Thursday, September 7, 2006

Leaving the Left

Erstwhile British leftist Stephen Pollard issues his declaration of independence from his former associates. Here's what he calls his Maida Vale Manifesto:

We the undersigned have always thought of ourselves as being on the Left. We have held it as axiomatic that the Left believed in fighting tyranny, liberating the oppressed, and spreading wealth and power.

We have had a rude awakening. When terrorists murdered thousands of American citizens, many of our fellow leftists blamed not the terrorists so much as Americans themselves. They had it coming seemed to be the view of many, if not most, of the Left.

This attitude was typified by the Left's house magazine, the New Statesman, which wrote this in its editorial after 9/11:

"American bond traders, you may say, are as innocent and as undeserving of terror as Vietnamese or Iraqi peasants. Well, yes and no. Yes, because such large-scale carnage is beyond justification, since it can never distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. No, because Americans, unlike Iraqis and many others in poor countries, at least have the privilege of democracy and freedom that allow them to vote and speak in favour of a different order. If the US often seems a greedy and overweening power, that is partly because its people have willed it. They preferred George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader."

This piece of moral degeneracy was far from being a one-off. In the aftermath of 9/11, we were shocked by the frequent incidence of similar sentiments. The New Statesman again typified this after last July's tube murders, with a picture of a rucksack on its cover, accompanied by two words in large font: Blair's bombs.

There are many decent people on the Left, who understand the difference between good and evil, and who do not ally themselves with terrorists, murderers and oppressors. The Prime Minister himself is an outstanding example of this, risking his political support within his party to do the right thing at the right time.

But the very fact that supporting the liberation of Iraq from Saddam entailed such a political risk says almost all that needs to be said about the outlook of most Labour Party MPs and members.

Add to this the relish with which large, mainstream sections of the Left - typified by the Mayor of London - now choose to ally themselves with Islamists who seek to destroy the essence of Western civilisation, who would put to death homosexuals and Jews, and who would put women in metaphorical - and sometimes literal - chains, and the moral cancer that has taken hold of the Left becomes clear.

The evidence of reality is something with which we have had to wrestle. It is not easy to acknowledge what the Left has become, and the mindset of Leftists. But that evidence is so overwhelming that we can no longer conceive of describing ourselves as being on the Left in any recognisable form.

Theoretical arguments about what is or is not a proper Left-wing position are now meaningless. The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.

Pollard's description of the moral and intellectual inanition of the British secular left applies no less aptly to their American counterparts.

American Muslims

Stories like this one about the attitudes of American Muslims toward terrorism are heartening.

Young People and the Church

Commonweal, a Catholic magazine on religion, politics, and culture, has a piece by Dennis Doyle that probably captures the experience of many parents as well as many young people. It starts with this:

Two months after the wedding of my nephew, Joe, and his lovely bride, Laura, I went out to dinner with them. Their wedding had been well planned and beautiful, a ceremony containing so many thoughtful elements, I'd assumed they must be very religious. Later, though, I discovered it was Laura's mother who was behind many of those touches. Being a nosy Catholic theologian, I quizzed the two of them over dinner. It was true, they admitted: they had enjoyed picking the readings for the ceremony, but as for religion itself-well, they saw themselves not as religious, but as spiritual.

Hesitantly, I started to venture a response, then pulled back.

"You're going to use your twenty-four-hour rule!" said Laura with a laugh.

We had just been discussing the topic of e-mails sent in anger and how regrettable they can be, and I'd explained my personal rule: If a message you're about to send feels too heated, wait a day and give yourself a chance to send a more measured one.

"Correct," I laughingly agreed.

Yet all of about twenty-four minutes later, there I was, plunging into the subject, animatedly sharing with them how both spirituality and religion had become very important for me around their age. I was gently attempting to prod them, and Joe felt the implicit critique. "You had your epiphany, and that's great," he said. "We haven't had ours yet."

My nephew was quick to explain that he is a true fan of religion and of sincerely religious people-even envious, sometimes, of those who are able to live out their religion in an intelligent, committed manner. But he considered himself a spectator, not a participant, and moreover saw a basic distinction between spirituality-which he viewed as a felt connection to something deeper-and religion, a human construct rooted in tradition and ideology. He had other objections. In his view, while religion can sometimes provide a structure for spirituality, it can also be divisive and limiting. Further, most people inherit their religion, making it difficult for them to freely choose a faith later.

For her part, Laura emphasized the difficulty of making exclusive commitments in this complex, pluralistic world. Like Joe, she said she wouldn't mind believing in a religion, but it was difficult for her to imagine a particular religion being the "right" one. She saw "spirituality" as a vague concept, something akin to "finding yourself," but also a positive one, suggesting a habit of being in touch with your inner core. For Laura, belonging to a particular religion would involve a type of equivocation, since invariably she would have to accept things she didn't really believe. Should Jesus be thought of as God by Hindus and Muslims as well as by Christians? If she believed that, she mused, she'd have to hope that someday the entire world would be converted to Christianity. Yet she valued religious pluralism, and considered it both healthy and beneficial. She was comfortable with Hindus remaining Hindu and Muslims Muslim. Did this acceptance of other faiths neutralize the Catholic beliefs with which she grew up?

The conversation is familiar to me. The day before I started to write this, one of my sons, a college student, informed me that he was no longer going to Mass. He said he would probably attend later in life, but for the time being, it didn't really make any difference whether he went to church or not. I was fairly calm about it-even appreciative that he saw his disaffection as a stage he was going through. But a colleague I shared the news with barked in anger (no twenty-four-hour-rule there): "Doesn't your son realize that if he goes to church every Sunday over the next twenty-five years, it will make all the difference-and that there's no way for him to know unless he does it?"

I recognize a bit of a Yogi Berraism to this logic, if not a full-scale Catch-22: my son should know something there's no way for him to know unless he does it for twenty-five years. But, paradoxically, that is the truth of it; that is how religious knowledge is acquired. And that's what I really would like to tell Joe and Laura. You won't know whether to believe unless you let yourself try.

Doyle goes on to discuss some of the reasons young people often feel disaffected from the religious traditions of their parents, and much of what he says is worth reading whether your a parent or a grown child.

He doesn't mention this explicitly, but perhaps part of the reason young people attach little importance to religion is that they see their lives as lying all ahead of them and see little need or relevance for religion. It seems like something for old people. Young adults are excited about the prospects of home, career, family, and so on. Like pioneers, they stand on the frontier of a vast and beautiful life stretching out before them filling them with a sense of meaning and purpose. It's not until they approach their middle years that some of them begin to wonder if they haven't been fooling themselves about what really is meaningful in life or whether there even can be genuine meaning apart from intimacy with God.

Not everyone asks this question, of course, and not everyone who asks it asks it in the same way or is even aware that that's the question that's been gnawing at them. But for some, maybe even for many, the question raised by the old Peggy Lee song becomes the crucial existential question of their lives: Is that all there is? Is life just a matter of acquiring things? Is happiness solely a matter of having the right house in the right neighborhood with the right spouse and going each day to the right job and watching each night the right television shows? When people start wondering if there's not supposed to be something more then they begin to realize that, as Augustine put it, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee."