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after faith, what?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 16, 2005

In a pointed essay in the UK Spectator, Mark Steyn takes aim at post-Christian Euro-atheists, and especially the moral shallowness that attends their ceaseless self-congratulation. Yet these atheists' attitude toward believers is not one of detachment but is urgently malignant -- a fact that needs to be accounted for. Below, Steyn responds to Polly Toynbee's argument that belief in God means shifting responsibility off our own shoulders so as to locate it within the dark purposes of a mythical being.

But in practice the lack of belief in divine presence is just as likely to lead to humans avoiding responsibility: if there's nothing other than the here and now, who needs to settle disputes at all? All you have to do is manage to defer them till after you're dead -- which is pretty much the post-Christian European electorates' approach to their unaffordable social programmes. I mentioned in the Daily Telegraph a couple of weeks back the amount of mail I get from British readers commenting with gloomy resignation on various remorseless trends in our island story and ending with, 'Fortunately I won't live to see it.' When you think about it, that's actually the essence of the problem: hyper-rationalist radical secularism reduces the world to one's own life span. Why try to 'settle disputes' when you'll be long gone? Faith is one of those mystic cords that binds us to our past and commits us to a future.

So I'd say Polly's got it all wrong. The meek's chances of inheriting the earth are considerably diminished in a post-Christian society: chances are they'll just get steamrollered by more motivated types.

Materialist atheism not only fails to provide a motive for securing a just and peaceful future, it fails to provide a motive for doing anything whatsoever. What difference does it make if you act according to your own principles, or contrary to them, if "you" are simply a passing illusion that will be swallowed up in the swirl of sub-molecular dust at 3 degrees Kelvin? As Chesterton says, these are the kind of philosophies that don't permit a man to thank someone for passing the mustard, much less to ensure social justice for the next generation. Yet in fact such men tend to be violently over-motivated, in spite of themselves, against those who believe men's lives will be subject to judgment. Readers of C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength will remember the answer given Mark Studdock's question ("why do anything at all?") by Professor Frost, the purest of pure materialists:

"In reality the question is meaningless. It presupposes a means-and-end pattern of thought which descends from Aristotle, who in his turn was merely hypostatising elements in the experience of an iron-age agricultural community. Motives are not the causes of action but its by-products. You are merely wasting your time by considering them. When you have attained real objectivity you will recognize, not some motives, but all motives as merely animal, subjective epiphenomena. You will then have no motives and you will find that you do not need them."

In Lewis's novel, the "objectivity" championed by Frost turns out to be nothing other than hatred -- specifically, hatred focused on religious belief, precisely for the reasons of moral responsibility that Steyn touches on. The opposite of faith is not detachment but malice. There's a lesson here.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Dec. 19, 2005 2:14 AM ET USA

    "The meek's chances of inheriting the earth are considerably diminished in a post-Christian society: chances are they'll just get steamrollered by more motivated types." Or, as Mordred says, in Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot": "It's not the earth the meek inherit; it's the dirt."

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