Secular Right | Reality & Reason

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Miscellany, December 15

  • Someone has called us the “world’s most boring blog“. I think not everyone must agree, because in the three and a half weeks since we launched we’ve had more than 100,000 page views and, remarkably, 2,300 reader comments.
  • Confirming the descent of the whole topic into absurdity, Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church of funeral-picketing infamy has jumped into the controversy over the Christmas display at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia by demanding that it be allowed to put up a sign saying “Santa Claus will take you to hell”.
  • Another occasion for mirth: in a full-page Times ad promoting the anti-anti-Prop 8 cause, the Becket Fund announces that the undersigned “commit ourselves to opposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry”. So who’s prominently featured among the signers? Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, famous for such outbursts as “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity, in general, and Catholicism, in particular. It’s not a secret, okay?” along with other noted voices of moderation like Chuck Colson and Alveda King. [P.S.: Thanks to Ken in comments for pointing to this post exposing the dodginess of the actual content of the Becket statement.]
  • Yes, the phrase was floating around long before we appropriated it for a blog title. Here’s Robert Tracinski in 2006 with a column entitled “The Secular Right”, which begins:

    We all know the basic alternatives that form the familiar “spectrum” of American politics and culture.

    If a young person is turned off by religion or attracted by the achievements of science, and he wants to embrace a secular outlook, he is told–by both sides of the debate — that his place is with the collectivists and social subjectivists of the left. On the other hand, if he admires the free market and wants America to have a bold, independent national defense, then he is told — again, by both sides — that his natural home is with the religious right.

    But what if all of this is terribly wrong?…

    Tracinski goes on to engage with Heather’s writing, mostly favorably, but argues against her embrace of “skepticism” as a basic posture.

  • I think Ken Silber is right to express frustration with the nowadays standard bit of traditionalist Unified Kvetch Theory that makes much of the “accusation that the left is all about ‘the self,’ as if collectivism and egalitarianism were not leftist tendencies.”

· · · ·




We have at least started a few brushfires among the conservative blogs. There is some good argumentative stuff in the comments thread to Daniel Larison’s TAC post here.



Ears are burning

No matter how good a job we do at this site, it’s unlikely we’ll live up to the praise so generously bestowed on us by D.R. Tucker in flagship conservative publication Human Events (“Right Angle“). Daniel McCarthy and commenters discuss this site at The American Conservative (“@TAC”). Among others from whom we’ve drawn notice in recent days: science writer Ken Silber’s Quicksilber, Dyspepsia Generation, and Kleinheider @ Nashville Post, as well as many blogrollers.

P.S. And now a link from Tyler Cowen, whose superlative Marginal Revolution is on the list of three or four blogs I would take to a desert island.




Ears are burning

Some reactions to the site in its first days:

That’s aside from the earlier-mentioned posts by Razib (and again and on, by John at NRO “Corner” (and again and again), and by me at Overlawyered. Also at NRO “Corner”, John Miller seems to consider it a point in favor of relatively pious Founder Sam Adams that “he would never have joined a blog called Secular Right”; also, allusively, Kathryn Lopez. And Ann Althouse has an eyeball-centric follow-up to her earlier post.



Welcome Ann Althouse readers

The blogger hails this site as a “welcome addition to the Blogroll” and reflects on the term unbeliever, quoting commenter Balfegor who recalls this choice passage from Albrecht Durer:

Eyeball in soup

enough to spoil the appetite

O God please smite the unbelievers with your holy wrath. Make them as toads in the garden eating dirty flies. Let them pluck out their own eyes and cook them in a holy broth.

Her response @albrechtd:

Sorry, Albrecht! We’re going vegetarian this Thanksgiving. And we prefer renewable local foods.




Corner Feedback

Some reaction to the new site after I posted a link from NRO’s blog The Corner:

Reader A:

Mr Derbyshire — many thanks for helping provide an outlet for secular conservative views. I think you’ll find there are quite a few of us out there, and while I do share some of the Balkanization concerns from hyphenated conservatism (watch the Democrats eat themselves from within for a preview of that type of coalition), I still think there’s a need for some back-to-basics serious conservatism — and this is where the ideas will come from. I’ve registered and look forward to the site’s growth.

Reader B (a Mormon):

John: I was happy to see that you have participated in creating a new blog that features non-cranky thought from secular conservatives.

I approach my conservatism from a religious perspective, but there is a lot more to it than religion. I find that I agree with you far more often than not, which suggests that our shared view on such issues may just be good old-fashioned common sense.

Your British compatriot Theodore Dalrymple is one of my favorite thinkers (I find myself nodding my head in agreement with just about everything he says), and Heather Mac Donald is likewise smart and convincing. I believe Mr. Dalrymple says he is an agnostic and Ms. Mac Donald says she’s an atheist.

For conservatism to re-assert itself, we need a big tent. The conservative outlook on life makes sense, I believe, within the context of religion and from a secular perspective as well. Religious conservatives should work at being non-cranky as well.

[Me]  While we’re making lists, let’s not forget George Will, a declared agnostic.

Reader C:

Dear John — Is your blog limited to atheists and agnostics or will it take in believers who think God is more worried about the next world than how government should work in this one?

[Me]  That’s nicely said. As usual with enterprises of this sort, we haven’t really worked out the limits yet. We are definitely hospitable to apatheists (i.e. no opinion about God & couldn’t care less) as well as agnostics (not sure) and atheists (sure not).

Reader D:

Mr. Derbyshire — Thank you and your colleagues very much for starting a secular blog with a conservative bent. I have tried many times (unsuccessfully) to convince friends and coworkers that having conservative political leanings does not necessarily mean being a theocon or an anti-science, know-nothing evangelical yahoo. I hope you can provide ammunition for my skirmishes. Maybe you can comment on Robert Ingersoll’s Thanksgiving “sermon.”

[Me]  Thank you, Sir, and thanks for introducing me to Ingersoll’s sermon, which I did not know about,  but … lots of evangelicals are very nice people, useful and productive citizens, and staunch supporters of conservative principles. Plenty of them know stuff, too: One of my regular evangelical correspondents is an accomplished engineer and an appreciator of my math books. We’re not here to tick evangelicals off, so I’m going to rule “yahoo” over the civility line, and censor further occurrences. Our motto will be something like:  “Believe what you like, but don’t impose.”

Reader E:

I think taking your secular stuff to a separate blog is a good idea. Those who feel a need to talk about this stuff now have a place they can commune, and your worst emailers (I think you’ve included me in that group … not sure) have no basis to complain if they choose to go to your blog. I imagine you’ll have more of the kind of exchanges you are looking for at your own blog, and likewise Corner readers won’t see posts that they find off-topic.

One rule though — no cross-posting! And no Corner posts telling Corner readers to run over to your blog for some must-see post. I think today’s general  announcement, however, is perfect.

[Me]  I shall cross-post to The Corner if someone here makes a good political point, or if a contributor here comes up with politically interesting data about the connections between religion and politics. I think most Corner readers will appreciate that and not mind its
having come from a heathen website.

Reader F:

 … but didn’t Russell Kirk say that you can’t be a conservative unless you believe in a transcendent reality?

[Me]  Did he? If he did, we obviously disagree with him. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always found Kirk unreadable.




From comments

A sampling of comments of potentially wider interest among the many posted so far:

  • I love the Corner and am thrilled you’ve started this blog. I think ‘Religious Based Values’ will lose the party more elections. However, please note, one can be a secularist and still believe in God…. Ryan K., from Politics & God
  • …I wish my fellow religious conservatives were not so anti-reason. Glad you are blogging. –Braden Bell, from What is the Secular Right?
  • Thanks for the blog. I knew I wasn’t the only secular conservative, but it’s nice to have it confirmed. I am an anomaly to friends and acquaintances all along the political and religious spectrums. When all is said and done, I definitely feel comfortable with religious conservatives; and they are comfortable with me as well, though they find it hard to square my atheism with conservatism. As I have explained to them, I am not anti-religion, just non-religious. As a secular conservative, I feel a greater burden to understand and justify my conservatism (particularly on social issues) since I do not have a “specific set of supernatural claims” to fall back on. — Baldy, from What is the Secular Right?
  • …I am a Christian who opposes using the power of the government to further any religious agenda. It’s a simple proposition really. Following the laws of a government is not the same thing as following the laws of God. The results may be similar, but it is the intent behind them that matters. If I choose not to kill someone because Jesus said we should love our neighbor as ourself, from a religious perspective, that is wholly different than not killing someone because I may go to prison…. — Jonathan Schafer, from The H.L. Mencken Club
  • Finally! I think I emailed Derb suggesting this very idea several times. I have been a National Review and Commentary reader for decades and, though enjoying and agreeing with most of the political stuff, I always felt turned off by the subtext implying that, as a reader, I could be assumed to be religious. It always bothered me also that, though the logic behind a particular article might be impeccable, it was bundled together with other pro-religious stuff that was laughably weak and credulous.

    So: three cheers for this website. Let’s not cede the intelligent skeptical community to the Left.

    By the way, though an atheist, I am pro-Life. This is a question of morality, not science. I would be interested to know what proportion of other readers share this particular narrow segment of the population. — John, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.

  • While I agree that NRO and elements of “conservatism” are too overtly religious, I’m not sure I follow the logic that suggests an “unbeliever” conservatism. Derb introduced this as “Godless Bloggers” on NRO. Why? Isn’t there a way this could be framed so a discussion of “conservatism” takes center stage, and the role of faith and religion simply takes a subordinate role? — Don in Tucson, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.
  • I’ll follow this blog for a while, but I’m afraid it will turn, inevitably, into the usual snickering at Creationists and God Botherers. For the record, I am conservative and a lapsed Methodist. I’m still a believer, though. — Mesquito, from A note on civility
  • Scott: I have a suggestion for members of the secular right: become Democrats. Republicans don’t want you. They are very happy replacing their politics with theology. They fundamentally reject the idea of a division between church and state.

    Guess what? I’m a Republican because I agree with them on the overwhelming majority of issues. I don’t particularly care whether or not they don’t see much of a division between church and state, as that’s not a huge issue for me. Unlike so many atheists, and you apparently, I make my decisions over a wide range of issues, not just one. … — Andy, from A Note on Civility

  • …I advocate a grand treaty on the Right: Christians don’t quote the Bible in arguing politics, just argue your values and their implications for policy; and secularists listen to what’s actually being said rather than assuming that Christians are out to impose a theocracy. — russab, from The H.L. Mencken Club
  • To stray away from the other commenters here, I’d like to express my hope that this blog will not delve into a Dawkins-Dennett-Hitchens kind of anti-religious forum. As an atheist conservative who could not care less about the modern pop-God debate, I’d just want to see a site that focuses primarily upon what we would call conservative conclusions arrived at via logical reasoning and empirical evidence. I like religion and religious people, but it is so difficult to find a place where there is no space wasted on those arguments. — A Milder Despot, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.

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