Dennis Prager’s Point #6:
With the death of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many Westerners believe in little. That is why secular Western Europe has been unwilling and therefore unable to confront evil, whether it was Communism during the Cold War or Islamic totalitarians in its midst today.
The accusation in this is largely true. What Mr. Prager refers to as “secular Western Europe” is the collection of “free” democratic welfare states that have for a century been dominated by socialism, and which since World War II have increasingly added apologetic self-hatred and multiculturalism to its body of ideas. Broadly speaking, the intellectuals behind this “secular Western Europe” are the subjectivists and moral relativists that both Prager and I are opposed to (and which I have written about in some detail in other posts). I completely agree with Mr. Prager’s observation that European culture has rendered its nations unwilling and unable to stand up to evil.
During the cold war, Western intellectuals could not effectively criticize the Soviet Union because they accepted - and even admired - its basic premises. Even when they explicitly denounced communism, they conceded the virtue of its altruistic underpinnings and rejected it only because it was “good in theory but bad in practice.” On top of that, the left-leaning Western elite have spent the last few decades flagellating themselves in the most pretentiously vain self-abasement, finding every excuse to denigrate the West (especially America), and all the while enjoying the fruits of the freedom they despised. Today, these self-proclaimed “liberals,” who would not recognize actual liberty even if it cried out from under their shoes, find themselves in a peculiar position. They must advance their “enlightened, humanitarian” agenda by defending thugs who beat and murder their way into public office (as long as they were democratically elected), by supporting dictators who spray poisonous gas upon their own citizens (as long as they are anti-Bush), by cheering environmentalist saboteurs (as long as they destroy the products of industrialists), and by turning a blind eye to morality police that stone young girls to death for the crime of having been raped (as long as the killers denounce Israel).
In the face of self-righteous evil, the meek Western intellectual is utterly powerless... and our enemies know it. “A liberal,” Robert Frost famously said, “is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
However, despite my general agreement with Prager in his estimation of the feebleness of “secular Western Europe,” I reject his implication that secularity itself is the source of the West’s impotence. In fact, insofar as secularity is an indication that the West has embraced reason, it is (or it would be) a positive sign.
Unfortunately, the embrace of reason and the rejection of religion are two entirely different things. The former is a positive, systematic, constructive, and ultimately life-sustaining activity, while the latter is simply a negative, a void. It is true that atheism follows from reason (as does the rejection of all other types of arbitrary assertions), but atheism is not itself a philosophy. No positive values come from simply rejecting religion. A man who adheres strictly to reason is always an atheist, but an atheist is not necessarily a man of reason. (Far from it, as we can see in the “secular Western Europe” that Prager rightly condemns.) Secularity in Europe seems little more than a symptom of the subjectivist rejection of all principles, all systems. It tells only of the penchant to disintegrate and analyze, and to scoff at absolutes as outmoded prejudices. [Note 2.]
The key to Prager’s plausibility on this point is the ambiguity of the word believe when he writes, “many Westerners believe in little.” Principled, reality-oriented people who do not hold religious faith will still feel that they believe in something, though they may sense that it is of a significantly different nature than that which a religious person believes. In its strictest connotation, belief means faith - and this is surely Prager’s deepest meaning. After all, the entire point of his article is to show that a belief in God is needed to avert the evils he enumerates. But I think he is taking advantage of the less strict, non-religious meaning of belief (i.e. a firmly held opinion or conviction) to make his point persuasive.
No, it is not faith that Western intellectuals lack but convictions. The West must not only identify facts, but have the courage to declare them to be true.
By veering toward a faith in God, as Mr. Prager recommends and as many Americans have done in recent years, the West may very well become less apathetic and powerless toward evil, but it wouldn’t make us right. On the contrary, it would make us dead wrong - wrong for the very same reasons that our enemies are wrong. It would be a disaster if Americans turn to religion as the antidote to subjectivism and multiculturalism. The proper alternative to our cowering before crusading, irrational, medieval fanatics is surely not to become crusading, irrational, medieval fanatics ourselves.
The reason that America and the West is right and good - and ought to be defended with righteous conviction - is that this nation was founded upon Enlightenment values: an embrace of reason, logic, and science; a passion for discovering the natural order of things; a lust for living in this world; the toleration of conflicting opinions and beliefs; and above all, a respect for the individual, his property, the free use of his mind, and his unfettered liberty to act as he sees fit, provided he respects everyone else’s right to do the same.
The United States of America remains history’s best exponent of these values. It is impossible to square religion with America’s governing institutions. [Note 3.] To attempt do so would be to destroy freedom, to rip it from its moorings in this world in the hopes that a supernatural anchor is more secure. To replace reason with God, discard earth for heaven, reject logic for dogma, sacrifice the individual for the flock, surrender liberties for commandments - is to do more damage to the West than the “secular Western European” could ever do.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.
2. In this, I refer only to modern intellectuals. I do not think this explanation applies to communists - at least not the early communists. For all my denunciation of them, I do not accuse communists of being disintegrators in the realm of ideas; they were system builders. Their rejection of religion was probably based more upon a desire to seem “scientific” and to distinguish themselves from reactionary, “bourgeois” tradition, than to rejecting principles outright.
3. This is not to be confused with individuals’ right to practice whatever religion they wish, which I defend absolutely.