Politics & Policy

The Unbelievably Annoying Problem of Christian Moral High Ground


Editor’s note: Christianity has been taking a beating for years now, with one tony atheist tome after another rolling off the presses — and still no end in sight.

And so far — with the exception of a Michael Novak here and a Dinesh D’Souza there — believers have largely turned the other cheek.

Now, finally, comes more payback — with THE LOSER LETTERS, a Screwtape for our screwed-up time.

In the latest round over God, Mary Eberstadt gets ready to catch up on National Review Online . .

Dear Distinguished Atheist Friends (that’s Lieber Herren Doktoren Atheisten Freunde auf Deutsch!),

Hi Everybody! It’s A.F. Christian here, reporting again from the front with some more super informed advice for Our new atheist Movement!

First up today, an exciting little announcement: As of this seventh Letter — that’s today’s — we’re about 70 percent through with my story about how this former Christian converted to atheism. Isn’t that great? Now on the other hand, that means there are still three more Letters to come after this one. And what that means is, writing in and complaining at this point that people don’t understand the plot here is kind of unfair. It’s like getting two thirds of the way through an episode of House, and calling up Hugh Laurie to complain that he hasn’t thought of Wegener’s Granulomatosis or Behcet’s Syndrome or Takayasu’s Arteritis yet! And who jumps the gun like that? How about nobody!

So please, just as if this were TV or YouTube, hang in there, folks! As those readers who have been following along know already, it’s not like the Letters are heavy lifting. They’re not some excruciosaurus brain-busting treatise about the Loser, or anything else. They just tell a little story, which is about what led me away from religion and toward Our phenomenal godlessness. I’m sure Everybody will find out in the end about whatever loose end in the story they’re wondering about — like why I’m taking Rosetta Stone German, and how I ended up in this crazy rehab run by the midget Director with the red cape, what finally happened with my crappy boyfriend Lobo, and the rest of the details about my turn to atheism. By the end of the series You’ll know all this and more, and No One will get a migraine getting from here to there, I pinky swear. Okey-dokey Guys?

Now back to serious atheist business!

Today’s subject concerns an idea that is absolutely critical to the success of Our godlessness: namely, how the believers’ capture of the moral high ground on certain issues — in particular, what they call the “life issues” — continues to deprive us atheists of the converts we deserve. I’ll start by discussing the particular leading “life” issue where they’ve left us Brights in the p.r. dust: i.e., abortion.

Now, let’s begin by noticing that there is such a thing as an atheist position on abortion — namely, that just about every Bright in history or currently in print is unanimously in favor of it. At first, I have admit, I didn’t quite get why Everybody should be so North-Korean-election lopsided about this. After all, we atheists are supposed to be Freethinkers. We do disagree about some important things, like — well, like nothing I can think of offhand, but I’m sure there’s something We don’t all think alike about, somewhere. This issue isn’t one of them, though. You can scour almost all contemporary works on Our side, and find not a Molecule of difference on the question of the morality of abortion.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Because even as recently as a few generations ago, at least a couple of people were apparently able to be atheists and anti-abortion at the same time. For example, two of the few influential Female atheists in history, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were exactly that. Even Our spiritual anti-mother Margaret Sanger was apparently conflicted about the morality of abortion — or at least about abortions committed by white people. (Don’t worry! I would not ordinarily bring Margaret Sanger’s name into anything, at least not around the Dulls aware of Her work. We all know what a liability her flamboyant racism can be. See the excruciating NRO book excerpt by public enemy Jonah Goldberg this very week reminding Everybody of what we’d just as soon forget). For whatever reason, though, it appears that this kind of dissent in atheist thought just quit Evolving. By now, being anti-Loser is pretty much a proxy for being pro-abortion, and usually vice versa too.

Now, there seem to be two arguments for abortion on which today’s Brights unanimously agree. The first, which is simple enough, goes like this: Religious people, and only religious people, are against abortion; religious people are misled, and usually stupid; therefore, being against abortion is not something a Bright should be.

Personally? Between Us, I wouldn’t make too much of that one, at least in public. I’m not sure it would survive Logical dissection. I’m just putting it out for consideration, because it appears in so many of Your books. That’s what You might call the back-story syllogism for abortion in today’s atheism.

The front-story case for abortion is a little more sophisticated, and also pops up all the time, occasionally with words like utilitarianism or consequentialism thrown in alongside. It goes like this: The embryo/fetus cannot feel; therefore anything we do to it is fine.

Thus, for example, Mr. Dawkins asks, “Does an embryo suffer?,” and answers, “Presumably not if it is aborted before it has a nervous system; and even if it is old enough to have a nervous system it surely suffers less, than, say, an adult cow in a slaughterhouse.” Similarly, Mr. Harris explains that “Many of us consider human fetuses in the first trimester to be more or less like rabbits: having imputed to them a range of happiness and suffering that does not grant them full status in our moral community.” Mr. Hitchens — who once was rumored to harbor subversive (i.e. anti-abortion) tendencies on this issue — seems to have abandoned any such qualms. In his latest book he makes another point that atheists often invoke to justify abortion, i.e. the fact that also occur Naturally:

There may be many circumstances in which it is not desirable to carry a fetus to full term. Either nature or god appears to appreciate this, since a very large number of pregnancies are ‘aborted,’ so to speak, because of malformations, and are politely known as ‘miscarriages.’ Sad though this is, it is probably less miserable an outcome than the vast number of deformed or idiot children who would otherwise have been born, or stillborn, or whose brief lives would have been a torment to themselves and others. As with evolution in general, therefore, in utero we see a microcosm of nature and evolution itself.

Now let me please count the ways — as gently as I can, and hopefully without Anyone pounding out an e-mail who hasn’t even finished this Letter yet! — in which I think we atheists are making mistakes both tactical and strategic on this critical subject.

Number one, as a matter of Logic: the argument that “Nature aborts lots of embryos, and therefore it’s fine if people do too,” is really embarrassingly stoner. I don’t want to offend Anyone, but considering all the brainpower we Brights lay claim to, it’s amazing that Nobody has thought to correct that particular howler. After all, if Nature floods half of Indonesia without warning, does that mean it’s okay for people to do it too? Am I okay on running over my neighbor just because car accidents are the leading cause of death in some Species age groups? You see where I’m going with this: nowhere good for Us.

Number two, and very important: We must not let Mr. Harris or any other Bright, ever again, compare the unborn Human DNA clump to a “rabbit.” Danger, OOOO-GA! We could call it a “rat,” possibly; or maybe a “naked mole rat.” Or what’s probably best, just stick to the Scientific sounding “fetus.” But “rabbit” or other mammalian cutie, never! Nobody wants anything bad to happen to one of THEM. Even a six year old will tell you that it’s wrong to take apart an unborn bunny rabbit!

Third, and here I’ll give You inside information as only a former Dull could: it really worries me that today’s atheists just don’t get what the pro-lifers are about. I know what You’re objecting, I know! Yes, all those recent atheist books do talk about the murderer who bombed an abortion clinic. And that’s exactly my point. That’s all any of today’s atheists talk about when they talk about the pro-life movement. And that is a very dangerous mistake that risks putting off countless Dulls who know better. Because that clinic bomber is not the real face of the pro-life movement at all.

Who is? Well, have any of You ever seen one of the rallies in Washington DC on the anniversary of our favorite Bright decision ever, Roe vs. Wade? (I’m guessing not!) I have. I went several times with my Dull friends, back before I met Lobo and stopped talking to the Loser. And I’m here to tell You that unfortunately for us Guys who want to protect the quote right to abortion at all costs, those pro-life rallies on the Mall every January are nothing like the rallies that the pro-abortion people stage. You know those other rallies I’m sure — the ones full of grim ladies well past Aborting age, marching with coat hangers as their emblems, yelling about their “right” to end the pregnancies they’ll never again have?

No, the pro-lifers and their rallies are a different world altogether. There are children, families, and teenagers everywhere. There are kids playing Frisbee. Kids holding hands. Kids horsing around and shoving each other. Kids with earrings and tattoos. Kids with rosaries. Kids wearing T-shirts that say I’M ADOPTED AND THANKS MOM FOR HAVING ME. Kids, kids, kids, kids, kids — are You getting the horrible drift here? It’s more like a rave or a rock concert than an ordinary political event — I mean it would be, only the kids are a lot more healthy-looking and there aren’t any drugs of course.

I cannot emphasize enough how seriously bad it is for us atheists that the face of the pro-life movement is a youthful face. And what do you think pulls all those kids into the pro-life scene? I know you will say Indoctrination; but at the risk of annoying Everybody all over again, I have to say as a former Christian that You’re wrong. Those kids are in the movement for the same reason that the civil-rights marchers — who are their rock stars — also took to the streets: because they’re totally convinced that in taking a stand against abortion, they’re doing something good for the world.

Why is that? Don’t You ever wonder?

I have, and I think the answer has to do with something We atheists — and plenty of Our secular allies, too — just don’t get yet. It’s this: living around the fact of abortion on demand has changed some people, and the closer they get to the ground as it were the more seriously they take it.

I mean, face it! If You’re over 50, there’s not much chance that anyone would have aborted YOU. But nowadays it’s different. It’s like anyone who’s even born now, in the Age of Choice, either requires explanation or feels like there’s a reason for it. It’s changed the existential experience of the very question, Why am I here?

I’m not saying this bizarre state of affairs is altogether bad for Our godlessness. Some kids, today as ever, do turn effortlessly toward atheism’s chief transmitter belts among the young, i.e., nihilism and melancholy. In fact, some do it easier than ever. The fact that their generation is the first truly disposable one — even disposed-of one — puts extra pressure on all of today’s kids to find a meaning in life. Some just can’t. That’s what Goth is for. And a lot of their music. And Norplant. And of course drugs.

But other kids, including many of the more serious kids, get pulled instead by those same questions toward the Loser. When those kids look at those pictures at the rallies, they don’t see what nonbelievers see — i.e., a mistake of Nature “fixed” somehow by violent human intervention. No, they see something else — what their baby sister looked like four years ago on the sonogram. What they themselves were not very long ago. They see themselves. They see their friends. They see their siblings. And all of this propels them away from Us, and toward the people who tell them this thing is wrong — people concentrated for one reason or another on the Loser’s Side.

So many of us Brights just don’t get this part of the struggle! I’m not blaming Anybody in particular here. I think it’s one more generational thing. As in my First Letter, where I tried to explain what You all are missing about the sexual revolution — like, its crappy consequences for lots of people — I’m trying here to explain something similar. Most young Dulls do not think abortion is “an” issue; they think it is “the” issue that proves their Christian morality to be superior. I cannot emphasize this point enough: millions of them are Dulls just because of abortion on demand. They believe — as that hideously erudite enemy of Ours Hadley Arkes wrote just this week on a brand new traitor website called thecatholicthing.org — that abortion is “the central moral issue of our day, the issue from which everything else radiates.”

Is Anybody still not getting it? A great many of the believers do not think abortion is wrong because the Loser tells them it’s wrong (though he does of course). They think it’s wrong in the first place — and when they look around to see who else does, too, and who exactly speaks up against this and other quote unquote inhuman transgressions as the Dulls see them (more on those in the next Letter), what they see are the institutions speaking in the Loser’s name.

And just like that do many Dulls get drawn into those religious places: not because they particularly want to! Not because forking over money and getting up early on Sunday and getting laughed at in all the best places is their idea of fun, either! But because, when they go looking for what they consider to be their stupid old moral high ground, those institutions are the only ones left standing on it.

You Guys know me by now! I’m not saying the pathetic do-gooding cheek-turners are right! In fact, I for one understand exactly how important the practice of abortion on demand is to our cause of spreading atheism. As I pointed out in the last Letter, Human families, and especially the ties between Human Women and their Children, are the chief enemies of godlessness. If it weren’t for families, many people would never get the idea of eternal love — that critical stepping stone toward Loserland — in the first place. Severing those ties at the root, quite literally, is therefore something that Our atheism must be allowed to do.

But to do it, we’re going to need arguments — so it doesn’t help that we’ve failed to capture any high ground for Ourselves on the issue. Yes, I know that some Brights have tried! Mr. Harris says, for instance, that “If you are worried about human suffering, abortion should rank very low on your list of concerns.” He even tells the Christians that “…your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults — and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex — are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities.”

And here again, we atheists are blowing it. Many of the Dulls object to abortion precisely because of what Mr. Harris rules out: Because it causes suffering. I’m not even talking about the suffering of the fetus here, but of the suffering it can cause other people, too. (Ever heard of Project Rachel? Yikes!) Nobody on Our Side seems to see what those packs of teenagers on the Mall every January understand without my having to write them Letters every week — that there’s a connection between the practice of abortion on demand and human damage, one that keeps millions of people away from our glorious godlessness just on account of that.

In closing, I’m just going to throw atcha a series of questions that I think we and future converts, I mean if there are going to be any more atheist converts than me, really need to address here:

‐ Number one, and whether Anyone believes it or not, can we Brights please get someone out front on the idea that atheists can be pro-life, too? (Not Mr. Hitchens again; he flip-flops.) Just to confuse at least some of the Dulls? So they don’t think they have to have religion to be against this thing? That might really help.

‐ Sonography: How can we atheists get rid of it? Or at least make it harder to get at? It’s been nothing less than one big conveyer belt to that old debbil, the Christian moral high ground, ever since its diabolical as it were invention.

Every time a pregnant woman watches that screen, we risk losing a potential convert. And even when it’s deployed to make more abortions, the score is still way lopsided. The sex-selection abortions in India and China and elsewhere don’t begin to make up for what we’re losing at home.

‐ Again under the heading of protecting Ourselves from attack, even if No One means it: We Brights have got to drop the argument that goes, “so what, abortion isn’t the same as first-degree murder.” It’s killing Us out there (as it were!)

After all, when does something have to be first-degree murder to be wrong? Is this really what we want people to think Atheism stands for? It may be exactly what some Brights actually think, and I respect that. But do we really want to broadcast it to Our enemies? Do You know how much fun the “theocons” alone could have with that little slip?

I know what You’re all thinking, and You know I’m with You! Even as we confuse Our enemies by acting as if there’s room for dissent about this, we should also ratchet up the rhetoric in favor of abortion. What do We have to be defensive about, anyway? As if a few weeks or months here or there should make any abortion controversial, ever! And how about the damage Hillary and others do to Us (I’m assuming tongue in cheek) when they say, “Safe, legal and rare”! Why “rare”? That makes it sound like the Dulls have a point! Why not “Abortion in America: Safe, legal, and lots”?! Now that’s more like it! Do You Guys think we can get any support for THAT?

Okay, maybe not. But if Anyone has other pro-active ideas, let me know!

Meanwhile, Happy Fourth of July, Everybody. The Director says it’s going to get REALLY hot in here this week, so I may be going to another ward for a few days. Speaking of the Fourth, isn’t it crazy that somebody had a war somewhere once that wasn’t about religion? I thought You Guys said that couldn’t happen!

Your Pal among Pals,

A.F. Christian

P.S. Just so You all know, I’m taking a week off from writing these Letters. This means that next Friday, July 4, there won’t be one, but the Friday after that, July 11, there will. The reason for this pause is that the Director says some of Your friends have been sending in e-mails, complaining that they’re confused and don’t “get” what The Loser Letters are about. So I’ve decided to give them, along with anyone who’s coming in for the first time, an extra week to go to NRO’s Author Archive and catch up. They start with Letter One, at the bottom under “The Loser Letters,” and go up in Numerical order. Happy reading Everybody!

Mary Eberstadt — Ms. Eberstadt has written for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including National Review, Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, First Things, and the American Spectator.


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