Matt Ridley has a curious piece in The Times (no, the better one), “Why Muslims are turning away from Islam“.
(Incidentally, Ridley and I both have chapters in the new National Association of Scholars report “Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement To Turn A Generation Against Fossil Fuels“.)
Ridley starts: “As scepticism and materialism replace blind faith, more people than ever worldwide are opting for atheism.” Blind faith, eh. As far as I have been able to discover, there is no such thing. No one believes a thing for no reason; no one, except for a fool or a drunk, believes just for the sake of believing. Even science, like mathematics, requires faith, i.e. the believing in things for which no observational evidence will ever be forthcoming. Skip it. Everybody knows “blind faith” is a euphemism for one of the monotheistic beliefs (for which, in the case of Christianity, there is ample observational evidence).
And materialism, what’s that? A coherent philosophy that nobody holds. Every nihilist is a liar—at some point. Materialism is the philosophy that only material substances exist. Accepting that leads to the rigorous conclusion that nothing matters. Not the good of the human race, not the bloody hijinks of terrorists. Nothing—as in nothing. No materialist or nihilist is ever consistent, though. In every instance, there is a call to a universal standard of good and evil, standards which cannot exist if materialism is true. Let’s see if that’s so with Ridley.
Quietly, non-belief is on the march. Those who use an extreme form of religion to poison the minds of disaffected young men are furious about the spread of materialist and secularist ideas, which they feel powerless to prevent. In 50 years’ time, we may look back on this period and wonder how we failed to notice that Islam was about to lose market share, not to other religions, but to humanism.
To disparage poisoning a mind is to lay claim to a universal evil, which is nonsensical if materialism holds. Of course, one can be furious under materialism, but it means nothing. Anger is merely another word for a certain configuration of chemicals in somebody’s nervous system. But anger or fury, and what comes of it in the form of action, it’s neither good nor bad if materialism is true. Kill or let live: it’s all the same under materialism.
Ridley is right that non-belief among monotheists, even among Muslims, is waxing. He notes this in an approving tone. (Be careful what you wish for, etc.) He says the rise of atheism is “all the more remarkable when you think that, with a few notable exceptions, atheists or humanists don’t preach, let alone pour money into evangelism.”
Atheists or humanists don’t preach?
Oh yes, they do. Constantly. You can’t shut them up! Their evangelization is vigorous, well-supported, and ubiquitous. Every secular cathedral—the bulk of our schools (at every level), media, and entertainment complex—preaches daily from pre-dawn into the wee small hours. There is a cataract of preachy propaganda gushing through the air.
Did we not just see muscular street-corner style soap-boxing at Mizzou? Flick on the dream machine and turn to any ad- or government-supported channel. Nonstop lecturing and hectoring on the essentials of non-belief. They even control the sports networks! The soldiers of secularism are indefatigable. Or maybe that should be spelled sexularism.
Ridley admits as much.
In the Arab world, according to Brian Whitaker, author of Arabs Without God, what tempts people to leave the faith is not disgust at the antics of Islamist terrorists, but the same things that have drained church attendance here: materialism, rationalism and scepticism.
Materialism we know; and skepticism merely means sexularism (or secularism, if you must). But rationalism doesn’t belong in the list. It is rational to believe in God—which ought to tell you what irrationalism is. Ridley quotes a guy who says, what I think is true, “Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity.” Yes: progressive democracies are nothing but trouble.
Hey: ever notice these guys love coming up with self-congratulatory names for themselves? “Rationalists”, “brights”, “humanists”. Sheesh. That reminds me a of a brilliant one-act mini play.
Categories: Culture, Philosophy
A hundred years ago the progressives wanted to prohibit alcohol. Now they want to prohibit religion (& guns).
Whatever else you say about materialism, I don’t see how the claim that our lives & everything we see is a stupid meaningless accident is worth dying for.
The jihadis see this as weakness & think they can win.
But materialism isn’t even worth living for. If you divide the mass murderers (& wannabes) from McVeigh onward into jihadis & non-jihadis, the non-jihadis whole sorry trail through schools, universities, movie theaters, british cab stands, norwegian youth camps, & texas IRS offices, is a bunch of guys who hate institutional religion . Brevik , a confirmed Lutheran, is probably the best counter-example, & his manifesto has nothing but contempt for the Church of Norway.
Ridley believes (a.k.a. blind faith, or even worse, faith against evidence) that one can beat something with nothing. We’ll see how this works out in Europe in the next few years. One thing is certain — the accumulation of evidence will not convince secularists that perhaps established religion has an important social function after all.
There is nothing rational about Religion save for it being a convenient lever to control the population. Getting rid of the intellectual scourge that is religion is not going to fix all the world’s problems, but it certainly will make the world a little better of a place.
RE: “…the same things that have drained church attendance here: materialism, rationalism and scepticism.”
What about religious institutions that have coddled child abusers …don’t ya think that such hypocrisy has as an effect…a big effect?
If, “It is rational to believe in God,” is it still rational to take one’s cue’s from an institution known with certainty to be so un-God-like to knowingly, willfully, sneakily protect child molesters & let the abused children suffer?
Is it rational to support an institution that has–and continues to–place its self-interests over those it claims to serve?
Nope, not for many. But some still do.
I’ve met some of those that still support churches with known, unaddressed child abuse. All kinds of excuses for why its ok, even important, to support that institution come forth….one time from someone during a meal at a restaurant that screwed up his order that he sword he’d never go back there — the service really sucked (though the food was good). But his church, coddling known child abusers…that’s something else he had to support…because the church said so… Some measure of mind control at work there, obvious for anyone interested to pay attention.
“Christian Hypocrisy” — Google it.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god.
Eradicating religion spoken from people who enjoy the freedoms built on the desire for religious liberty. Like Dr. Briggs says, be careful what you wish for. Part of me really wishes that progressives would get the society they so desire. But then again, it’s been tried. You’ll find out within a decade of building your dream society how many progressives fit on a raft. The problem with expensive lesson, though, is you’ll darken my children’s world along with your own.
Progressives used to get the benefit of adults(usually raised in a religious environment) running the ship occasionally so they could run around complaining about equality for this or we want to have sex with that like petulant children. Now, after decades of a progressive school system, it’s getting hard to find adults. We’re churning out a population of pajama boys and women who wish to hold – as a right- the ability to kill their own children in the womb. The adolescent adult males look and act like females but grow beards thinking facial hair will make them men. The women want to dress like streetwalkers but be treated like a lady behind closed doors. This is but a partial list of the delightful benefits you get when religion is on the decline.
I agree wholeheartedly (and to a degree, with Ken as well)
If “RELIGION” stands between me and God, then yes, it CAN become a lever – a control. But IF I persevere, “RELIGION” (even the “RELIGION” that is ME and my FAITH in INTELLECTUALISM and SCIENCE – I practiced it for 25 years), if I persevere against RELIGION, I CAN find God.
Errr, isn’t the materialism preached on TV shows the kind that wants you to buy stuff you might want , but don’t need?
In the spirit of the week, I thank God for you and your minions and/or denizens
A tale of two Matts: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
Matt Ridley has this right, but it’s not necessary to invoke scepticism, materialism or rationality to defeat religion. It only needs the observation that most people find it boring and only follow it if they are indoctrinated into it. Earlier this evening, by coincidence, my kids were talking about religion. My daughter was appalled to learn that she was attending a church school, something which had apparently escaped her attention despite her being there for more than three years. This was laugh-out-loud funny and encouraging.
In everyday life, religion is just irrelevant and when our thoughts turn to deeper stuff like death, religion’s ‘insight’ is an embarrasingly phoney fairy story about life after death. Bzzt.
Any empirical evidence in support of this theory is welcome. It does not seem to mesh well with history. Most rulers throughout history have found that swords and soldiers served well enough to control populations — and a tax or tribute rake-off that leaves the said population surviving but not sufficiently resourced to do much else. If anything, rulers have found religions to be a hotbed of dissent and resistance.
However, this is one of the foundational myths much treasured by modern fabulists.
Religion takes away the fear of death,
If you take away the fear of death, the result is kamikaze.
Hence the rash of devout Methodists crashing planes in ships and buildings.
Methodists don’t get rewarded.
Some years ago I watched an excellent documentary “My Brother the Islamist”, where the filmmaker documented the story of his brother’s conversion to radical Islam in the UK. His brother and his new found Islamic Brit friends had converted because something in their conscious told them that something was impossibly wrong with the materialist world they lived in. One works all day, then goes to the pub to drink his life away and watch football. When that isn’t enough they turn to drugs and prostitution. An unfulfilling and purposeless life.
Most interesting thing to me was the filmmaker actually agreed that life was essentially meaningless, but couldn’t offer any alternative to Islam. At no time in the documentary did anyone bring up another alternative, Christianity. I gathered from this that Christianity essentially was dead in the UK, leaving the Imams as the only group to provide a worldview claiming any meaning and purpose to life.
That life is just as much a lie as the materialist worldview; killing infidels will not bring meaning and happiness. The documentary was followed up later by a sequel called “My Brother the Terrorist”. Turns out the brother had been lying all through the first documentary about his involvement with terror, and was arrested a short time later on terrorism charges.
The film is owned by the BBC. They pulled the YouTube copy years ago and though it’s listed at their web site, it cannot be viewed. So good luck finding it. But do try.
“Religion is great stuff for keeping the poor from murdering the rich.”
“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.”
— Albert Einstein
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
— Blaise Pascal
“As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests”
— Thomas Paine, about Christianity
Surely, nothing but modern fabulists, all.
Religion is not going anywhere because people are not comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” Everyone wants to pretend they know what they don’t know. So secularism comes along and it becomes dogmatic in its own ways. For example, global warming apocalyptics. It has more similarities with Judeo-Christian belief than it has differences. New belief systems can be immensely destructive (Marxism). Better the devil you know then the one you don’t, hence be careful what you wish for. I much prefer Christians to many types of secularist.
The old and the new covenants say pretty clearly what right “religion” should be:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Much of what gets called religion runs counter to this and is defective at the least and monstrous at the worst.
The fable was that religion originated as a means for the kings to control the populace. This is falsified by the fact that religions exist even in egalitarian tribal cultures; i.e., societies without a ruling class. You supplied not examples of such an origin, but quotes from people who seemed to claim that it was, such as a cynical opportunist and a rabble-rousing agitator. However, you cannot support a claim simply by quoting others who have made a similar claim. Where is their empirical evidence.
Given that the religion of France did in fact forbid murder, this is only remarkable for specifying who was not being murdered. Napoleon also found that a secret police and torture were also great stuff. He also thought that a Republic could have an Emperor.
This is not a claim that religion originates as the means for the ruling class to control the people. It is a quite different claim, akin to the claim that you can fly a jet plane without the aid of Frank Whittle. Einstein seems to think that “sympathy” is not something taught by a religion. He also begs the question.
A nice aphorism, but it wants for empirical evidence. The worst evils — the French Terror, the Holocaust, the gulags, etc. were carried out on other convictions entirely. Men are entirely capable of evil on the basis of a tuppence difference in the tariff on lace or of dedication to the Revolution.
Paine makes the assertion, but again provides no evidence. He simply repeats the usual Protestant/Atheist tropes. He was, as you know, a militant atheist, and is simply making tendentious claims. Priests, for example, being drawn from the same population as bankers, bakers, and candlestick makers, exhibit the same range of desires as anyone else.
“The fable was that religion originated as a means for the kings to control the populace.”
Funny, I’ve never heard that fable.
I read his essay and the overall thrust is his view that things will get better…they may get worse before that…but they will get better. He highlighted a small but growing secular faction among Arabic countries.
Well, he is an optimist after all.
Ah, Hans, so promising a reward for kamikaze results in kamikaze (naturally assuming the promise is believed). I think we kan agree on that.
Here is the entire paragraph containing the quote by Einstein.
Einstein does not deny the value of religion, and the evidence can be found in the book. So, imo, he thinks that sympathy can be taught without religion, not that “sympathy” is not something taught by a religion.
Of course, one probably can find as many quotes as they want as if they can support different sides of an argument.
(I highly recommend the book. My favorite book genre is biography or of similar nature. Sarah Palin’s Going Rouge, which somehow I managed to finish reading it, is one of the worst, if not the worst, I’ve ever read.)
“Of course, one probably can find as many quotes as they want as if they can support different sides of an argument.”
Of course. My purpose in presenting the list of quotes was not to supply evidence for what the quotes claim, nor because I think the authors were such fine fellows, but as a counterexample to the prevailing sentiment here: that railing against religion, and that atheism, are modern phenomena, symptoms of postmodernism, our decadent culture, the public schools, the Democrats, etc., ad nauseam.
These quotes are a thimblefull taken from a firehose. Contempt for religion, and for Christianity in particular, is a dominant theme sounded by many of our greatest thinkers over the past 200 years or so (after the threat of burning alive had more or less passed). So, of course, is faith in God.
Any rational adult should be able to separate, in his mind, the demonstration of the existence of an opinion with agreement with that opinion, or with regard for the person expressing it.
A rather modern and peculiar claim made by theists is that morality is impossible without religion. As if one’s capacity to separate pleasure from pain, or one’s capacity to observe good and bad consequences, could not guide and formulate one’s behaviour. Perhaps if there are such people, they are likely theists. Hence why an instruction manual on morality is useful for them.
A simple counterexample of a morality that did not arise within the ambit of a religion would be sufficient to demolish the claim.
As if pleasure had something to do with morality, or that one could gauge the consequences of an act at the time of acting. http://www.iep.utm.edu/conseque/#H3
Your first claim intentionally conflates correlation with causation. Because it rains (eventually) every time I do my rain dance as the tribe’s witch doctor, there can be no rain without my rain dance. Children learn and acquire moral behaviour through training by their parents long before they receive religious instruction. Even when the parents are zealous atheists.
Morality had its foundations in pleasure and pain and good and bad consequences. There need be no other foundation. Most, although not all, humans are empathetic. Giving pain causes pain, and so on. Of course, no theist zealot likes to be told that their self justification is no self justification at all. If that makes you feel morally superior, all good and well for you. It only becomes an issue when you start imposing dogma on others who reject your dogma.
Hume said everything was correlation. Causation is an illusion. In fact, some in the Briggsian commboxes has also denounced causation.
You may be confusing the historical record with Theory, much as some insist global warming continues even though the temperature record has flattened. I am not claiming some sort of universal theorem about morality, only making an empirical observation. (There ought to be a name for inquiries based on empirical observations.) You otoh contend that religion can arise in other contexts even though there is no record of any having done so, because you can develop a theoretical reason why it might.
Why do you think those two things are distinct?
Sure, once the answers are “in the back of the book,” anyone can look them up and conjure up a reason to agree.
I have only asked for empirical evidence supporting this. Perhaps it really is true in theory, but I am asking for examples where it happened in fact.
Except when exposing infants on rocky crags on throwing them in the pit called Apothete. Or smashing their heads against a wall. Or when enslaving defeated city states. As the Athenians told the Melians, “The strong take what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.” Or perhaps when flaying another man or raping the women after the conquest. We can ask the Assyrians, the Aztecs, the Mongols, and others all about that empathy thingie.
Like feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. Or the Christian doctrine of separation of Church and State, or the Jesuit doctrine of Social Justice. Why not let them “starve and so decrease the surplus population.”
It’s funny to come to the comments on this blog after going through the comments on an NRx blog. My religion is both the evil reactionary oppressor of the self-creating liberal man, and also the soft, effeminate vigor-killing slave morality which has destroyed what was good in pagan western society.
One is reminded of a Chesterton quote about the shape of keys, or some-such…
I think the point here is that there are large number of very creepy guys around, who are trying to self justify their world view — somehow the enlightenment went over their heads — who want to convince themselves that nobody has the capacity for moral behaviour, unless *they* (rather conveniently), explain it to them, the ignorant masses. All very creepy stuff, veiled in pseudo intellectual claptrap.
“and also the soft, effeminate vigor-killing slave morality which has destroyed what was good in pagan western society.”
You’re a big fan of Nietzsche, I see.
It’s true I’ve never met a consistent nihilist. People nowadays take what were depressing statements by Nietzsche and turn them into victory songs. It’s scary.
Atheists don’t preach?—I have three words for you: Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was more prolific, and obnoxious, than Billy Graham could ever hope to be.
Young men run off to join ISIS for power, for a “cause”. Cut out religion and some power takes its place, be it government, terrorists, or a flying spaghetti monster. (Mariner—seems unlikely we can replace something nothing. Humans aren’t made that way.)
JMJ: How about some examples of Godless utopias out there? I’d love the read about them. Really, I would. (Not surprising you missed the fable…..)
Ken: Sure, the Catholic church’s hierarchy is sometimes very, very bad and people leave the church. I see the current Pope alienating the masses with his global warming farce—especially since he’s bed with the enemy. I suppose the question of whether or not it’s rational to support an institution that puts itself above the interests of those served could be asked about progressives and their current mess in the United States. They continual kick their constituents in the face and yet they are re-elected. Is that rational? Also, you seem to believe all churches coddle child abusers. The son of one the ministers in my home town church went to JAIL for it. Not everyone just gets moved around. Stop labelling everyone and stop using one particular behaviour to dam everyone (spelling dam is on purpose).
Paul W: I applaud you for recognizing the damage that will be done to your children’s world.
Sander: And the newspaper, that today was one tenth news and nine tenths ads for sales. It’s everywhere. Buy, buy, buy. My shopping gene died years ago…….
Swordfish: Enjoy that nap while you can.
Hans: You apparently know different religious types than I do. I know of few, if any, religious person who does want to live as long as possible. Again, evidence for your claim would be good. Are there Christians, Muslims, Jews and so forth lining up for euthanasia in your country? (Oh, wait, you only meant “muslim” but typed in “religious”? Please be more clear and that should help.)
Cricket: Good one!
Lee: I agree with the Einstein quote. If religion goes against what is rational and sound, it should be rejected. If religion tells you to kill in the name of God, as a route to eternal reward, there’s a problem. Religious ethics should stand without God, but need not exclude God. It is very frequently misused, but that does not make it false. Government, courts, marriages, etc are all misused, yet we don’t demand an end to these things.
“It’s true I’ve never met a consistent nihilist. People nowadays take what were depressing statements by Nietzsche and turn them into victory songs. It’s scary.”
I’ve never met a nihilist. There are depressed people out there, but they should be on medication I suspect.
Nietzche’s perspective in a nutshell was that one should have the strength of character to see reality for what it is, embrace the here and now and every moment of your existence, and rejoice. What he found depressing were the religious who rejected the here and now and deferred their joy to the afterlife, which didn’t exist. So whether he is scary or not depends on what side of the fence you’re on.
If we cast a look a century ahead and assume that my assassination of two thousand years of opposition to nature and of dishonoring humans succeeds, then that new party of life will take in hand the greatest of all tasks—the higher breeding of humanity, including the unsparing destruction of all degenerates and parasites.
— Ecce Homo
Through Christianity, the individual was made so important, so absolute, that he could no longer be sacrificed. … All ‘souls’ became equal before God: but this is precisely the most dangerous of all possible evaluations.
— Will to Power
Life itself recognizes no solidarity, no ‘equal right,’ between the healthy and the degenerate parts of an organism. . . . Sympathy for the decadents, equal rights for the ill-constituted—that would be the profoundest immorality, that would be anti-nature itself as morality! — WIll to Power
The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power.
— Will to Power
When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt.
— The Twilight of the Idols
Very good examples of how your pseudo intellectualism is there to distort rather than enlighten. Will To Power are those writings published by his sister, that Nietzsche himself rejected. So it’s poor form to quote a philosopher on writings he did not wish to have published. So let’s behave in good faith and ignore those.
Ecce Homo was written during the period in which mental illness overtook his mind.
This leaves only The Twilight of the Idols as one of his more mature works. It’s interesting what you quote there, because I assume you quote it out of it’s context in an attempt to misrepresent as usual. What Nietzsche is arguing is that Christian values are so embedded in English thought – and he views this as a very bad thing by the way – that even when the English think they are thinking independently, their morality is still corrupted by Christian values.
See YOS, in the real scholarship you should quote what actually represents the ideas of a philosophy, as opposed to your habit of scouring the literature for anything that suites your usual agenda. That doesn’t mean I’ve a huge fan of Nietzsche. But at least I understand his philosophy. Clearly you don’t.
Of course, Beyond Good & Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra best encapsulate his view of morality.
What Nietzsche is arguing is that Christian values are so embedded in English thought – and he views this as a very bad thing by the way – that even when the English think they are thinking independently, their morality is still corrupted by Christian values.
Duh? Of course that’s what he was saying. He was one of those atheists who argued that morality needed a religion, so that anyone who tried to cook up a morality was himself corrupted by religion. Hence, his disdain for the “English flatheads.” He also thought science and art — and even atheism! — were corrupted by Christian thought, or “slave morality.”
Even the most daring thinker might hesitate to publish his own most provocative thoughts while alive.
Nietzsche argued that the Herd (i.e, = someone like you) would be corrupted by religion even if you turned around and rejected religion. On the other hand, the Übermensch were not corrupted by past theologies. Their personal morality arose purely from their power of Will.
The most likely explanation for why Nietzsche didn’t publish everything in the scribbles found in his notebooks was for the same reason most writers do not publish all the scribbles found in their notebooks.
the Übermensch were not corrupted by past theologies.
I guess I’ll have to content myself with being among the Untermenschen and mongrel races.
Yes, interestingly, that is the fate of most. Few have the intelligence or daring to build their own morality from within. Most stay in a perpetual child like state of immaturity. Nietzsche once described the Jews as the toughest of races. Beyond that observation I don’t recall Nietzche describing some races as superior or inferior to others. He was primarily concerned with the self, not the race. Although he did deplore the modern Germans of his day as moral and intellectual weaklings. But hardly comparable to the religiously motivated pogroms of the past.