The current hostility toward the churches puzzles me. Almost daily one sees new decisions by the courts apparently aimed at eliminating any manifestation of religion. Yet in almost all places and all times, faith has inspired admiration and respect, and been taken as improving the likelihood that a man could be trusted. Today the slightest whiff of religion is cause for lawsuits and calls for extirpation. When Joseph Lieberman ran for vice president, the objection was not that he was Jewish, but that he might take it seriously.
I should say that I am not a believing Christian, or believing anything else. Yet I think that the decline of faith has seriously depressed the moral one of society. It also constitutes a gigantic evasion.
The arresting fact about life is that it doesn’t last. As someone said, nobody gets out of here alive. One day the elephant sits on your chest, or the drunk runs the red-light, or the blood vessel bursts. We become definitively dead, smell terrible if not embalmed, and turn into unattractive bones. This would seem to be more fundamentally interesting than the standing of the NASDAQ.
Yet we do not discuss, do not think out loud about such matters. Where do we come from? We don’t know. Why are we here? We don’t know. Where is here? We don’t know. Where do we go next, if anywhere? Isn’t it a trifle odd that we find ourselves on a small blob spinning around a spark, in a vast emptiness?
So why the hostility? The secular do not quash religious observance because they think it foolish. Disney is foolish, yet not attacked. Why, then?
Because, it offends a particular turn of mind that has been around for a long time, most recently being called Marxism, cultural Marxism, or political correctness. It is a recognizable philosophy, characterized by a desire to remove from public life such concepts as free will, individual autonomy, and any trace of the spiritual.
Proponents of the pseudo-Marxist matrix of modern thought, or avoidance of thought, invariably invoke the separation of Church and state. They are not opposed to religion, they say. Rather they are concerned about constitutionality. Though transparently not true, this is tactically effective. A nativity scene in a town square does not remotely constitute the establishment of a religion. The authors of the constitution plainly didn’t think it did. The Supreme Court again simply imposes things that would never survive a popular vote.
Another reason for the hostility is that the faithful are not governmentally tractable. The first loyalty of believers is to things higher than government. A healthy church can resist the encroachments of temporal power. A believer is capable of saying, “No. That is wrong. I won’t do it.” For him the dictates of God are categorical The crafted diktats of the Court are not.
This isn’t to say that the behavior of believers is always moral, only that it is a threat to the totalitarian aspirations of modern government. A vast catalog of crimes committed in the name of religion can be adduced. The pseudo-Marxist is concerned not with morality, but with power. To him, the crime of religion is not crime, but the allegiance it inspires.
Another and related sin of religion is Sin itself, a subject with which the secular are exceedingly uncomfortable. It is not that they are brutal, callous, or lacking in common decency. The politically correct share with non-psychopathic humanity an inchoate sense of right and wrong. They do not knowingly hurt children or mistreat the dog. But they do not want to speak overmuch of right and wrong, because it tends to elide into good and evil, and then into Good and Evil.
This implies an outside standard, moral rules that cannot be changed by human authority, and carries spiritual overtones. Both are intensely unsettling to the PC. For the essence of all forms of Marxism is simply control, control, control. They don’t want competition.
The current PCism is perhaps just another step in the historical reduction of humanity to parts in a vast machine. In classical antiquity, the world lived in paganism, now mysteriously regarded as bad. The whole world was held to be numinous. Gods in mad variety ruled from the skies. Satyrs and dryads moved half-glimpsed in darkling glades. Marcus worshipped the moon. Lavinia worshipped her sacred grove. Sempronius worshipped a weirdly shaped rock. It sounds foolish, but it wasn’t, quite. They were all responding to a sense of Something Beyond. This offends the Correct.
Come roughly the Renaissance, the march toward mechanism began in earnest. Copernicus showed that we moved around the sun. So much for the centrality of man. Newton showed that angels didn’t push the spheres in their orbits, but that they followed monotonous habits that one day would be called Newtonian mechanics. Darwin said they there was no plan or design to the world, but rather it was all a sort of gorgeous accident. Sea horses and tulips and Manhattan were just what one would expect when leaving a large cloud of hydrogen unwatched for a longtime.
Freud appeared. From his maunderings could be deduced, and was, a sort of psychological Newtonianism: All that we do is driven mechanically by (in Freud’s case, weird) impersonal psychological forces. Marx did the same for economics and history in general, making people into flotsam bobbing helplessly on the currents of history. His focus on “the masses” instead of individuals has the flavor of statistical chemistry.
Thus we came to our current pass. The gods are banished, maenads become social workers, and churches turned into fellow travelers. Mechanism rules, and the politically correct mean to pull the levers. They brook no competition. Why should they? Are they not the measure of all things?
Those of the mechanistic persuasion have an arrogance of phenomenal dimensions.
One may ask whether the tinker-toy conception of existence, in which there are no morals but only evolutionary predilections, in which we are not free agents but just vector sums of external forces, is more nearly accurate than the religious and spiritual understanding. Is there more in heaven and earth, or is there not?
Take your pick. The choice is between the hideous tediousness of cultural Marxism, and the gorgeous sunsets of Arizona, with the night wind rising and glowing legions of shapes arrayed in waves across the fiery sky — the sense that there may be more to this mad dream than social construction and the midget pedantry of the Supreme Court.