Majority-minority relations: a non-liberal view
frequently hear an atheist argue that individual atheists may be as moral as or more moral than many Christians, which is of course true. But the atheist then falls into a serious error if, like Heather Mac Donald
or the New Atheists
, he concludes that, because atheists can be as moral as religious believers, therefore religion is unnecessary for the society as a whole to be moral. What the atheist is missing is that his model moral atheists did not derive their morality out of a vacuum, out of some pure uninstructed contemplation; they derived it as members of an actually existing majority Christian society with a Judeo-Christian morality. If the society completely lost its religious character, it would lose its morality too, and where would the atheists’ morality come from then? For example, imagine what a society would look like if it had been completely atheist for 200 years. Of course, there has never been such a thing. Over the last several decades, Europe has become the only civilization in history to be seriously secular, and in those same decades Europe’s birth rates have plummeted and Europe is letting itself be rapidly taken over by Muslims. There was also the officially atheist Soviet Union, but it burned itself out in 70 years, leaving a hideous wreck behind. So there has never been a truly atheist society. But if there were one, there is no reason to believe that it would be a moral or nice place. All human experience tells us it would be the opposite.
These obvious points, which had never occurred to me until a friend made them, show the utter dependency of the anti-religion atheists on the religion they despise.
A similar argument has been advanced in relationship to race. People will say that many individual blacks in their job performance, conduct, and moral character are equal or superior to many whites, which is of course true. But this misses the point that those blacks are operating within a white majority society the standards and expectations of which have been created by white people. In a completely black society, say Haiti or Nigeria, it would be a very different story and there would be—as indeed there are—very different standards in place.
The non-liberal lesson we derive from the above is that minorities, such as atheists or blacks, need to recognize that their own dearest goods and values depend on the continued existence and health of the majority, such as Christians or whites, that actually forms and maintains the culture; and that the minorities should therefore respect the majority and not try to undercut or overturn it. An atheist or a member of a religious minority who seeks to destroy the majority religion, or a member of a racial minority who seeks to turn America into a non-white country, is violating the true social contract that any society must have if it is to continue both to exist as a society, and to tolerate and include its minorities in its common life.
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Laura W. writes:
You said: “You will frequently hear an atheist argue that individual atheists are as moral as or more moral than many Christians, which is of course true.”
But, it’s not true. At least, not anymore. That’s because atheists typically do not consider sexual conduct—except in the cases of rape or pedophilia—to reside in the realm of morality. Actions once universally considered immoral—divorce, adultery, premarital sex, abortion, homosexual relations—are much less likely to be considered immoral by atheists today than by believers. And, that’s a fact.
If it is in the area of sexual morality that you’ll find the greatest chasm between atheists and believers today, the problem with any kind of discussion of this fact is that many atheists actually celebrate behavior once considered immoral.
That’s it! I’ll say no more. I’ve become an annoying gadfly!
Maureen C. writes:
Like the proverbial fish in water who cannot define water, because they are surrounded by it, Westerners do not appreciate the refinement of the civilization they have created over centuries. They take for granted a developmental level that stems solely from the cumulative effects of centuries of Western Christian efforts at moral goodness.
Sadly, American blacks are being successfully proselytized by Islam, especially lured by Islam’s claims of color-blindness. In fact, skin color is more of an issue in Islamic Africa than it is in the U.S. “Lighter” looks down on “darker” skin in Egypt, where I worked. Arab countries were the source of the slave trade long before Western countries became involved. As recently as six years ago, Arab men were going to poverty-stricken or war-torn African countries to buy little black girls for a pittance and bring them back to Cairo to live as houseslaves and concubines for the rest of their lives. The use of houseslaves, which is widespread, does not raise any eyebrows. Muslims don’t feel guilty about enslaving anyone. Why should they? After all, Islam allows a man four wives and as many concubines as he wants, why not buy a few black girls?
I am mystified by American feminists’ failure to attack the exploitative abomination of Islam’s polygamy. I am mystified by American blacks embracing a religion whose basic tenets enshrine inequality.
How can Maureen be mystified by it? The common denominator of all the factions of the left, the true motive underlying their respective particular supposed grievances and demands, is alienation against the American nation and its majority culture, and a desire to bring them down, and also a hostility to American power which they see as the main cause of the world’s evils. Their particular grievances are just the way they express that larger animus and carry out that larger campaign. Muslims also threaten the American culture and American power. So from the Left’s point of view, Muslims are their fellow leftist allies.
It should be clear by now that the left is wholly destructive. Their only agenda is to find ways to bring America down, as David Horowitz has said.
As something of an Objectivist, I hold moral tenets that are the exact opposite of Christianity/leftism.
Where Christian/leftist morality are philosophically based in the same three basic metaphysical 1st premises: 1) altruism to the point of self sacrifice for strangers as its ethics, 2) collectivism as its politics, ie. the individual has a primary moral duty to “Society” or “The Church” or “his fellow Man” and 3) mysticism as its epistemology and ontology, ie. all things are real because they exist in the mind of God, or “I think, therefore I am”, “Soul” and “The Spirit of Man” ( the leftist’s mundane version of a soul).
My sense of morality is derived from the polar opposite of each of these three premises: 1. Rational self interest as my ethics, every individual man’s existence on earth being an end to itself, and his actually life on earth as his primary concern, 2. individualism as my politics, ie, my primary duty is to me and those I may consider it in my interest to extend a such a duty towards (Burke’s “little platoons”, family), but not to any arbitrary collective + the “state” exists to serve individuals, not the other way around, and 3) the primacy of existence as my epistemology, that “reality” is real, came into being and exists independently of human experience, and is not effected by our ability to doubt this or conceive of pararealities like “Heaven” or “The Mind” and that this can be repeatedly verified by falsifiable experiments performed by anybody, the nature of reality as discovered, not “revealed”.
I do not bring these things up to you to argue their merits, obviously you would consider my “morality” simply IMmorality. I only bring them up to show that for every tenet you espouse as moral there is an opposite tenet from which another persons morality may arise. You will note I claim the morality of the left and Christianity/religion are indistinguishable, well—in my opinion they are, from a philosophical perspective, obviously not from a theological one.
I enjoy your blog as always and look forward to your every entry. Despite the fact that I disagree with you so much on religion, your insights on separating from the Muslim world are invaluable.
It is true that today’s Christianity advances suicidal self-sacrifice for society as a whole. But that is the liberalized Christianity of modern times. Christianity did not used to be like that.
An Objectivist society could not exist, just as a libertarian society could not exist. No society based solely on reason and self-interest could exist. There is love for larger and higher things that draw men together in a society, and Objectivism cannot articulate these things, other than to say that all men love their rational self-interest and draw together on that basis. That is like the neoconservative definition of nationhood. Neocons believe in nation, but it turns out that what they mean by nation is an abstract idea, not anything historical, real, and concrete to which one belongs.
Objectivists only exist because America exists, and America could not have been formed by Objectivism. Objectivists (like libertarians and atheists) are practically dependent on the values of the larger society the truth of which they deny.
By the way, I would suggest to you that most people who call themselves “atheists” are in fact merely ANGRY at the Judeo-Christian god for various shortcomings. They may no longer believe in HIM, but they believe in a host of unfalsifiable claims and concepts that are either simply non-Western religions (atheists who proudly assert they are also Buddhists for example) or they believe in political quasi-religious concepts like “Society as a superorganism” (which was made up out of whole cloth by the early sociologists like Durkheim) or “Mankind,” which is the mystical spirit of Man that now inhabits the place in the quasi religious atheists fellow man that used to harbor his Soul.
To a person that accepts no Mystical metaphysics at all, these concepts are identical to espousing a belief in God and the so-called atheist is merely engaging in some manner of moral preening in front of the other “sophisticated atheists” by differentiating himself from the God-centered religious with such obnoxious conviction.
Jake F. writes:
I’m uncomfortable with your discussion of “the white race.” I know that many people are. I’m still not sure what precisely a race is, or how it differs from mere genetics, and so on. I certainly don’t know why I should try to preserve my race more than someone else’s race—is the “browning” of America so bad? Is my beef with the Arab race, or with specific Arabs, and with groups of Arabs who can be categorized by other characteristics (religion, primarily)?
Now, as I was reading one of your archived articles tonight, I was reminded that I said this to you recently: “A hallmark of the liberal is that he denies the historical reality of entities that are larger than the entity he invests with rights.”
I recognize this denial in the people around me with respect to entities that I believe are historical and actual: states, nations, cultures.
They’re uncomfortable about those for all the same reasons I’m uncomfortable about race. What’s the difference between a “nation” and a “country” or a “culture”? They don’t want some semi-intuitive I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it claim that gets messy in the non-obvious cases, because if they’re going to claim that a “nation” has a right to defend itself then they want to know what it is, and what gives it that right beyond just the individuals of which it’s composed. But these entities exist. To deny that America exists (only individual states! Or, only individual people!), or that Jews exist (only people who identify themselves as Jewish!), is to be a fool about history.
And now I see the parallel in myself with respect to race. Whatever “race” means, it is something of which I’m conscious (at least in the obvious cases), and people have recognized it for all of recorded history. Any definition of it is messy in the non-obvious cases, though, and I want to know why a “race” has the right to protect itself.
Ouch. I’m totally liberal with respect to race.
Well, I’m not sure what “race” actually means yet (beyond the oversimplified “genetics”), but I recognize an unprincipled exception when I see one; in this case, it’s an unprincipled exception to my supposed conservatism. So away it goes. Race is, and races exist, and individual races have the right to protect themselves. Now the hard work starts of understanding what I’ve just learned; we’ll see what happens from here.
This is an impressive insight, Jake. A real contribution to the discussion. Thanks for this.
Following on from Laura’s observations about atheists and sexual immorality, it is interesting to note that Richard Dawkins, the increasingly irritating militant atheist has been divorced twice and married no less than three times. He has made a career out of being an atheist and has probably done that because his work as a scientist is merely that of a fairly undistinguished biologist. Contrast this with James Clerk Maxwell and Isaac Newton who were both devout Christians and brilliant mathematicians and scientists. Neither of the latter ever doubted their Christian beliefs despite the fact that they made ground breaking scientific discoveries. Dawkins is simply not in their league.
Dawkins also refused an invitation from Alister McGrath an eminent theologian, who also started off as a scientist, to enter a debate about religion and I would deduce that this infers that he was not sufficiently confident in his ability to present a coherent case. McGrath described Dawkins as “embarrassingly ignorant of Christian theology” and has written a book called the Dawkins Delusion due for release next month. Should make interesting reading.
Dawkins is a fraud.
Laura W. writes:
I very much enjoyed reading Dana’s comments. She offers a perspective that cleanses these sorts of conversations of phony righteousness. She says, “To a person that accepts no mystical metaphysics at all, these concepts are identical to espousing a belief in God.” So, in other words, if one group of people worships trees and another group of people worships, say, automobiles, there is no difference in their metaphysics because both have the same sort of worshipful attitude to reality. The details of the object worshipped do not matter, only the fact that it is worshipped. From there it must follow there is no difference between trees and automobiles. In other words, reality is subjective and illusory.
Some maintain it is possible to live with this view and I have the deepest respect for the effort to abide by it with integrity. But, it seems to lead, of necessity, to contradiction and inner tension. How does a person function? How do you know that the people you love are real?
I very much disagree with you that an atheist society couldn’t be a reasonably moral or nice place. I think it could be basically decent and orderly since most moral injunctions are written on human consciousness, or the Tao of existence (to borrow from C.S. Lewis.) I just don’t think it can be a very civilized or cultured place. There might not be chaos in the streets or Stalinist purges, but slavery, wife-beating or euthanasia may be approved. Christianity’s unique respect for the individual (which cannot be duplicated by other religions or atheism and which is inseparable from its view of reality) and Christianity’s sexual morality (not written in the Tao) lead to remarkable cultural flourishing.
Finally, atheists may be free-loading on Judeo-Christian values in some ways today, but so-called Christians also are free-loading on the values of atheists. Together, they fashion an uncivilized world.
An atheist reader writes:
I entirely agree with your article. Atheism may be good for some individuals, but it is not good for society as a whole. This places conscientious atheist intellectuals in a bit of a bind.
Re: “Why is Maureen mystified?”
Yes, in fact, I do find it hard to get used to people doing things that seem so obviously contrary to their self-interest. That’s why reading your column is a breath of fresh air. Logic prevails.
When I was working in the Mideast, I never got accustomed to the illogic. I frequently heard Muslims making contradictory statements in the same sentence without blinking. This lack of rationality is why I groan every time I hear a Western analyst assert that, say, Iran or Egypt or Saudi Arabia, wouldn’t act in such and such manner, because it would not be in their self-interest. Only the Western mind has such high regard for logic.
The trouble with our Mideast analysis is that we put on Western virtual reality helmets and project, project, project our more civilized world onto the Mideast. Hence, the disjunct when our plans cannot be implemented in the Mideast reality. Muslims can and will do things that are not in their self-interest, like fly planes into the Twin Towers, like fire guns into the air—oblivious to the fact that bullets that go up must come down.
Perhaps logic has been diluted during the centuries-long, frenzied inbreeding that goes on in the Mideast. This inbreeding stems: 1) from Arab males marrying their female cousins (because their cousins are the only females they can meet with any degree of what we Westerners would call normalcy); 2) from the polygamy which allows one scrofulous man like King Faud to father 260 children; 3) from the incest that the polygamous mindset encourages; 4) from small tribes living in isolation, etc.
Alan Levine writes:
Has Europe actually been secular only in recent decades? I doubt this.. Rather, it has been secular since the “Enlightenment.” (Note the quotation marks!) But it had several substitute beliefs—nationalism or patriotism, socialism, liberalism (19th century variety), racialism, fascism, communism—but all these are dead or dying, albeit sometimes disguised by something else taking their name, “socialism” usually meaning Western self hatred and nothing that would have been recognized by a democratic socialist of 1907. (By the way I thought your reply to Maureen outstanding.) The relation of the rest to Christianity or the Judaeo-Christian tradition has changed only to the extent that the latter and its remnants are now regarded with greater hostility and perform a scapegoat function for the secularists to a much greater extent than ever obtained among even determined atheists and agnostics decades ago.
Your arguments about atheism and morality, I think, assume too much. Whether or not it is philosophically possible to base morality on non-religious grounds—I think that Sidney Hook once made a good argument that it can be done, though unfortunately I cannot remember where—in fact most societies that have existed have actually done this! The connection of ethics with religion is actually relatively recent and obtains only among what used to be called bluntly the “higher religions”—Judaism, Christianity, Islam (at a lower level!) Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. Normally, the polytheistic religions in which most human beings believed in previously had little or no ethical content. The gods of the Greeks, Romans and the Germanic peoples have nothing to do with morality, indeed they often behave badly. Some of them—Loki and perhaps Odin—are downright evil. Morality, though perhaps at a much lower level than our own, nevertheless existed but was taught as a system of social rules that existed apart from the belief in the gods and could be contradicted by the latter’s behavior. Arguably something like this situation still obtains among the Japanese, although they have been considerably influenced by Buddhism and Christianity and it would hard to filter out their influence.
I am not sure I can express my view of the fallacies involved in Jake F.’s position too well, but I’ll try my hand at refuting it.
I myself am uncomfortable with arguments that presume the existence of the “white race” as a corporate entity, or at least as a historical reality comparable to nation, culture, or religion, However, it is a fact that certain people familiarly known as “white Americans,” among whom we are numbered, whether self-denominated or so called by others, ARE treated as a group, and are actually discriminated against in certain ways e.g., affirmative action, and are threatened in others; and have the right to protect themselves just as Negroes did when discriminated against by Jim Crow , notwithstanding the fact that “Negroes” as a group were to a large extent a creation of the external society including, as they did, people who were mostly of European descent and who would not even considered Negro or black, in say Brazil. In other words, groups or entities may have little or nothing in common, and even be to some extent imaginary—e.g. the Jews as seen by the Nazis—and still be in some sense “real.” Real enough to suffer, at any rate.
All the societies Mr. Levine describes had a sense of the divine and sacred, and of morality related to the divine and sacred. The Greek religious and moral system was not limited to stories of Zeus cheating on his wife. What a superficial view of ancient Greek culture.
Sorry for snapping at Mr. Levine, but really, how could anyone imagine that the stories of Homer constituted the totality of Greek religion? The Greek gods have different dimensions; there is Zeus the individualized god, but there is also Zeus as an impersonal principle of justice in the universe. The Greek religion was multileveled. Among the Greeks each family had its own cultus and its particular gods, for example, and this was the heart of their spiritual and ethical life. All historical cultures have systems of duty, obligations, limits, and justice, and these are always based in some mythical or sacred belief that goes beyond mere rational calculations of what “works.” Also, for Mr. Levine to throw in the atheist Sidney Hook as an authority for the idea that religion is not needed for morality, without any specifics to back that up, is not helping advance the discussion.
On another point, I agree with Mr. Levine’s idea that Europe has had several several substitute beliefs over the last couple of hundred years that that have kept pure secularism at bay: romanticism, nationalism, and so on. Something larger that gives meaning and order to life. But it is only in recent decades that they don’t believe in anything higher at all … except for the post-human bureaucracy of the EU, which actually proves the point.
A reader whose domaine is atheists.org writes:
Human morality precedes religion. Religion grows from an attempt to codify the moral instinct already built into our DNA. Check out:
If morality is coded into our DNA, then why don’t all humans behave in a moral way?
Mark P. writes:
In reply to Mr. Levine, I really don’t understand how people divorce morality from religion. Didn’t an eminent atheist like Neitszche once state “Without God, all is permissible?” Even he understood how religion and morality operate together.
Jake F. writes:
The Atheists.org reader says: “Human morality precedes religion. Religion grows from an attempt to codify the moral instinct already built into our DNA.”
Atheists and believers can agree that people have an innate knowledge of right and wrong. The Christian believer says that this is because people are created in the image of God. The atheist generally says that this is because these traits have proved to be selectively advantageous.
A Christian believes that behaving immorally separates him from God; he is less than he should be; he is not fulfilling his purpose. That is why he shouldn’t behave immorally.
An atheist believes—what?
Perhaps he will say that his moral traits have resulted from his species’s ability to survive, and therefore he should follow them. But our penchant for overeating, overspending, and a variety of other bad habits also resulted from our species’s ability to survive, and there’s no need to indulge these impulses. (See http://www.meangenes.org/excerpts/ for examples.) Why is there a need to indulge moral impulses? What should we say to the man who says, “These feelings are vestiges of an earlier, subrational humanity. It would be better for us if we overcame them.”
This isn’t an abstract thought. What shall we say to the paedophile? His moral instinct is no more or less built into his DNA than the rest of the world’s. If we have only the notion of trait survival to guide us, we will probably end up talking the way the gay rights movement does: just because an “orientation” exists in a minority of people doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “It’s the way I am,” they say, and if asked when they discovered they were gay they respond, “when did you discover you were straight?” Should we allow the paedophile to pursue his agenda? Even if society rejects him, should a paedophile let that stop him from pursuing his agenda?
Morality implies that there are ways we should behave. Not how we do behave—that can be studied scientifically—but how we should.
Without a goal, an end, a telos, there is no “should.” Without a Goal-maker, then either we fall into relativism (“I’ll make my own goals”), total amorality (“There is no “should””), or blind faith that randomness and survival has allowed our instincts to somehow codify something transcendant.
I think the lattermost is the most common. It’s a more foolish position than any religion I’ve seen.
Perhaps the simplest way to state the issue is Irving Babbitt’s distinction between our ordinary self, and our higher self (whether defined in Christian, Aristotelian, or other terms) which checks and guides our ordinary self and its expansive and self-aggrandizing impulses. That is the basis of morality. Atheists—and liberals generally—have no way of articulating that duality in man’s nature between the ordinary and the higher. They believe man is naturally good, and doesn’t need God or a higher self to control his ordinary self. But if man is naturally good, whence come our bad impulses, and whence comes the power that restrains our bad impulses and seeks something better? Atheism and liberalism really have no answer to these questions.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 08, 2007 03:53 PM | Send