Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When the World No Longer Believes

Jewish columnist Dennis Prager takes us on a quick tour of the post-Christian world and shows that as the influence of Christianity wanes human depravity and horror waxes. I mention that Prager is Jewish because I think it's important to understand that he's not merely an apologist for the Christian right. He prefaces his tour with this:

One of the many beliefs -- i.e., non-empirically based doctrines -- of the post-Christian West has been that moral progress is the human norm, especially so with the demise of religion. In a secular world, the self-described enlightened thinking goes, superstition is replaced by reason, and reason leads to the moral good.

Of course, it turned out that the post-Christian West produced considerably more evil than the Christian world had. No mass cruelty in the name of Christianity approximated the vastness of the cruelty unleashed by secular doctrines and regimes in the post-Christian world. The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism.

The amount of evil done by Christians -- against, for example, "heretics" and Jews -- in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity -- was extensive, as was the failure of most European Christians to see Nazism for the evil that it was. The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers.

But there were never any Christian Auschwitzes -- i.e., systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion. Nor were there Christian Gulags -- the shipping of millions of innocents to conditions so horrific that prolonged suffering leading to death was the almost inevitable end.

The anti-religious Left offers two responses to these facts: The first is that modern technology made the Nazi and Communist murders of scores of millions possible; had the church been technologically able to do so, it would have made its own Auschwitz and Gulag. The second is that Nazism and Communism were religions and not secular doctrines.

The response to the first is that technology was not necessary for the Communist murders of over a hundred million innocent people in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. In Cambodia, millions were murdered with hammers, in Rwanda with machetes.

The response to the second is that Communism and Nazism were secular movements and to deny that is to tell a gargantuan lie. Even if one argues that Nazism and Communism were religions, they were nevertheless secular religions. That too many Christians morally failed when confronted with Nazism is true, but irrelevant to the fact that Nazism was in no way a Christian movement.

And now the post-Christian world is getting worse. The moral news about the world in which we live is almost unremittingly negative.

The rest of Prager's essay is very much worth reading.

There are very simple reasons for why Christianity has provided a check on evil. Secular faiths like communism, Nazism, or secular humanism, have no ground for judgments of good and evil, and other theistic faiths lack the sublimity of Christ's moral teaching. Christians, like non-Christians, have sometimes done awful things, but the difference is that when Christians have done evil they've acted inconsistently with their faith. When atheists do evil they're not being inconsistent with anything.

Little wonder, then, that where Christianity is in decline human depravity is on the rise. Permit me a relatively small but specific example of the problem a secular society has in trying to talk about ethics. Maureen Dowd relates a story about how male students at a private school (called Landon) in suburban D.C. were treating local girls as though they were sexual trophies in a hunt for big game (a sport that is unfortunately common on campuses everywhere). After describing the dehumanizing competition Dowd writes:

Jean Erstling, Landon's director of communications, said she was "aware of the incident" but that "student records including disciplinary infractions are confidential."

She said that "Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program."

Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.

Now here's the problem: How can a secular teacher respond to a young man who asks why, precisely, women are not prey other than to simply insist that, well, they're just not? If we're nothing more than the products of eons of evolution, if life is all about promoting our genes into the next generation, if pleasure is all there is to give life meaning, then why should a young man treat a young woman as anything other than an object of gratification?

When faced with the question of why it's actually morally wrong to treat girls as sexual playthings all the teacher can do is shrug her shoulders and say that it's wrong because she doesn't like it.

The only good answer to the hypothetical question is that the reason it's wrong is that each of us is made in the image of God, God deeply loves us, and He wills that we treat each other with dignity, respect and kindness or there will be hell to pay. Take that answer off the table and Landon's extensive ethics and character education program which "includes respect, honesty and civility toward women" is little more than an attempt by Landon to persuade students to accept these values for no reason other than they would just prefer that they do so.

Once students, like people all throughout the Western world, see through the flimsy arbitrariness of such instruction they'll reject it at the first opportunity. That rejection is what Prager's column is all about.


Strange Bedfellows

The United States has evidently failed to dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons, a failure that was predictable once Iran perceived that President Obama was disinclined to use force to accomplish the goal.

That leaves the matter of how to stop Iran in the hands of the Israelis who believe with considerable justification that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat. The Israelis are not the only actors in the region who are terrified of Iran's nuclear ambitions and disappointed in America's lack of resolve. In the Middle East the aphorism that the enemy of my enemy is my friend results in some very strange arrangements:

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom's air defences will return to full alert.

"The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way," said a US defence source in the area. "They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren't scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department."

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran's nuclear ambitions. "We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing," said one.

There's more at the link. Israel may be able to set the Iranian program back, but the U.S. has the power to end it. What we don't have, unfortunately, is the will.


Frauds and Fakers

Yesterday I wrote about the pending deportation of Mosab Yousef, author of Son of Hamas, and suggested that unless the Department of Homeland Security knows something about Yousef that they're not disclosing this would be a terrible injustice.

Today I came across an article in Books and Culture about a Muslim immigrant to the U.S. who has a story strikingly similar to that of Yousef and who, it seems, may really be a fraud.

Doug Howard, who teaches at Calvin College, tells us about Kamal Saleem, author of Blood of Lambs, who recounts in his book his years as a terrorist, his coming to America, and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. Howard argues persuasively that much of what Saleem tells us about himself seems too implausible to be true.

I don't know if Howard is right. I don't know if Saleem is what he says he is nor if Yousef is what he says he is, but it would sure be helpful to learn all the facts about why DHS wants to deport him.