily means taxing productive persons to subsidize the educations of dumber and dumber people, accomplishes several things, all of them bad:

  • There are fewer workers who could be doing something remunerative but not demanding of high intelligence (e.g., plumbing), but who instead are qualified only to do nothing more than the kind of work they could have done without going to college (e.g., waiting on tables and flipping burgers).
  • Which means that they’ve ended up driving down the wages of people who didn’t go to college.
  • And which also means that the tax dollars wasted on subsidizing their useless college educations could have been spent instead on investments in business creation and expansion that would have created more jobs and higher incomes for all.


These began in earnest in the late 1950s. What they were meant to accomplish in those days — usually the end of legal segregation and voter suppression — were worthy objectives.

Then came the hairy, unkempt, undignified, and sometimes violent protests of the late 1960s. These set the tone for most of what followed. Nothing is too trivial to protest nowadays. To protest everything is to protest nothing.

What protesting usually accomplishes now is inconvenience to people who are simply trying to get from point A to point B, the diversion of police from real police work, the diversion of tax dollars to trash pickup, and filler for TV newscasts.

Oh, yes, it also fills protestors with a feeling of smug superiority. And if they’re of the right color (dark) or the right political persuasion (left), they’re allowed to wreak some havoc, which gives them a perverted sense of accomplishment. And radical-chic CRAPers love it.

Bring back the riot act.

As for those performers who can’t resist the urge to display their CRAP credentials, and who therefore insist on conveying their puerile (and usually hypocritical) views about social, racial, environmental, and other trendy kinds of “justice,” I’m with Laura Ingraham.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Especially 1963: The Year Zero (and the articles and posts linked to therein), and also
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
Here We Go Again
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
My Platform
Polarization and De Facto Partition (many more related posts are listed at the end of this one)

Mysteries: Sacred and Profane

A philosopher named Jamie Whyte, about whom I have written before (“Invoking Hitler“), is the author of Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking. According to the publisher, it is a

book for people who like argument. Witty, contentious, and passionate, it exposes the methods with which we avoid reasoned debate…. His writing is both laugh-out-loud funny and a serious comment on the ways in which people with power and influence avoid truth in steering public opinion.

Bad Thoughts is witty — though “laugh-out-loud funny” is a stretch — and, for the most part, correct in its criticisms of the kinds of sloppy logic that are found routinely in politics, journalism, blogdom, and everyday conversation.

But Whyte is not infallible, as I point out in “Invoking Hitler.”  This post focuses on another of Whyte’s miscues, which is found under “Mystery” (pp. 23-26). Here are some relevant samples:

…Consider … the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Unity of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct entities — as suggested by ‘Trinity’. Yet each is God, a sinle entity — as suggested by ‘Unity’. The doctrine is not that each is part of God, in the way that the FM tuner is part of your three-in-one home stereo. Each is wholly God.

And there’s the problem. It takes only the most basic arithmetic to see that three things cannot be one thing. The doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity is inconsistent with the fact that three does not equal one.

Whyte goes on and on, but the quoted material is the essence of his “case” that the Blessed Trinity (Catholic usage) is impossible because it defies mathematical logic. What is worse, to Whyte, is the fact that this bit of illogic is “explained away” (as he would put it) by calling it a “mystery.”

I am surprised that a philosopher cannot accept the idea of “mystery.” Anyone who thinks for more than a few minutes about the nature of the universe, as Whyte must have done, concludes that its essence is beyond human comprehension. And, yet, the universe exists. The universe — a real thing — is, at bottom, a mystery. Somehow, the mysteriousness of the universe does not negate its existence.

And there are scientific mysteries piled on that mysteriousness. Two of those mysteries have a common feature: They posit the simultaneous existence of one thing in more than one form — not unlike the Blessed Trinity:

Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like “particle” and “wave” to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.

*   *   *

The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world” (or “universe”).

As Shakespeare puts it (Hamlet, Act I, Scene V), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or in your physics.

If Whyte wants to disprove the Blessed Trinity, he must first try to disprove the existence of God — a fool’s errand that I have addressed in other posts; for example:

A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)” (see the first section, “Atheism,” which inter alia addresses Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, which is summarized in this article by Krauss)

Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life

Scientism is “the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation.” When scientists proclaim truths outside the realm of their expertise, they are guilty of practicing scientism. Two notable scientistic scientists, of whom I have written several times (e.g., here and here), are Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer. It is unsurprising that Dawkins and Singer are practitioners of scientism. Both are strident atheists, and a strident atheists, as I have said,  “merely practice a ‘religion’ of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.”

Dawkins, Singer, and many other scientistic atheists share an especially “religious” view of evolution. In brief, they seem to believe that evolution rules out God. Evolution rules out nothing. Evolution may be true in outline but it does not bear close inspection. On that point, I turn to the late David Stove, a noted Australian philosopher and atheist. This is from his essay, “So You Think You Are a Darwinian?“:

Of course most educated people now are Darwinians, in the sense that they believe our species to have originated, not in a creative act of the Divine Will, but by evolution from other animals. But believing that proposition is not enough to make someone a Darwinian. It had been believed, as may be learnt from any history of biology, by very many people long before Darwinism, or Darwin, was born.

What is needed to make someone an adherent of a certain school of thought is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to that school, and are believed either by all of its adherents, or at least by the more thoroughgoing ones. In any large school of thought, there is always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the ‘purists’ or ‘ultras’ of that school. What is needed and sufficient, then, to make a person a Darwinian, is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to Darwinians, and believed either by all of them, or at least by ultra-Darwinians.

I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct falsity about our species or, where the proposition is a general one, obviously false in the case of our species, at least. Some of the ten propositions are quotations; all the others are paraphrases. The quotations are all from authors who are so well-known, at least in Darwinian circles, as spokesmen for Darwinism or ultra-Darwinism, that their names alone will be sufficient evidence that the proposition is a Darwinian one. Where the proposition is a paraphrase, I give quotations or other information which will, I think, suffice to establish its Darwinian credentials.

My ten propositions are nearly in reverse historical order. Thus, I start from the present day, and from the inferno-scene – like something by Hieronymus Bosch – which the ‘selfish gene’ theory makes of all life. Then I go back a bit to some of the falsities which, beginning in the 1960s, were contributed to Darwinism by the theory of ‘inclusive fitness’. And finally I get back to some of the falsities, more pedestrian though no less obvious, of the Darwinism of the 19th or early-20th century.

1. The truth is, ‘the total prostitution of all animal life, including Man and all his airs and graces, to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances’, genes.

This is a thumbnail-sketch, and an accurate one, of the contents of The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins….

2 ‘…it is, after all, to [a mother’s] advantage that her child should be adopted’ by another woman….

This quotation is from Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, p. 110.

Obviously false though this proposition is, from the point of view of Darwinism it is well-founded

3. All communication is ‘manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender.’

This profound communication, though it might easily have come from any used-car salesman reflecting on life, was actually sent by Dawkins, (in The Extended Phenotype, (1982), p. 57), to the readers whom he was at that point engaged in manipulating….

9. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to food-shortage, disease, and war, then the members of the more fortunate class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the other class.

That this proposition is false, or rather, is the exact reverse of the truth, is not just obvious. It is notorious, and even proverbial….

10. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life ‘do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed.’

This is from The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81. Exactly the same words occur in all the editions….

Since this passage expresses the essential idea of natural selection, no further evidence is needed to show that proposition 10 is a Darwinian one. But is it true? In particular, may we really feel sure that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would be rigidly destroyed by natural selection?

On the contrary, the proposition is (saving Darwin’s reverence) ridiculous. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred characteristics, commonly occurring in our species, which are not only ‘in the least degree’ injurious to their possessors, but seriously or even extremely injurious to them, which have not been ‘rigidly destroyed’, and concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the process of being destroyed. Here are ten such characteristics, without even going past the first letter of the alphabet. Abortion; adoption; fondness for alcohol; altruism; anal intercourse; respect for ancestors; susceptibility to aneurism; the love of animals; the importance attached to art; asceticism, whether sexual, dietary, or whatever.

Each of these characteristics tends, more or less strongly, to shorten our lives, or to lessen the number of children we have, or both. All of them are of extreme antiquity. Some of them are probably older than our species itself. Adoption, for example is practised by some species of chimpanzees: another adult female taking over the care of a baby whose mother has died. Why has not this ancient and gross ‘biological error’ been rigidly destroyed?…

The cream of the jest, concerning proposition 10, is that Darwinians themselves do not really believe it. Ask a Darwinian whether he actually believes that the fondness for alcoholic drinks is being destroyed now, or that abortion is, or adoption – and watch his face. Well, of course he does not believe it! Why would he? There is not a particle of evidence in its favour, and there is a great mountain of evidence against it. Absolutely the only thing it has in its favour is that Darwinism says it must be so. But (as Descartes said in another connection) ‘this reasoning cannot be presented to infidels, who might consider that it proceeded in a circle’.

What becomes, then, of the terrifying giant named Natural Selection, which can never sleep, can never fail to detect an attribute which is, even in the least degree, injurious to its possessors in the struggle for life, and can never fail to punish such an attribute with rigid destruction? Why, just that, like so much else in Darwinism, it is an obvious fairytale, at least as far as our species is concerned.

A science cannot be wrong in so many important ways and yet be taken seriously as a God-substitute.

Frederick Turner has this to say in “Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate“:

Does the theory of evolution make God unnecessary to the very existence of the world?…

The polemical evolutionists are right about the truth of evolution. But the rightness of their cause has been deeply compromised by their own version of the creationists’ sin. The evolutionists’ sin, as I see it, is even greater, because it is three sins rolled into one….

The third sin is … dishonesty. In many cases it is clear that the beautiful and hard-won theory of evolution, now proved beyond reasonable doubt, is being cynically used by some — who do not much care about it as such — to support an ulterior purpose: a program of atheist indoctrination, and an assault on the moral and spiritual goals of religion. A truth used for unworthy purposes is quite as bad as a lie used for ends believed to be worthy. If religion can be undermined in the hearts and minds of the people, then the only authority left will be the state, and, not coincidentally, the state’s well-paid academic, legal, therapeutic and caring professions. If creationists cannot be trusted to give a fair hearing to evidence and logic because of their prior commitment to religious doctrine, some evolutionary partisans cannot be trusted because they would use a general social acceptance of the truth of evolution as a way to set in place a system of helpless moral license in the population and an intellectual elite to take care of them.

And that is my issue, not only with the likes of Dawkins and Singer but also with any so-called scientist who believes that evolution — or, more broadly, scientific knowledge — somehow justifies atheism.

Science is only about the knowable, and much of life’s meaning lies where science cannot reach. Maverick Philosopher puts it this way in “Why Science Will Never Put Religion Out of Business“:

We suffer from a lack of existential meaning, a meaning that we cannot supply from our own resources since any subjective acts of meaning-positing are themselves (objectively) meaningless….

…[T]he salvation religion promises is not to be understood in some crass physical sense the way the typical superficial and benighted atheist-materialist would take it but as salvation from meaninglessness, anomie, spiritual desolation, Unheimlichkeit, existential insecurity, Angst, ignorance and delusion, false value-prioritizations, moral corruption irremediable by any human effort, failure to live up to ideals, the vanity and transience of our lives, meaningless sufferings and cravings and attachments, the ultimate pointlessness of all efforts at moral and intellectual improvement in the face of death . . . .

…[I]t is self-evident that there are no technological solutions to moral evil, moral ignorance, and the apparent absurdity of life.  Is a longer life a morally better life?  Can mere longevity confer meaning?The notion that present or future science can solve the problems that religion addresses is utterly chimerical.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science

Religion on the Left

Maverick Philosopher makes an astute point:

[T]he present question is not whether God exists or not, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn’t and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, and having thrown overboard every moral standard,  is ever ready to spill oceans of blood in pursuit of their utopian fantasies.

There may be no source of the help we need. Then the conclusion to draw is that we should get by as best we can until Night falls, rather than making things worse by drinking the Left’s utopian Kool-Aid.

The main ingredient of utopian Kool-Aid (its water, if you will) is a belief in the perfectibility of man and the ability of man to achieve perfection on this earth. It is that belief which enables leftists to inveigh against every inevitable imperfection of human striving as a failure that must be — and can be — corrected through state action.  The state is the left’s religion-substitute, and a most dangerous one because obeisance to the state leads to the suppression of individuals in the name of the common good — as seen from the left — and the destruction of the human spirit that enable earthly progress, imperfect as it may be.

Where one finds ostensibly religious persons on the left, one does not find a belief in voluntary acts of goodness toward others. What one finds is exemplified in A Circle of Protection, which proclaims:

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms, and to speak out for justice.

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

Hiding one’s leftism behind the robe of Jesus is a cynical act:

[T]he “Circle of Protection” … tried to browbeat conservative lawmakers into pumping taxpayer dollars at full force into welfare and wealth redistribution programs.

They claimed to be doing this for the “poor.”  The coalition’s slogan, “What would Jesus cut?”, equates federal spending levels with degree of morality….

Such political activism is its own reward—there’s unlikely to be much of a reward in Heaven for being “compassionate” with other people’s money.  Jesus noted that the Pharisees, who excelled at imposing layers of human standards to the Lord’s, practiced their “righteousness . . . [merely] in order to be seen” by other people.  The “circle” follows the same practice….

The bottom line for America is how to put our public sector on fiscally sustainable ground—for the good of all Americans.  The welfare state, the disproportionate expropriation of private income and wealth transfer schemes embodied in public programs all make for unsustainable spending patterns.

Moreover, the government is robbing middle- and upper-income Peter to pay Paul—despite the fact Paul has what would amounts to middle-class or upper-income existence in most of the world.

The so-called “Circle of Protection” and the unfair, immoral policies it stands for represent one circle that should be broken.

“Charity” at the point of the state’s gun is not charity, it is theft. There is a Commandment about that, as I recall.

Leftists-cum-religionists commit at least one other sin — or most of them do, I am sure. That is the sin of hypocrisy:

Essentially its malice is identical with that of lying; in both cases there is discordance between what a man has in his mind and the simultaneous manifestation of himself…. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that we must carefully differentiate its two elements: the want of goodness, and the pretence of having it. If a person be so minded as definitely to intend both things, it is of course obvious that he is guilty of grievous sin, for that is only another way of saying that a man lacks the indispensable righteousness which makes him pleasing in the sight of God.

The portrait of hypocrisy is drawn with appalling vividness by Christ in His denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

There are those Pharisees again. Their modern brethren are well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed leftists who proclaim their “compassion” for the “less fortunate” and use the state’s power to enforce that “compassion,” but do not share their homes with the less-fortunate or even give as generously to charity as the conservatives whose supposed lack of “compassion” they deride.

What does left-religionists’ penchant for coercion and hypocrisy have to do with atheism? A lot.

The invocation of religion as a justification for state action, for the sake of the “poor and vulnerable,” is a mockery of charity:

a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God.

I submit that one cannot be a Christian, in more than name, while favoring coercive “charity.” The person who does that is putting himself in the position of judging the relative worthiness of individuals, which is a kind of blasphemy. Further, the belief that one is doing good by counseling coercion is a manifestation of the vice of presumption.

I will go further and say that the leftists of my acquaintance who profess to be religious are no less mean-spirited than the leftists of my acquaintance who reject religion. Mean-spiritedness is not excused simply because it is aimed at the well-to-do. Yes, Jesus said this to the rich man: “If you will be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” But Jesus was counseling the rich man, not directing anyone to take the rich man’s possessions and give them to the poor.

My conclusion — to which many readers will no doubt object — is that leftist-religionists are religiously shallow at best and insincerely religious at worst. Remove their veneer of religiosity and you have a utopian leftist, committed to perfection on this earth. In other words, you have an lefitist-atheist in all but name — a person who worships at the altar of the state.

Related posts:
Religion and Liberty” (at Facets of Liberty)
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion

“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion

Religion and Occupy Wall Street make strange pew-mates. This is from an AP story, “Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street“:

Clergy emphasize they are participants in the aggressively leaderless movement, not people trying to co-opt it. Plus, in a movement that purports to represent the “99 percent” in society, the prominent religious groups are overwhelmingly liberal….

Religious imagery and events have been common since the protests began. In New York, clergy carried an Old Testament-style golden calf in the shape of the Wall Street bull to decry the false idol of greed….

A Chicago group, Interfaith Worker Justice, has published an interfaith prayer service guide for occupation protests nationwide.

Clergy who support the protests say they are a natural fit with many faiths, because they share traditional concerns about economic injustice….

Let’s stop there and talk about “economic injustice.” What does that mean?

A true economic injustice occurs when a party to an economic contract (written or implied) reneges. An employer who doesn’t pay a worker the agreed wage or for the full number of hours worked commits an economic injustice. A supplier who delivers less than a full lot of goods, but bills the full lot, commits an economic injustice. Well, you get the idea: Economic injustice is theft, pure and simple.

But it is not theft to refuse to pay a person what he has not earned. To the contrary, it is theft to demand unearned payment. It is armed robbery when the state — with its monopoly of force — takes from those who earn and gives to those who do not.

Armed robbery is exactly what passes for “economic justice” among the OWS crowd, though they prefer to call it “fairness” and “caring.” Accordingly, there is no legitimate religious basis for OWS-style “economic justice,” despite the attempt of some religious (and irreligious) leftists to claim that Christianity requires redistribution.

At this point, I defer to Father Robert A. Sirico, a Roman Catholic priest and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. This is taken from from a speech that he delivered at Hillsdale College on October 27, 2006:

In chapter 21 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proposes a moral dilemma in the form of a parable: A man asks his two sons to go to work for him in his vineyard. The first son declines, but later ends up going. The second son tells his father he will go, but never does. “Who,” Jesus asks, “did the will of his father?” Although I am loath to argue that Jesus’s point in this parable was an economic one, we may nonetheless derive from it a moral lesson with which to evaluate economic systems in terms of achieving the common good.

Modern history presents us with two divergent models of economic arrangement: socialism and capitalism. One of these appears preoccupied with the common good and social betterment, the other with profits and production. But let us keep the parable in mind as we take a brief tour of economic history….

In our own time, we think of socialists as opposing capitalist excess, disparaging the mass availability of goods and services, and seeking to restrict the freedom to produce and enjoy wealth. Consider, for instance, the wrath that modern socialists feel towards fast food, large discount stores, and specialty financial services for the poor. They accuse the mass consumer market of institutionalizing false needs, commodifying the commons, glorifying the banal, homogenizing culture—all at the expense of the environment and of equality of condition, the highest socialist goal. Improving the standard of living in society is far down the list of modern socialist priorities.

But to repeat, it was not always so. Early socialists believed that socialism would bring about an advance of civilization and an increase in wealth. Babeuf, for example, predicted that socialism would “[have] us eat four good meals a day, [dress] us most elegantly, and also [provide] those of us who are fathers of families with charming houses worth a thousand louis each.” In short, socialism would distribute prosperity across the entire population….

The core of the old socialist hope was a mass prosperity that would free all people from the burden of laboring for others and place them in a position to pursue higher ends, such as art and philosophy, in a conflict-free society. But there was a practical problem: The Marxist prediction of a revolution that would bring about this good society rested on the assumption that the condition of the working classes would grow ever worse under capitalism. But by the early twentieth century it was clear that this assumption was completely wrong. Indeed, the reverse was occurring: As wealth grew through capitalist means, the standard of living of all was improving.

Historians now realize that even in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, workers were becoming better off. Prices were falling, incomes rising, health and sanitation improving, diets becoming more varied, and working conditions constantly improving. The new wealth generated by capitalism dramatically lengthened life spans and decreased child mortality rates. The new jobs being created in industry paid more than most people could make in agriculture. Housing conditions improved. The new heroes of society came from the middle class as business owners and industrialists displaced the nobility and gentry in the cultural hierarchy….

In the midst of all this change, many people seemed only to observe an increase in the number of the poor. In a paradoxical way, this too was a sign of social progress, since so many of these unfortunate people might have been dead in past ages. But the deaths of the past were unseen and forgotten, whereas current poverty was omnipresent. Meanwhile, as economic development expanded in the nineteenth century, there was a dramatic growth of a middle class that now had access to consumer goods once available only to kings—not to mention plenty of new goods being created by the engine of capitalism.

These economic advances continued throughout the period of the rise of socialist ideology. The poor didn’t get poorer because the rich were getting richer (a familiar socialist refrain even today) as the socialists had predicted. Instead, the underlying reality was that capitalism had created the first societies in history in which living standards were rising in all sectors of society. In a sense, free market capitalism was coming closest to realizing what Marx himself had imagined: “the all round development of individuals” in which “the productive forces will also have increased” and “the springs of social wealth will flow more freely.”

There was one Marxist in England who seemed to understand what was happening. Eduard Bernstein, who lived from 1850 to 1932, is hardly known today. His writings are not studied, except by specialists. But he was the leading Marxist after Marx and Engels. Engels considered him their successor, and even asked him to finish editing Marx’s fourth volume of Capital.

In the 1890s, Bernstein began to observe the positive effects of capitalism on living standards. “What characterizes the modern mode of production above all,” he wrote, “is the great increase in the productive power of labour. The result is a no less increase of production—the production of masses of commodities.” This empirical fact struck at the very heart of the Marxist case. Bernstein also observed that the numbers of businesses and of people who were well-off were rising along with incomes. As he put it, “The increase of social wealth is not accompanied by a diminishing number of capitalist magnates, but by an increasing number of capitalists of all degrees.” In fact, in the 50 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, incomes in England and Germany doubled—precisely the opposite of what Marx had predicted….

The basis of Marxist doctrine had been the idea that society under capitalism consisted of two classes—one small and rich, the other vast and increasingly impoverished. The reality, however, was that the numbers of the rich were growing more rapidly than those of the poor, while the vast majority was falling into a category that socialism didn’t anticipate: the middle class. Doctrinaire Marxists were of course furious with Bernstein for noticing these developments….

If one becomes aware that the older moral argument for socialism is wrong—that capitalism is actually benefiting people and serving the common good—why would one hold on to the ideology rather than abandon it? Clearly, it is difficult to abandon a lifelong ideology, especially if one considers the only available alternative to be tainted with evil. Thus socialism was, for Bernstein’s generation of socialists and for many that followed, simply an entrenched dogma. It was possible for them to argue the finer points, but not to abandon it.

However understandable this might be, it is not praiseworthy. To hold on to a doctrine that is demonstrably false is to abandon all pretense of objectivity….

There have long been cases where grotesque examples of the failure of socialism exist alongside glowing examples of capitalist success, and yet many people will use every excuse to avoid attributing the differences to their economic systems. Even a superficial comparison of North and South Korea, East and West Germany before the Berlin Wall fell, Hong Kong and mainland China before reforms, or Cuba and other countries of Latin America, demonstrates that free economies are superior at promoting the common good. And yet the truth has not sunk in….

Although the free enterprise system obviously does not incorporate the old socialists’ idea of a commonality of goods, it does seem to achieve the common good as they conceived it. What then can we say of those who today remain attached to socialism as a political goal? We can say that they do not know or have not understood the economic history of the last 300 years. Or perhaps we can say that they are more attached to socialism as an ideology than they are to the professed goals of its founders. I’m particularly struck by the neo-socialist concern for the well-being of plants, animals, lakes and rivers, rain forests and deserts—particularly when the concern for the environment appears far more intense than the concern for the human family.

When we speak of the common good, we need also to be clear-minded about the political and juridical institutions that are most likely to bring it about. These happen to be the very institutions that socialists have worked so hard to discredit. Let me list them: private property in the means of production; stable money to serve as a means of exchange; the freedom of enterprise that allows people to start businesses; the free association of workers that permits people to choose where they would like to work and under what conditions; the enforcement of contracts that provides institutional support for the idea that people should keep their promises; and a vibrant trade within and among nations to permit the fullest possible flowering of the division of labor. These institutions must be supported by a cultural infrastructure that respects private property, regards the human person as possessing an inherent dignity, and confers its first loyalty to transcendent authority over civil authority. This is the basis of freedom, without which the common good is unreachable….

To summarize: We are all entitled to call ourselves socialist, if by the term we mean that we are devoted to the early socialist goal of the well-being of all members of society. Reason and experience make clear that the means to achieve this is not through central planning by the state, but through political and economic freedom. Thomas Aquinas had an axiom: bonum est diffusivum sui. “The good pours itself out.” The good of freedom has indeed poured itself out to the benefit of humanity.

In conclusion, I ask you, “Who did the will of the Father?”

Who indeed? It was not (and is not) the spoiled children of capitalism who now “occupy” various venues or sympathize with those who do. These aspiring lotus-eaters claim to be for “economic justice,” but their true agenda is armed robbery.

The State of Morality

David Brooks — who sometimes resembles the conservative that he claims to be — writes about

a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America….

[A]nd the results are depressing….

The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers … you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so….

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”…

[The researchers] found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism….

Allan Bloom and Gertrude Himmelfarb warned that sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values. Alasdair MacIntyre has written about emotivism, the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment.

Charles Taylor has argued that morals have become separated from moral sources. People are less likely to feel embedded on a moral landscape that transcends self. James Davison Hunter wrote a book called “The Death of Character.” Smith’s interviewees are living, breathing examples of the trends these writers have described.

In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

And where was morality “once revealed, inherited and shared”? In religion, of course. But, as I say here,

[t]he weakening of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America is owed to enemies within (established religions trying in vain to be “relevant”) and to enemies without (leftists and nihilistic libertarians who seek every opportunity to denigrate religion)….

I believe that the incessant attacks on religion have helped to push people — especially young adults — away from religion, to the detriment of liberty. It is not surprising that “liberals”  tend to be anti-religious, for — as [Theodore] Dalrymple points out [here] — they disdain the tenets of personal responsibility and liberty that are contained in the last six of the Ten Commandments. It is disheartening, however, when libertarians join the anti-religious chorus. They know not what they do when they join the left in tearing down a bulwark of civil society, without which liberty cannot prevail.

Humans need no education in aggression and meddling; those come to us naturally. But we do need to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to leave others alone — and we need to learn those things when we are young. Such things will not be taught in public schools. They could be taught in homes, but are less likely to be taught there as Americans drift further from their religious roots.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Facets of Liberty

Liberty is not a “thing” or a kind of Platonic ideal; it is a modus vivendi. Roger Scruton captures its essence in this pithy paragraph:

People are bound by moral laws, which articulate the idea of a community of rational beings, living in mutual respect, and resolving their disputes by negotiation and agreement. (An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy, p. 112)

Fittingly, Scruton’s observation comes at the beginning of the chapter on “Morality.” I say fittingly because liberty depends on morality — properly understood as a canon of ethical behavior — and morality, as I argue below, depends very much on religion.

Where is libertarianism in all of this? Read on:


Liberty can be thought of as freedom, when freedom is understood as permission to act within agreed limits on behavior.

Liberty, in other words, is not the absence of constraints on action. In a political context (i.e., where two or more persons coexist), there are always constraints on the behavior of at least one person, even in the absence of coercion or force. Coexistence requires compromise because (I daresay) no two humans are alike in their abilities, tastes, and preferences. And compromise necessitates constraints on behavior; compromise means that the parties involved do not do what they would do if they were isolated from each other or of a like mind about everything. Compromise is found in marriage, in friendships, in social circles, in neighborhoods, in workplaces, as well as the formal institutions (e.g., Congress) that one usually thinks of as “political.”

Where there is liberty, social norms are not shaped by the power of the state (though they may be enforced by the state). Rather, where there is liberty, social norms consist solely of the ever-evolving constellation of the voluntary compromises that arise from “non-political” institutions (i.e., marriage, etc.). It is the observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy liberty: peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Self-styled libertarians (about whom, more below) seem to reject this reasonable definition of liberty, and its antecedent conditions. They can do so, however, only by envisioning a Utopian polity that comprises like-minded persons who are for abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and open borders, and against war (except, possibly, as a last-ditch defense against invading hoards). They are practically indistinguishable from “liberals,” except in their adamant defense of property rights and free markets. (And some of them are lukewarm about property rights, if the enforcement of those rights allows discrimination based on personal characteristics.)

In summary, only where voluntarily evolved social norms are untrammeled by the state can individuals possibly live in peaceful, willing coexistence and engage in beneficially cooperative behavior — that is to say, live according to the Golden Rule.

What are the key attributes of those norms? Jennifer Roback Morse says, in “Marriage and the Limits of Contract” (Policy Review, No. 130, April 1, 2005):

[l]ibertarians recognize that a free market needs a culture of law-abidingness, promise-keeping, and respect for contracts…. A culture full of people who violate their contracts at every possible opportunity cannot be held together by legal institutions, as the experience of post-communist Russia plainly shows.

But whence “a culture of law-abidingness, promise-keeping, and respect for contracts”? Friedrich Hayek knew the answer to that question. According to Edward Feser (“The Trouble with Libertarianism,” TCS Daily, July 20, 2004), Hayek was firmly committed

to the proposition that market society has certain moral presuppositions that can only be preserved through the power of social stigma. In his later work especially, he made it clear that these presuppositions concern the sanctity of property and of the family, protected by traditional moral rules which restrain our natural impulses and tell us that “you must neither wish to possess any woman you see, nor wish to possess any material goods you see.”[1]

“[T]he great moral conflict… which has been taking place over the last hundred years or even the last three hundred years,” according to Hayek, “is essentially a conflict between the defenders of property and the family and the critics of property and the family,”[2] with the latter comprising an alliance of socialists and libertines committed to “a planned economy with a just distribution, a freeing of ourselves from repressions and conventional morals, of permissive education as a way to freedom, and the replacement of the market by a rational arrangement of a body with coercive powers.”[3] The former, by contrast, comprise an alliance of those committed to the more conservative form of classical liberalism represented by writers like Smith and Hayek himself with those committed to traditional forms of religious belief. Among the benefits of such religious belief in Hayek’s view is its “strengthening [of] respect for marriage,” its enforcement of “stricter observance of rules of sexual morality among both married and unmarried,” and its creation of a socially beneficial “taboo” against the taking of another’s property.[4] Indeed, though he was personally an agnostic, Hayek held that the value of religion for shoring up the moral presuppositions of a free society cannot be overestimated:

“We owe it partly to mystical and religious beliefs, and, I believe, particularly to the main monotheistic ones, that beneficial traditions have been preserved and transmitted… If we bear these things in mind, we can better understand and appreciate those clerics who are said to have become somewhat sceptical of the validity of some of their teachings and who yet continued to teach them because they feared that a loss of faith would lead to a decline in morals. No doubt they were right…”[5]


Social norms and socializing influences (like religion) are essential to self-governance, but self-governance by mutual consent and mutual restraint — by adherence to the Golden Rule — is possible only for a group of about 25 to 150 persons: the size of a hunter-gatherer band or Hutterite colony. It seems that self-governance breaks down when a group is larger than 150 persons. Why should that happen? Because mutual trust, mutual restraint, and mutual aid — the things implied in the Golden Rule — depend very much on personal connections. A person who is loath to say a harsh word to an acquaintance, friend, or family member — even when provoked — often waxes abusive toward strangers, especially in this era of e-mail and comment threads, where face-to-face encounters are not involved.

More generally, there is a human tendency to treat friends differently than acquaintances, acquaintances differently than strangers, and so on. The closer one is to a person, the more likely one is to accord that person trust, cooperation, and kindness. Why? Because there usually is a difference between the consequences of behavior that is directed toward strangers and the consequences of behavior that is directed toward persons one knows, lives among, and depends upon for restraint, cooperation, and help. The allure of  doing harm without penalty (“getting away with something”) or receiving without giving (“getting something for nothing”)  becomes harder to resist as one’s social distance from others increases.

When self-governance breaks down, it becomes necessary to spin off a new group or establish a central power (a state), which codifies and enforces rules of behavior (negative and positive). The problem, of course, is that those vested with the power of the state quickly learn to use it to advance their own preferences and interests, and to perpetuate their power by granting favors to those who can keep them in office. It is a rare state that is created for the sole purpose of protecting its citizens from one another and from outsiders, and rarer still is the state that remains true to such purposes.

In sum, the Golden Rule — as a uniting way of life — is quite unlikely to survive the passage of a group from community to state. Nor does the Golden Rule as a uniting way of life have much chance of revival or survival where the state already dominates. The Golden Rule may have limited effect within well-defined groups (e.g., parishes, clubs, urban enclaves, rural communities), by regulating the interactions among the members of such groups. It may have a vestigial effect on face-to-face interactions between stranger and stranger, but that effect arises mainly from the fear that offense or harm will be met with the same, not from a communal bond.

In any event, the dominance of the state distorts behavior. For example, the state may enable and encourage acts (e.g., abortion, homosexuality) that had been discouraged as harmful by group norms, and the ability of members of the group to bestow charity on one another may be diminished by the loss of income to taxes and discouraged by the establishment of state-run schemes that mimic the effects of charity (e.g., Social Security).


The dominance of the state is the essential creed of modern “liberalism,” which has been diagnosed, quite rightly, as superficially benign fascism.

What about the “liberal” agenda, which proclaims the virtues of social liberty even as it destroys economic liberty. This is a convenient fiction; the two are indivisible. There is no economic liberty without social liberty, and vice versa:

[W]hen the state taxes or regulates “economic” activity, it shapes and channels related “social” activity. For example, the family that pays 25 percent of its income in taxes is that much less able to join and support organizations of its choice, to own and exhibit tokens of its socioeconomic status, to afford better education for its children, and so on. The immediate rejoinder will be that nothing has been changed if everyone is affected equally. But because of the complexity of tax laws and regulations, everyone is not affected equally. Moreover, even if everyone were deprived equally of the same kind of thing — a superior education, say — everyone would be that much worse off by having been deprived of opportunities to acquire remunerative knowledge and skills, productive relationships, and mental stimulation. Similarly, everyone would be that much worse off by being less well clothed, less well housed, and so on. Taxes and regulations, even if they could be applied in some absolutely neutral way (which they can’t be), have an inevitably deleterious effect on individuals.

In sum, there is no dividing line between economic and social behavior. What we call social and economic behavior are indivisible aspects of human striving to fulfill wants, both material and spiritual. The attempt to isolate and restrict one type of behavior is futile. It is all social behavior.

If markets are not free neither are people free to act within the bounds of voluntarily evolved social norms.


Although most of today’s libertarians (rightly) pay homage to Hayek’s penetrating dismissal of big government, his cultural views (noted earlier) are beneath their notice. And no wonder, for it is hard these days to find a self-styled libertarian who shares Hayek’s cultural views. What now passes for libertarianism, as I see it, is strictly secular and even stridently atheistic. As Feser puts it in “The Trouble with Libertarianism,” these

versions of libertarianism … do not treat conservative views as truly moral views at all; they treat them instead as mere prejudices: at best matters of taste, like one’s preference for this or that flavor of ice cream, and at worst rank superstitions that pose a constant danger of leading those holding them to try to restrict the freedoms of those practicing non-traditional lifestyles. Libertarians of the contractarian, utilitarian, or “economistic” bent must therefore treat the conservative the way the egalitarian liberal treats the racist, i.e. as someone who can be permitted to hold and practice his views, but only provided he and his views are widely regarded as of the crackpot variety….

[T]here are also bound to be differences in the public policy recommendations made by the different versions of libertarianism. Take, for example, the issue of abortion. Those whose libertarianism is grounded in … Hayekian thinking are far more likely to take a conservative line on the matter. To be sure, there are plenty of “pro-choice” libertarians influenced by Hayek. But by far most of these libertarians are (certainly in my experience anyway) inclined to accept Hayek’s economic views while soft-pedaling or even dismissing the Burkean traditionalist foundations he gave for his overall social theory. Those who endorse the latter, however, are going to be hard-pressed not to be at least suspicious of the standard moral and legal arguments offered in defense of abortion….

By contrast, libertarians influenced by contractarianism are very unlikely to oppose abortion, because fetuses cannot plausibly be counted as parties to the social contract that could provide the only grounds for a prohibition on killing them. Utilitarianism and “economism” too would provide no plausible grounds for a prohibition on abortion, since fetuses would seem to have no preferences or desires which could be factored into our calculations of how best to maximize preference- or desire-satisfaction.

There are also bound to be differences over the question of “same-sex marriage.”… [A] Hayekian analysis of social institutions fail to imply anything but skepticism about the case for same-sex marriage. Hayek’s position was that traditional moral rules, especially when connected to institutions as fundamental as the family and found nearly universally in human cultures, should be tampered with only with the most extreme caution. The burden of proof is always on the innovator rather than the traditionalist, whether or not the traditionalist can justify his conservatism to the innovator’s satisfaction; and change can be justified only by showing that the rule the innovator wants to abandon is in outright contradiction to some other fundamental traditional rule. But that there is any contradiction in this case is simply implausible, especially when one considers the traditional natural law understanding of marriage sketched above.

On the other hand, it is easy to see how contractarianism, utilitarianism, and “economism” might be thought to justify same-sex marriage. If the actual desires or preferences of individuals are all that matter, and some of those individuals desire or prefer to set up a partnership with someone of the same sex and call it “marriage,” then there can be no moral objection to their doing so.

I do not mean to belabor the issues of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” about which I have written at length (e.g., here and here). But, like war, they are “wedge” issues among libertarians. And most (perhaps all) libertarians whose writings I encounter on the internet — Feser’s contractarian, utilitarian, and economistic types — are on the libertine side of the issues: pro-abortion and pro-same-sex “marriage.” A contractarian, utilitarian, economistic libertarian will condone practices that even “liberals” would not (e.g., blackmail).


The libertine stance of “mainstream” libertarians points to moral rootlessness. Such libertarians like to say that libertarianism is a moral code, when — as Feser rightly argues — it is destructive of the kind of morality that binds a people in mutual trust and mutual forbearance. These depend on the observance of actual codes of conduct, not the rote repetition of John Stuart Mill’s empty “harm principle.”

It is my view that libertarians who behave morally toward others do so not because they are libertarians but because their cultural inheritance includes traces of Judeo-Christian ethics. For example, the non-aggression principle — a foundation of libertarian philosophy — is but a dim reflection of the Ten Commandments.

As Roback Morse and Hayek rightly argue, a libertarian order can be sustained only if it is built on deeply ingrained morality. But that morality can only operate if it is not circumscribed and undermined by the edicts of the state. The less intrusive the state, the more essential are social norms to the conditions of liberty. If those norms wither away, the results — more rapaciousness, heedlessness, and indolence — invite the the growth of the state and its adoption of repressive policies.

The flimsy morality of today’s libertarianism will not do. Neither the minimal state of “mainstream” libertarians nor the stateless Utopia of extreme libertarians can ensure a moral society, that is, one in which there is mutual trust, mutual forbearance, and promise-keeping.

Where, then, is moral education to be had? In the public schools, whose unionized teachers preach the virtues of moral relativism, big government, income redistribution, and non-judgmentalism (i.e., lack of personal responsibility)? I hardly think so.

That leaves religion, especially religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

The precepts [of the last six of the Commandments] are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

  • His life is the object of the Fifth;
  • the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;
  • his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;
  • his good name, of the Eighth;
  • And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;
  • and in his property rights by the Tenth.

Though I am a deist, and neither a person of faith nor a natural-rights libertarian, I would gladly live in a society in which the majority of my fellow citizens believed in and adhered to the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them. I reject the currently fashionable notion that religion per se breeds violence. In fact, a scholarly, non-sectarian meta-study, “Religion and its effects on crime and delinquency” (Medical Science Monitor, 2003; 9(8):SR79-82), offers good evidence that religiosity leads to good behavior:

[N]early all [reports] found that that there was a significant negative correlation between religiosity and delinquency. This was further substantiated by studies using longitudinal and operationally reliable definitions. Of the early reports which were either inconclusive or found no statistical correlation, not one utilized a multidimensional definition or any sort of reliability factor. We maintain that the cause of this difference in findings stemmed from methodological factors as well as different and perhaps flawed research strategies that were employed by early sociological and criminological researchers.The studies that we reviewed were of high research caliber and showed that the inverse relationship [between religiosity and delinquency] does in fact exist. It therefore appears that religion is both a short term and long term mitigat[o]r of delinquency.

But a society in which behavior is guided by the Ten Commandments seems to be receding into the past. Consider the following statistics, from the 2011 Statistical Abstract, Table 75. Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990, 2001 and 2008.
Between 1990 and 2008

  • the percentage of American adults claiming to be Christian dropped from 86 to 76,
  • the percentage of American adults claiming to be Jewish dropped from 1.8 to 1.2 percent, and
  • the percentage of American adults professing no religion rose from 8 to 15 percent.

What is noteworthy about those figures is the degree of slippage in a span of 18 years. And the degree of religious belief probably is overstated because respondents tend to say the “right” thing, which (oddly enough) continues to be a profession of religious faith.

Moreover, claiming adherence to a religion and receiving religious “booster shots” through regular church attendance are two entirely different things. Consider this excerpt of “In Search of the Spiritual” (Newsweek, August 28, 2005):

…Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966. Then as now, however, there is probably a fair amount of wishful thinking in those figures; researchers who have done actual head counts in churches think the figure is probably more like 20 percent. There has been a particular falloff in attendance by African-Americans, for whom the church is no longer the only respectable avenue of social advancement, according to Darren Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University. The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O’Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is “none.” But “spirituality,” the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving. The NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll found that more Americans, especially those younger than 60, described themselves as “spiritual” (79 percent) than “religious” (64 percent). Almost two thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate.

But what does “spirituality” have to do with morality? Prayer and meditation may be useful and even necessary to religion, but they do not teach morality. Substituting “spirituality” for Judeo-Christian religiosity is like watching golf matches on TV instead of playing golf; a watcher can talk a good game but cannot play the game very well, if at all.

Historian Niall Ferguson, a Briton, writes about the importance of religiosity in “Heaven knows how we’ll rekindle our religion, but I believe we must” (July 31, 2005):

I am not sure British people are necessarily afraid of religion, but they are certainly not much interested in it these days. Indeed, the decline of Christianity — not just in Britain but across Europe — stands out as one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.

There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as “Christendom.” Europeans built the Continent’s loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarreled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the Earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith.

Now it is Europeans who are the heathens. . . .

The exceptionally low level of British religiosity was perhaps the most striking revelation of a recent … poll. One in five Britons claim to “attend an organized religious service regularly,” less than half the American figure. [In light of the relationship between claimed and actual church attendance, discussed above, the actual figure for Britons is probably about 10 percent: ED.] Little more than a quarter say that they pray regularly, compared with two-thirds of Americans and 95 percent of Nigerians. And barely one in 10 Britons would be willing to die for our God or our beliefs, compared with 71 percent of Americans. . . .

Chesterton feared that if Christianity declined, “superstition” would “drown all your old rationalism and skepticism.” When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad juju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me as much as the moral vacuum that de-Christianization has created. Sure, sermons are sometimes dull and congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine helps to provide an ethical framework for life. And it is not clear where else such a thing is available in modern Europe.

…Britons have heard a great deal from Tony Blair and others about the threat posed to their “way of life” by Muslim extremists such as Muktar Said Ibrahim. But how far has their own loss of religious faith turned Britain into a soft target — not so much for the superstition Chesterton feared, but for the fanaticism of others?

Yes, what “way of life” is being threatened — and is therefore deemed worth defending — when people do not share a strong moral bond?

I cannot resist adding one more quotation in the same vein as those from Hayek and Ferguson. This comes from Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), a no-nonsense psychiatrist who, among his many intellectual accomplishments, has thoroughly skewered John Stuart Mill’s fatuous essay, On Liberty. Without further ado, here is Dalrymple on religion:

I remember the day I stopped believing in God. I was ten years old and it was in school assembly. It was generally acknowledged that if you opened your eyes while praying, God flew out of the nearest window. That was why it was so important that everyone should shut his eyes. If I opened my eyes suddenly, I thought, I might just be quick enough to catch a glimpse of the departing deity….

Over the years, my attitude to religion has changed, without my having recovered any kind of belief in God. The best and most devoted people I have ever met were Catholic nuns. Religious belief is seldom accompanied by the inflamed egotism that is so marked and deeply unattractive a phenomenon in our post-religious society. Although the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are said to have given man a more accurate appreciation of his true place in nature, in fact they have rendered him not so much anthropocentric as individually self-centred….

[T]he religious idea of compassion is greatly superior, both morally and practically, to the secular one. The secular person believes that compassion is due to the victim by virtue of what he has suffered; the religious person believes that compassion is due to everyone, by virtue of his humanity. For the secular person, man is born good and is made bad by his circumstances. The religious person believes man is born with original sin, and is therefore imperfectible on this earth; he can nevertheless strive for the good by obedience to God.

The secularist divides humanity into two: the victims and the victimisers. The religious person sees mankind as fundamentally one.

And why not? If this life is all that you have, why let anything stand in the way of its enjoyment? Most of us self-importantly imagine that the world and all its contrivances were made expressly for us and our convenience….

The secularist de-moralises the world, thus increasing the vulnerability of potential victims and, not coincidentally, their need for a professional apparatus of protection, which is and always will be ineffective, and is therefore fundamentally corrupt and corrupting.

If a person is not a victim pure and simple, the secularist feels he is owed no compassion. A person who is to blame for his own situation should not darken the secularist’s door again: therefore, the secularist is obliged to pretend, with all the rationalisation available to modern intellectuals, that people who get themselves into a terrible mess – for example, drug addicts – are not to blame for their situation. But this does them no good at all; in fact it is a great disservice to them.

The religious person, by contrast, is unembarrassed by the moral failings that lead people to act self-destructively because that is precisely what he knows man has been like since the expulsion from Eden. Because he knows that man is weak, and has no need to disguise his failings, either from himself or from others, he can be honest in a way that the secularist finds impossible.

Though I am not religious, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to live decently without the aid of religion. That is the ambiguity of the Enlightenment. (“Why Religion Is Good for Us,” NewStatesman, April 21, 2003)

The weakening of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America is owed to enemies within (established religions trying in vain to be “relevant”) and to enemies without (leftists and nihilistic libertarians who seek every opportunity to denigrate religion). Thus the opponents of religiosity seized on the homosexual scandals in the Catholic Church not to attack homosexuality (which would go against the attackers’ party line) but to attack the Church, which teaches the immorality of the acts that were in fact committed by a relatively small number of priests. (See “Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture,” National Review Online, May 19, 2011.)

Then there is the relentless depiction of Catholicism as an accomplice to Hitler’s brutality, about which my son writes in his review of Rabbi David G. Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis:

Despite the misleading nature of the controversy — one which Dalin questions from the outset — the first critics of the wartime papacy were not Jews. Among the worst attacks were those of leftist non-Jews, such as Carlo Falconi (author of The Silence of Pius XII), not to mention German liberal Rolf Hochhuth, whose 1963 play, The Deputy, set the tone for subsequent derogatory media portrayals of wartime Catholicism. By contrast, says Dalin, Pope Pius XII “was widely praised [during his lifetime] for having saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.” He provides an impressive list of Jews who testified on the pope’s behalf, including Albert Einstein, Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann. Dalin believes that to “deny and delegitimize their collective memory and experience of the Holocaust,” as some have done, “is to engage in a subtle yet profound form of Holocaust denial.”

The most obvious source of the black legend about the papacy emanated from Communist Russia, a point noted by the author. There were others with an axe to grind. As revealed in a recent issue of Sandro Magister’s Chiesa, liberal French Catholic Emmanuel Mounier began implicating Pius XII in “racist” politics as early as 1939. Subsequent detractors have made the same charge, working (presumably) from the same bias.

While the immediate accusations against Pius XII lie at the heart of Dalin’s book, he takes his analysis a step further. The vilification of the pope can only be understood in terms of a political agenda — the “liberal culture war against tradition.” . . .

Rabbi Dalin sums it up best for all people of traditional moral and political beliefs when he urges us to recall the challenges that faced Pius XII in which the “fundamental threats to Jews came not from devoted Christians — they were the prime rescuers of Jewish lives in the Holocaust — but from anti-Catholic Nazis, atheistic Communists, and… Hitler’s mufti in Jerusalem.”

I believe that the incessant attacks on religion have helped to push people — especially young adults — away from religion, to the detriment of liberty. It is not surprising that “liberals”  tend to be anti-religious, for — as Dalrymple points out — they disdain the tenets of personal responsibility and liberty that are contained in the last six of the Ten Commandments. It is disheartening, however, when libertarians join the anti-religious chorus. They know not what they do when they join the left in tearing down a bulwark of civil society, without which liberty cannot prevail.

Humans need no education in aggression and meddling; those come to us naturally. But we do need to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to leave others alone — and we need to learn those things when we are young. Such things will not be taught in public schools. They could be taught in homes, but are less likely to be taught there as Americans drift further from their religious roots.

Am I being hypcritical because I am unchurched and my children were not taken to church? Perhaps, but my religious upbringing imbued in me a strong sense of morality, which I tried — successfully, I think — to convey to my children. But as time passes the moral lessons we older Americans learned through religion will attenuate unless those lessons are taught, anew, to younger generations.

Rather than join the left in attacking religion and striving to eradicate all traces of it from public discourse, libertarians ought to accommodate themselves to it and even encourage its acceptance — for liberty’s sake.

Related posts:
Hobbesian Libertarianism
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty
Religion and Personal Responsibility
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Public Morality
Evolution and Religion
Moral Issues
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Logic, and God
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Nexus of Conservatism and Libertarianism
The Big Bang and Atheism
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Religion as Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation
Anarchistic Balderdash
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Anarchy, Minarchy, and Liberty
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
The Greatest Mystery
Objectivism: Tautologies in Search of Reality
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
Morality and Consequentialism
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Unreality of Objectivism
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Line-Drawing and Liberty
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
The Left and Its Delusions
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Social Justice
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
A Digression about Probability and Existence
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
In Defense of Marriage
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Understanding Hayek
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
America, Love It or Leave It?
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian

The Improbability of Us

An argument often used against the belief in a Creator who designed the universe runs like this:

The existence of humans is indeed improbable. The laws of nature that govern our existence are but one set out of infinitely many possible sets of laws of nature. Ad had they differed only slightly the universe would be a mere swirl of subatomic particles, free from medium-sized objects like rocks, trees and humans. And even given the actual laws of nature, evolutionary history would have taken different twists and turns and failed to deliver human beings. (Jamie Whyte, Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking, p. 125)

Embedded in that seemingly reasonable statement is an unwarranted — but critical — assumption: that there are infinitely many (or even a large number) of possible sets of laws of nature. But there is no way of knowing such a thing. There is only one observable universe, and one set of observable and (mostly*) consistent laws of nature within it. It is impossible for the human mind to conjure an alternative set of consistent natural laws that could, in fact, coexist in a possible universe. Any such conjuring would be mere speculation, not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Given that, it is impossible to deny that a grand design lies behind the universe. But it is also impossible to prove, by the methods of science, the existence of a grand design. The fact of the universe’s existence is, as I have called it, the greatest mystery.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
A Dissonant Vision
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
* The exception is quantum mechanics, the science of the sub-atomic world. Sub-atomic particles do not seem to behave according to the same physical laws that describe the actions of the visible universe; their behavior is discontinuous (“jumpy”) and described probabilistically, not by the kinds of continuous (“smooth”) mathematical formulae that apply to the macroscopic world.

Goodbye, Mr. Pitts

When I lived in the D.C. area and subscribed to The Washington Post, I occasionally read a column by Leonard Pitts Jr. This masochistic practice served two purposes. First, it exercised my cardiovascular system (i.e., raised my heart rate and blood pressure). Second, it helped me to keep up with what passes for wisdom among the race-card-playing set.

Mr. Pitts, who is a syndicated columnist operating out of The Miami Herald, comes by his race-card-playing naturally, as a black and — given his age (about 50) — a likely beneficiary of reverse discrimination (a.k.a. affirmative action). I should note that Pitts plays the race-card game clumsily, probably because his mental warehouse is stocked with gross generalizations and logical fallacies.

I was provoked to write this post by a recent Pitts column, to which I will come, where (in passing) he defends the socialization of medicine because other things also have been socialized. By that logic, Pitts would excuse the murder of his wife because millions of murders already have been committed.

*     *     *

I begin my sampling of Pitts’s pathetic prose with “We’ll go forward from this moment,” of September 12, 2001 (a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001):

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless.

No, “we” (the citizens of the United States) are most decidedly not a family, not even a feuding one. If there ever was anything like an American “family,” it existed in the years just after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces. The degree of unity and resolve in the America of 1942-45 makes a mockery of the years following September 2001, during which disunity and irresolution became the standard pose of the media, academia, the Democrat Party, more than a few Republican “moderates,” many isolationist paleo-conservatives, and most libertarians.

Americans, now more than ever, are members of millions of separate families, churches, clubs, neighborhoods, work groups, etc. If there is anything shared by a majority of Americans, it is a taste for food in large quantities, vulgar entertainment, and a chance to feed at the public trough at the expense of other Americans.

The most notable schism in American life is one that has arisen since the onset of the Great Depression. It has come to this: Americans are deeply divided (though not evenly divided) about the rightful power of government in foreign and domestic affairs. There are three main camps. The largest favors surrender abroad and statism at home; the smallest favors surrender abroad and anarchy at home; the one to which I belong favors the full exercise of American might in defense of Americans’ legitimate overseas interest, together with a limited government devoted mainly to the protection of Americans from domestic predators and parasite.

It is obvious in what I have just said that Americans today do not even share a tradition of liberty, which has long vanished from the land. Because of this loss of liberty, Americans have become something less than citizens  with a common birthright and something more like hostages in their own land, with little voice and almost no opportunity for exit. Many (perhaps most) Americans like it that way, many others don’t understand what has been lost to them, and some (too few) understand it all too painfully. Pitts and his ilk like it that way because they are in thrall to special-interest politics and cannot see how those politics have abetted our downward spiral into political bondage, social license, and weakness in the face of our foreign and domestic enemies.

*     *     *

Jumping to September 29, 2003, I find “Faithful often give religion a bad name,” in which Pitts proffers this:

People are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when it allows them to stand in judgment of someone else, licenses them to feel superior to someone else, tells them they are more righteous than someone else.

They are less enthusiastic when religiosity demands that they be compassionate to someone else. That they show charity, service and mercy to everyone else.

Consider that last month thousands of people wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments. And watching, you wondered: What hungry person gets fed because of this? What naked person is clothed, what homeless one housed?

It seemed a fresh reminder that religious people are often the poorest advertisement for religious life.

How much more convincing an advertisement, how much more compelling a testimony, if people of faith were more often caught by news cameras demonstrating against healthcare cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill. Or confronting the slumlord about the vermin-infested holes he offers as places for families to live. Or crusading to make the sweatshop owner pay a living wage to workers who are treated little better than slaves.

From what well of knowledge does Pitts draw his assertions that people are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when they can stand in judgment of others, but are less enthusiastic when compassion is in order? Does Pitts even know, let alone care, that residents of “Red” States — where religious fundamentalism is more prevalent — are much more generous in their charitable giving than residents of “Blue” States — where secular Europeanism is the norm?

And what about those persons who “wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments”? What is wrong with protesting the further distancing of government from morality? I suspect that Pitts doesn’t want public officials to be reminded of the Ten Commandments because one of them says “You shall not steal” — and that is precisely what government does when it taxes and regulates us toward poverty, often in the name of “compassion.”

And why would it be a compelling testimony for religion if “people of faith” were more often seen demonstrating against budget cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill, or confronting slumlords about vermin-infested holes, or crusading to make sweatshop owners pay a “living wage to workers”? Pitts can offer such advice only because he doesn’t understand or care about the implications of such actions: Higher taxes for hard-working families; more homeless persons, as landlords raise rents to defray the costs of improving their properties; more starving poor, as “sweatshop” owners find new locales in which to recruit willing workers who have less exalted ideas than Pitts about what constitutes a “living wage.”

Pitts reveals himself as an ignoramus or a hypocrite — probably both — who is simply pleased to indulge his moral outrage when it allows him to stand in judgment of others.

*     *     *

Less than a month later (October 20, 2003) Pitts opined that “Race has always benefited whites“; to wit:

As a reader who chose to remain nameless put it, many people wonder if a given black professional “is there because of his/her skills and abilities, or because of affirmative action. Unfortunately, affirmative action policies leave many unanswered questions about a black person’s education and training, as well as skills and abilities. . . . How do we answer these questions?”

I will try my best to answer them with a straight face. It’s going to be difficult.

Because there’s an elephant in this room, isn’t there? It’s huge and noisy and rather smelly, yet none of these good people sees it. The elephant is this simple fact:

White men are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action this country has ever seen.

That’s not rhetoric or metaphor. It’s only truth.


If affirmative action is defined as giving someone an extra boost based on race, it’s hard to see how anyone can argue the point. Slots for academic admission, for employment and promotion, for bank loans and for public office have routinely been set aside for white men. This has always been the nation’s custom. Until the 1960s, it was also the nation’s law. . . .

My correspondents feel they should not be asked to respect the skill or abilities of a black professional who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action. They think such a person should expect to be looked down upon. But black people have spent generations watching white men who were no more talented, and many times downright incompetent, vault to the head of the line based on racial preference.

So, here’s my question:

Would African Americans be justified in looking down on white professionals? In wondering whether they are really smart enough to do the job? In questioning their competence before they had done a thing?

Pitts deploys three shifty debating techniques: He changes the subject; subtly (and inappropriately) redefines a key term; falsely generalizes about a class of persons (white men); and then draws an unsupported conclusion from flawed premises.

The change of subject is obvious. Pitts, instead of addressing the question whether affirmative action leads to the advancement of under-qualified blacks, attacks whites for having been unqualified.

Why were whites unqualified? Because they, too, benefited from something Pitts chooses to call affirmative action, namely, “giving someone an extra boost based on race.” There is a basic problem with Pitts’s shifty redefinition of affirmative action: discrimination against blacks produces different results than discrimination against whites. The real elephant in the room, the one that it is impolite to mention, is that blacks and whites have different skills. And for most jobs, where intelligence matters, there are many more qualified whites than blacks.

It is therefore wrong to paint whites with the same “affirmative action” brush. Despite Pitts’s implication to the contrary, blacks would not have been justified in looking down on white professionals, as a group. But the converse is not true. Certainly, there are and have been superb black doctors and miserably incompetent white ones, but faced with a choice between, say, a white doctor of unknown skill and a black doctor of unknown skill, a person (black or white) would prudently choose the white doctor. The shame, of course, is that in some parts of the United States blacks were not allowed to choose white doctors.

*     *     *

In “Leave education to the principals, teachers, parents” (November 28, 2007), Pitts subscribes to romantic claptrap:

No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you want to give back, you want to shape future generations, you want to change the world.

Oh spare me! You become a teacher because

  • you enjoy teaching, in general
  • you enjoy teaching a particular subject because you know it well
  • you enjoy the power of being in charge of a classroom (to the extent that you’re mentally and physically capable of being in charge)
  • it’s the best job you can get, given your intelligence and particular skills
  • some or all of the preceding statements apply to you.

Teaching is a job, not a mystical calling.

Pitts is right to say that

much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: a) doesn’t pay enough; b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; c) doesn’t give principals authority over who works in their schools; d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

The key word is “bureaucracy.” American schools will not improve until they are privatized, allowed to compete with one another, and allowed to hire teachers who know their subjects as opposed to NEA-approved hacks with “education” degrees. Some schools will be better than others, of course, but that’s true now. What isn’t true — or possible — now is that most schools will improve, or go out of business. (Public schools sometimes are “closed” for conspicuous failure, only to re-open in the same place, and with most of the same students and teachers.)

The problem, for Pitts and other “liberals,” is that it just isn’t “fair” for some children to have access to better schools than others, even though that also is true now, and even though bright children of less-affluent parents undoubtedly would have access to scholarships funded by affluent graduates of better schools. No, in the name of “fairness,” Pitts and his fellow “liberals” would rather hope for a transformation of public schools that will never happen, precisely because public schools are beholden to the NEA, which is nothing more than a union designed to guarantee work for incompetents who cannot master real subjects.

*     *     *

I come now to the column that touched off this post: “The distance between us” (as titled by the Austin American-Statesman) of August 24, 2009. Though the thread of Pitts’s “logic” is tangled, he his main concern seems to be national unity, or the lack thereof.

He rests his point on the fact that not everyone is happy with the election of Barack Obama or his policies, which he traces to racism or out-and-out nuttiness:

Last year, Barack Obama was elected president, the first American of African heritage ever to reach that office. If this was regarded as a new beginning by most Americans, it was regarded apocalyptically by others who promptly proceeded to lose both their minds and any pretense of enlightenment.

These are the people who immediately declared it their fervent hope that the new presidency fail, the ones who cheered when the governor of Texas raised the specter of secession, the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests. In the debate over health-care reform, they are the ones who have disrupted town hall meetings, shouting about the president’s supposed plan for “death panels” to euthanize the elderly.

Now, they are the ones bringing firearms to places the president is speaking.

The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly — and, yes, legally — strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson’s quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with “the blood of … tyrants.”

Is Pitts suggesting that most of the 60,000,000 Americans who voted against Barack Obama (46 percent of those casting a vote in last year’s election) immediately hailed Obama’s election as a “new beginning”? To be sure, there was a honeymoon period around inauguration day, when about two-thirds of voters hopefully approved of Obama and his net approval rating hovered between 25 and 30 percent. But the honeymoon was over almost as soon as it had begun, as Americans began to grasp the bankruptcy (pun intended) of Obama’s policies.

But rather than acknowledge the awakening of most Americans to Obama’s threats to liberty and prosperity, Pitts stoops to barely veiled charges of racism and irrationality. To hope that Obama fails is not to wish ill for the nation; to the contrary, it is to hope that Obama’s policies fail of realization because they are seen (rightly) as inimical to liberty and prosperity. To find racism in talk of secession is a ploy by a columnist who is willing to sell his liberty cheap (or give it away), as long as the president’s skin is of the right color.

Then we have the concatenation of

the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests.

In other words, some racists oppose Obama and his policies; therefore, opposition to Obama and his policies is racist. Pitts evidently failed Logic 101, for he could just as well suggest that some racists (i.e., reverse racists) support Obama and his policies; therefore, support of Obama and his policies is racist.

A relative handful of those publicly protesting Obamacare — themselves a relative handful of the millions who oppose or question it — happen to have carried guns (legally) to the forums at which they (or others) voiced protests. Pitts verges on a Soviet-style declaration that those who oppose the regime are, by definition, mentally ill and must be locked up, for their own safety.

As noted earlier, Pitts is unfazed by the fact “that our libraries, schools, police and fire departments are all ‘socialized’.” If one more thing — namely medical care — is socialized, so what? And, given the number of murders committed every year, if one more person is murdered, so what?

All of that aside, Pitts’s real point has do with the kind of country America will become:

These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: “There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole.”

Adams spoke in geographical terms of a nation rapidly expanding toward the Pacific. Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you. . . .

We frame the differences in terms of “conservative” and “liberal,” but these are tired old markers that with overuse and misuse have largely lost whatever meaning they used to have and with it, any ability to explain us to us. This isn’t liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were. . . .

Round and round we go and where we stop, nobody knows. And it is an open question, as it was for Henry Adams, what kind of country we’ll have when it’s done.

“Can” one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.

The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.

Pitts is right about the distances that divide Americans, but those distances have divided Americans for generations. (I repeat: “We” are not a family.) The only way to reconcile those differences is to restore the basic scheme of of the Constitution, which is to

  • establish one nation united in common defense,
  • with open internal borders, and
  • free movement of goods across those borders, for prosperity’s sake, and
  • free movement of people between and within the several sovereign States, so that individuals may associate with those whom they find most congenial.

Such a wise scheme will not do for collectivists like Pitts, who cannot abide the thought of a world other than one made to their specifications. If the Pittses persist in their collectivist zeal, America will proceed from a (cold) civil war to secession, a military coup, or even revolution. And the fault will lie with the Pittses, because they are the true enemies of liberty.

*     *     *

Having reacquainted myself with Mr. Pitts, and having thereby exercised my cardiovascular system, I now bid him adieu — not fondly but forever.