Mac Donald “depressed” by Americans’ belief in God

Heather Mac Donald is an intelligent writer of whom I once said that she never said anything foolish. That turned out to be the case only so long as she maintained a journalistic focus on discrete, fact-based issues. Then, unfortunately, Mac Donald decided for the first time in her writing career to come out as a “thinker,” specifically as an atheist “thinker,” specifically as an atheist “thinker” who is against religion and wants it to go away, even as she insists that she is a conservative and that she is being treated unfairly by conservatives who (and this is a big shock to her—many things are a big shock to her) do not look kindly on people who openly express their desire for the disappearance of Christianity.

She tells the website Gene Expression in an interview: “[T]he proportion of Americans who believe in Biblical revelation remains depressingly high and doesn’t yet show much sign of decline…”

So, Mac Donald is not merely, as she claims, offended by overly aggressive assertions of religious belief by conservatives. She’s not merely, as she claims, against the idea that only religious people can be moral and conservative. And she’s not merely, as some sympathetic conservative readers may imagine, against the excesses of biblical religion. She’s against biblical religion, period. She’s against anyone believing in the God of the Bible, period. She’s against anyone believing, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s biblical revelation, after all, and she’s depressed by the fact that lots of people think it’s true. Yet, striking the victimological note that has been coeval with her recent professions of atheism, she still feels conservatives have been treating her unkindly for her merely raising what she calls “empirical arguments” about God’s non-existence, arguments that, as I’ve shown, are on the intellectual level of a village atheist, exhibiting stunning ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and lack of experience in dealing with issues of this nature.

As remarkable as her attack on religion is her sudden effusion of a very uncharacteristic optimism about the state of society. She tells the interviewer:

“For all the barbarity of popular entertainment and the historical ignorance of the American public, American civilization and the West generally are at the top of their games-contrary to war on terror hysteria that holds that we face an “existential threat” from Islamists. The rate of technological innovation is higher than at any point in human history and will undoubtedly only accelerate in the future. We are reaping a whirlwind of unfathomable benefits from scientific research.”

Throughout her entire writing career Mac Donald has been part of the neoconservative movement, which had its origins in the insight that certain liberal ameliorative efforts have had devastating effects on society. She has written about the spreading social chaos associated with illegitimacy which in turn was promoted by changes in welfare and morality. She has written about the chaos unleashed by illegal immigration including the Mexican government’s deliberate campaign to subvert our borders and our laws, and our society’s lack of will to do anything serious about this. She has written about anarchic gang crime. She has written about the multicultural war to delegitimize our culture and nation. Anyone reading her articles over the last 10 or 15 years would say that Mac Donald has a fairly grim, typically conservative sense that liberalism is in the saddle of our culture and is causing vast harm. But now all that seems to be reversed. Now Mac Donald has suddenly turned into a High-Tech Pangloss living in the best of all possible worlds. How did this transformation come about? It came about this way. Having come out publicly as an atheist, she had to find something positive to posit against religion. And so, following a path pursued by many others over the last few centuries, she turned material progress into a religion, which in turn cancels out the conservative insight into social problems. Affirming the belief in pure materiality as a counter-truth to Christianity, she says that America and the West are getting better and better, in a material sense, indeed, they are at the top of their game, in a material sense; that there is no deep cultural crisis; and that the belief that Islam poses a threat to our civilization is mere “hysteria.” Why is it hysteria? Because “technological innovation” and “scientific research” are making things better and better! It’s hard to see how technological innovation cancels out the threat of Islam, but Mac Donald believes it is so.

What she has done is to turn technological advance into the mindless feel-good cult that she falsely accuses Christianity of being. She lambastes Christians for believing in God despite all the nasty things that happen in the world. But she herself believes in the all-encompassing goodness of scientific advance which proves to her that evil and enemies can have no power over us and that our culture is going great.

Thus, as a result of her cult of materiality as the highest reality, she believes that any natural disaster disproves the existence of God, while man’s scientific and material advances disprove any cultural disaster. Since God is supposedly in charge of nature, if anything goes wrong with nature (a tsunami, say, or, for that matter, even a lightning bolt striking just one person dead), then there is no God. But since man is in charge of technology, if technological things are going well, then everything in man’s world is going well, including culture, because materiality is all. There are no civilizational threats facing us—because we’re advancing technologically, and technological control over matter is the highest thing there is.

Having rejected God and religion, Mac Donald has adopted technological superstition as their replacement. You would think that a person with all her education would know something about the illusions and calamities caused by the Enlightenment belief that man can use technology to remake the world and that material advance suffices for man’s happiness. But, as Mac Donald says repeatedly of herself, she is an innocent. She knows none of this. Her historical, philosophical, and religious formation is zilch, not to mention her complete lack of common sense in dealing with these issues (as seen, for example, in her insistence that conservatives include atheists like herself even as she announces that she wants to eradicate conservatives’s most precious beliefs and the source of their values); plus, as Michael Pakaluk said of her at National Review Online, “Mac Donald’s mockery of common religious sensibilities … is so unfeeling as to border on the inhuman.”

Her multidirectional cluelessness is further indicated by this:

“As for the conservative intelligentsia, I was surprised—but that is my fault. I was ignorant and naive enough that somewhere in the back of my mind, I think, I might actually have assumed that presenting what strike me as pretty strong empirical arguments against the claim that God is just and loving, say, would end the matter. And I was unaware of the depth of commitment to the idea that religion is the source of values and that conservatism and religion are inseparably linked. For me, conservatism was about realism and reason.”

She thought that all she had to do was present her arguments against a just and loving God, and everyone would agree with her, just like that, poof! Two thousand years of Christianity, three thousand years of Judaism, dispensed with by a couple of wise observations from Miss Heather MacDonald!

Not aware that the world has been going through these debates for centuries and millennia, and imagining that her own atheism is some brave new discovery, she seems fated to recapitulate every stupid and inhuman error of the last 300 years, as though we hadn’t been through this before.

But what is perhaps most appalling is that having confessed such stunning ignorance, she keeps getting up on her soapbox to inflict her ignorance on us again. Having heard, apparently for the first time in her “sheltered life,” as she calls it, that conservatives are deeply committed to the idea “that religion is the source of values and that conservatism and religion are inseparably linked,” she still says that she finds the persistence of religious belief depressing and she wants it to go away. How about that—a “conservative” who wants to destroy the very thing that people regard as their primary source of value!

Nevertheless she insists she’s a conservative, because conservatism, she says, is about “realism and reason.” In other words, conservatism is about logic plus materialism. But that is another word for rationalism, which, as Michael Oakshott, the author of Rationalism, put it, is another word for … liberalism. The application of technological reason to the re-organization and improvement of human life, and the belief that such technological reason is sufficient for a good human life, is liberalism, or at least a major strand of liberalism.

Logical thought is of course an indispensable part of conservatism, but does not define it. Man’s bare reason—unassisted by experience, by historical memory, by the wisdom of an inherited culture, by reverence for the natural, social, and spiritual goods that we ourselves have not created—is precisely what Edmund Burke found running amok in the French Revolution. But I guess Burke’s famous analysis of the French Revolution—the very fountainhead of conservatism—is another subject that Heather Mac Donald, conservative, doesn’t know anything about, and doesn’t care to know anything about. So we’re all going to have to look on wearily for the next few years as she writes article after article indulging her kindergarten level errors as though they were superior wisdom.

Conservatism has a much broader meaning than the unaided reason Mac Donald imagines. It is allegiance to a social order and the transcendent truths of which it is an expression. As Frank Meyer put it in the 1960s, conservatism is “a political, intellectual, or social movement” that “arises historically when the unity and balance of a civilization are riven by revolutionary transformations of previously accepted norms of polity, society, and thought. Conservatism comes into being at such times as a movement of consciousness and action directed to recovering the tradition of the civilization.”

Christianity and belief in the transcendent are obviously central to the damaged tradition of our civilization, but Mac Donald is offended by their very existence. Instead of seeking to strengthen the things that remain, she wants to uproot them altogether. She reduces society to material progress plus the libertarian shibboleth of “individual responsibility,” and thinks that that is sufficient to maintain our civilization. Also, as previously discussed at VFR, she rejects the idea of a good and just God because God allows inequities. Mac Donald is not a conservative, but a kind of right-liberal materialist reductionist who is critical of certain extreme and destructive aspects of contemporary liberalism, and so seems conservative. A person who despises religious belief and wants it to come to an end is not a conservative, and Heather MacDonald has no right to call herself one, and she has no right to complain about the less the welcoming response she is now getting from some conservatives.

- end of initial entry -

Gintas adds:

Mac Donald makes it sound like there are a lot of frustrated atheist conservatives just waiting for a chance to break free of the insufferable stifling constraints that the Religious Right imposes. Just think of the political possibilities!

Is it possible she’s in cahoots with Derbyshire to get atheists to declare?

What do you think would happen if, say, 40 percent of the conservative “intelligentsia” declared their atheism?

LA replies:

When asked about something John Derbyshire, another recent out-of-the-closet “conservative” atheist, had said about religion, Mac Donald answers: “I defer to John Derbyshire in all things.” Either that’s a joke, or she means it.

Jake F. writes:

You may also find this article interesting, if you like to follow how the materialist intelligentsia talk about religion in the public sphere these days.

What I find most—amusing? troubling? both?—about atheists is their apparently blind faith in “progress.” The concept of progress requires something that you’re progressing toward; it requires teleology. But that’s precisely what Darwin and his followers rejected. How, then, can we trust that it will solve all of our problems, that it can provide the framework in which we can measure how good our lives are? (Indeed, the phrase “how good our lives are” assumes the very transcendent goodness that atheism denies.) Morality, too. Science can only measure what we do, not what we _should_ do; technology lets us do things, but it doesn’t tell us what we _ought_ to do. Yet atheists of my acquaintance feel that that science and technology provide the proper measure of man.

I don’t get it. It would be laughable if it weren’t so important.

LA replies:

Interesting. Darwin would say that each little change is an “improvement,” in that it helps an organism live longer and have more offspring. But then Darwin does this funny thing. Somehow all of these little “improvements” come together into a larger trajectory toward something that seems, overall, “better.” Not just better in that all the species are now living longer and having more offspring, but better in some intangible and transcendent sense of beauty, power, life, complexity.

In effect, Darwin performed the same trick with teleological value as he did with the origin of species. Just as he extrapolated from tiny changes within a species to some supposed evolution to a whole new species, he extrapolated from the tiny “improvements” which do nothing but help an organism live longer to the totality of the macro “improvements” of all species in their mutual interactions that suggest an overall meaning and purpose of life.

He pulls off such a trick in the closing paragraph of The Origin of Species, magically deriving meaning, harmony, beauty and even a divine Creator from a process that consists, after all, of nothing but tiny changes that allow an organism to have more offspring:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

Laura W. writes:

The last paragraph of Origin of Species is such a perfect example of how an atheist pulls mystical vocabulary out of his briefcase in an effort to prove the opposite is true. Just when he should be talking of an arid void, he brings up “grandeur,” “progress” and “beauty,” making what Francis Schaeffer called a leap into “contentless mysticism and awe.” He uses these “connotation words” as either cheap diversionary tactics or out of pure intellectual dishonesty.

To be kind, perhaps the atheist doesn’t have control over his own choice of words. An unconscious awareness of divine reality, of necessity, lurks within. Or perhaps, it simply is impossible to live by atheism in human language. There aren’t enough words to express it.

By the way, the sort of unthinking atheism you ascribe to Heather MacDonald only flourishes in a world of unthinking belief. Unthinking belief has allowed unthinking atheism to grow like four-foot weeds by the side of the road. When Christians and Jews abandoned the idea that their faiths were rational, and thus communicable, they stopped defending belief and truly educating the young. As faith became idiotic, atheism grew louder and more stupid by the day.

LA replies:

I’m hoping Laura can tell us more about this unthinking type of belief, how and when it started, examples of it, and so on.

Laura tells me that according to Francis Schaefer, unthinking belief started in Europe in 1890, and in America in 1930.

Also, I think one could describe Darwin’s last sentence as boob bait for the bubbas.

Also, that Darwin passage is a classic example of a key feature of liberalism I’ve often discussed. Liberals deny higher truth, while still wanting the benefits of higher truth. Darwin, denying higher truth, reduces all the phenomena of life to differential reproduction which enables some individuals to pass on their characteristics more than other individuals of the same species. Thus he removes God and any teleology from the phenomena of life. But then, having removed all meaning and purpose and order from life, but still wanting the emotional and social and practical benefits of seeming to have them, he sneaks them in again through word magic, pretending that his materialist reductionist vision somehow partakes of a higher harmony and order and even of God.

Man cannot live without meaning. Liberals are men. Therefore liberals must always have recourse to the unprincipled exception, i.e., they must assert truths and values that liberalism itself denies. Because liberalism denies reality, it is impossible for a liberal—so long as he wants to live in this world—to have true intellectual conscience.

N. writes:

Laura W. raises a very important point, that I’d not thought of in such terms, but that I’ve been grappling with in other terms. Without getting in to details, I’m involved in my church’s Sunday school, because the children of some of the leadership knew very little beyond some Bible stories and a vague notion that “God Loves Me”. Some of us are working to rectify that, using materials from the hymnal and other official sources, and teaching methods that were perfected in the mid-17th century, but it is an uphill fight with the people who like to applaud during services & never make their children memorize anything.

While digging in to the issue, I found that Sunday school seems to have started changing in the late 19th century from what Charles Wesley and others pioneered, into a more outreach/evangelical effort. This had the unfortunate side effect of leaving a lot of the Christians of 100 years ago without a deep knowledge of their faith. They, in turn, perpetuated this watered-down teaching into the 20th century.

It is no accident that dispensationalism and some other errors became popular starting in the early 20th century. It is no accident that “liberation” theology took hold in the post-Vatican II Roman church.

When the laity, and even the leadership, of any Christian church stops learning the details of theology, then there’s no way to prevent pretty much any error from creeping in, so long as it sounds “reasonable.” Likely the same thing is true in Judaism, but I am not really knowledgeable enough to have an informed opinion.

This brings me back to Laura W.’s point. My co-religionists often cannot explain fundamental parts of our theology in even the simplest of terms; they are practicing what she calls “unthinking belief.” They would have a hard time dealing with even the rather flimsy, adolescent-level argumentation offered by MacDonald, never mind a more serious atheist such as Dawkins. They are also therefore pray to the “Abrahamic faiths” nonsense, because not only are they ignorant of Islam, they don’t really know much about Christianity. Unthinking faith, indeed: some people might as well be medieval illiterate peasants, for all they know about their beliefs.

Some of us are working on this, a few people at a time, because that is what we are called to do in Romans and other places.

LA replies:

What N. says makes me realize a key factor in why atheism is increasing. When the religious people are so ignorant of the basics of their faith and uncapable of giving an intelligent account of it, when they reduce Christianity to some kind of feel-good religion of the self, when they boastfully proclaim that every good thing that happens in their lives is happening because of God (like that high school valedictorian who in her valedictory speech thanked Jesus for her top grades—how crass can you get?), then more and more people, e.g., Heather Mac Donald, are going to become contemptuous of Christianity and religion. (See what I said on this point in my exchange about “God and the tsunami.”)

N. continues:

In the interview you pointed to, MacDonald makes a really stunning admission when she confesses that she never studied history, and really doesn’t know where to start now. Well, Edward Gibbon didn’t know any archeology or much history when he decided to figure out how Rome fell, and he managed to do a fairly good job. A true intellectual has some idea on “how to learn,” whether the topic is knitting, or sketching, or history.

In fact, one of the most important things anyone can learn during early adulthood is “how do I learn stuff?.”

For her to admit that she never studied history is bad enough, for her further to “fess up” that she can’t seem to be bothered now ought to take her out of the ranks of serious thinkers for a very long time. That it won’t, that she’ll still be accepted by City Journal, National Review, etc. is a strong indictment of modern standards for intellectuals and thought.

LA replies:

So, we’ve established that there is a disabling degree of ignorance among the believers, and a disabling degree of ignorance on the part of at least one highly educated and vocal atheist; and, indeed, other outspoken atheists in our time show ignorance that while not necessarily as flagrant as Mac Donald’s, is still very bad. When the citizens of our society do not know its basics and cannot discuss them, whether on an intellectual level or on the ordinary level of a reasonably intelligent American high school graduate of a hundred years ago, our society is in trouble. But how can we turn the situation around, when we are simultaneously distracted by mass entertainment, ensconced in unprecedented material and psychological comforts, which tells us nothing outside our comforts and pleasures matters, and mentally intimidated and paralyzed by modern liberalism, which tells us that we must not make decisive intellectual and moral judgments or ever discriminate between “us” and “them”?

Larry G. writes:

It would never have occurred to me before reading VFR, but Miss Mac Donald’s ideas about God are very liberal ones. The existence of evil has long been used as an argument against the existence of God (and one I accepted myself for a long time). Evil things happen to Man, and God can prevent it, but does not, therefore God does not exist. In modern society, government takes the place of God. Suffering exists (of minorities, for example), and government knows of it, therefore government must step in and fix it or there is no justice (and certainly no peace). Conservatives might argue that it is better for government not to step in, and that people build character and ability while avoiding sloth and dependency by working out their problems themselves. A similar conservative argument might be made for God’s non-intervention in man’s life, since only by finding his own solutions can man grow in wisdom and capability. By working out for himself how the universe really works, man becomes closer to God.

LA replies:

That’s a great point. As I’ve said to Mac Donald myself, what she demands is a perfect universe where everything is just as we like it and there is nothing bad and everyone is equal, and if the universe is not like that, then she either thinks that God doesn’t exist or that God is cruel and mean. In the same way, a liberal expects a perfectly equal, comfortable society, and any falling short of that state convinces the liberal that the society is basically bad and mean.

Larry G. continues:

On a different subject entirely, and dovetailing with some of N.’s thoughts, you said:

“But I guess Burke’s famous analysis of the French Revolution—the very fountainhead of conservatism—is another subject that Heather Mac Donald, conservative, doesn’t know anything about …”

Well, she’s not the only one. As one who studied physics in college and spent his career in a technical field, I know it’s possible to go through life being a very intelligent guy and yet being sadly ignorant of much of our cultural inheritance. (The Durants’ “The Story of Civilization” still gathers dust …) It would be a great service to your readers if you would start to build on your sidebar an “Essential Reading” list, listing classic works we illiterate peasants really ought to know in order to join the conversation. You might even be able to work out one of those click-through deals with where you get a kickback for every order.

LA replies:

I did put together a reading list of my own favorite and recommended books, while expressing my embarrassment about my own appalling lack of learning. Burke is essential. I would recommend starting out by buying The Portable Conservative Reader, edited by Russell Kirk, and reading his superb selections from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, which are in the first chapter of the book.

Thucydides writes:

You have written a very fine essay on Heather MacDonald, especially in taking note of the substitute providentialisms she adopts: the worship of Progress and Science, cults whose irrationality she does not seem to understand.

For my own part, I should acknowledge that I am not among those “blessed with faith,” as I would put it. I don’t like the term “atheist” since that has come to connote not simply that one for whatever reason does not take a theistic view of the universe, but rather instead a zealous hostility to religion which itself is of a quasi-religious character. In contrast to MacDonald’s insouciant (the same word I used with respect to Steve Sailer, but the right one) Voltaireanism, I view the loss or absence of faith as an incalculable tragedy for our culture, and as having grave personal consequences for people like myself.

Neoconservative liberals like MacDonald regard religion as do other liberals; they see it as just another troublesome and ultimately unimportant personal attachment that stands, like all other defining particularisms and allegiances, in the way of their dream of convergence in a homogenous rational civilization, the telos of their substitute worship of Progress, in which man is no more than a rights-bearing cipher or blank slate. What an impoverished view of life their substitute faith is!

For some 200 years now, we have been trying an experiment never before attempted in human history; to live without religion. It obviously isn’t working very well. Religious feelings in one form or another seem inseparable from human existence. They involve our sense of who we are and what is our community, and they involve a stance toward the transcendent. The idea that we can dispense with all this, and view life exclusively through the prisms of rationalism, empiricism, positivism, and utilitarianism, and still be whole human beings is absurd.

Thanks again for your fine essay.

LA replies:

Thank you very much for this. It is a heartening and moving and significant e-mail, because of your own situation as you describe it and your experience of this problem.

Simon N. writes:

Being of the Sailer/Derbyshire/MacDonald “right-liberal atheistic conservative” strain myself, I was initially pleased by MacDonald’s plea that conservatism broadly defined does not require religious belief, that non-believers should be accepted within the ranks of American conservatism. Personally I greatly value the Christian church, the teachings of the New Testament, and our Western Christian tradition, I try to live my life pretty well according to the moral teachings of Jesus, but I don’t believe in the literal existence of any God, so by definition I’m an atheist. MacDonald appeared to be pleading for co-existence, something I certainly support.

However, I was greatly saddened by MacDonald’s interview, where her atheism is revealed to be of the hostile “I dislike religion & want to get rid of it” variety more commonly associated with left-liberal & Marxist thought. I was particularly horrified by her liberal-progressivist assertion that technological progress means there’s no existential threat from Islam (or from cultural Marxism, presumably?!). You subsequently dissected it brilliantly, for which I, a non-believer, thank you.

LA replies:

Thank you!

Exactly right. She had not gone this far in her previous articles, though I had objected to them too. I’d have to go back and check, but I think I found in her earlier articles an implied rather than an explicit hostility to Christian/religious belief per se. When she attacked people for thanking God for saving nine trapped miners, for example, that was going pretty far.

Jay M. writes:

Thanks for your posts on Heather’s unbelief—I read her article in The American Conservative when it first came out, and believed then, as I do now, that she is responding to a caricature of Christian faith that is popular among biblically illiterate American Christians. She wrote:

“Upon leaving office in November 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11. But the real credit, he added, belonged to God. Ultimately, it was God’s solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland.

“Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others—count me among them—feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?”

These are actually good questions. And they have an answer.

In Jesus’ day, in Luke 4, we have the same question asked of Christ—to wit—“Jesus, where was God when the Tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 people, or when the blood of worshipers was mixed with the sacrifices? Christ’s answer was plain and unmistakable: He was there!

“Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish [forever].”

In other words, and this is really really hard for modern feminized Christians to hear, God rules in the heavens and the earth—and that’s why they died.

The Bible teaches that the earth is cursed because of the original sin of Adam and Eve—all men are made from the earth, and therefore all men die, sooner or later. The question is not “why did the 18 die”? The question is, why did anyone survive? The answer is the grace of God. The question is not “why did 2700 die at the WTC”—the question is, “why did so many survive?” Those who lived were no more fit to live (in the sight of God) than those who died, but they did—by the grace of God.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”(Job 1:21—which Job uttered after losing his children and much else).

This is Christianity 101, but you won’t find one Christian in a hundred who believes it.

LA replies:

I’ve also discussed the Tower of Siloam in this connection, but gave it a somewhat different and perhaps unorthodox interpretation (though I hope it can be seen as conformable with orthodoxy).

LA writes:

Blogger William Luse has a discussion on Mac Donald’s atheism posted last August.

Laura W. writes:

The discussion on Heather MacDonald is interesting. The experiences of N. and others with religious illiteracy are telling. Thank you.

Most people have come to view religion as simply an emotional phenomenon. So this sort of illiteracy is almost impenetrable in adults. There is no motivation in an otherwise thinking adult to try to know the subject. A religious discussion descends into one side asserting, “I don’t feel the presence of God” and the other, “I do feel the presence of God.” No movement is possible because the foundation of religion is assumed to be subjective and emotional. However, if one side can say, “Put your feelings aside for a moment and let’s talk about history. Let’s talk about religion the way we might talk about, say, the Battle of Hastings or the Gettysburg Address. Tell me what you think about the historical evidence for the Sermon on the Mount or the Jews flight from Egypt.” It’s amazing how many thoughtful, educated people consider it taboo to approach the subject in this way—and are unequipped to do so. But, it’s important—in this particular moment in history—to always divert the discussion from feeling. A God who could only be felt would not be worthy of us. He would never have created the human mind.

LA replies:

That’s so interesting. Religion has become completely integrated into the relativist framework. I have my (emotional) preferences, and you have yours, and there’s no judging between them.

It’s an attitude expressed by the phrase, “As a person of faith, I believe…” Which in its structure is identical to, “As an African-American female, I believe…”, or “As a conservative, I believe…” There’s no common and objective truth, which can be discussed, there are only individual or group truths, which are a function of our respective personal feelings or our respective multicultural identities, and which cannot be questioned, because all opinions or feelings are equal.

Aaron writes:

You wrote: “Having rejected God and religion, Mac Donald has adopted technological superstition as their replacement.”

Are you familiar with Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” movie series? The first episode rather succinctly and beautifully makes the same point, illustrating that this attitude (technological superstition) is a sin in terms of the first commandment.

There is a nice DVD set available on Facets video. [Here are reviews at Amazon.]

Jeff T. writes:

Francis Schaeffer wrote two excellent books exploring the relationship of Christian faith to the presuppositions of modernity. The first, “Escape From Reason,” is a short one (about 100 pages) delineating the philosophical history of the disjuncture between Christianity and “rationality.” The second book, “The God Who Is There,” examines the presuppositions of modernity and how they are incorporated into all aspects of Western culture. Schaeffer is a good read for understanding the historical pervasiveness of liberalism.

Alan R. writes:

A few comments:

- When MacDonald brings up the problem of evil, she is actually being incoherent, if she is an atheist. If there is no God, good and evil are purely man-made, so if an atheist says, “One argument against God is the existence of evil,” she is saying, “Since things occur that I don’t like, there is no God.”

- “Unthinking belief” is indeed the reason why the atheistic worldview (i.e., liberalism) advances despite so many counting themselves as Christians. Atheists and most Christians agree that Christianity is private feelings and God-talk rather than a description of the way things really are. The fault for this lies primarily with the clergy, who don’t want to press their parishioners to better themselves, lest the parishioners become uncomfortable, and vote with their feet.

- You wrote:

But how can we turn the situation around, when we are simultaneously distracted by mass entertainment, ensconced in unprecedented material and psychological comforts, which tells us nothing outside our comforts and pleasures matters, and mentally intimidated and paralyzed by modern liberalism, which tells us that we must not make decisive intellectual and moral judgments or ever discriminate between “us” and “them”?

You are really asking “How can we defeat liberalism?” In a sentence, we must win the war of ideas, so that the highest authorities will teach truths rather than comfortable illusions. On a more immediate level, we who are parents need to teach our children to reject liberalism, to love truth, and to recognize that our life in Christ is a (primarily spiritual ) battle, as Christ himself made clear. And Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland has said that the primary way we wage spiritual warfare is by getting other people to accept our ideas.

LA replies:

Alan R.’s first argument hadn’t occurred to me. In effect, atheists like Mac Donald are using one part of higher truth which comes from God, man’s sense of the good, to deny the existence of God himself. If man’s belief in a good comes from God, and if God doesn’t exist, then the atheist cannot use his own perception of an absence of good in the world to deny God’s existence.

Of course, liberals would reject the premise. They say that God is not needed for man to have a moral sense. They say that man inherently knows that stealing is wrong and so on, and that such knowledge does not require God. What would be Alan’s reply to this argument?

Derek C. writes:

Two thoughts on the topic: 1. MacDonald is worse than ignorant; she is dishonest. I’ve re-read your discussion with her about the 2004 Tsunami, and her latest pieces betray no acknowledgment of the points you raised. Instead of taking your points into account and coming up with responses to them, she still insists on going after the same set of strawmen; i.e., she uses statements about God from naive believers as if it were settled theology. You simply cannot profitably argue with someone like this.

2. We do have a moral sense, and many Christian philosophers have said as much when they discuss natural law. Whether this natural law comes from God or evolution, though, is immaterial to the argument. The question is, why should anyone heed this natural law? The believer has a reason because he knows he’ll be judged at the end of his life. The unbeliever, though, has no reason to do so. In fact, if you gain by theft, and can get away with it, there is no logical reason for you not to do so. When I make arguments similar to this, I’m told that I’m relying too much on reason and discounting human sentiment—which I find rather odd, since radical non-believers insist we should be unsentimental rationalists when it comes to God’s existence.

LA replies:

I guess it could be called dishonesty, but, in a funny way, I don’t think it rises to that level. I think she is so stuck in her hatred of Christianity that she’s not capable of thinking logically about the issue at all. For example, her total lack of appreciation of the obvious impact that her anti-Christian positions will have on Christian conservatives’ views of her (namely her notion that Christians should welcome her even as she is declaring her desire that Christianity disappear) suggests that she is too lacking in self-awareness to be consciously dishonest. I think she’s just striking out blindly.

That doesn’t make what she’s doing any the less bad.

Indeed, aside from certain minority groups, I cannot remember off-hand ever seeing a person who represents the “minority” position (conservative atheists) plead for tolerance from the “majority” position (conservative believers and those friendly to belief), while simultaneously openly expressing her fond wish that the majority belief system go out of existence. At least Richard Dawkins doesn’t go around pleading for conservative Christians to like him. So Mac Donald would seem to be in something of a tough spot. She hates Christianity and has a driving need to keep expressing that hatred, but her career and readership are within the conservative movement which is largely Christian. So how will she resolve this?

In fact, it’s not that big a problem for her. She works for City Journal, the new editor of which is Brian C. Anderson, the South Park Conservative.

D.T. Devareaux writes:

I admit that as an adolescent I was an avowed atheist. As a young adult, with Knowledge and Science at my command, my atheism became decidedly more caustic; and while I wouldn’t characterize it as militant, there were times when, if the opportunity presented itself, I took great delight in making a monkey out of a Christian teacher or two. But somewhere along the way I grew up—just a little bit—but certainly enough to know that my attacks and the so-called intellectual bases for those assaults were at best juvenile and at worst borderline idiotic. I also credit my conversion of sorts to the vicious, unthinking diatribes of individuals like Dawkins. I say unthinking because it strikes me as patently stupid to argue that life is a cosmological accident, or that humans are merely chemical replicators propped up by calcium rods and protected by oily shells while maintaining that we fancy apes, having only just recently scuttled our way out of the primordial slime, have nonetheless managed to divine the secrets to existence itself. No God. No Transcendent. No purpose. The knuckle walkers and arboreal brachiators told me so.

While they would scoff at faith, atheists like Dawkins find nothing ironic about their unquestioning faith in human Science. Furthermore to what end comes all of this “progress?” For the sake of posterity? What becomes of posterity when, to quote Marlowe, “all the world dissolves?” What happens when the Earth is swallowed by the dying Sun, or mankind and all trace of it is eliminated from existence by some great catastrophe, completely obliterated and, absent some higher power or some great and watchful eye, has effectively never existed? All of these calls for progress and for the betterment of mankind by doing away with barbarism of religion begin to ring hollow when held up to the garish light of cold atheistic Science, no? And while atheists like Dawkins would sneer at those with faith, those who revere a power greater than themselves, they take great pleasure in bending their knees and paying respects to the corpse of God, don’t they? Needless to say, such a world view is disturbing.

LA replies:

I am honored to be the recipient of such eloquent e-mails. Compare the quality of the comments in this discussion to most other blogs.

Alan R. writes:

In response to my observation that atheists cannot deny God on account of evil because if there is no God, evil is man-made, you wrote: “[Liberals] say that man inherently knows that stealing is wrong and so on, and that such knowledge does not require God.”

Knowing it may not require acknowledging God, but its existence does require God. The question is, is there an objective morality, one existing independently of man? If, God forbid, our authorities were to declare that murder is not really wrong, would murder still be wrong? If atheism is true, the answer has to be “no,” because if the human race were to be wiped out (and if there were no other human-like rational beings anywhere in the universe), then no moral entities would exist, so it would be absurd to declare that even in this situation, “murder would still be wrong.” The only other way to get an objective morality is to declare that morality is simply there, part of the “furniture of the universe,” but existing without any origin or sanction. But this is incoherent, as the following thought experiment shows:

Imagine an archaeological dig that has uncovered an ancient city, and suppose the archaeologists have uncovered a tablet saying “No chariots allowed on this street, by order of the king!” Question: is it still true, in 2007, that chariots are not allowed on the street? Clearly no, because the authority who issued that rule, and backed it up, no longer exists. It is no longer the case that chariots are not allowed on that street. If there is no personal authority to back it up (to “ground it,” in more technical language), a moral rule is null and void. If morality is to exist objectively, there must be a God who grounds it.

The foregoing is just a few points of a big debate. But the broader point about atheism is this: Mac Donald is saying the following:

If God exists, then things that I believe to be great evils would not occur.

But things that I believe to be great evils do occur Therefore, God does not exist.

The problem is with the first premise: how does she know that if God exists, then things she believes to be evil cannot exist? How does she know that her personal standard of morality (and, let’s be frank, her personal standard of aesthetics) is necessarily reflected in God? If there is no God, it’s just her personal standard, so the argument fails. To succeed, the argument has to assume the opposite of its conclusion.

This is presuppositional apologetics in action: demonstrating the illogic that comes from assuming no God exists.

P.S. You wrote “I am honored to be the recipient of such eloquent e-mails.” This is because like attracts like. The fact that you take thought and discourse seriously induces us to write to you, and then you do us the honor of taking our thoughts seriously. It’s rather like a conversation, which, when done well, is the greatest pleasure.

LA replies:

No, no, it’s not true. Don’t you know? I’m a mean person, an egomaniac, I want to discredit all people other than myself and eliminate all views except my own and become the king of the world.

Mark D. writes:

1. Your reference to Michael Oakeshott is spot-on; MacDonald—insofar as she has explained herself—is a liberal with some aesthetic objections to some current social positions of advanced liberalism. As Oakeshott noted, a rationalistic reductionism, coupled with utopian faith in progress (materially defined), is liberalism.

2. As for “unthinking belief,” and for how any religious belief became to be considered “irrational” (even by the religious), Jim Kalb and I have had some recent discussions about the presuppositions of modernity and how they affect how Christians experience their religious beliefs within modernity. I would recommend Joel Garver’s article, “Nominalism and the Modern,” and Paul Tillich’s lecture on Thomism, nominalism, and Duns Scotus.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 02, 2007 08:11 PM | Send

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