Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thoughts on Our Religious Roots

This post by Glen Whitman from Agorophilia reminded me of something I thought of when listening to Victor Davis Hanson when he visited the Federalist Society a few months ago.

The Claremont Institute honored Victor Davis Hanson last November at the Statesmanship Award dinner. This was the second time that month that I had the opportunity to listen to Hanson, an expert in classics and history and political philosophy, fluent in Latin and Greek, and an author of something like half a dozen books and hundreds of articles. Interestingly, he is a Democrat (although he calls himself a “classical Democrat”). It is fascinating how some of our differences can seem so important, and actually be so insignificant. Or at least, we can begin to narrowly define where we disagree. That is assuming, of course, that we share certain common values.

Here are some reflections on his talks:

The United States was and is at least loosely based on Christian religious ideals. And there is a great tendency to look at the Islamic world and say that their religion may provide a similarly viable basis for an American-style government. But is this true? There are those who believe that religious morals are not basis for government in the first place, that religious values are arbitrary, antithetical to reason. Whether these objectivists are correct, it cannot be denied that American has been wildly successful. So perhaps we can at a minimum argue that Christianity provides a viable basis for a democratic government.

But can we say that any monotheistic religion can provide such a basis? Or is Christianity sui generis, a class alone? Perhaps Christianity can work, but this doesn’t mean that any other religion can work. This could be supported by looking at the history of Christianity, that it is a religion of few real laws or codes—it relies on a personal relationship, not of man-made dogma. (Notice that of all Christianity, Catholicism is the most lambasted, for the very reason that it enacts the sort of man-made edicts that are so arbitrary and offensive to freedom and liberty. It is thus perhaps no accident that the Catholic church was wrapped up in the religious tyranny that sparked many to flee Europe for America.)

In essence, there are three types of paradigms our of which a government can spring up and be based upon. One is religion, and this is what America was based on. That is, most of the values and ideas we espouse are based upon religious values. The second is objective values, a la Ayn Rand’s objectivism. But this has never been tried. The last is nothing—nihilism, and that is what Europe is experimenting with. And it’s not working.

We have subscribed to a guilt mentality. We blame the humane among us rather than the savagery of our enemies. Liberals require that we be perfect rather than merely good. We look at the ills of the world as if they can be healed by material treatments; we fail to treat them for what they are: problems with the soul. Our problems are nihilistic rather than material. We put stock in reason alone, rejecting God and revelation.

Islamic radicals loathe western liberalism, but at least they are honest about it. Which is why it is gaining a foothold in Europe. We must rediscover our strengths and origins, not to protect materialism, but to protect our founding principles.


  1. Actually, Tom W. Bell is my co-blogger, but I wrote the specific post you linked.

  2. ah yes, please forgive my sloppy reporting! Corrected now.