The Corner

Godless Ideology and Europe

I should probably refrain from making brief blog posts where a ten-page paper would be more appropriate. But I am still amazed at Matthew Yglesias’s mere sneering (he even spells “wacky” wrong) over my fairly uncontroversial assertion that prevailing godless ideologies led to the brutality and murder of the 20th Century. (Yglesias has a habit of sneering, even when he’s clearly wrong about less consequential matters.)

Communism and National Socialism (both of which are godless, or at least an explicit rejection of Christianity) wholeheartedly embraced the notion that violence, murder, and the deliberate degradation of human dignity (genocide, abolition of property rights and of the human family) are legitimate means to acheiving their ends. Nothing can be further from a Christian worldview than the assertion that “the end justifies the means.” The Communists and Nazis directly responsible for murdering more than 100 million people in the 20th Century were being strictly obedient to their ideologies — they were good Communists and Nazis, embracing the notion that human life can be treated as valueless if such treatment advances the proper ends. 

We have been passing through an age of secular utopianism, in which some thinkers decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice individuals for what they perceive to be the common good. Their followers have done the rest.

I never meant to assert that Europe was all happy ponies before it lost its faith. In earlier centuries, kings and princes — and yes, popes — abused Christianity for political ends with horrible consequences (note that they are viewed as bad Christians). Yet this is beside the very simple point I was trying to make — that Romney’s statement about faith needing freedom and freedom needing faith is not so easily dismissed as idle or stupid. Those earlier societies were not “free” societies where ideas like Communism and Nazism would have even been tolerated.

Irreligion does not directly cause massacres (and in fact some religions and interpretations of them actually do advocate violence). But ideas do have consequences, and it is an undeniable historical fact that freedom without religion has produced some pretty horrific (and unfortunately, very consequential) ideas.

The counter-argument about “religious” wars and the Inquisition does not change this fact. Moreover, it is actually an argument (one argument, anyway) in favor of the other half of Romney’s statement, that religion needs freedom.

UPDATE — from a reader:

Maybe your going too far back into history to Cromwell gave the other side a bit of an opening. 

Oh, dear — I should mention that I actually did not mean to reference Cromwell at all. Conservatives nowadays wrongly attribute the loss of God to the 1960s, I used the dates as parallels, trying to emphasize the fact that the loss of faith is not a contemporary phenomenon at all.

I see that this misled you, as it did Yglesias. Trust me, I am a modern sort of fellow — I like capitalism, not mercantilism. I like iTunes, last-minute Christmas gift cards on, and readily available bottles of Jameson at a liquor store within walking distance (which would ideally be open 24/7, blue laws be damned). 

I’m not the least bit remisniscent of the 1600s or any earlier age. I just wish we had the good philosophical grounding available to the thinkers of earlier times — the kind that would have made the thinkers of the day unanimously scream “BS!” as soon as Marx and Hitler had penned their first blood-stained sentences.

Obviously, this oversimplifies once again, but that’s something I’m always guilty of anyway, so why not add one more offense…


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