Can We Talk? Or, Is It a "Betrayal" for Atheists to Befriend or Work With People of Faith?
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Several times in the past few weeks, someone calling himself an "Objectivist" (one who subscribes to the philosophy of Objectivism) has expressed disappointment with us, saying that he/she was referred here because it was an "Objectivist" blog. We were criticized because, he/she contended, George Mason and Cubed couldn't be considered "true Objectivists."
We have partnered with a religious person in the fight against the greatest threat to our civilization ever encountered - Islam, and a philosophically related problem, globalism.
This partnership, our young friend insists, is a betrayal of Objectivism. This is so, he/she says, because (among other things) "true" Objectivists find "faith" - the acceptance of something in the absence of evidence or proof - an invalid means of acquiring knowledge.
I see this as a non-sequitur. How our lack of faith and our partner's belief in faith make the partnership a "betrayal" to our philosophy, I find ridiculous. We do not find our confidence in the validity of Objectivism shaken or diluted in the least by the fact that many of our friends and our partner at this Blog are people of faith, and while we disagree with them on several issues, we understand that they have the right to believe whatever they wish.
We have never hidden our philosophy for fear of "offending" people of faith. We have never tried to impose our philosophy on people of faith. We have, on occasion, discussed points of disagreement, but we see none of this either as a "betrayal" of our philosophy or a threat to their right to believe.
Now some of you may not know why a philosophy would be called "Objectivism." What do we "object" to? To clarify, it isn't called "Objectivism" because we are a bunch of "objectors," but because we look at reality in an "objective" light.
There are two fundamental ways of looking at reality; the one WE espouse as Objectivists is called "the primacy of existence." The Primacy of Existence means that existence exists, whether or not there is some form of consciousness to perceive it. It's the old "tree falling in the forest" thing, where someone asks, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, is there a sound?" An objective person (at least on this issue) will tell you that sound consists of vibrations traveling through a medium such as air or water. These vibrations exist independent of any entity able to perceive it.
There is another fundamental way of viewing existence, and that is called "the primacy of consciousness." This is the belief that existence does not exist independent of a consciousness to perceive it, but that it is actually a product of some consciousness (either a human consciousness, or perhaps the consciousness of some entity from a distant galaxy, or even as revelations to humans through a divine consciousness).
So a non-objective view holds that there is no sound if there is no one there to hear it. I won't burden you here with whether the tree is there either, if there is no consciousness to perceive it, or air for the vibrations to travel through, or even whether consciousness is an entity that exists as part of existence, for that matter. But never mind...
That's a brief description of the Objectivist slant on reality - it's "objective," not "objecting." We see reality "as is," not the way we wish it were, etc. We are so confident that existence exists apart from our ability to perceive it, and that it follows natural law, that we love to say "reality always wins in the end." You know why that is - we believe that reality is all that there is.
Anyway, this person's "objections" (he/she is a true "objector") doesn't like the fact that we work with religious people. To this person, our desire to work with people of faith constitutes a "betrayal" of our "cause." We have pointed out to this objector that for us, Objectivism is a way of life, not a cause.
It isn't unusual for young people to view their new-found philosophical home, be it reality-based or faith-based, with the kind of excitement and fervor often seen among supporters of a "cause," and while we would love to see a world full of people who function from the metaphysical position of the primacy of existence, and while we enjoy talking about our philosophy with others, we do not view having friends among, or working with, people of faith as a moral issue.
I think that this person failed to read our banner with care (if at all):
"Principle-focused, analytic opinions about current events, trends, and threats from Fifth Column elements of the 'unholy alliance' between international and national anti-American Left (including Islamia) as well as any on the Right who choose anti-reason. All of this site is 'political-correctness' free and 'multiculturalism' free. SIXTH COLUMN works hand-in-glove with our website 6TH COLUMN AGAINST JIHAD (About Us on this website describes our focus).
"All opinions belong to our blogger authors and are never edited, even though some may differ from our Objectivist orientation."
There. That's what it says. The bold part acknowledges that we work with people who don't share our philosophy in its entirety.
Both Robert Spencer, director of Jihadwatch, and Jason Pappas, at Liberty and Culture, have written superb essays on this very point. Spencer is a devout Christian, while Jason Pappas is an Objectivist.
Here are the two essays:
Monday, March 13, 2006
Two Methods of Attack
Civilization faces the threat of a resurgent Islam, a vast growing movement to revive the jihadist ideals exemplified by Islam’s founder, Mohammad, and the imperialist warrior ideology of the early Caliphate. Amidst the vast denial of Islam’s inherent threat to civilization, there are two distinct but related intellectual camps that are able to face the harsh reality of this vicious ideology. One camp fights Islam under the banner of the Enlightenment while the other waves the flag of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The purpose of this article is to describe these two different approaches, how they grapple with the jihadist ideology, and how they arrive at much the same conclusion but organize their knowledge around different conceptual centers.
The Enlightenment Viewpoint
The Enlightenment camp is a broad group that includes secular classical liberals and modern left-liberals. In both sub-groups there is an emphasis on Islam as a religious reductio ad absurdum that rejects reason for blind faith, disparages reality for an after-life in another realm, banishes independent thought in submission to a dogmatic tradition, and prohibits individual liberty to establish religious theocracy. Islam is an example of a full and consistent rejection of the core virtue of Western culture whose roots go back to Ancient Greece: rationality.
The Enlightenment critique centers the analysis on process: reason, empiricism, skepticism, and liberty—the high points of the Anglo-American Enlightenment and shared to some extent by the Continental Enlightenment before its decent into the collectivist/relativist decay of the 19th and 20th century.The spirit is captured by Thomas Jefferson: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." The Enlightenment camp, as a very broad group, advocates the primacy of reason as the means to understand nature, both natural and social. The origin of reason to human affairs originated in Ancient Greece after philosophy moved from the cosmological period to the anthropological period; Socrates countered the relativists of his day, the Sophists, by arguing that philosophy can establish ethical knowledge to govern human affairs. Aristotle wrote the first treatise on ethics in human history; he applied Hellenic rationalism to natural observations of human flourishing and character excellence.The Latin Christian tradition absorbed Hellenic rationalism in a fundamental manner that Orthodox Christians failed to do. Thomas Aquinas championed Aristotle thereby setting the foundation for a transformation of Western thought. Aristotle’s potent empiricism (for example Darwin admired his biological studies) was at times little understood as his work was unfairly associated with the faults of the Catholic Church. However, in human affairs, the founding fathers were arduous students of political history in a manner reminiscent of Aristotle exhaustive study of the constitutions of his day.In ethical and political thought, the Anglo-American tradition’s empirical disposition, while not without its faults, remained grounded in a reality-based practice that avoided the extremes of continental collectivist ideology.
The privatization of religion leaves the common ground of social affairs within the realm of rational discourse. Even America’s traditionalist conservatives speak of religion as a disposition. Talking about religion at the time of the American Revolution, Paul Johnson, in A History of the American People, says it was a “specifically American form of Christianity – undogmatic, moralistic rather than creedal, tolerant but strong … an ecumenical and American type of religious devotion …”
Today, we see the Enlightenment critique of Islam in books by Sam Harris and Ibn Warraq; and in articles by David Kelley and Peter Schwartz. It is common in Europe where Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Oriana Fallaci attack Islam from a secular perspective.
The Judeo-Christian Critique of Islam
While the secular Enlightenment camp rightly points to a vast difference—of degree—between Western religions and Islam, the critics of Judeo-Christian camp will insist there is a difference in kind. If the secular camp critiques Islam’s backwardness based on process—a faith fully consuming and preempting rational reality-based thought—the Judeo-Christian critic immediate zooms in on the content: the ethical doctrines and myths of the Islamic faith. Islam’s origin and its key figure are unique: rarely in history does one find a religion founded by a warrior and dominated by that example. Mohammad set a very different example than Jesus. Mohammad was a man of war who committed atrocities in his quest to create a culture of domination, submission and servitude. This is clearly not a moral man by any stretch of the imagination.The Judeo-Christian camp sees the West’s moral base derived from the Bible; and religion as the only foundation for morality. Modern secularism is dominated by relativism and materialism, which holds that human nature, lacking volition, needs no code of ethics; nature or nurture determines individual character. This no-fault worldview is a nihilistic attack on traditional American values.
In the Judeo-Christian camp is Lawrence Auster, Joseph Farah, Robert Spencer, Paul M. Weyrich, Don Feder, etc.The Western tradition, however, is Greco-Roman as well as Judeo-Christian. It is far from trivial to do an attribution analysis. St. Paul, whose writing comprises 40% of the New Testament, was an educated Hellenistic Jew. Augustine was educated in Greek and Roman philosophy. Aquinas is one of history’s foremost scholars of Aristotle. Traditionalists tend to respect the totality under the banner of Western Civilization. But by doing so they have often been the standard bearers, by default, of much of the Hellenic inheritance as post-modern intellectuals exhibit a hostility to the Aristotelian worldview—and the American ideals.
Content vs. Process
Both camps correctly see Islam as an outlier. For the Enlightenment camp, Islam differs from modernity by being religious and Islam differs from today’s Christianity by a vast difference in degree. For the Judeo-Christian camp, Islam differs from Christianity by being a different kind of a religious ideology inspired by a completely different kind of prophet. These two camps differ on how they’d describe the core nature of the West: reason based on our Greco-Roman secular heritage or religious morality based on our Judeo-Christian heritage. The differences between Islam and Christianity, in content, create extra hurdles for Islam that prohibit any significant integration with reason and modernity. Moderation in Arab and Muslim nations in the past has come with Islam’s marginalization. Islam is inherently an illiberal political ideology. In terms of doctrine, it has far less play to allow the emergence of a large-scale sustainable moderate yet profoundly religious practice. However, the relationship between the intractable illiberal oppressiveness of Islam and its extreme practice of intellectual submission to dogma and authority are intimately related. Such oppressive backwardness, given what mankind has achieved in every sphere of human activity, requires a mind closed to reason, pumped-up with irrational hate, and frozen by fear. Islam requires extreme blind faith and obedience because of the extent that its teachings are at odds with living a full life in a free society. If Islam is to be practiced in full, and not merely perfunctory or selectively practiced, it will lead to continued impoverishment, oppression, war, and death.
It is interesting that the post-modern left, to retain its dream of socialism after all the evidence of its failure and capitalism’s success, needs to maintain the epistemologically nihilistic doctrine of postmodernism that denounces the very concept of truth. Both flee from reality to hold on to cherish dogma. And they are united by a common enemy: America.
The Challenges for Each Camp
Secular critics need to avoid a conflation of Islam and Christianity that is achieved by ignoring the vast differences of degree. This is common with the multi-cultural left that either claims Christianity is no better or that Islam is no worse. This absurdly ignores reality: Christians today aren’t driven by a religious fervor to fly planes into buildings, killing peaceful members of civilization, in an attempt to take the world back to the Dark Ages. And Islamic nations have not established tolerant societies that respect individual rights, reason and science (except for transitory isolated exceptions). Furthermore, to claim that Islam has the potentiality to reform like Christianity can not be asserted a priori.
Upon investigation there are severe barriers due to the specific content of Islam that makes such prospects a pipedream. To ignore the vast differences between the religions of Islam and Christianity obliterates crucial distinctions that serve no other purpose but to drive a needless wedge between secular and Christian opponents of Islam. The relativist left buckles under the weight of its moral skepticism and inability to trumpet our superiority over barbaric cultures like Islam. Their approach is a dead end both figuratively and literally. Those approaching the Islamic threat from a secular perspective have to rely on the certainly of moral absolutes that were standard in secular philosophic thought before the subjectivism of the last two centuries. Tolerance of rights isn’t based on moral skepticism. Nothing follows from wholesale skepticism.
The religious camp faces a challenge it has assiduously hoped to avoid: the examination of the doctrines of different religions. Traditionalists once Anglo-American culture was described as Protestant (with a Calvinist emphasis), then Christian (to include Catholics) and finally Judeo-Christian (to include Jews.) The ecumenical spirit required glossing over differences in content. This general disposition embodied the notion that all long-established religions held the equally valid moral traditions.
Communism helped convince many that this was true. The resurgence of Islam threatens the ecumenical spirit. To delve into the content of this religion opens a Pandora’s Box that conservatives instinctively fear may revive religious disharmony.However, the ecumenical spirit is unnecessary if religion is a private matter. If public disputes are subject to reality-checks applying reason to human history and appreciating the ethical principles that make civilization possible, we can settle disputes and live in harmony. Private matters, like religion, remain private. Thus, the secularization of society protected by individual rights makes a natural diversity possible. Islam, being inherently a political ideology, is incompatible with a pluralistic secular society of equal rights and mutual respect.
A worldview isn’t created or altered by simple arguments; it is an integrating philosophy that spans a lifetime. The threat of Islam, like the threat of communism for previous generations, will encourage us to take stock of our cultural resources and strengths.
The first order of business is to face the fact that there is a vast difference between them and us; then we can move on to the question of what has made our culture great. The latter should be an enjoyable and ongoing debate. Taking inventory at this stage shows core groups in every camp are up to the challenge but we have a majority of people who are still in denial about the severity of the problem—for several reasons, some of which were mentioned above.
In summary, the two approaches emphasize two aspects of the same problem, process and content. Blind faith is required to support an oppressive religious ideology. The nature of Islam requires this methodology. Religion in the West has accepted the coin of reason in everyday affairs while the Greco-Roman tradition, which dominated secular thought before the rise of relativism, provided a solid foundation for the ethical truths that were once widely accepted. Islam fails to fit with neither contemporary tolerant Christianity nor traditional Enlightenment rationality. Islam is the odd man out. As we avoid secular relativism, promiscuous religious ecumenicalism, and religious dogmatism, we can unite against the common threat.
May 19, 2006
Should one ally with those with whom one disagrees?
(Robert Spencer )
Paul Weyrich once told me that I should never hesitate to ally with someone with whom I had disagreements on some issues. Allies are hard to come by in any case, and agreement on one issue didn't require agreement on all issues. There are some with whom one should never ally, but they are few. I think it's good advice.
This is important today, as I have called repeatedly for Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and others to unite against the global jihad. This will require working with people with whom one disagrees.
This has come up because Lawrence Auster, a conservative writer, has been attacking me on a more or less regular basis lately for defending Hirsi Ali and other sins -- including the contention that I'm a "neoconservative." So I write this not to convince Auster of anything, but to try to clarify these issues for people of good will who may read this. It isn't important if Auster thinks what I am doing is conservative or neoconservative or liberal or yellow or blue. The jihad targets conservatives and liberals and neocons alike.
But he is attempting to portray me as actually opposing the West, and playing into the hands of the jihadists. He says, referring to me and people like me: He sees himself as a defender of a besieged Judeo-Christian civilization which he hopes to save and restore. These feelings and allegiances make him a conservative; certainly they make him one in his own eyes. But what does this civilization to which Spencer the conservative is devoted consist of? It consists of a “vision of human dignity,” of “principles of the equality of dignity of all people, the freedom of conscience, and the other principles that are derived ultimately from Judaism and Christianity.” These are all liberal principles, as Spencer himself makes clear when he says of them, not that they are Jewish and Christian, but that they are derived from Judaism and Christianity. Liberalism is, of course, the secularized offshoot of Christianity. And it is to this liberal ideal that Spencer has given his heart...
The opposition that he sets up here is absurd. Because I speak of values derived from Judaism and Christianity, therefore I somehow oppose or don't value Judeo-Christian civilization itself? The equality of dignity of all people and the freedom of conscience are affirmed by the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as principles derived from the nature of man as created in God's image. These aren't Christian principles, but liberal ones and somehow ultimately anti-Christian ones? I know that strong statements of the freedom of conscience can be found as far back as St. Augustine -- another notorious neo-con, no doubt. And the equality of dignity of all people is as old as Genesis' statement about men and women being created in the image of God. If Auster thinks that defending them is somehow "neoconservative" and "liberal" and opposed to an authentic defense of Judeo-Christian civilization, I would submit that he has a narrow, pinched, idiosyncratic and ahistorical view of that civilization. His thesis is based on his false statement that I have "often spoken, not in terms of defending the West from Islam, but of defending 'secular values' from Islam."
In fact, to support his statements he refers (and can refer) only to one article, in which I used "secularism" to mean "non-establishment." I acknowledged that was imprecise (because "secular values" can be taken to mean the relativist materialism of modern culture, which I do not endorse) when he attacked me on it at the time, and have not repeated it. In contrast, I have referred countless times, as anyone who reads this site can attest, to the need to defend "the West."But Auster doesn't seem to have much interest in factual accuracy, but rather exhibits a taste for ad hominem smears.
Not only does he sling the mud at Hirsi Ali and me, but at Jihad Watch Board member Ibn Warraq. He scores "Ibn Warraq’s aggressive, wise-guy atheism" and says he told Andrew Bostom: “You’ve got to tell Warraq that if he wants the support of conservatives, he can’t go around mocking God and attacking Christianity. His subject is Islam, he should stick to that and not attack religion in general.” He adds: "I said this to him several times, with utmost seriousness. I said Christians can work with secularists, if there is mutual tolerance. The message never got through."
Oh really? I called Andy Bostom myself about this. It's true that Ibn Warraq is an atheist, and that he attacked Christianity in "Why I Am Not A Muslim" in a way that I thought was gratuitous -- although even there he compares Jesus favorably to Muhammad, as I do in Islam Unveiled and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). And I wouldn't characterize even the material in "Why I Am Not A Muslim" as an "aggressive, wise-guy" attack. It's a reasoned discussion of historical criticism -- I disagree with it, but that doesn't make it shrill or hysterical. Anyone who knows Ibn Warraq personally knows that he just isn't the "aggressive, wise-guy" type, but is courteous, cultured, erudite, witty, measured, and scholarly.
Anyway, since "Why I Am Not A Muslim" I have never seen Ibn Warraq speak or write about Christianity; I called to ask Andy if he had, since Auster had ostensibly spoken with him about it. No, Andy said; "Why I Am Not A Muslim" was written over ten years ago, and Ibn Warraq doesn't speak about Christianity now, and in fact he speaks -- and is well-received by -- Evangelical audiences. (More liberals, no doubt.) What's more, Andy told me that he explained all this to Auster -- but there is no trace of that in Auster's smear of Ibn Warraq.
Anyway, the heart of Auster's pique at me is that he believes that by defending Hirsi Ali, an atheist liberal, I am allying with someone who would destroy what I am ostensibly defending. He calls her "an enemy of our civilization."I don't believe Hirsi Ali is an "enemy of our civilization." She holds to some positions with which I disagree, but the key difference between her and the Islamic jihadists is that I am confident Hirsi Ali will never try to murder me. We can work out our differences in peace in the public sphere, in rational discourse and debate. It may be that she and I will be in the position of Murray Rothbard and William F. Buckley; Rothbard told Buckley, according to Auster, that although they were allies against Communism, they would be on opposite sides after Communism was defeated. That may be, but at this point I am only concerned with defeating the jihad -- and if that future break with Hirsi Ali or someone else does happen, it will happen within the political arena, and not play out with guns and bombs.
It may be that I will be on opposite sides with many of my present allies if Islamic jihad is defeated and we all survive to work out our disagreements after that. But Auster is picking unnecessary fights with me and with so many other anti-jihadists instead of fighting the mujahedin. In setting himself up as the Grand Inquisitor of the West and its defense, he is actually weakening that defense -- chucking soldiers out of the foxholes instead of letting them fight, at a time when we need every warrior we can get. I have indeed often spoken about the values that the jihadists threaten today without always hammering home that they are Judeo-Christian -- not because I don't know and value that fact, but because they have now become near-universal outside the Islamic world, and we have a chance to build an international Resistance on their basis. I have often said that we need a broad coalition of Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and more -- everyone threatened by the jihad -- in order to defeat the jihad.
I stand by that statement, because as far as I can tell, no single one of those groups is strong enough to defeat the jihad by itself. And likewise not strong enough to defeat the jihad by itself is the tiny and ever-dwindling number of those whose views are acceptable to a dyspeptic misanthrope like Lawrence Auster.