Phi Beta Cons

Conservatives and Religion

I am following with some interest the ongoing debate on religion between Heather Mac Donald and her friendly adversaries at The Corner and today at NRO.  Heather is dismayed to hear so many public expressions of religion from conservatives and believes that conservatism needs no religious basis but can rely soly on reason.   
The irony is that this public expression of belief is actually a quite recent development.  From what I can make out, and forgive this rather crude summary, a bargain was struck many years ago, certainly by mid-twentieth century, that religious believers would leave aside their beliefs when entering public debate.  Any intellectual argument had to be handled on the basis of reason, just as Heather advances now.  At a certain point, however, believers began to realize that this may have been a devil’s bargain.  The public arena had not become neutral territory given to reason but a place where atheism and materialism were aggressively able to ascend while believers remained tongue-tied.  The Supreme Court decisions outlawing prayer in the schools were only the most visible example.  Then, when the counterculture began destroying the traditional understandings that had held America together, even without necessarily mentioning God, conservative believers seriously started to question the old bargain.  That’s sort of where Father Neuhaus and his criticism of the naked public square and all that came in.   
America seemed to be growing more undisciplined, hedonistic, materialistic, hyper-individualistic, self-indulgent, and so on.  Divorce and llegitimacy arose alarmingly, family life was eroding, and one Supreme Court decision after another seemed to remove any vestige of traditional understanding from the conduct of life and of the individual.  Believers realized that their bargain was a premature surrender and decided they wouldn’t be silent anymore.  They took off the white glove and entered the public arena.  I remember the amazement I felt when I read that full-page ad some Christian group took out years ago listing the various pronouncements about the importance of religion in our system of representational government on the part of the Founding Fathers.    
It wasn’t easy because the rationalists, some of whom were great and brilliant people, did not welcome the encroachment.  If William Buckley, say, wrote the merest half-sentence in an article suggesting that a society required a belief in something higher than itself, Sidney Hook would leap into print to stomp on any such notion, tear it into shreds, and scatter the shreds to the wind.  Hook is mainly an admirable figure, a very early critic of the irrationalism that would overtake the American university and founder of the aptly named University Center for Rational Alternatives, but I believe he did a lot of harm with his single-mindedness and his aggressive and rather arrogant atheism. Asked what he would do if he found out after death that God does exist, he said He would tell God He hadn’t provided enough evidence. Ok, it’s cute, but it’s also arrogant.       
Be that as it may, is reason enough? Without going into philsophical arguments, take the example of single motherhood. Now reason and research and evidence and experience have accumulated to tell us pretty much that children are best off raised by two parents in a traditional marriage, and that boys especially, on the whole, are harmed in being raised without a father. But reason was evidently not enough to prevent the several decades of experimentation with single motherhood that has brought us so much chaos and dysfunction.  For that matter, even now that the consensus is in, it seems to be affecting behavior only slightly, if at all.  Not only do high rates of illegitimacy persist, but single motherhood has been more or less institutionalized in our society, and many a woman seems to have it as a badge of honor, prefacing almost any remark by proclaiming her single motherhood status. Believers might well feel that if respect for the moral law and for traditional mores–which can be traced back to faith in a guiding power but don’t have to be–if this respect had not been mocked and laughed out of the public square, all the chaos and destruction might have been avoided.   And yet before all the experimentation began, it was hard simply on the basis of reason to make the case that single motherood would on the whole be disastrous for society.  Anyone could point to examples of fine people who had emerged from single-parent homes and miserable people who had emerged from two-parent homes. Likewise premarital sex and all the other experiments.  It was hard to say why men should hold the door open for women who were perfectly capable of opening doors themselves, and yet somehow the erosion of those simple courtesies were the precurser of the great coarsening of relations between the sexes that we see today.  And so on. This line of argument is not meant to be definitive but suggestive. And it by no means exhausts the arguments for belief on the part of an individual or a society. 

Most Popular

Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More
Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More