The Temptation of Secularism
It is commonplace these days for some journalists and many intellectuals to blame religion for much of the worlds ills. Look at foreign affairs, they say. The Muslim fanatics blowing themselves and others to bits really think they’re going to rewarded in heaven with 40 virgins. Those cowboys and Zionists who are running American foreign policy and endangering the world think they are doing the will of the God. At home, Catholics and others are at work to prevent the research necessary to cure many diseases. Right-wing evangelicals constantly plot to impose their moral restrictions on others. It is only the sober, educated rationalists, we are told, who can see realities beyond the superstitions and bring justice and truth to a world hungering for peace and prosperity. Rid the globe of religion and you free the human mind, at last, to create the wonders of which it is capable.
This is the dogma of the 18th century Enlightenment, of course, later embraced by Marxists who murdered clergy and destroyed churches whenever the opportunity arose. This secular dogma lives still, especially among leftist intellectuals and media moguls who often see themselves as the high priests of knowledge and learning. Woven into their arguments are almost always appeals to end definitions of right and wrong, a move that has the advantage of destroying all moral inhibitions and sanctions. Free sex for a free people.
Since the Second World War, Western Europe has become increasingly secular. After 1960, Easter services in the Church of England attracted only two percent of the British people. By the 1990s, only 40 percent of marriages in England and Wales were solemnized in a church. Mass attendance in France has fallen to six percent on a given Sunday. Spain has endorsed homosexual marriage. The Dutch are almost wholly secular people. And so on. Now that Christianity is disappearing, European peoples should be awaiting the dawn of reason and happiness. If it only weren’t for those religious crazies and Texas loonies who keep believing they are doing the will of God.
Several things are wrong with this hoary and naive approach to truth. In the first place, there is no such thing as a purely secular person. The innate passion for religion can never be wholly suppressed. Although it wasn’t G. K. Chesterton who said it, this venerable thought rings true: “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.” The objects of human worship know no limit. On the crudest level, there are the millions who revere athletes, movie and television stars, rock stars, automobiles, pornography, drugs, and gambling. On a slightly higher level, millions bow to race, the nation, status, wealth, political parties, art forms, clubs, cities, and colleges. Millions put their faith in horoscopes, cults, gurus, fads, and diets. On its most intellectual level, the most common form of worship by the avowed secularist is found in the mirror, and many a professor has been able to smile throughout life by pondering its reflection.
Secondly, there is no such single, objective thing as “reason.” That we have rational powers cannot be denied, of course, but the sad truth is that in many areas of life, especially the ethical and moral, “reason” tends to tell us what we want to hear. This is the huge flaw in the historical works of Herbert J. Muller, beginning with the impressive Uses of the Past. Muller thought that all “reasonable” people, throughout history, would naturally see things in the same way, and that superstition and ignorance were responsible for blocking the consensus. Education is vital, of course, as is reason. But human beings and history aren’t as simply understood as Muller thought.
Thirdly, a life without divine inspiration, consolation, and hope often leads to rage and despair rather than happiness. I have experienced this myself and know that many others have also. Paul Johnson and Malcom Muggeridge have written on this theme at length. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis examined the issue carefully centuries ago. St. Paul understood the matter fully.
Fourthly, what are the fruits of militant secularism? Are the lives of Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao not instructive? And have we no personal knowledge of the utter misery that has plagued friends who mistakenly thought they could live happy and completely secular lives? As for wholly secular states, Oz Guinness, writing in the Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2005) observed, “It’s a simple fact…that, contrary to the current scapegoating of religion, more people were slaughtered during the 20th century under secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals, and in the name of secularist ideologies, than in all the religious persecutions in Western history.” Read that again, slowly.
One last point: Suppose the claims of Christianity are true, and there are eternal verities leading to a peaceful and productive life, and eternal consequences stemming from our faith and related activities? Suppose our Green Bay Packer shirts, porn sites, expensive homes, stock portfolios, advanced degrees, and mirrors are inadequate guides to the good life and death? Let us open our minds and think further about the possibilities and joys of a wholly secular existence.
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Andrew Michael Graulich - 9/1/2005
I went and read the so-called rebuttal, but I don't see how it is a rebuttal at all. The article consists almost completely of attempts at snide humor and ad hominem attacks against Reeves, with a few attempts at references to historical fact thrown in (but only a very, very few).
It's fine if someone disagrees with Reeves, and I am sure he would be all for debate (I would hope so, anyway). However, this article isn't it. The author makes no attempt to list out Reeves' arguments and actually tackle them with logic and fact. Why is that? I'm not sure how insults and jokes actually counter an argument.
If someone were to read this article looking for points to bring up with Reeves, they would leave sorely disappointed. What I found as a reader was a sophomoric joke piece that didn't even attempt to deal seriously and substantially with the issues at hand.
Andrew Michael Graulich - 9/1/2005
While many points in this response merit debate, I will single out one only in the interests of space: the assertion that Hitler was a Catholic on any real level.
Hitler was indeed initially raised Catholic, as almost all young Austrians were in the pre-WWII era. However, it is quite clear that his conduct and teachings are diametrically opposed to those of the Catholic Church, and any decent human being. Simply because someone was raised in a given tradition doesn't mean that their later actions have anything to do with that tradition.
I refer any interested reader to William Shirer's eyewitness account, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." Shirer *clearly* details how the Nazi regime was completely anti-Christian, how they murdered and persecuted Christians (witness the Catholic priest Maximilian Kolbe's death in Auschwitz as only one example), and how they intended to set up a religion of their own making once they came fully to power.
If one actually takes the time to wade through Hitler's work "Mein Kampf" (something many Nazis themselves didn't bother to do), and couple that reading with readings in Hitler's other speeches and words, one sees that the religion of Hitler bore no resemblance to the Catholic faith of his youth. In fact, he patently rejected that faith and made no secret of it.
Just because it might not be accurate to describe Hitler as an atheist on one level, doesn't mean therefore that he was a practicing Catholic. If someone claims to be a part of a group, but acts, believes, and teaches ideas at odds with the group, can anyone else assert that that individual is *really* still a part of the group? If I call myself a Republican, but always vote Democrat, am I a Republican?
The Nazi example supports Reeves' assertions completely. The Nazis sought to set up their state as a new God, supplanting the Christian God with that of the Teutonic Fatherland. We know their legacy only too well.
Fred Whitehead - 8/21/2005
Reeves'indictment of secularists (Lenin, Mao, etc.)overlooks the fact that Hitler and Mussolini signed Concordats with the Catholic Church, thus cementing church-state alliances. Any argument that religion is somehow automatically more ethical than secularism is untenable on its face.
Jon Tudor - 8/20/2005
I am a Chistian and support others' rights to worship or not as they please. After all, it's their life. It's their pursuit of happiness and my role as a citizen and as a patriot, I believe, requires me to support the civil liberties of my fellow countrymen. To not do so would mean I need 9th grade civics class again for not listening well the first time.
That said, keeping religion out of the courthouse and the public school doesn't stop anyone from practicing their religion their way, doesn't force them to adopt a secular life.
My grandparents kneeled in their home three times every day to pray. They went to church every time the doors opened. If some of these people nowadays are so concerned about their little children praying all the time, why don't they take them to church every day? Why do they want to inflict their religious beliefs in schools? For their own children? No, as already discussed above, they aren't doing everything they could with their own children. So if trying to mandate religion in school is not for their own children, it must be for mine. And my children are none of their business. How dare they try to inflict their line of crap (not the Christianity I espouse) on my children?
Go to church to do the church stuff. Let schools teach. Let courts adjudicate. Be fair to others, you don't own the public places. Stop being so damned one way or go buy an island so you can have everything just the way you like it!
John R. Maass - 8/19/2005
Amen. (Can we say that on this site?!?!?)
Joan E Crow-Epps - 8/18/2005
Blaming the decline in respect for churches and their dogma on a conspiracy by the secular humanists allows you to completely ignore the fact that this lack of respect may be grounded in the failures of the churches themselves. The Enlightment was a reaction to the well documented abuses of the churches at that time, and the current atmosphere also has its roots in the churches themselves.
The Catholic church's completely inadequate response to the problem of priests sexually abusing children, the televangelists who get lots of press by blaming every disaster on God's punishment for abortion (and send me money), the hysteria over the existence of gays, the cult leaders who lead mass suicides from their Cadillac limos, Eric Rudolph's justifying his murder of a police officer on God, all have contributed to a general public who believe that religion is just another scam.
Fundamentalists of any religion always cherrypick their Holy Book, whatever it is, for phrases they can use to support their positions, and then try to force other people to conform. To point out just the easiest: There is not one word attributed to Jesus on the subject of homosexuality. There are only three very short references anywhere in the New Testament. Yes, there are references in the Old Testament to abomination, right there with never eating pork or shellfish, men never cutting their hair or beards, that you should never lend or borrow money for interest, and women being unclean for 14 days a month and needing a ritual bath. All of those are dismissed as old stuff for Jews only but being gay - not having homosexual sex, but just BEING gay is considered irredemable. Is that because they are other? We are right with God because they are not? We refuse to give them fundamental civil rights because they don't know their place? The huge percentage of teenage boys who commit suicide because they are or think they are gay is just an unfortunate but necessary by-product of keeping America safe? How does this square with the fact that this wasn't important enough for Jesus to address it, not as important as the error of being rich, but that He was very firm about harming children?
The rise of militant fundamentalist Islam scares the heck out of a lot of people, and they are just as nervous about cowboy presidents who make decisions not on good hard intel but on God's will. It's amazing how often God's will allows you to ignore the facts and leads you in the direction you already were planning to go.
Another point the writer seems to totally miss is that if the government is totally secular, that has absolutely no effect on a devoutly religious person who can continue to follow all the dictates of his religion exactly as he pleases. The only thing a secular government prevents him from doing is forcing other people who disagree with him to follow those dictates. Any woman in the U.S. can wear a scarf over her hair if she wants to, not only Muslim but Old Believers and the Amish do so all the time, but do we want self-appointed modesty inspectors with whips wandering the malls to beat those who don't? Of course not. Nor should we accomodate people who demand that people be fired because they look effeminant or who want someone run out of town because they read tarot cards or who shoot authors because they disagree with their books or who insist that the school children's drawings in the Post Office be taken down because they have pyramids in them.
Before religion can regain its prominant place in people's hearts, it has to reform itself, not the public perception of it.
Jim B. Harris - 8/18/2005
When we look back on history, it is easy to point fingers and see the shortcomings of those whose lives have come and gone. We can start talking about how great the founding fathers were but then quickly it turns into a heated discussion about the conflict with slavery. The same goes with religion. It is far easier to focus on the misdeeds of those who would kill in what they felt to be God's will, rather than focus on the message that comes from the Bible for example. One thing I try to do is keep seperated in my mind the difference between a loving Creator who has given us everything we have and man's inherent inability to say thank you in constant postive way's. Most of my university friends are far more tolerant these days of all types of behavior and lifestyle than they are of anyone who wishes to pursue a religious lifestyle. Diversity is the big word these days, and seems to apply to all things except thought.
Peter Brawley - 8/18/2005
Reeves is right on one point. Anti-religious dogmatism was immensely destructive in the 20th century.
So was religious dogmatism, and it still is. Let's agree that dogmatism is destructive.
In the rest of his piece, Reeves is knocking down straw men. Secularists don't revere popular stars, cars, porn, drugs, gambling or themselves any more than religionists do. To criticise irrationalities in religion is not to claim that "reason" ought to be the only ruling principle in life. Life _with_ "divine inspiration" also leads to rage despair and immorality rather than happiness. And in any case, what's happiness got to do with it?
Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 8/18/2005
This Article is filled with many "if" that are supported with no other thing than thin air. Let´s see:
-"The innate passion for religion can never be wholly suppressed."
Innate? According to who? Where is the demostration that religion is an innate thing on human things? It seems to me to be a perfectly cultural learned thing. Why for example in today´s Western Europe religion is falling down among native whites? Yes, he cites chesterton, but that doesn´t change to much. Religious attitude is learned too..is a very sad vice of our culture...Which makes me think that the erradication of an specific form of religion is not good enought. What we should eliminate is that learned cultural feature of creating false absolutes...either God or money.
-" Secondly, there is no such single, objective thing as “reason.”"
Depends what you understand by "reason". But certainly, as a realist, I will claim their is an objective world independent of subjects who percieve it. And it is possible to determine and know - at least to a certain degree- such objective world that surrounds us. That doesn´t mean we "know" wich is the most reasonable approach to understand the world. But that doesn´t mean there can´t be one. And anyways, is funny such subjectivist approach comes from a personn who defends religion. If there is only ONE God or one TRUE religion, then there must be only ONE possible reasonable account of the world. Or it may be that all religions are equally valid, and then, the temptation of the secular is more than justified, cause no religion will have primacy over another.
- " Thirdly, a life without divine inspiration, consolation, and hope often leads to rage and despair rather than happiness."
According to who? "I have experienced this myself and know that many others have also. Paul Johnson and Malcom Muggeridge have written on this theme at length. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis examined the issue carefully centuries ago. St. Paul understood the matter fully." Ah yes, YOU and a couple of apologetes of religion. And? Since where your experience or the experience of two or 3 guys can be considered enought to forumalate an universal statement?
-"Fourthly, what are the fruits of militant secularism? Are the lives of Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao not instructive? And have we no personal knowledge of the utter misery that has plagued friends who mistakenly thought they could live happy and completely secular lives?"
Such selective examples. What about the European Union? Modern French state -with its mistakes-? THE UNITED STATES, the first country to forbid the stablishment of religion in its constitution? Mr Reeves will be kind to explain us why he confuses "secularism" with "marxian leninism".
- "One last point: Suppose the claims of Christianity are true, and there are eternal verities leading to a peaceful and productive life, and eternal consequences stemming from our faith and related activities?"
Suppose Suppose Suppose. What If the claims of Islam are true? What if the claims of Judaism are true? What if the claims of ancient Greek religion are true? Pascal Wager taken to a new low.
Darren Michael Peterson - 8/17/2005
This is a simple challenge I always give people who talk about secular humanism and other such stuff.
Name me one, just one generation, where a church or major religion was in predominant power that you would care to use as a model of success for us doubters.
So far, no one has been able to come up with one. They have had 2,000 years to come up with a free, fair and peacefull society and they have failed.
There is a saying that, "Insanity is continually doing the same things and expecting different results." Then people talk about a nation of God and religous values versus the values we have based upon the Constitution I get fearful.
Many may point out that the values (some) are Christian in nature. Many values are universal to religions and societies without established monotheistic religions. They also don't have a balance of power and a built in appeals process that protects the rights of individuals.
Before you attack what I have to say, make sure that any era, generation or society was really the sort that you will want to present to the people of the United States as a goal for us to work towards, based upon Christian or any other religous tenents.
Barry Bergen - 8/17/2005
I see your point. However, I see no clear relation between Reeves' association of reverence for, or fascination with, or even obsession with any variety of modern concerns and what, in my view, can properly be labelled secularism. It may be that there is some relation between a decline in religion and the wide variety of phenomena listed by Reeves. Narcissism may be a guilty pleasure or a secular soporific, but it is not the same as worship, nor the same as secularism. This seems to me the fundamental problem with Reeves' argument: he conflates what he perceives to be the results of secularism's growth with the thing itself. This results in his most historically muddled statements, and leads him to put together Voltaire and Mao, alongside our current obsession with celebrity. Does this really help us understand the significance of the changing role of religion in society? A wish to keep religion out of politics is not the same as atheism, nor the same as agnosticism, etc., etc. It would be more interesting to examine the perplexing simultaneous diminishing role of religion and the growth of mystical and irrational belief systems. The opposite of religion is not necessarily faith in reason, enlightened or otherwise.
Robert H. Holden - 8/16/2005
The atheists rage against what they rightly sense but dare not admit is the descent into irrelevance of their creed. A couple of them seem to have become emotionally unhinged by Reeves's modest little piece.
I write to comfort them by recommending the fine new book by one of their ex-comrades, Alister McGrath, _The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World_.
Eric Collier - 8/16/2005
Thomas Reeves writes: "Those cowboys and Zionists who are running American foreign policy and endangering the world think they are doing the will of the God. At home, Catholics and others are at work to prevent the research necessary to cure many diseases. Right-wing evangelicals constantly plot to impose their moral restrictions on others. It is only the sober, educated rationalists, we are told, who can see realities beyond the superstitions and bring justice and truth to a world hungering for peace and prosperity. Rid the globe of religion and you free the human mind, at last, to create the wonders of which it is capable."
His ironic intent is not lost on me, but I couldn't have put this better myself. The examples he gives of super-secularists who have ruined the world--Robespierre, Mao, etc--are disingenuous. These were guys for whom their utopian vision was also their religion, and one religion is essentially interchangeable with any other in terms of the psychological needs they fulfill, and they are all equally illusory. Like Osama bin Laden and James Dobson, they were fundamentalists and fanatics--not rationalists. Extreme religion of any kind, be it spiritual or secular, has been and continues to be a blight and curse on this world. Science and reason are our best hopes for redemption.
Reeves concludes by saying: "Suppose the claims of Christianity are true, and there are eternal verities leading to a peaceful and productive life, and eternal consequences stemming from our faith and related activities? Suppose our Green Bay Packer shirts, porn sites, expensive homes, stock portfolios, advanced degrees, and mirrors are inadequate guides to the good life and death? Let us open our minds and think further about the possibilities and joys of a wholly secular existence." Suppose the claims of Chrstianity are true? What the hell does that mean? Suppose the claims of Islam are true! Or the claims of Raelians! "Supposing" things are true gets us nowhere. We inevitably wind up supposing to be true what we want to be true. That's certainly what the 9/11 highjackers did. American evangelicals do not resort to such tactics but that seems to be the looney direction they want to take us.
William R. Everdell - 8/15/2005
Reeves's critics do not write much like historians, although Barry Bergen does almost make the point that Robespierre was no secularist. In fact, Robespierre was attacked by his opponents in Thermidor partly because he had led the rites on the Champ de Mars in honor of the "Supreme Being," after seeing to the expulsion and execution of the Hebertists for atheism (which he thought antithetical to democracy), and quoted Voltaire in his speech to the Jacobin Club: "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer."
But as for Bergen's "the usual suspects (secular humanists, followers of the enlightenment, believers in sexual freedom, leftists, atheists....), that is protesting too much. Reeves was assembling suspects who usually escape the secularist's microscope, because so many of them are at the other end of it. To quote Reeves, they are:
"On the crudest level, [...] the millions who revere athletes, movie and television stars, rock stars, automobiles, pornography, drugs, and gambling. On a slightly higher level, millions bow to race, the nation, status, wealth, political parties, art forms, clubs, cities, and colleges. Millions put their faith in horoscopes, cults, gurus, fads, and diets. On its most intellectual level, the most common form of worship by the avowed secularist is found in the mirror, and many a professor has been able to smile throughout life by pondering its reflection."
If that elegantly described shoe fits, we may have to wear it.
Patrick Elliott - 8/15/2005
Gee.. I may just start worshipping you instead of celebrities Jason. That was great. lol
But seriously, if the moron that started this BS reads this. I think celebrities are almost universally idiots, which is a pretty big accomplishement, given that many manage it without joining some strange religion like scientology. Why anyone that espouses logic over spiritual BS would 'worship' them is beyond me.
Barry Bergen - 8/15/2005
I hate to be purely negative about someone else's ideas, but I must admit that I find little worth seriously engaging in this trite piece of secularist-baiting. Aside from conflating, and then condemning, the usual suspects (secular humanists, followers of the enlightenment, believers in sexual freedom, leftists, atheists....), there's not much here. In fact, Reeve's piece is a deeply offensive, ahistorical piece. Others have rebutted him point by point. Let me say only: secularism is not, nor has it historically been, the same as atheism, Communism, nor even anti-clericalism. To throw Robespierre and Mao in with one another is bad history. To label both secularists is deceptively simplistic.
I'm sorry, but this essay is just ideologically-driven trash.
Patrick Elliott - 8/15/2005
The problem with his assertion that more evil is done by secularists than religion is that when ever some twit brings that up, then defend it with comments like, "Well Hitler was an atheist." No, Hitler was a Catholic. The church he was an alter boy in thought so, the cardinal he had bless him when in power thought so and virtually everything he ever wrote, both his propoganda and his own diary talked about Germans being the new God's Chosen and how it was his divine duty to spread the Reich across the world.
I am sure he can argue that secularists 'built' the atom bomb, but it was a religious person that ***used*** it. Russia hardly counts either. While they tried to erase religion, the reality was that most of them were universally Catholic, even if they kept this secret. You can spin a lot of things to make it 'look' like secularism was the fault for a lot of stuff, but when you really look, you inevitably find some nitwit with a holy book pulling the actual strings.
I mean think about it. A secular utopia is one were religion is irrelevant, no one feels the need to attack people based on difference in interpretation of some passage in a book, all problems are solvable and *no* one has a divine right or supposed superiority over anyone else, which demands that they blow something up to prove it, instead of finding a peaceful solution.
As someone else posted someplace else:
"The God of the Crusades sent them to kill Muslims. The God of the Catholics had them kill scientists. The God of the Puritans told them to kill witches. The Hindu God is OK with killing cow tippers. The God of the evangelists tells them to kill pro-choicers. The God of the Islamists wants them to kill just about everybody else.
Pity, then, the poor atheist. With no one to tell him whom to kill, he can only practice, 'peace on earth, good will towards men.'"
And before some evangelist tries to claim that the comment up there about them isn't true, I suggest paying better attention of the news. Some of them have and continue to say 'exactly' that.
It amazes me how people can claim to speeak for what goes on in the minds of people they know next to nothing about and even lie about them, and places like HNN never call them on it. Then again, ABC did the same with some nut pulling dime store tricks in Brazil, who people are calling "John of God" and the news media in general seem to think that 'balance' means 'report what people say, not what it true.' Too bad half the time they don't even do that, but instead cater to their audience. Just glad all us horrible atheists don't build airplanes the same way these people write editorials..., there would be an average of one crash a day and unlike the believers, we don't have, "Its just Gods will that those people died", to fall back on.
Robert Howard Whealey - 8/15/2005
Your title was provocative enough to cause me to read your essay. I have no comment on the substance. You tried to deal with too many subjects.
Jason Malloy - 8/15/2005
To my eyes nothing in this Focus on the Family/700 Club reminiscent op/ed comes even close to what might legitimately be called "history" and any website that would present it as such is depressingly cavalier with its own reputation.
What else to make of something that uses the Enlightenment as a curse word!? Or uses tolerance of homosexuals as de facto evidence that modern secular Europe is somehow morally inferior, or has somehow morally degenerated since . . . when? By what standard of comparison? The idyllic faith-soaked first half of the 20th century? The pious days of Feudalism and Crusades? Citing the tolerant and civilized Dutch as an "almost wholly secular people" is just one example where you completely embarrass your own "thesis" even while insinuating that you've somehow supported it with the same information.
You (quoting Chesterton): “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.”
Yeah, and when you're a bigot you get to claim anything, unburdened by the need to support your beliefs, your smears, your scape-goating. But what happens we stop making arguments from authority and assertion and starting looking at the evidence instead? Why we find that those faith-grounded religious folk are actually *more* likely to "believe anything" than their Secular peers:
"The present study examined the relationship between religious and nonreligious paranormal beliefs and mental health, as well as the possibility that nonreligious subjects compensate for a lack of identification with traditional religion by increased nonreligious paranormal beliefs. . . Religious subjects had significantly higher total paranormal belief scores than nonreligious subjects."
You: "The objects of human worship know no limit. On the crudest level, there are the millions who revere athletes, movie and television stars, rock stars, automobiles, pornography, drugs, and gambling. On a slightly higher level, millions bow to race, the nation, status, wealth, political parties, art forms, clubs, cities, and colleges. Millions put their faith in horoscopes, cults, gurus, fads, and diets"
Once again, isn't it so very easy to just insinuate that those godless heathens have simply given up one "god" for all these lesser and supposedly more destructive ones? But what if religious people are just as likely to "worship" these things as secular people? What if they're more likely to "worship” these things? You, of course never bothered to check, because you had "faith" that you were right. But why don’t we take a sample of your little gods and actually see how it adds up? (I’ll exclude “cults” since I see no compelling reason to distinguish between “cults” and religions, and since Secular people by definition, wouldn’t be in any “cults”):
“This is a study of risk perception in relation to New Age (NA) beliefs, including traditional folk superstition and belief in paranormal phenomena, as well as use of alternative healing practices. Data were also obtained on trust dimensions and on personality and psychopathology variables, as well as religious involvement. . . . NA beliefs were strongly and positively related to religious involvement”
“Because Western religious teachings generally encourage love of one’s neighbor, religious Americans presumably should be less prejudiced than their nonreligious compatriots. Yet social scientists have consistently found that people who are more religious tend to be more bigoted as well.”
“Studies are reported of university students, and of their parents, that found that religious fundamentalism correlated quite highly with religious ethnocentrism, as well as with-to lesser degrees-hostility toward homosexuals and prejudice against various racial-ethnic minorities.”
”The spread of conflict across borders (contagion) is a modern phenomenon of increasing importance. This study focuses on the extent to which cross-border religious ties facilitate contagion of ethnic conflict using data from the Minorities at Risk dataset. The findings show that religious contagion influences the extent of both ethnic protest and rebellion whereas nonreligious contagion influences only ethnic protest. They also show that only violent conflict, as opposed to peaceful mass-political movements, in one state influences conflict in a bordering state. One possible explanation for this is the argument that violence is an intrinsic element of religion. This can explain why religious contagion is stronger than nonreligious contagion and why religious conflicts cross borders only when they are violent ones.”
“Placing a high importance on religion in one’s life relates to lower levels of gambling, but it does not relate either positively or negatively to the development of gambling problems among those who gamble.”
"The Celebrity Attitude Scale, Quest Scale, and the Age-Universal I-E scale-12 were given to 307 British participants in an attempt to provide further psychometric validation of the former and determine the relationship between celebrity worship and religiosity. Results generally supported those of an earlier study showing that the Celebrity Attitude Scale has good psychometric properties. Results also indicated that as religiosity increases for both men and women the tendency to "worship" celebrities decreases. However, the mean of the 12 relationships reported here was only -0.20"
Ok, to summarize, religious people are far more likely to have ancillary superstitions and believe in pseudoscience, show more racism, and are more likely to start violent conflict. Gambling, we find, is a tie, but those Secularists are going to end civilization as we know it because they have – gasp! – a weakly higher obsession with celebrities. I was skeptical of your doom-saying at first but now I’m beginning to see why you are right about godlessness being the end of us all. I mean Creationism, corporate junk-science and pre-emptive holy wars in the Middle East are one thing, but darn if that extra issue of Vanity Fair next to the john isn’t a sign of a wicked, self-destructive world-view.
You: “Thirdly, a life without divine inspiration, consolation, and hope often leads to rage and despair rather than happiness. I have experienced this myself”
Yes, and what could be more reliable than your anecdotal experience (which it just so happens deeply conflicts with what I’ve “experienced myself”) ? How about, actual evidence?:
”Two studies were carried out to assess possible links between religious and nonreligious socialization and adjustment. In Study 1, three questionnaires were administered to 216 students, before and during their first year at a small Canadian university. Comparisons were made among those raised in (a) "no religion," (b) mainline Protestant, (c) conservative Protestant, and (d) Catholic families. Our 11 measures of mental health and adjustment exhibited strong psychometric properties and were intercorrelated as expected, but they did not distinguish among our 4 groups. Nor were these adjustment scores correlated with self-reports of religious emphasis in the childhood home. Study 2 involved 2 questionnaires administered to 615 Canadian senior high school students. Again, measures had strong psychometric properties and were intercorrelated as expected. But again, there was no indication that students from "no religion" backgrounds differed from students from religious backgrounds on our primary measures of adjustment: depression, self-esteem, dispositional optimism, and social support.”
You sir, are a liar and a bigot. Your “analysis” is nothing more than a showcase for your own ignorance and prejudices.
You: “And have we no personal knowledge of the utter misery that has plagued friends who mistakenly thought they could live happy and completely secular lives?”
No, actually, this is just more of your worthless anecdotal bilge. It contradicts my experience, and, most importantly, it contradicts the evidence - see link above.
You: ”One last point: Suppose the claims of Christianity are true, and there are eternal verities leading to a peaceful and productive life, and eternal consequences stemming from our faith and related activities?”
And what could be a better end to your screed than an ugly, bone-headed, not-so-veiled, old-fashioned religionist threat? But why don’t we suppose the claims of Islam are true, then what happens to faithful Christians such as yourself who have rejected the message of the prophet Mohammed out of your own wicked narcissism? Or suppose the claims of a religion I just made up are true – If you don’t worship a jar of mustard, the Mustardians will send you to a frigid pit where you’ll be tortured for all eternity. Its your gamble! I leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of religious claims of punishment “in the next life”, for not believing in unsupported claims in this one, promulgated with most zeal, i might add, by the people least concerned or knowledgeable about the need for and methods of evidence.
“Let us open our minds and think further about the possibilities and joys of a wholly secular existence.”
Let us “open our minds”, and put the highest premium on truth, and judge religious claims on their logical and empirical merits rather than on their supposed effects on the individual or society. Let us “open our minds” and start supporting our claims about the effects of religiousness and nonreligiousness based on evidence and the scientific literature instead of on assertions, anecdotes, and exaggerated suppositions. Let us “open our minds” and stop dealing in lies, assertions, threats, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, oversimplification, hyperbole, doom-saying, scape-goating, and Christian proselytizing, Mr. Reeves, and while were at it, Let’s stop trying to pass these unprofessional behaviors off as “scholarship”.
Lisa Kazmier - 8/15/2005
Professor Reeves, in one sentence you talk about how secular Europe has become as if it's a singualar quality then in another say there is no such thing as a purely secular person. Sure comes close to a conflict to me.
The bottom line is not achieving "pure" secularization. That's like achieving "pure" objectivility. Myth, sure, we can agree on that. The point is can you be tolerant and respectful of others who disagree with you. Religion occasionally has inspired that view but more often in this world it does the exact opposite thing. Hence, Europeans increasingly do not rely on it to unify their communities. Maybe they merely tell themselves that, maybe not. The goal is still to tolerate varying religious position so long as those observing those denominations support civil society.
John Austin Matzko - 8/15/2005
I appreciate your courage in making the case for a position that will always be unpopular with secularists--a group that unfortunately includes most historians.
Jim Balter - 8/15/2005
Stephen Frug and PZ Myers have it right:
The "last point" may be the worst of it; it's really hard to find anything more fallacious than Pascal's Wager:
Stephen Frug - 8/15/2005
I was thinking that someone should reply to this mishigas -- it seemed a drag, but maybe someone should do it? -- when, lo and behold, I found someone had. P.Z. Myers takes it on here: http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/has_hnn_no_standards/
Check it out.
Ken E Wagner - 8/14/2005
I feel 'tempted' to respond to this article as it is representative of several I have seen on this subject of late. Religion has a complex history when it comes to academe and free thought. Contrary to modern day Voltaires, many religious folks and institutions helped save intellectualism from a rougher time than normal during the Middle Ages. However, religious institutions have a very spotty record otherwise. While their exploits of Inquisitions, book burning, and at times heretic burning are often exagerrated, they did happen to some degree. The turning of academe to more secular values helped usher in the amazing fruits of science and learning that benefit us all today.
As pointed out in a recent article in the American Conservative by Austin Bramwell it is simply wrong to accuse secular leftists of destroying all moral values. Free health care for all is almost always argued on moral grounds, as are animal rights, ending the death penalty, and a host of liberal causes.
Reeves argues that there is no such thing as a purely secular person. While sociologists of religion debate broad versus narrow definitions of religion intelligently, it is certainly true that there are differences of kind and degree between religion and secularism. The 'worship' of a rock star is plainly different than that of a God.
Reeve's idea that there is no such 'objective thing' as reason is probably right. This seems interestingly enough to be a pseudo-postmodernist argument, that we cannot appeal to reason to move things along intellectually. I agree, as Hume said reason is ever slave to the passions. But I wonder if Reeve would accept the consequences of such thinking: that he cannot prove his or any religion, or things like Natural Right if he is correct...
Reeves then makes another argument: that secularism, relative to religion, leads to a life of despair and rage. Any proof of this? He rightly describes Europe as increasingly irreligious, but they often seem happier than Americans (and less materialistic to boot) in surveys.
Lastly Reeves argues that much evil has been done in secularisms name. Well, of course much evil has been done in relgions name, and many other ideologies names. Much good has been done by both. This proves little.
It may strike one as strange that in a nation where an atheist has nil chance of being elected to public office we talk of religion being 'persecuted.' This playing of the victim card by religious conservatives strikes one as strange, as Reason columnist Cathy Young says:
Like sexism and racism, anti-religious prejudice really exists (though the notion that Christians in America are persecuted rivals in absurdity the notion that women in America are oppressed). But some conservatives are now using it as their ticket in the victimhood sweepstakes. The left has the race card and the gender card; the right has the "faith card."
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