Furlough in Jablonovka by the Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939) includes a description of Christmas just behind the front lines of the Eastern front during Roth’s time with the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War (the translation is by Michael Hoffman, and comes from The Hotel Years, a fine collection of some of Roth’s writing):
The sky glitters overhead, the snow glitters under our feet. It’s as though the sky is a reflection of the snow. There’s no point following the village street, which is all trampled. The snow was so seductive that it would have been a sin not to walk there, where it lay crisp and deep, noble, virginal, crystal and singing. So as not to encounter our comrades and to enjoy the night and the stars and the snow, we walked up the lane behind the houses. It was peaceful, no war anywhere. Ten or twelve times a searchlight crossed the sky, but even that seemed to be a kind of strolling, a peaceable pedestrian, paler than its brothers whom I knew better in the luminous sky.
The boys came in with their pumpkin lanterns. They sang. Stable and manger and donkey were nearby, if you could follow the singing. If you could believe them, the Saviour was born in Jablonovka, not far from Josefova Gargas’s hut, and not two thousand years ago, but sixty at the most, and the oldsters still remembered the event. You could practically see the footprints of the Three Kings in the snow. The star was graspable. The Podolian plain was swaddled in faith, God was in Podolia, and Bethlehem was a hop and a skip away, much closer than the front.
Lights went out one after another, and the huts went dark. Only the sky and the snow were still gleaming as the village traipsed up the hill to the church. Its double doors were thrown open, and it was as though the altar was coming out to meet you, to welcome the visitors in its splendour. There were no pews. People stood and knelt. Although the doors were left open, it soon grew warm, it was as though the furs were warming me, and the candles, and the fervour and the Gloria after the Introitus: Dominus dixit ad me: filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te. Quare fremuerunt gentes; et populi meditate sunt inania? What are the heathens purposing? What folly are the peoples pursuing? — Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes — And there were wakeful shepherds in that place — they were here next to us, next to Rainacher and me. We took the widow Josefova Gargas home between us. The door wasn’t locked, no door in the village was ever locked, even though strange troops, Hungarians and Bosnians were furloughed here. There were wakeful shepherds here.
We sat down at the table, and ate our borsch with wooden spoons. Then we cut up the meat with our bayonets. We drank slivovitz from tea-glasses and canteens. My atheistical friend Rainacher stretched comfortably on the chair, flung wide his arms and sang: Gloria in excelsis deo. He wasn’t blaspheming. At three in the morning, we kissed the widow and the twins, gave them our four parcels, and went off to sleep. You take the bed tonight, Rainacher told me, I’ll go on the floor. It’s my present to you. And that’s how it was. We were roused at six with marching orders.
Furlough in Jablonovka was written by Roth in exile in Paris in 1939. It first appeared in an émigré newspaper in that city, just a few months after his death the same year, a death accelerated by alcohol and despair over the deteriorating situation in Europe.
It was perhaps not that surprising that Pope Francis would look to involve himself in the controversy over ‘fake news’. The terms in which he did so were, however, unexpected….
The Guardian reports:
Pope Francis has lambasted media organisations that focus on scandals and smears and promote fake news as a means of discrediting people in public life. Spreading disinformation was “probably the greatest damage that the media can do”, the pontiff told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio. It is a sin to defame people, he added.
Using striking terminology, Francis said journalists and the media must avoid falling into “coprophilia” – an abnormal interest in excrement. Those reading or watching such stories risked behaving like coprophagics, people who eat faeces, he added.
The pope excused himself for using terminology that some might find repellent. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said. “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”
He also spoke of the danger of using the media to slander political rivals. “The means of communication have their own temptations, they can be tempted by slander, and therefore used to slander people, to smear them, this above all in the world of politics,” he said.
Now let’s scroll back to a passage in a speech that the pontiff gave in Bolivia last year:
“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor…”
As I observed in the course of a post on the Corner:
Not for the first time with Pope Francis, we see traces of conspiracism (a demagogic standard, I’m afraid to say) in his use of the phrase ‘anonymous influence’ and the suggestion of dark works by ‘corporations’ and ‘loan agencies’.
Not for the first time….
During the course of his notorious Lampedusa speech on immigration in 2013, Francis conjured up images of dark forces at play.
Writing in Law and Liberty not so long after, Anthony Daniels had this to say:
The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…
And then there were Francis’ comments (reported by ABC) in the wake of the murder of an elderly French priest by Islamic terrorists earlier this year:
Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions. Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”
He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
As I noted at the time on this site:
[A]s for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.
The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.
Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.
Pope Francis is not in a position to lecture anyone on fake news.
Mark Lilla’s piece for The NYT, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” has been making the rounds lately, and for good reason. See passages like this:
For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.
But speaking of identity liberalism – and Europe – I’m reminded me of the work of Adam Tebble of King’s College in London, and his notion of an emergent “identity liberalism” on the continent with the jagged coastline. I became aware of Tebble’s writings after attending an Institute for Humane Studies event in my days as a student. And while his conception of IL – national identity centered around a shared liberalism, as opposed to a liberalism couched in terms of sub-national racial and gender identity – is different from what Lilla has in mind, it’s worth highlighting as the profile of European-style atheist (or agnostic) nationalism rises stateside.
For Tebble, identity liberalism “employs a progressive identity-based normative discourse typically considered to be the preserve of the multicultural left to defend a right-wing politics of assimilation.” He has in mind former Marxist Pim Fortuyn and his pro-gay but anti-Islam “far right” cohorts. Fortuyn was if you’ll recall gunned down in 2002, by an animal rights extremist who defended his act of shooting up by claiming Fortuyn punched down. One could also include the gay contingent of Marine Le Pen’s fan base.
You see cursory evidence of this kind of identity liberalism gaining respectability among liberal and left-leaning intellectuals. Think the upstart publication Quillette, or Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, and likely many a fan of Sam Harris. Though far from outright nationalists, they’re at least willing to entertain the hard questions avoided by their SJW counterparts. And you certainly get the impression that efforts at assimilation are not frowned upon in this crowd. As libertarians have a rough year and the alt-right is basking in glory, the stock of this of old-fashioned-turned-new liberalism is performing somewhere in between.
Of course if the gullible editors at the Guardian are any indication, there’s little difference between the alternative right and these other identity liberals in the minds of the establishment left. Or at least its journalistic division.
This blog began in the fall of 2008 somewhat on a lark. This was during a period when the American Right was beholden in many ways to the Religious Right. By “many ways,” I mean more in symbolics and rhetoric than reality. The reality is that conservatism in the 2000s was a “three legged stool” where the Religious Right was fed rhetorical “red meat,” while the neocons were ascendant and the economic conservatives achieved some gains (and losses).
But the power of religion in conservatism was such that genuflection to Christian values and identity was normative, even among the mostly secular Washington and New York conservative intelligentsia. Of course, there were always libertarians, but the libertarian position within the Right has always been one of tactics rather than strategy. It was not controversial being a libertarian and an atheist. What was more atypical was a non-libertarian conservative admitting their atheism. In 2008 George F. Will declared he was an agnostic. By 2014 he was admitting to be an atheist. Will’s transformation from bashful to agnostic on the Colbert Report in 2008 to sanguine atheist in 2014 illustrates a change in American culture: secularization entered a new phase in the 2000s, and a much larger proportion of Americans are no longer Christian in belief. In the United States over the past generation the number of Americans who have “no religion” has gone from one out of ten to one out of four.
As if to portend these trends in Barack Obama and Donald J Trump you will have two presidents who are cultural Christians at best. Though many assert that Obama is an atheist at heart, I suspect that despite his lack of belief in most of the supernatural elements of the religion he does have some rationalization for why he is a Christian. Trump’s position is different, as he is from a Protestant background by heritage, and it seems likely that that heritage is what he would lean on to assert his Christian bona fides. But Trump is arguably as religiously disinterested in the confessional aspects of Christianity as Obama, as adduced by his public comments, as well as his sanguine attitude toward the conversion of his daughter Ivanka to Orthodox Judaism (Eric Trump was married under a chuppah, as his wife is Jewish, while Donald Trump Jr.’s wife has a Jewish father, though she does not seem religiously Jewish as evidenced by her wearing a cross at her wedding).
Trump’s attitude toward religion is not the aspect that it is notable. Many Republican politicians are not particularly religious in private. What is notable is that he made no attempt to not be transparent in his lack of strong religiosity when appealing to religious voters. Trump’s appeal to religious voters in the Republican party was that he would defend their rights and interests, not that he was truly one of them. The Religious Right then has become part of the interest group constellation of the Republican Party, but it is not calling the shots on the optics and symbolic rhetoric in the same manner as before.
What is the future then? I don’t think anyone knows. The election was a close one, and trends don’t help. Social-cultural systems are sensitive, and nonlinear. Expect chaos before we settle into a new system and stationary state.
To Pope Francis, Castro’s death was “sad” news, kind words indeed from someone who the former dictator would once have described as “social scum”.
Meanwhile, just two or three weeks ago the pontiff was being quoted favorably on Telesur (a TV network funded by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and, disappointingly in such company, Uruguay):
Asked [during an interview with the press ] if his pursuit and support for a more egalitarian society meant he envisioned a “Marxist type of society,” the pontiff said in response, “If anything, it is the communists who think like Christians…Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide. Not demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, whether they have faith in a transcendent God or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom.”
Francis is not a communist (his ideology is better seen as a blend of left-Peronism and ‘a Catholicism of the people’, two strains of thought that themselves overlap). Nevertheless, to say that that description represents a very benign interpretation of what communism really is, is to put things very mildly indeed.
Then again, Francis’ line of argument is not so different from what Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the leftist Roman Catholic writer and activist possibly now headed for canonization, deployed in the Catholic Worker in July/August 1962:
We are on the side of the [Cuban] revolution. We believe there must be new concepts of property, which is proper to man, and that the new concept is not so new. There is a Christian communism and a Christian capitalism. We believe in farming communes and cooperatives and will be happy to see how they work out in Cuba. God bless Castro and all those who are seeing Christ in the poor. God bless all those who are seeking the brotherhood of man because in loving their brothers they love God even though they deny Him.
And Pope Francis, of course, is something of a Dorothy Day fan. Praised for her “passion for justice”, Day was one of “four representatives of the American people”, singled out by the Pope during the course of his speech to Congress in 2015.
Meanwhile from Forbes earlier this year:
The Obama administration has continued its effort to expand contact between the U.S. and Cuba by easing restrictions on travel, exports, and export financing. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke of “building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship.”
However, the administration expressed concern over Havana’s dismal human rights practices. Although Raul Castro’s government has continued economic reforms, it has maintained the Communist Party’s political stranglehold. Indeed, despite the warm reception given Pope Francis last fall, the regime has been on the attack against Cubans of faith.
In a new report the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide warned of “an unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum,” which has “fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief.” There were 220 specific violations of religious liberties in 2014, but 2300 last year, many of which “involved entire churches or, in the cases of arrests, dozens of victims.” In contrast, there were only 40 cases in 2011…..
Sad times, indeed.
Rod Dreher at The American Conservative – which could easily be referred to as the “Rod Dreher Show” given his incredibly productive posting habits (he’s reportedly responsible for about half the site’s traffic) – writes that SJWs (Social Justice Warriors), like churches, need to commit to Truth over Social Justice. There is no splitting the difference:
[Social psychologist Jonathan] Haidt’s insight is also true for churches today. If we diligently seek Truth, and seek to conform our lives as much as possible around what we believe to be True, then we will inevitably achieve a form of Social Justice. But there can be no Justice, social or otherwise, without Truth. And Truth can never be what serves a pre-determined goal — the Revolution, the party, equality, the nation, the family, the temporal interests of the Church, nothing.
But in a 2014 piece entitled “Evolution & The Culture War,” Dreher was singing a different tune. On the implications of the truth of evolution, he wrote:
I flat-out don’t trust our species to handle the knowledge of human biodiversity without turning it into an ideology of dehumanization, racism, and at worst, genocide. Put another way, I am hostile to this kind of thing not because I believe it’s probably false, but because I believe a lot of it is probably true — and we have shown that we, by our natures, can’t handle this kind of truth.
Dreher went on to claim that “forbidden knowledge” is rightly forbidden.
Am I saying that we should ignore reality? I suppose I am.
Well there you have it. Perhaps Dreher has more in common with SJWs than he realizes. Religiosity will do that to you. At least many a SJW will tell you outright that they don’t hold to some vague Enlightenment adherence to truth come what may. They have blatantly tribal, and hence blinkered, commitments. Christian Dreher OTOH wants a bite of that sometimes bitter, realist truth pie without swallowing.
Writing in The Guardian, Alex Mar explains how making a documentary film “about a handful of fringe religious communities around the country” led her deep into the pagan world.
The article is an interesting account of where the search for meaning (whatever that may be) can take the credulous and the restless, and, beyond that, of the eternal appeal of the divine – and the break from the banality of everyday existence that comes with celebrating it.
The ritual was a devotional to the Morrigan, the heavyweight Celtic goddess of war, prophecy and self-transformation. In the center of the circle, surrounded by her ritual crew, stood Morpheus, with all eyes on her.
At the time Morpheus’ day job was working for a federal environmental agency, not, perhaps the most thrilling of line of work. Being possessed by an ancient Celtic goddess on the other hand….
Dressed in black, in a leather corset and a long skirt slit up each side, she wore her hair in elaborate, heavy braids that hung to her waist. She stalked the circle’s edge, flapping the vulture wings she’d strapped to her arms and staring into the crowd. Her slender body doubled over, as if suddenly heavy, and began bobbing up and down as if something was bubbling up inside her.
The sight of a possession, for those who’d never witnessed one, was alien, impressive. After what felt like a long time, she raised her head up and in a growling voice not her own, announced that she was Morrigu! Badb Catha! The roomful of witches circled closer, tightening around her, and a fellow priestess lifted a heavy sword above our heads: she directed us to take a vow. “But only if it’s one you can keep. Don’t take it lightly.”
As Morpheus (or the goddess she was channeling) continued heaving, breathing hard, hundreds of people crowded in, taking turns to raise their hand up and touch the tip of the blade.
I was one of them.
Mar, who also went on to write a book (Witches of America) on this topic, argues that there are now as many as a million “self-identified witches (typically called pagan priests and priestesses)” in the U.S.
In the past, it may have been tempting to dismiss this community as Earth-loving crystal collectors or velvet-wearing goths. In fact, the dozens of esoteric but related traditions share a spiritual core: they are polytheistic, worship nature and hold that female and male forces have equal weight in the universe. Pagans believe that the divine can be found all around us and that we can communicate regularly with the dead and the gods without a go-between. They don’t believe in heaven or hell; many subscribe to some version of reincarnation, or a next world called the Summerland.
In other words, it’s nonsense, but to each his (or her) own…
And then we get to the key point:
Throughout my life, most of my friends have been fashionable atheists of the creative classes, but it was becoming clearer to me that this does not exempt anyone from the very human need for meaning. As someone with a strong “religious impulse” but without a practice to relate to, I’d long been envious of people whose lives are structured around a clear system of belief. It seems like a tremendous relief, to be able to wake up everyday with a shared sense of purpose versus the low-level existential pain of living without something to believe in, a religious tradition to guide and ground you.
Most people, it seems do indeed feel that way: It’s hard-wired within and some of the more evangelistic atheists (for whom, I suspect, atheism is, in all probability, a surrogate religion) would do well to remember it. Religion will always be with us. What matters is the form that it will take.
But note my reference to ‘most people’. There is another group, a happy few (or perhaps not so few) who find the absence of any overarching ‘meaning’ to be something of a relief, and that, far from being a source of “low-level existential pain”, “living without something to believe in” (at least ‘believe’ in a capital B sense of the word) can be a pleasantly liberating experience.
Transcendence, no thanks.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
One obvious concern about Angela Merkel’s decision last year to, so to speak, throw open the doors to Germany was the obvious risk that potential jihadists were among those that she was welcoming into the country. That concern hasn’t gone away, and nor should it, but here (via Reuters) is a twist:
Hani Salam escaped civil war in Syria and survived the journey from Egypt to Europe. But when he saw men with bushy long beards at a mosque near his current home in Cologne last November, he was worried. The men’s appearance reminded him of Jaish al-Islam, the Islamist rebels who took over his hometown near Damascus, said Salam, 36, who wears a mustache but no beard. One of them told Salam that “good Muslims grow beards, not moustaches,” he recalled – a centuries-old idea that he dismisses. “Everything about this mosque made me feel uneasy,” he said.
Syrians in Germany say many of the country’s Arab mosques are more conservative than those at home. Over two months, a dozen Syrians in six places of worship in three cities told Reuters they were uncomfortable with very conservative messages in Arabic-speaking mosques. People have criticized the way the newcomers dress and practice their religion, they said. Some insisted the Koran be interpreted word-for-word.
In Germany, other different faiths are traditionally supported by the state. But most of the country’s four million Muslims originally came from Turkey and attend Turkish-speaking mosques which are partly funded by Ankara. Last year around 890,000 asylum-seekers, more than 70 percent of them Muslims, entered the country. Around a third came from Syria. Many of them do not want to go to Turkish mosques because they do not understand the sermons. They prefer to worship where people speak Arabic. Yet in these mosques, other problems arise. They are often short of funds, or else supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Some back ultra-conservative or highly literal interpretations of Islam, such as Wahhabism or Salafism.
Ah, the Saudis, yet again: Our allies. Still spreading poison, it seems.
And the Salafists have been trying a little outreach:
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has recorded more than 320 attempts by Salafist Muslims to contact refugees last year, often by offering food, clothes, free copies of the Koran and help with German to asylum seekers living in shelters. Earlier this month, a Syrian committed suicide in prison after he was arrested on suspicion of planning to bomb an airport. His brother and friends in Germany have said he was “brainwashed” by ultra-conservative imams in Berlin…
Read the whole thing
Over at Foreign Policy, James Poulos frets that, in the event that Elon Musk’s Mars mission ever gets off the ground, Musk (who admittedly has some strange beliefs: he appears to think that we are all living in some type of computer simulation) might pick the wrong sorts to settle the red planet. While Musk hasn’t given too much guidance as to who these future colonists might be, Poulos worries that they will turn out to be the kind of people who see our species’ arrival on the fourth rock from the sun as part of a broader scientific evolution:
According to this version of destiny, the purpose of space colonization is fully tied up with the purpose of scientific progress in general, complete with transformational changes to our bodies and minds that don’t just augment or twist our experience of being human but break with nature completely, turning us into post-humans. People dreaming this dream have good reason to prefer that our first Mars colonists would see themselves as being on the frontier of such technological progress and committed to pushing it forward — to making the post-human dream as much of a reality as possible, as quickly as possible.
That may be overegging the pudding. If I had to guess—and if history is any precedent— early ‘private sector’ colonists of Mars will be a mixed bunch with mixed motives. If some of them are into a spot of genetic tweaking or trying to turn themselves into cyborgs, that’s fine. They are highly unlikely to be as ‘post’ human as Poulos imagines— or they themselves might hope.
But Poulos has another vision:
[T]here is another dream out there — a much older one, with even deeper resonances in society’s collective heart and soul. Humans have always spent a lot of time pursuing and experiencing new “worlds” right here on Earth. The traditions of humanism and religion we’ve inherited from ancient Athens and Jerusalem also treat the natural world as a type of “base reality” against which our collective history can take place. Those traditions allow old myths and social orders to be honored and new ones to be founded — fresh starts, but by no means blank slates, where the best of what came before can be retained and given promise on new soil. In this sweeping journey of civilizations, what was begun with the exodus from Egypt and the founding of Rome continued, more or less, right up through the Pilgrims’ arrival on Plymouth Rock, Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom,” and on, perhaps, to the present day.
That’s to paint a very pretty picture both of “new worlds” (which, after all, is what the Bolsheviks—to name just one of a long series of monsters— thought that they were creating) and of the motives of those who, often accidentally, create them: there are more conquistadors and chancers than there are pilgrims.
From this standpoint, the exciting thing about colonizing Mars (and tomorrow, the galaxy!) is not the prospect of accelerating humanity past the point of humanity. Instead, it’s continuing the grand journey of humankind, wherein sacred traditions can be imitatively repeated and re-founded. A colony on Mars, then, is not like a personal trainer, pushing us through some artificial but valuable exercises that end up taking us to a higher plane of aliveness otherwise unavailable to us. Humanity’s achievement of interplanetary life wouldn’t allow us to break with the past and level us up into a new reality. It would humble us in recognition of a newfound, enduring mission — to create new ways to honor our human essence and praise what has allowed it to be sustained over time, whether we call that nature, nature’s God, or something else.
What we call that is nonsense.
Crusades, cults and civilizations come and go. Sometimes we move forward, sometimes we go into reverse. Mankind has no ‘enduring’ mission. There is no ‘grand journey’. There is merely a muddling through the millennia.
As for the rest, well, in the end Ozymandias.
Back to Poulos:
“What’s clear is that Earth no longer invites us to contemplate, much less renew, our deepest spiritual needs”.
Quite what the evidence for that is, I do not know.
Never mind, Poulos wants the move to Mars to be transformed into a “pilgrimage”, an act of “progress from the shadows of ignorance and apartness from God”. Just managing to live all those millions of miles away is, apparently, not enough. There has to be some greater mission, some grander meaning. There is, apparently, going to be a “debate over Mars and our human destiny” (there is?) and it’s “going to recast our awareness of how faith and freedom really do work together — or can”. It is?
[It] means asking and answering initially awkward questions, like, would we be best off if our first Martian colonists were religious observers? Especially today, nature and freedom won’t defend themselves, and they’re certainly not taken as a given by some of Earth’s more powerful people. But it turns out that even today, and in the far-flung future, many of those who see our cosmos as supernaturally real are still their best defenders. There may not be much to recommend for life on Mars if we don’t clear a path for Christ on Mars.
Only time will tell, but if I had to guess, the law of averages will mean that any Martian colony would, like just about any other human settlement, eventually have a large contingent of people who believe in the supernatural including, perhaps, Musk. How else to describe his faith in that computer simulation–an invisible organizing principle–of his? And (I would assume) there will turn out to be more Christians than a simple caricature of nerds on Mars would suggest. There would be no need to clear any paths for Jesus – or for any religious test for prospective colonists.
As to what happens then, well, let’s just say that Ray Bradbury is badly missed.
Whether or not God exists there cannot be much doubt about the existence of (to use a crude shorthand) a ‘God gene’, the innate propensity of most people to believe in gods and/or the supernatural and, at least to a degree, to base their behavior on those beliefs.
The fight of the Dawkins brigade against ‘sky fairies’ is thus, in most cases, a waste of time. What matters is not God, but the particular god that people worship. Whatever the sentimental, empty-headed or (hullo, Karen Armstrong) propagandists might claim all religions are not simply varying routes to the same ‘truth’. The difference between religions matters, and it matters a great deal. Some are benign, some are not, some leave the rest of us alone, some do not.
In that connection, it was interesting to read this in the course of an interview by Spiked Review with writer Anthony Gottlieb, the author of The Dream of Enlightenment, an account, as Spiked puts it, of “that ‘150-year burst’ of intellectual energy that begins in Northern Europe after the Thirty Years War, and stretches up to the eve of the French Revolution”:
Several of the thinkers in The Dream… are quite rightly seen as pioneers or antecedents of forms of secularism, of the idea that church and state should be kept separate. Nowadays, when we think of the separation of church and state, we tend to think of it in terms of the First Amendment, where Americans hold that there should be no state religion.
But for the pioneers of secularism, church and state are not so easily parsed. Take Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), for example. They’ve both been characterised as being in favour of the separation of church and state, of getting rid of a state religion. Yet, in fact, both believed that it was important to have a state religion. And that’s because they, like many of their intellectual brothers in arms, were concerned not with getting rid of state religion but with weakening the power of the priests, the power of institutional religion. They wanted to take away the church’s power and give it instead to the state.
That’s because, as they saw it, the best way of ensuring that religion didn’t lead to all sorts of trouble was both to police it, and to make sure that the state religion was peaceful, non-disruptive, and not run by these mad priests. So Hobbes and Spinoza ended up advocating state religion, rather than opposing it….
There’s something to that, especially if that state religion is mild, unassuming, tolerant– light on superstition and with a proper sense of its place: At its best the Church of England comes to mind.