Editor’s note: Following a hot hot July 4 holiday wherever she is, numero uno atheist convert A.F. Christian returns with number eight of THE LOSER LETTERS, a Screwtape for our screwed-up time.
In the latest round over God, Mary Eberstadt takes on a gynophobe craptocracy, Steven Pinker, flocks of nervous chickens, Peter Singer and more as A. F. begins the real story behind her conversion to atheism for National Review Online . . .
Hey there again, all my awesome leading Atheist idols!
Welcome back from Our break, Everybody! I hope You all had a great Fourth of July holiday. I know this number one convert to godlessness sure did! Those were some fireworks I could see from my new room in this weird rehab. And those fake screams coming from wherever were a lot more real than I was expecting. I haven’t been so scared since I went to YouTube and watched Dinesh D’Souza debate some of You Guys about the Loser!
I’m not criticizing Anybody for falling down on the job, mind You. It’s not Our fault that the Jesuits taught D’Souza all those underhanded tricks — You know, like how to spot formal fallacies and informal fallacies, or what the law of excluded middle means, or how Deduction and Induction really work. I’m just saying so You know I’ve got Your backs, that staying out of takedowns like those would do Us atheists more good than harm. Ouch! Talk about getting owned.
Anyway! Back to the good news! This is one Letter I know Everyone’s been waiting for — Part One of the sincerious tale of my personal Evolutionary Leap into atheism. I’m soooooo excited to be getting to this part of the story, Everybody! Isn’t it sweet? It’s like that moment on Project Runway where the one designer guy who made a dress has been dissed by the judges and goes off to cry, and then the other designer guy also gets his dress dissed by the judges too and he goes off to cry too, and then there’s no one left standing but the winner who’s a Female for ONCE — and then all the judges come out on the runway to hug her and tell her how fabulous her dress design is and how much better than anyone else’s. And she cries too, because she’s soooooo happy that they’re happy with her! Just like We’re all going to do when I get through with these Letters! I can hardly wait till we’re all there like that, can You?
So enough with all this depressing (if helpful!) talk in my first seven Letters about what today’s atheism has done wrong. Now let’s look instead at what it’s done right — so right that it turned this former Christian Dull into Godless Bright convert numero uno. And to get there, I’ll need take You just a little ways back in time to my final days as a believer, and explain what happened next.
As I mentioned earlier, my personal religious belief took the usual battering by atheists and their fellow-travelers when I went off to college. What was left of it then got further blown away by my idiotosaurus boyfriend Lobo (about whom You’ll hear more in my next Letter than You ever wanted to, but it can’t be helped). So what with one thing and another, by the age of twenty-one I’d abandoned most of the religion I’d grown up with, and become what You might call a classic “cafeteria” Dull.
Actually, I would have been more accurately described as an anorexic cafeteria Dull, considering how little was left on my religious plate by then. Like any other believer in name only, I thought that I could somehow have it all, theologically speaking — You know, jettisoning whatever I didn’t like about the Loser (especially those laws about You-know-what!) and keeping whatever doctrines I “personally” approved of (i.e., the ones that sounded good and didn’t really get in my face).
But of those few things remaining things about Christianity that I did approve, I really felt more strongly than most atheists might imagine. What finally made me proud to be a Dull, what really lay beneath my unwillingness to relinquish all that nonsense, was that I thought the Loser and his followers had stood — and stood uniquely — against some of the grosser practices of Human history.
Abortion, infanticide, pedophilia, bestiality, Human sacrifice — these were things that I then thought of as somehow beneath the dignity of our Species. The fact that Judaism and Christianity had set their faces against these things was powerfully appealing to me — and not only to me, of course, but to millions of other people across the ages, too. As that Ueber-papist Elizabeth Anscombe said somewhere, it was a “known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things.”
And though I’m embarrassed to admit it now, there were probably also personal reasons for my vulnerability. Perhaps because I am a Female, for example, it wasn’t hard to peer back through time to the hills of Rome and feel creeped out by the thought of the Patria Potestas law which granted fathers a right to off any unwanted baby girls. What kind of gynophobe craptocracy does that, I used to wonder? It seemed obvi to me then, as it does to so many Dulls now, that a society in which the weakest were getting hosed so ruthlessly could use a little moral fine-tuning — and that Christianity with all its sins at least had a fork for that kind of thing.
Ditto, I was freaked about the female infanticide underway in our own time. It seemed crazy to me — then, anyway — that all this preemptive baby-killing was going on with no shout-out whatsoever from Western feminists or other progressive types. Weren’t any of them Female, too? Why weren’t they bug-eyed like me about those weird statistics from China and India and a few other places, showing that ratios of XY Chromosomes to Xx ones were getting seriously out of whack?
Euthanasia to me was another no-brainer, also for personal reasons. I’d been a patient one too many times myself! So I didn’t think it was the most brilliant idea to ask someone who’s flat on their back with enough drugs packed inside to open a pharmacy to pay attention and decide whether they want to live or die. Plus which, the whole idea of a life not worth living (Lebensunwertes Lebens, auf Deutsch!) seemed sketchy to me. When You got right down to it, I thought, having well people wipe out sick people just didn’t seem fair — not unless we were going to let both parties flip coins each time so the patient had at least a shot at telling the attendant that it was his turn to be offed instead. But nobody I knew of seemed to be advocating that.
My personal aversion to human sacrifice: same old, same old. I’d actually been to Mexico. I’d seen the creepy pyramids at Teotihuacan and the architectural models of how they looked in the old days, accessorized with tens of thousands of Human skulls. I’d seen the well at Chichen Itza whose bottom is full of children’s bones, and the sacrificial stones You can find all over Central America — You know, the ones helpfully carved with gulleys from the center to the side to make the blood run down faster? Nobody could tell me, at least not back then, that Christianity wasn’t some kind of step up from all that. I can’t stand that Loserholic G.K. Chesterton any more than other Brights can, but I have to admit, he nailed the moral-equivalency quackery down: “There is a very real sense in which the Christian is worse than the heathen, the Spaniard worse than the Red Indian, or even the Roman potentially worse than the Carthaginian. But there is only one sense in which he is worse; and that is not in being positively worse. The Christian is only worse because it is his business to be better.”
But at the same time — and here we get to the very heart of my Turn! — despite clinging to Christianity just on account of its belief in something called Human dignity, there was something key I wasn’t getting. You see, I didn’t really believe in what the other Dulls called the slippery slope. I didn’t really think that if You just got rid of the Loser, the world would bit by bit become anything-goes. The Dulls were always saying such things, and I’d always nod when they did. But deep down inside, I thought that was just some easily led histrionic exaggeration thing. I didn’t really think any of the consequences they talked about would happen.
Oh, I knew about a few teensy weensy historical problems for institutionalized atheism here and there! You know, what the believers call major assaults on Human dignity — like certain things about the French Revolution, say; or those unfortunate excesses of Social Darwinismus during certain decades in Deutschland in the twentieth century; or like the history of Communism, period. I even knew about the scholarly trial balloons here and there in our own time that seemed to other people to prove beyond a doubt that there was a slippery slope — like the ACLU’s defenses of child pornography, say, or like Peter Singer’s re-opening of the question of whether offing Human babies is always wrong.
But deep down inside, again, I believed You atheist Guys when You said that if we just ditched the Loser, the world still be left with some kind of humanist “morality.” And that was exactly why I didn’t jump ship for atheism any sooner than I did, You see. After all, I thought, if we’re all going to be stuck with rules and laws and morality no matter what, what’s the point of leaving one crappy old system for another? It’s like saying You have to choose between Stoli and Grey Goose, when they’re both doing the same thing! Why bother making the trade? That’s what I thought back then, during my very last days as a Dull.
And then something really incredible happened: by actually reading some of what Our fellow atheists and fellow travelers were writing — a stack of unbelievably eye-popping items handed over to me by Lobo, for reasons I’ll explain in the next Letter — I realized something that changed my life: the Dulls were right about the existence of that slope, and I was wrong.
Exhibit A, You might say, was something that fellow Bright Steven Pinker published in the Sunday New York Times a few years back. Titled “Why They Kill Their Newborns,” this essay explained what I once would have thought inexplicable. For contrary to what the Dulls have been saying for two thousand years, Pinker made the point that infanticide was in some brain-bending sense normal. “It’s hard to maintain that neonaticide [baby-killing] is an illness,” he explained, “when we learn that it has been practiced and accepted in most cultures throughout history.”
Now at first, I have to admit, I didn’t quite get this Logic; after all, disease and infections of every kind have also been rampant throughout human societies, and that fact hasn’t led physicians to redefine disease and infections as healthy. But then I realized that this much was just the set-up. His actual point was nothing less than proof positive that the Dulls were right about the slippery slope. For it was the abortion debate, the author explained, that showed just how hard it is to decide when “personhood” — in effect, a right to live — began. And just as any given month is arbitrary before birth, so too is some unspecified amount of time that follows it. “Neonaticide,” he explained, “forces us to examine even that boundary [of birth].” In that case, “how do you provide grounds for outlawing neonaticide?” His answer: “The facts don’t make it easy [italics mine not His].”
Wow! Using the fact of abortion on demand to make us rethink the morality of infanticide: What more proof of the slippery slope could one possibly want? But as it turned out, and as I found out reading further in Lobo’s stack of papers, plenty more was out there — including in some pretty unexpected places. For instance, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down,” he probably wasn’t thinking of the family farm. But Somebody else sure did!
For it turned out that yet another Bright, the aforementioned Princeton professor Peter Singer, published an essay in 2001 arguing for a bold new take on one more behavior banned by Judeo-Christian theology. This was the classic entitled “Heavy Petting.” Despite the ongoing collapse of many former taboos, the Professor wrote there, not all of them have crumbled; no, at least one –“sex with animals” — remains. Moreover, he blamed that taboo right on the Loser himself — because “especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition…we have always seen ourselves as distinct from animals, and imagined that a wide, unbridgeable gulf separates us from them.”
Let’s just say that closing up that gulf, to put it politely, is just what the rest of his essay is all about! At the risk of TMI, I have to say there’s stuff in there about chickens. And an octopus. And about “occasionally mutually satisfying activities” that “may develop” with Your favorite canine. I can’t quote anything else, or the Director might not let me send this. But Red Rover, Red Rover! Don’t let Professor come over!
Talk about being roused from your dogmatic slumber! (Little joke there.). At first, I have to admit, I didn’t really get this one either. In fact at first, I thought the Professor was sneakily proving a rather unpopular point made by the church — that when human sexuality is amputated from reproductive possibility, plenty of weird things are going to happen, and some of them are really going to stink. You know that thing the believers call reductio ad absurdum, where You prove how lame an idea is by riffing off a particularly bad logical consequence of it? That’s what I thought he was up to — as I say, at first. But no.
So doing the atheist math as my reading suggested it: if abortion already had been normalized in post-Christian circles, and infanticide was in the process of being normalized in those same places, and even bestiality was getting the Princeton University seal of approval, what evidence could possibly be added to prove that the Christians were right about that slippery slope?
Well, how about this: nothing less than an attack on the very idea of Human quote dignity, period.
And that, which we might call Exhibit C, is exactly what Professor Steven Pinker published in The New Republic just two months ago. And he further did it under the title — no, I am not making this up as if his piece is a satire that I just stuck in here to prove the point, because it’s totally serious — “The Stupidity of Dignity.”
The essay’s main target was Leon Kass — one of the most hardcore serious Loser-enablers out there, as You probably all know. Do You recall that he chaired something called the President’s Council on Bioethics? From that post Kass advanced any number of Dull-friendly positions, all in the name of Human dignity — like always reminding how we’re not supposed to perform certain experiments on people, or what’s wrong with creating fetuses and carving them up for spare parts, or how after certain misadventures in the 1930s and 1940s it’s become even more imperative to remember that all Humans have intrinsic worth — yes, even the Unfit ones! — and related Dull-sounding superstitions like that.
And Pinker, bless His soul (sorry for the slip!), won’t have any of it! As he explains, dignity is an “almost” useless concept. It’s “relative, fungible, and often harmful.” It’s only “skin-deep.” The “sin of theocon ethics” is exactly this faith in a sweeping claim to dignity — through which the believers hope to “stage-manage” social change. It seeks to impose “a Catholic agenda on a secular democracy” by using “dignity” — those are the Professor’s skeptical quotations around that word, not mine — to “condemn anything that gives someone the creeps.” (Hey, I didn’t know Kass was a Catholic! Did You?)
I really can’t quite explain to Everybody the effect of all this Bright light on this particular Dull, who was clinging to the Loser by the barest threads anyway. As Keats swooned on first looking into Chapman’s Homer, as Dr. Dre must have thought when he first saw Eminem, so did I feel as if my very DNA were being Re-Sequenced as I devoured and re-devoured Lobo’s package of texts. And putting together one thing and another — the ongoing normalization of all those things the Loser said was wrong, the attack on the very idea of Human dignity itself — I realized finally that the believers in all their woolly-headedness were right. Everything really would be permitted if we just sent the Loser packing; it was only a matter of time.
I know what You’re thinking, and You’re right too! It’s a twisted kind of outcome for my story. After all, many a querulous Catholic or Mormon or Lutheran or Jew has been confirmed in his religious belief just by realizing what I realized then. In fact, many a believer is a believer exactly because of connecting those dots between atheism and the return of pagan morals, and inferring from them that the Loser is right. But I, for reasons You will see in full in the next Letter, was no ordinary Christian by then. What most Dulls would have called “Vindication” spelled something entirely different for me: namely, Freedom with a capital F (!).
And so concludes Part One of My turn to atheism — with the realization that contrary to what I’d clung to in Christianity, nothing — no, nothing at all — really is beneath a Human Male or Female. With the occasional exception for some of the family pet!
And that revelation, for reasons Everyone will understand when You read my next Letter — which tells the whole demented story of Lobo, me, some crappy Little Debbie oatmeal cookies, the Friday night party that landed me here, and all the other details about my Turn to Atheism part two — was the best news I’d personally gotten in a long, long, time.
Yours “Woof” Waiting For!!!!! (Get it? LOL!)