For about five centuries now, the “enlightened” humanists have been railing against religion (fine), tradition (perhaps that’s hasty), and capitalism (dead wrong), lumping far too many issues into one basket and making it difficult even for an atheist-anarchist like me to give them more than one cheer.
As I’ll likely note in my introductory comments at tomorrow’s momentous Debate at Lolita Bar on the infinitely important question “Does Religion Make People Better?” one of intellectual history’s greatest ironies has to be the fact that the very founder of (post-classical) utopian thinking, Sir Thomas More, was (by twentieth-century right/left standards) a paradoxical mix of rigid Catholic orthodoxy, boldly innovative criticism of government, and complete opposition to property rights — this last being a point he makes as explicitly as Rousseau or Marx, forever earning this anti-divorce, Catholic-conservative martyr a place in the pantheon of socialist visionaries.
Though the survival of freedom has often hinged on playing intellectual forces such as church and state against each other — whether in the Middle Ages or the Cold War — I think it may be high time we found the courage to lump both church and state together and be rid of both, even if it means risking having no allies at all for a time. With rampant government spending and religious-fanatic terrorist armies (and authoritarian regimes) loose in the world, it would be nice to hear more people admit that a combination of atheism and unfettered markets might be a comparatively moderate and pleasant way to live.
(On a related note, Jacob Levy mentions a lecture by Joan Scott arguing that despite appearances, secularism has not always aided women, since restricting religion to “the private sphere” has sometimes given it free reign precisely where oppressive males do the most damage. This is similar to the premise of tomorrow’s anti-religion debater, Austin Dacey, in his book The Secular Conscience — reviewed positively in the new issue of quasi-rival magazine Skeptic — that restricting religion to the private sphere simply delays and retards arguments about religion’s real merits or flaws. Tomorrow’s debate will haul the topic back out into the public square, at least for a couple hours. In Jacob’s post after the Joan Scott one, by the way, he briefly mentions our bet about whether Obama will grow government more than Bush.)
It is no surprise to me, by the way, that despite the left’s pretense of being the “rational” ones, they often end up giving a religion-like veneer to their messianic political crusades. Witness witless “Rev. Billy” Talen, a New York City comedian/street performer whose whole shtick is just pretending to be a preacher while ranting in revivalist fashion against capitalism and consumerism — and against Starbucks coffee that uses milk from hormone-treated cows (as seen in the last John Stossel special I worked on, Tampering with Nature, in the summer of 2001, before moving on to defend similar high-tech practices at ACSH).
Rev. Billy is like those annoying, repetitive Robin Williams bits where Williams slips into sounding like a southern preacher for no good reason, except without jokes and without veering into any other characters or modes at all. And because, as Hayek warned us, the worst rise to the top in politics, he’s also — yes — your 2009 candidate for mayor of New York City, if you have the misfortune to be affiliated with the morally misguided and economically ignorant Green Party (which at least makes us libertarians look sane). But hey, I’ve vowed not to vote for term-limits-busting Bloomberg, even after being a guest in his apartment once, so maybe I need to give this faux-preacher fellow a second look.
It’s a complex, multifactorial world. And if, after all the above, you need a nice dose of just-plain skepticism, my friend Chuck Blake recommends this profile of eccentric and brilliant scientist Freeman Dyson from the New York Times. For more about greens, come back tomorrow for my April Fool’s Day Book Selection(s) entry.