Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Imagine





Today I read two articles roughly themed on atheism.

First was ubercreep Ed West, quoted by David Lindsay, the second was by Rachel Holkner on an atheist convention in Melbourne.

Holkner’s article was the first I read, and gave me a gut reaction that I suppose was predictable. The atheists flew to Melbourne (situated in a country that is burning up), paid a high price for entrance fees (working classes need not apply) and listened to horror stories about people with religious upbringings and about how wonderful atheists are and a load of twaddle from Peter Singer about ethical differences in Christian charity and others.

That’s the rise. Declining birth rates, vast growth of Christianity in the third world, cultural stagnation of the secular West and the increasing role of religion in the West were all ignored.

It just annoys me that atheists speak with effortless moral superiority when it comes to secularism and religious tyranny. I find that secularists go from a false and deeply unscientific liberal hypothesis ‘all religion is stupid and evil, all religions are equally stupid and evil’ to fairly aggressive counter-reactions when this unscientific ‘rationalism’ isn’t vindicated.

Subsequently they tend to produce people like Geert Wilders or Pym Fortyn or the English Defence League when they find that some religions are more equally unpleasant to the atheist than other religions. Even the BNP has decided that some difrnt people are more difrtun than other difrunt people: Muslims namely.

The traditionally Christian areas of Yugoslavia were (and are) amongst the most secular regions of the world, but when Izetbegovic (who favoured a theocracy) and the Albanian terrorists launched a war against them, the overwhelmingly secular Serbs didn’t play nice.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I see no paradox in saying that I am very devout, have considered helping in a mission and that I am anti-religious in many ways. Protopresbyter John Romanides said that ‘religion is a disease and Orthodoxy is the cure’, a phrase that I often think of.

Now, atheists and the non-Orthodox could certainly take issue with that statement. But I feel that it is true: I don’t like ‘religion’ if it means theological tyrants ordering each other what to do, what to watch, what to eat, what to read, who to be friends with, who to marry, when to get on a high horse, when to feel superior, and what they think of scientific questions they aren’t qualified to answer*.

Eastern Orthodoxy very deeply contains the spirit of ‘he that would be first will be last and he that would be last will be first’; though dare I say some Evangelical converts don’t really get it. And of course, Eastern Orthodox Christians have close relationships with their spiritual fathers, but this does not involve the law or force. I am currently undertaking a vegan fast; no-one is forcing me to. My major disagreement with mainstream atheists concerns unborn children and my belief that abortion is deeply wrong. Yet it seems to me they never give logically or scientifically arguments against this.

It was in this tone that my mood shifted upon reading the second article: the theme of which was the greater fecundity of stupid people who belong to fanatical religions. Personally, I would rather that Richard Dawkins managed to populate the world with clones of himself than believe that there will be over 200,000,000 Mormons later in the century.

West does seem to be using some fairly dubious Mark Steyn style correlations to panic people. Determining numbers of evangelicals is also difficult based on their role in speeding up immigration applications (I remembered reading one article in which an evangelical organisation converted lots of Russians who immigrated to America and were never heard of again). Furthermore, secular Britain, France, Argentina, and Albania are far more fecund than devout Poland and Greece. In Latin America, population growth is largely unrelated to Church attendance. Iran is still a theocracy even though its birth rate has shrunk below replacement level. And finally, looking at history demonstrates how thankless projections are: Russia and France have both gone from having the highest to the lowest European birthrates (France apparently rebounding, and hopefully Russia is as well).

However, sadly, we Eastern Orthodox do seem to be plummeting in numbers. Many secular countries are also declining.

So, can’t atheists realise that they have common cause with secular religious people? Dare I even say that Apostolic Christianity could be supported by atheists in the future? After all, someone in the church may see them as closer to them than they feel they are from outside. Ironically enough, this happened in a sense previously.

Now all we hear about the USSR is that it was a cold dystopia full of broken machinery. Whilst it was certainly repressive and inhumane, we cannot forget that it was also a very advanced and well-educated nation. I think it is for this reason that despite its anti-religious measures, it treated Orthodox hierarchs with a degree of respect and patronage. I don’t think that the nation that put the first man into space could really have good relations with many faiths outside Apostolic Christianity.

Perhaps many of the more enlightened Russians may think that letting creationist fundamentalists proselytise in their country was a bad idea.

*Incidentally, with all my usual disclaimers against ID and creationism, where does the redneck population explosion fit into the whole Darwinian schema? The beautiful, educated Orthodox people of the Balkans are dying out and the beautiful, educated atheists of the Baltic are dying out but inbred fat thickoes in Utah and Mississippi are procreating like bunnies. Just asking? And whilst I'm generally an opponent of the NWO, I have attempted to read a book by Tim LaHaye (who's sold sover 40,000,000 copies) and if the NWO Mekons are really planning a compulsory sterilisation program for Red State Americans... well, I do sort of think we could come to some kind of a compromise on that one.

8 comments:

  1. Gregor,

    I have issues with certain modern strains of Evangelicalism, but I understand why so many people are attracted to it. In some ways it is a much more emotionally appealing type of Christianity, as opposed to what I think might appear to be the more staid Apostolic traditions of Christianity. Evangelicals also make a point to try to emphasize "practical" life skills, or whatever they call it, into their religion. For example, a lot of the Evangelical TV programs focus on getting out of or avoiding debt, or trying to become successful entrepreneurs.

    I don't know if this is a strictly American phenomenon, but it is certainly popular in the States, along with various self-help theories (I think there is actually quite a bit of cross pollination between modern Evangelicalism and the self-help and “positive thinking” movements).

    Perhaps Evangelicalism is a better fit for modernity because all it really requires is a personal belief in Christ as your Lord and Savior (now make sure you get out there and make money, son!) and there is less mysticism, complex theology/philosophy, or seemingly arcane ritual. I personally don't find Evangelicalism attractive for many of the reasons others find it attractive, so I think I too sometimes feel closer to secularists when it comes to certain things, even though I am Roman Catholic.

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  2. @John
    Thank you for your interesting message. I admit I don’t know that much about American religious culture, but from here the growth of Evangelism does seem quite disturbing given their mindset. Their anti-science attitudes aren't merely utilitarian (eg when the Bible clashes with science) but deeply ingrained. Therefore they have to falsifiable ethical reason to keep backing the Republican party, but just make it up as they go along.

    However, I do think that their high growth rate is partially due to immigration, which could always lead to internal metamorphosis. I’ve noted here that I’ve discovered a few Protestant Latino liberation theologians and wonder if converting Hispanics to Protestantism may not actually lead to greater integration but to create a spiritual culture that could be more radical than any group within Roman Catholicism.

    The strange paradox to a European could be that America is a patriotic country, yet it has a lot of interest groups and strong identity politics. I get the impression that Roman Catholics are fairly ambivalent about mass illegal immigration across the Mexican border because (counter-intuitively from both left/right religious denominational politics) the Irish/Italian/ Central European origin working class Americans (to which some of my relatives belong) are amongst those who suffer the most from illegal immigration which destroys unions and drags down wages. At first I was surprised that Roman Catholic Pat Buchanan was so opposed to large-scale Hispanic immigration, but from a certain perspective it makes sense. Subsequently I wonder if a kind of Hispanic Protestantism may evolve which is more positive about vast immigration.

    Whilst I think the way that the USA has supported dictators and terrorists in Latin America is awful, and I feel positively towards Latin American culture, I am slightly uncomfortable about the vast illegal immigration issue and how many Hispanic-Americans seem to fairly unquestioningly take the side of the illegal immigrants, even though they ultimately benefit the upper middle classes more than anyone else.

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  3. Gregor,

    Thank you. Yes, I think the anti-science tendency is one of the older aspects of fundamentalist Evangelicalism. As for why Evangelicals vote Republican, I agree, I think it is mostly over the Culture War issues like abortion, gay marriage, Creationism, etc. Interestingly, in the past many Evangelicals used to be fire-breathing left-wing populists. Historian Thomas Frank wrote a book on the phenomenon of working-class Evangelicals and other social conservatives voting Republican. The book is called “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” and Mr. Frank has a blog where you can find some articles dealing with this issue: http://tcfrank.com/.

    I must admit I don’t know too much about Latino Protestants. I think you are right though, I imagine the Latino version of Evangelicalism would be different from the Evangelicalism you might find at a Megachurch in an affluent American suburb or in a rural American town, probably with more emphasis on social justice. I also agree with you that the Roman Catholic Church probably has not done enough to push social justice issues in Latin America. I think the Church was worried that the social justice movements would be hijacked by Marxists.

    Identity politics in America has a lot to do with our diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Also, some say our patriotism is more of a civic patriotism, around a set of ideals, like freedom, democracy, etc. as opposed to an ethnic definition.

    Oh yes, you are correct. Even though the Church in the U.S. tends to be pretty pro-immigrant, many working-class Catholics are anti-immigration. I notice that wealthier Catholics, however, tend to be much more pro-immigration. I am actually against immigration on economic grounds. Something that I don’t thinks gets mentioned enough in the immigration debates is how neoliberalism has helped to foster Third World immigration to the First World. For example, after NAFTA, Mexican immigration to the U.S. increased dramatically because so many small-scale Mexican farmers were ruined by big, subsidized U.S. agribusiness dumping cheap agricultural products on the Mexican market. The small Mexican farmers could not possibly compete and were ruined, leading many to try to find work in America.

    I agree, I suppose it is ethnicity that leads Hispanics to support illegal immigration. It is really the ethnic issue that I feel often dominates the public debate on immigration, and not economic issues. I feel the economics of immigration won’t come up more until high-skilled immigrants start to make things worse for white-collar workers, as is already happening with native American technology professionals who are seeing layoffs and salary decreases because of competition from foreign tech workers.

    What is really aggravating about America is that we have no solidarity culture. When blue-collar factory workers were losing their jobs in the 1990s because of outsourcing, all the techies were saying: “too bad, Joe Lunchbox should have gotten an education” while clutching their latest copy of Ayn Rand. But now that the techies face increased outsourcing and competition from tech workers from India and other places, who come here on visas and are willing to work for less, they want the government to step in and help them. They should have realized that giant companies could care less how educated or smart you are, if they can get someone to do your job adequately and at a cheaper price, they’ll do it.

    ---Mr. Piccolo

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  4. I believed I said something similar on Sublime Oblivion a while back. Namely that the evangelical relgious procreate more than the secularists.

    This is a real problem from a global warming perspective. At current levels 10 Indian or Algerian children are probably less polluting than two western children. As these countries develop hopefully the birth rate will fall.

    But the evangelical movement throws a whole spanner in the works to this theory. If wealthy mothers are having 5 or 6 children then they are going to be causing a heck of a lot of pollution.

    And people are even using babies as weapons. In northern Ireland both sides encouraged their women to have large families. In Israel and Palestine this still happens amongst both sides, particularly the Palestinians where Hamas have an active policy that women breed as much as possible.

    In Darwinian terms I do not know where this will lead. There is a comedy film however called Idiocracy based on the premise that less intelligent people procreate more. I have not seen it but understand it's central premise. It is set in the future, when human sppech has denigrated to grunting.

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  5. Napoleon K.,

    I have to disagree. I've seen “Idiocracy” and its central premise (that the high birth rates of the stupid will lead to some kind of dysgenic dystopia) was an old argument put forward by eugenicists in the past, and it is still nonsense today. We were able to have rapidly expanding populations in the period after World War II, with both growth and equity, in the West. Many of the children of the poor that eugenicists wanted to "phase out" were able to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc., when education was made more open and affordable.

    Eugenics always blames the poor for their own misery, but never questions the wider economic system, largely because eugenics was always an upper-class or middle-class ideology. Quite frankly, I don't know why Mike Judge, the guy who made "Idiocracy," didn't blame media deregulation and corporate media consolidation for the growth of garbage pop culture, which is such a major theme in his film. I think that is the real culprit.

    Furthermore, I think it is important to note that most Malthusian arguments for environmental apocalypse are based on an incorrect view of humanity. The Malthusians view humanity as any other animal, when in actuality we are unlike any other creature in that we can use our reason to drastically change our environment; that is we are cultivators, not predators. Instead of worrying about limiting the number of people, which always seems to lead to all kinds of dehumanizing policies, we should be talking about using our God-given capabilities to fix our problems through the proper application of science.

    For example, if we face natural resource depletion, why not focus on creating synthetic materials? For too long, we have concentrated on fictitious asset bubbles, casino economics, and a whole host of nonsense, instead of focusing on real wealth creation, i.e. increasing physical production so that we can physically provide for larger numbers of people.

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  6. The degree of respect and patronage the USSR awarded the Orthodox hierarchs fluctuated greatly through out the 7 decades. There is notably Stalin's great purges in the 1930's and Stalin's slight change of heart in the 1940's and then decades later there is the rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy during glasnost'.

    In my view, Communism was a fiercely atheistic system and Orthodoxy only survived by divine providence.

    I like the natural approach of Orthodoxy. But I would not compare the new Atheists to it. To me they resemble more the Evangelicals and Muslims. They are fanatical Religion haters with their own pseudo-religious production. I simply cannot otherwise characterize an attempt at justifying Christmas celebration, while being an Atheist. If it was just about not believing in God and minding your own business, than no such production would exist.

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  7. Be going away for a few days but some quick points.

    Wasn’t Mike Judge the guy who made Beavis and Butthead? Perish the thought that people might be too stupid to make such works of genius in the future.

    Recently I’ve been thinking quite a lot about ‘the left’ and ‘liberalism’ and what these things stand for. I can actually see that there is a kind of ‘liberalism’ in the right and the pact between the coastal liberal right and the middle Americans is I think more of an understated conflict.

    Look at Iraq for instance and compare the utilitarian rationale (Saddam was a mass-murderer) that the liberal right put forward and the ‘let’s kill us some towel heads’/ ‘who gives a s*** about the Iraqis’ rationale of talk radio. It seems to me that the poor whites are represented by some awful people who embark upon perpetual dehumanisation of their voters.

    The more I question the traditional narrative of ‘the right’ the more I understand how clever they are. Simultaneously they can stir up support for a foreign conflict whilst dehumanising their ‘allies’ on the home front.

    A last point about Eugenics is that it was probably partially to salve upper middle class consciences in the Industrial revolution.

    But remember, until Nixon took control of the Republicans, the poor whites used to be called ‘yellow dog democrats’ because if a yellow dog stood against a republican they would vote for it.

    The thing is, as a historian, I can see is that trends are very far from being a good way to make predictions over more than a few decades, either in demographics or in social issues.

    @Leos
    Good to hear from you and hope the studies are going well. I’d agree with you re Divine Providence and the Church, but I can also understand why (pre-1991) the ROCOR regarded themselves as the true Russian Orthodox Church (which isn’t to say I’d agree with them). I think the Church would have survived but I also think that Eastern Orthodox Christians generally do have a rather more rational outlook than many other denominations.

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  8. Gregor,

    Yes, Mike Judge was the fellow who created "Beavis and Butthead."

    I think the conservative movement in the U.S. is based on the idea of "Fusionism," an alliance of wealthy economic right-wingers and often working-class social conservatives. I have heard stories about how the country club types who actually run the Republican Party think their socially conservative supporters are a bunch of crazy rednecks, of course all said in private.

    The inherent tensions between these two groups came out in the open a bit right after the 2008 election, with the more "sophisticated" conservatives blaming the "crazy" Evangelicals and other social conservatives for the loss, arguing that the Republicans should be more moderate on social/cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage.

    As you mention, most of the socially conservative Republican base is made up of ex-yellow dog Democrats, and their children. Part of this switch, as you noted, was the product of skillful Republican strategy by people like Nixon, but the Democrats also helped alienate many of these yellow-dog Democrats by supporting socially liberal positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Eventually, the Democrats even abandoned these folks on economics too, what with neoliberal champions like Bill Clinton taking over the party. It is too bad there isn’t a strong religious “left” alternative for working-class folks in the U.S., maybe that would reduce the influence of the right-wing nut radio.

    I can see your point about the tone of political discourse in the U.S.; I think perhaps war against Muslims and other such things fills in some “gap” for some people. I once read an author who argued that jingoism, militarism, and imperialism in pre-World War I Germany was a way for lower-middle class people to feel powerful in a political system that remained distorted by authoritarian elements. So, even if you have little or no real political power, you can identify with a powerful nation-state or powerful military and feel proud since you “belong” to the powerful nation.

    Have a happy and safe trip.

    ----Mr. Piccolo

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