Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.
Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms.
8) If you are 18 and figuring out what course of study to pursue for the next 4 years what changes would you make to your educational path now that you have some hindsight?
I would study a lot more history. Thanks to my college’s refusal to tell its ignorant students what an educated person should know-heaven forbid that it actually exercise intellectual authority!-I was required to study no history and didn’t know enough to do so on my own. ~Heather Mac Donald
Okay, for those who are in danger of being all “Mac Donalded” out, I have just one more thing to say about Ms. Mac Donald’s review before I turn to other things. The juxtaposition of the remark about theocons arguing for the necessity of religion and Ms. Mac Donald’s admitted lack of study of history caught my attention. It struck me that her admitted lack of a proper education in history, which she laudably wishes to remedy, might explain a lot about Ms. Mac Donald’s atheism.
Atheists are great ones for posing what they think are really baffling conundrums for believers, but their acquaintance with history, as far as religion is concerned, is typically with the black marks and scandals. There was religious fanaticism! Well, yes, and there was far, far worse atheist fanaticism, so which would you rather see dominating society? They seem uninterested to query why it is that every organised society from the earliest tribes to the most technically sophisticated civilisations have had one form or another of propitiating, worshipping and otherwise interacting with the supernatural and divine. If they do ask the question, they have ready-made answers handy: ignorance, fear of death, fear of the unknown, opiate of the masses, etc. It usually does not seem to trouble them that the greatest minds in every period of our history not only acknowledged one divinity or another but insisted on the importance of reverence for God or the gods for the well-being and virtuous life of man. They were caught up in the superstitions of their time, or they were afraid to challenge the religious authorities, the atheist will reply. Maybe, but what of the numerous philosophers who claimed to be able to show, by means of reason, the necessity of the existence of God? Though all these men considered the possibility of atheism, at least in passing, the absurdity of it always prevented them from embracing it.
It is no wonder then that, when faced with something like the ontological proof, which they no longer even attempt to answer, most atheists retreat to tired arguments from theodicy. Having repeatedly failed to disprove God’s existence in the realm of logic, which was their only real chance, they now hope to shame believers with the scandal of the fallenness of the world. “Look, a tsunami! What about your loving God now, eh?” they cry. This can sometimes scandalise believers, but it does not do much to disprove God’s existence.
Doesn’t the awesome weight of all of these historical precedents make the ”skeptical conservative,” the conservative atheist, think twice about whether he has gone awry somewhere? Surely it is one of the marks of conservatism to defer to the authority of tradition on the assumption that the “individual is foolish, but the species is wise” and that the tradition has accumulated the wisdom of centuries as compared against your brief lifespan. These are not definitive proofs in favour of the claims of the tradition (deference to tradition is based heavily on experience and an assumption that time-tested ways are best, which do not yield proofs as such), but for the conservative they are important claims that have to be taken into account when forming a view about anything.
Perhaps the most stunning thing about atheism is the sheer presumption of it. I don’t mean simply the presumption against God, which would be enough in itself, but the presumption that you and a few other adventurous souls have figured out something that the vast majority of mankind has never known about a subject for which the atheist can obviously have no empirical evidence one way or the other. Heady stuff, indeed. Say whatever else you will about it, this setting of the ideas of the self over and against the inherited wisdom of ages is one of the main things that is unconservative about atheism. Even if atheists were right, we should be clear that there would be nothing conservative about their position, but would, if adopted by society as a whole, quite obviously involve a cultural revolution and destruction of a significant portion of our cultural inheritance. In the end, what is it that atheists would conserve of our civilisation, when so much of the substance of our civilisation has its origins in Christianity or in the cultural derivatives thereof?
Would greater familiarity with history weaken an atheist’s certainty that religion is unnecessary for the healthy flourishing of society? I almost have to think that it would. The nightmare of the 20th century, defined to such a great extent in so many parts of the world by organised godlessness and the official repudiation of all religion, should give any convinced atheist pause. If man does not flourish in a godless regime, and if godless regimes have a record of unusually great barbarity and human cruelty, it does at the very least suggest that religion aids in human flourishing and probably has some moderating effect on the use of political power. On sheer pragmatic grounds alone, someone familiar with the historical record would have to conclude that atheism, at least if embraced officially, is bad for the health of society.