The Corner


‘Respectable’ Journalism is Slipping: Atlantic Writer Thinks Religious Believers Belong in Straitjackets

Jeffrey Tayler is a respected journalist — an author of multiple books, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, and a frequent commentator on NPR’s venerable All Things Considered. Review his Atlantic author page, and you’ll see a collection of sober-minded, interesting articles — written from a leftist perspective, to be sure, but many of them are certainly worth reading. I haven’t caught his NPR commentary, but I expect they would be worth hearing. I enjoy thoughtful liberal commentary, and The Atlantic is still often a destination site for the best the Left has to offer.

But that’s Mr. Tayler as Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde emerges over at Salon, where he writes articles with lurid titles like, “Oh God! The lord’s my sex guru: Pious perverts, quasi-incestuous misogyny and the twisted world of religious sexual repression” or ”Jeb Bush cozies up to haters: Jerry Falwell, Liberty University and the real story of religious right evil” or my favorite, “Marco Rubio’s deranged religion, Ted Cruz’s bizarre faith: Our would-be presidents are God-fearing clowns.” His most recent work, however, takes the cake (hat tip to Ed Driscoll). Entitled “The religious have gone insane: The separation of church and state — and Scalia from his mind,” Tayler laments that the APA hasn’t classified religious belief as a mental illness. Really:

The headline on the News Nerd was almost too good to be true: “American Psychological Association to Classify Belief in God As a Mental Illness.” A study, the story beneath it read, had led the APA to conclude that “a strong and passionate belief in a deity or higher power, to the point where it impairs one’s ability to make conscientious decisions about common sense matters, will now be classified as a mental illness.” . . . Finally, I thought, the educated elite is beginning to awaken to the threat that accepting, without evidence, the truth of comprehensive propositions about our cosmos (that is, religion, in all its inglorious permutations), poses to the mental health of our society!

Alas, however, he was disappointed — he was reading a parody:

The fine-print disclaimer at the foot of the News Nerd’s page ruthlessly dispelled my elation: The story, like the others the site publishes, was “for entertainment purposes only,” and “purely satirical.” In other words, a spoof. The hour was not nigh; psychologists were not yet ready to diagnose firm belief in God as what it is: an unhealthy delusion. Men in white jumpsuits won’t be forcing the faithful into straightjackets any time soon.

(Yet would that it were so! Imagine, so many Supreme Court justices and Republican politicians, from Antonin Scalia to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, disqualified in one fell swoop on mental health grounds from holding public office!)

Tayler then launches on an extended screed against religious believers, first by calling them “childish.”

Yet the satire in the News Nerd’s piece derives its efficacy from an obvious truth: belief in a deity motivates people to behave in all sorts of ways — some childish and pathetic, others harmful, a few outright criminal — most of which, to the nonbeliever at least, mimic symptoms of an all-encompassing mental illness, if of widely varying severity.

Why childish? A majority of adults in one of the most developed countries on Earth believe, in all seriousness, that an invisible, inaudible, undetectable “father” exercises parental supervision over them, protecting them from evil (except when he doesn’t), and, for the mere price of surrendering their faculty of reason and behaving in ways spelled out in various magic books, will ensure their postmortem survival. Wishful thinking characterizes childhood, yes, but, where the religious are concerned, not only. That is childish.

If you want to read the rest, by all means click over, but these excerpts are more than sufficient to capture the depth of Tayler’s analysis. I note his article not because I think it’s particularly consequential by itself, but rather because it is indicative of a mindset that distressingly common amongst the leftist elite. From my own life in places like Harvard, Cornell, Manhattan, and Center City Philadelphia, I’ve been struck by the extent to which otherwise reasonable-sounding secularists are consumed by rage and hate at the very thought of orthodox religious belief. You can have a perfectly civil conversation about, say, Putin’s Russia, but bring up Jesus and all bets are off. And professors can be among the worst. In fact, their outright bigotry against Evangelicals is well-documented.

It’s bigotry for the sake of tolerance, hate for the sake of love, and divisiveness for the sake of unity, and all the while the angry atheist mind sees no contradiction at all.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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