In Heather’s post she mentioned that at the end of the day for her it is about truth, not consequence, in relation to supernatural claims. This is a point that needs to be made because intellectuals such as Michael Novak have argued for the efficacy of Christianity in terms of promoting good in this world, while naive believers who adhere to trends such as prosperity theology seem to mix the worth of truth with the material manna it might presage. But at the end of the day for all the consequentialist arguments about Christianity’s role in the rise of capitalism, or abolition of slavery, it’s irrelevant for intellectual believers, at least notionally. Two years ago Rod Dreher said in chronicling his conversion to Orthodoxy from Catholicism:
But there was the matter of truth. A decade ago, when my dear friend Terry Mattingly was trying to decide whether or not to go Catholic or Orthodox, I listened impatiently to his fears for raising his children as Christians in an American Catholic parish, without active support from the priest and the community, and possibly even outright attack (at the time, I was preparing for marriage while living in south Florida, and had learned that CCL instructors, who taught couples how to practice NFP in obedience to the Church, couldn’t even get a foot in the door in parish marriage instruction). I kept saying to him, confidently, that none of that matters, that what matters is: Is the case for Catholicism true? And here I was a decade later, facing the same dilemma.
As Right-leaning non-believers we are enjoined by some that our frankly stated opinions give offense, that even admission of our existence causes discomfort, that our nature denies any possible identification as conservative. And yet on the other hand I could argue that without the fullness of appreciation of the power of truth my conservatism would be far more attenuated, grounded in the norms of the moment, than in the tangible realities of human nature. If I did not believe that the possibilities of human flourishing are constrained by the range of psychological variation, and that human societies exhibit the modalities they do due to the contingencies of our natures, then my skepticism of radical change, experimentation, and the blooming of relativism would lack an empirical grounding.
Let me offer a specific example. A friend was once a member of a radical anarchist commune. He told me how at some point the “community” decided that normative heterosexuality was a “social construct.” To show their commitment and rejection of patriarchal “heternormativity” several previously identified heterosexual males engaged in homosexual acts. This was one of the many moments where my friend saw that his own commitment to the “cause” was less than total, but, he was happy for his relative conservatism when it came to experimenting in this way. He indicated that some of the men who wished to “overthrow” the “shackles” of their heterosexuality were psychologically traumatized rather than opened up to a new world of personal exploration and fullfillment. Human nature is not universally malleable, contingent upon the willy-nilly of social consensus. This I believe to be true, and that leaves me very skeptical of social engineering. In fact, it is less engineering than social shamanism, a faith that the spirits of human nature bend to the will of powerful savants and wizards who by their charisma can convince many that what is, isn’t.
Truth is a powerful thing. The great scientists of European civilization wielded truth against the wisdom of the ages. They were disruptive, but there is a difference between being conservative and cautious of change, and seeking perpetual social stasis. As a matter of common decency I do not hector the religious as to the falsity of their beliefs. But let me add that when I was a younger man I had a simple rule so as to establish a modus vivendi with my evangelical friends, they could attempt to convert me once so as to absolve themselves of the obligation, but they would have to cease at that one attempt so as to not waste both of our time indefinitely. Because of the nature of the society within which I lived this was a compromise I made, accepting rather repetitive lectures about the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the hell which I no doubt faced from individuals who I was otherwise in great agreement with about the important aspects of life. This sort of interpersonal rudeness when normalized ultimately gives no offense, it is expected. I take no great personal offense, aside from some irritation at the time expended, reality is what it is, and that was my reality in a different age.
I have admitted in this space a general skepticism of reason’s acidic power to eat away cognitive constructions and preconceptions. Rather, I suspect emotion has us on the leash quite often, the amygdala driving the left neocortex before it. Some Christians emphasize the essential depravity of human nature because of sin, and so putting into stark focus the importance of soteriology. I like to emphasize the relative insulation of humanity from the power of truth, however it is revealed. Of course this means truth telling is all the more important, and precious.