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The Private Opinions of Public Men


I asked for opinions on Wesley Smith’s point that a public intellectual’s own religious beliefs might fall inside the “private”
boundary, so that he would be excused from answering questions about them.

Among reader’s offerings, the following (edited by me) has a nice literary angle:
“There is a continuum including people who think it is good for others to believe things they don’t and people who believe it is good for others to have to follow rules they don’t. … Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey depicts how parishioners can have their faith destroyed (or at least weakened) by this attitude of benevolent contempt on the part of their so-called betters: the squire’s family are not so much evil as shallow and worldly, but their tactless ‘acts of charity’ are a humiliation to those forced to accept their help; the rector is vain and ambitious rather than malicious, but his dismissive attitude towards a villager’s crisis of faith almost sends the poor woman into despair. … The rector and the squire’s family do more to destroy the social fabric that religion is meant to secure than the village atheist or the village marxist could ever do. … Small details such as these chip away at faith more effectively than any grandiose academic debate: why should people trust God when he is so unamiably represented by those who claim to speak for him? This sort of thing gives a nasty taste to both religion and ‘charity’ (as opposed to big statism, where the government gives you your check and you don’t have to pull your forelock at Squire to get it).

“If conservatives don’t want The Masses to resent religion or class distinctions, they’re picking the very method to sow resentment of
both: giving people the impression that all those wise-philosophical-conservatives-who-are-capable-of-handling-truths-the-rest-of-us-aren’t
are winking at each other over their heads. Should Kristol be asked what he believes? Yes, if he’s going to make recommendations to others. It stops being his business the minute he issues a pronouncement upon it.”


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