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Atheism and its allies
Monday, May 3, A.D. 2010
Income by Religion

I found a fascinating graph that maps the average income of various religions’ adherents in America. See “The Almighty Dollar” from Good.

Predictably, a larger percentage of Jews (46%) make six digit incomes than other groups, though our Hindus (43%) are doing well, too. If only all our immigrants were upper caste types! Arizonans would not fret about Mexico’s exporting its best and brightest to us. On the poorer side, black Protestant sects and Jehovah’s Witnesses have the largest percentages of people who make under $30,000 a year (47% and 42%, respectively). The Mohammedans surprisingly show as the third poorest. I would like to see a distinction between immigrants and the Nation of Islam types. I imagine that the latter drag the former’s statistics down.

Interestingly, the Orthodox come in third behind the Jews and the Hindus in the six digit category. Greek businessmen and Russian scientists have done well in this land of mammon. Moreover, there is not really a lower class drag for the Orthodox. The laboring classes among Orthodox immigrant populations from the industrial age have, like Italians, moved firmly into the middle and upper classes. Among the recent immigrant waves, we find new Russians, Arabs, Indians, and Ethiopians doing very well materially. In D.C., the Ethiopian community has become the “new Greeks.” They are the omnipresent merchant class, who reportedly are buying many of the city’s groceries, restaurants, and night clubs.

Roman Catholics expectedly follow the national average. Their size and class diversity render them statistically normal. I would assume that the same would be true of the Orthodox if they were far more numerous. For these groups are largely the religions of entire peoples, while most Protestant sects in America have come to be associated with a certain class. While there are rich Pentecostals and poor Episcopalians (well, I suppose that there are poor Episcopalians, though I have never met one), Protestant identification tends to differentiate based on class. How many of you grew up with a Baptist who went to college, moved up the social ladder, and then started attending a “higher class” church?

The mainline churches have mostly all become upper class, leftwing S.W.P.L. social and political clubs that preach inclusion but do not offer much for the poorer, dumber, and less educated except a form of patronizing charity, bundled together with celebrating diversity rhetoric. However, the figures shown on Good’s graph do not show a large difference between the mainline churches and the national average. Perhaps, their staying power in poorer, rural, white communities along with their charitable urban missions account for this normalcy. Moreover, the ethnic Lutheran communities and the rural W.A.S.P. country folk in the Midwest likely approach the traditional Christian “whole people of God” inclusion of all the classes. Yet, the mainliest of the mainlines appear class based in most of the country.

I wonder if the current “evangelical movement” will curtail the tendency toward class differentiation among American Protestants. The evangelicals have a lower class background along with a few generations of vibrant intellectual life (those “Wheaton evangelicals”). I think that it is possible for American evangelicals to create a class diverse population. I expect their wealthier numbers to increase as they grow in numbers overall due to the hemorrhaging of mainline Protestants and white Roman Catholics. Soon, they may match up with the national average, too.

Monday, December 29, A.D. 2008
Anne Rice

Some months ago, on John J. Miller’s radio webcast Between the Covers, Miller interviewed Anne Rice on her book Called Out of Darkness, which you can hear here. You may know of Anne Rice by her Vampire Chronicles series. Her “prodigal” story is fascinating and moving, and the interview is worth your time.

After two thousand years of such testimonies, I still find them extraordinary. Rebellious children return to their forgiving and patient father, reenacting over and over again the parable in life lived and in life suffered. These stories remind me of the line from the film Shadowlands where Lewis and one of his students share an intimate learning moment wherein Lewis states that we read to know that we are not alone. It is quite a striking thesis that has continued to move me whenever I reflect upon it. How obvious it is that human beings from all ages and lands face the same limitations, turmoils, temptations, and pains, and, yet, we in our self-absorption easily forget to remember that insight. Encounters in books with the struggles of other souls remind us of this truth and assure us that, yes, indeed, our particular path has been tread before and that, yes, groundless hopes may yet be more than irrational flights into the fog of unknowing night. Of course, such consolation comes only with trust in the speaker, and the lack of that trust is what underlies our fearful alienation and restlessness in the first place. Nonetheless, faith becomes more acceptable, at least to me, when buttressed by the concrete supports of fellow pilgrims’ experiences. For such a contribution, I am thankful for Anne Rice.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 29, Anno Domini 2008
Atheism and its alliesRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Sunday, December 7, A.D. 2008
God Haters

If you have been checking the English speaking world’s intellectual and spiritual pulse over the last decade, you may have noticed a resurgence in atheist propaganda. From best selling books to political activities, the atheist block has come out of its closet and now brazenly flaunts its heathenism for all the world to see. Just this last week, I wrote about the D.C. atheist campaign for Christmas.

When I was a student in Paris, I was struck by the hostility with which religion was treated by many folks. I had discovered the French revolutionary laïcisme, and I witnessed public attacks of Christianity that I would not have imagined possible. The scorn, hatred, and disgust for religion in otherwise decent, cordial people shocked my Midwestern piety. I knew atheists back home, but they were young disaffected social rebels on the fringes—and they were wise enough to keep their blasphemous rumors to themselves lest they create public outrage. However, when enough folks realize that they are not alone, their numbers embolden them to overcome their cowardly reticence. We are now seeing the fruits of atheist liberation, I suppose, and instead of bath houses, we have book stores, coffee shops, and the “grassroots” organization of the Democratic Party.

Not all of the écrasez l’infâme crowd self-identifies with the Left. For the Right—in America, at least—has many liberal roots, and liberals from Jefferson to Mill to the crowd at Reason Magazine today have proven ever inhospitable to the religious proclivities of their countrymen. Moreover, the Nietzschean component of the American Right, which overlaps the liberals to some extent (as with Rand and her idolaters), introduces further hostility in the Right’s relationship to the preachers of the slave morality. A new discussion site, Secular Right, provides a meeting place for those enemies of Leftist collectivism who feel a bit left out of the communal warmth of most American conservative pow wows. John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald are among the contributors to the page.

I have enjoyed the lively reaction that the site has elicited in the right-leaning blogosphere. What’s Wrong with the World, the National Review Online, Lawrence Auster’s View from the Right, The American Conservative, and others have commented on their renegade compatriots. Secular Right is still too new for me to pass judgment, but the posters’ initial foray into the public square has largely focused on emphasizing their specific difference—through assaults on religion and on religious conservatives. It is as if they are finally airing their pent-up frustrations about all those annoying Christians with whom they grudgingly must cooperate to keep the socialists at bay.

I have not written about atheism much, yet, though it certainly is an interest of mine. Some years ago, I coined what must be the case for some of us in the fold—we must go through life ever surrounded by the temptation of nihilism.

Michael Novak has written many thoughtful articles on atheism. I recommend “Christmas Atheists,” “Lonely Atheists of the Global Village,” and “Letter to an Atheist Friend,” written to the aforementioned Heather MacDonald. I especially appreciate that Novak describes various species of atheists in his “Christmas Atheists” article; the reasons and motivations behind people’s opinions are much better indicators of their intellectual and spiritual state than their “positions” are. I would much rather a man be an unbeliever hostile to Christianity who is nevertheless wholly committed to finding the truth than an apathetic cultural Christian for whom the greatest questions and matters hold no interest. With the one, his response matches the importance of the object; with the other, he might as well be a cow—for he is bovine with respect to matters divine. This is excusable in cattle, who glorify God not through contemplation but perhaps through chewing the cud. For a man, it is a ghastly condition.

I, myself, do not think that most self-proclaimed atheists are really atheists. Most of those folks simply hate Christianity and do not find in the term agnostic a strong enough revolt against the established spiritual order. Agnosticism is for wussies; a real man denies God outright. I do not casually interpret an intellectual movement with such blasé psychoanalysis, but much personal exposure and experience indicate that most modern American atheists trace their theological opinions to personal or emotive hostility rather than to the sound reason and scientific rigor that they constantly intone with hallowed sanctimony. Much of the criticism of the Secular Right site points this out, as well. Folks with otherwise sound reasoning and habitual commitments to truth radically depart from their normal sober course when matters of religion appear; such incongruity in a character betrays something irrational in the works.

Yet, my assertion that most atheists are not truly atheists goes beyond a reductive psychoanalytic dismissal. For I hold that the only true atheists are nihilists, and few people are truly nihilists. Consistent nihilism does not seem to be a possible intellectual or practical stance in human life; we have to accept some sense of identity, of consistency—of order—to assert and to do anything. Haters of Christianity assume the title atheist for themselves, but they restrict the meaning of the divine to the Christian or Abrahamic paradigm. Universally, the divine is the highest thing, or non-thing, in one’s understanding, or misunderstanding, of reality. Christian haters like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins are not atheists because they implicitly and explicitly believe in an order to reality. Anyone who figuratively “bows before the altar of science” thereby truly acknowledges a god. This god may not be a personal god of traditional Western religion, but it is an order, principle, or matrix of laws that causes, explains, encapsulates, or provides the setting for the whole. An angry “atheist” may accuse me of doing violence to semantics, but he thereby refuses to think outside the Abrahamic box that he so much despises.

A more honest man would conclude that a rejection of God was a rejection of reason, of metaphysical and physical principles, of values and identities that we have no right to assert and cannot prove. Such an honest man turns the antinomies of reason viciously against their old Prussian expounder himself, not content to leave science, empiricism, or other pet epistemological domains protected against the powerful and all consuming, including self-consuming, NO of nihilistic hermeneutics. Such an honest man might therefore feel the need for something in the absence of being, and he might, therefore, without basis and justification call for the will to create its own rules, values, principles, and order. He pegs everything on the will, but he knows, and admits, that nihilism robs us even of the will—and of the self. Futilely heroic becomes his tragic dirge in praise of damned man. This man, more than anyone, can claim to be an atheist—but he does so with anguish; for he knows what the nothing does to the mind.

I love this man, and I think that he can instruct those who have ears to hear. Yet, few have such ears.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, December 7, Anno Domini 2008
Atheism and its alliesCommentsPermalink
Sunday, October 5, A.D. 2008
Religion of Last Resort

I started Arimathea largely because Andrew is no longer a daily fixture in my life. For many years, when I encountered something ridiculous or profound, or when I had eureka moments while doing some mindless daily ritual or chore (especially showering, like Archimedes of old), I could process the inner dialectic with my very own Personal Socrates. However, Andrew has returned to the Motherland, and I cannot badger the weasel-owning fellow too much from afar.

Well, some of you may know that I have long struggled with religious matters, and I plan to discuss these issues on this page. I’ll begin with a reaction to a rather obnoxious blog entry that I read a couple of days ago—one that certainly would have ignited an annoyed (and for Andrew, likely annoying) rant over channa saag at Union Station. What interests me in the entry is one of its comments.

The blog entry is titled, “Western ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’ as Boutique Religion.” In it, the writer expresses his disgust at American converts to Orthodoxy who have rejected their occidental religious heritage in favor of exotic incense that is merely religious escapism. I suppose that he means Orthodoxy is not as engaged in the world as Rome is, and hence is it is fantastically escapist in not facing the real world. However, as I am not a regular reader, I really do not know what he means. If such is his attitude, then he expresses the secularism inherent in many Western Christians, where the kingdom of God really is of this world in the terms of this world.

You may know of the Grand Inquistor interogation scene in the Brothers Karamazov where the cardinal charges Christ with the failure of the gospel. Dostoevsky is simply astounding in his insights—and here as elsewhere he illustrates the chasm between Orthodox Christianity and the modern world, exemplified by the cardinal’s worldly religion. Not a few papist apologists find offense here and throughout Dostoevsky’s work, which is understandable . . . that whole “counterfeit Christ” business and all. I suspect that the cardinal’s position does not exhaustively reflect Western Christians, but I do think that the religion of horizontal mammon that he presents is pervasive in the West.

However, the piece from Dostoevsky’s novel is not simply a condemnation of secularism, under or without the banner of the cross. It invokes difficult questions, and the cardinal is not a fool to pose them. Clearly, the Roman prelate has substituted another religion in place of the gospel, and as such he is guilty of mangling the Christian message. Nevertheless, his accusations put Christ on trial, in the narrative and in idea. Is the Christian life possible? Is it even good, or, as Nietzsche claims, is it a disease of weak spirit? Here is an honest question for a honest heart—could a truly Christian society full of truly pious citizens survive in this world? If you protest and say that God’s people will suffer in a world of evil and that we live in a fallen world, then consider the burden of evidence that crashes upon you. For you ask men to live according to an ideal, the evidence for the goodness of which is utterly lacking in the world that we know, when such a life incurs clear harm. I am not proposing amorality or an absence of values or goods, but I am simply questioning the goodness of a system that, if practiced perfectly, would bring doom upon its practitioners.

In the sixth book of Plato’s Republic, Socrates speaks of the few true philosophers that come to be in society:

Then, Adeimantus, I said, the worthy disciples of philosophy will be but a small remnant: perchance some noble and well-educated person, detained by exile in her service, who in the absence of corrupting influences remains devoted to her; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns and neglects; and there may be a gifted few who leave the arts, which they justly despise, and come to her;—or peradventure there are some who are restrained by our friend Theages’ bridle; for everything in the life of Theages conspired to divert him from philosophy; but ill-health kept him away from politics. My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth mentioning, for rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been given to any other man. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude; and they know that no politician is honest, nor is there any champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved. Such an one may be compared to a man who has fallen among wild beasts—he will not join in the wickedness of his fellows, but neither is he able singly to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore seeing that he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and reflecting that he would have to throw away his life without doing any good either to himself or others, he holds his peace, and goes his own way. He is like one who, in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along, retires under the shelter of a wall; and seeing the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content, if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good-will, with bright hopes.

I have always found this passage quite powerful—and tragically true. What can the good and wise man do in the midst of wolves? As we see over and over again in history, there is an answer besides hiding from the storm . . . an answer that both Socrates and Jesus gave to their fellow men. Was it right? If it was right, should we be happy that God rules the universe in such a way? I do not deny that there are plausible responses to these questions, but they are legitimate questions. They lie behind the impious effrontery of the Grand Inquistor, the rant of Thrasymachus, and the anguished attempt to escape nihilism by Nietzsche.

Returning to the angry blog entry where the writer makes an almost religio-racial attack on Orthodoxy:

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did.

Of course, this is nonsense. If the gospel is true, then culture’s importance lies in its ability to facilitate our growing in Christ—in our theosis. While I am ever ready to support particularity, heritage, and the value of one’s own, transcendent matters trump such chauvinistic concerns. It really comes down to who is right, if anyone, in proclaiming revelation. If the Orthodox Church is Christ’s Church and if the gospel is true, then one quickly ought to forget about lace and statues and whatever else and cling to the thing needful, regardless of one’s pedigree. As the Lord said, “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” Eyesight is an uncontestable good, and yet it would be better to forego such a great good for the sake of a higher good. Consider then what we should say about lesser goods—the idols of our fancy if they keep us from the truth.

Anyway, what interested me in this entry was not the T.F.P. triumphalist drumming but one of the readers’ comments:

I remember reading something that Owen (the ochlophobist) wrote in one of his “uberfromm posts” about how a surprising number of converts to Orthodoxy apostasize from Christianity all together. Orthodox apologetics effectively cure them of Evangelical delusions and they also refute Roman assumptions very convincingly (for some people at least). However, when they turn around and see how freaking culturally irrelevant this little Greek/Slavic/Arab sect really is and how it is dying in many parts of the world, they start to realize that maybe the whole “invincible church” story is just that… a story. At times I wonder whether they are really all that misled.

I found this comment very provocative. I do not think that anyone who rejects Rome would be moved by the “freaking cultural irrelevance” of Orthodox people. If anyone were so moved by such secular concerns, he would have swum the Tiber. With Boethius, we should note how Fortune is a capricious woman, and the winds of history blow in different directions depending on the season. Tomorrow’s “cultural relevance” could be more like the eighth century than the twentieth, and there is good reason to suspect that it will be so. Yet, such is not important to someone who converts to Orthodoxy after being disillusioned with the Reformation and inoculated against the counterfeit Christ of the Grand Inquisitor. For such a person, and I should switch to the first person here, Orthodox Christianity is the religion of last resort.

With Peter, I wonder, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, October 5, Anno Domini 2008
OrthodoxyAtheism and its alliesProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
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