Excommunicating the Almighty

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When
I was in college, a fellow named Brother Jim would visit the campus
during lunchtime and evangelize on a small grassy region. He inveighed
against promiscuity and general heathenism, adding admonishments
of perdition for the unrepentant.

Brother
Jim evoked intense responses from some students. Most found his
harangues a loopy amusement between classes. It was like a free
circus show: "Let's go see Brother Jim." (This is to say
condescension rather than disagreement prevailed.)

Once
while dozing off to some leftist essay or another, someone approached
and asked if I'd like to attend a nearby Bible study group. I declined.
The individual said ok and left an open invitation. I said thanks
and resumed my dozing.

Neither
Brother Jim nor the Bible group solicitor coerced anyone; they simply
offered their views for consideration in the marketplace of ideas
(Brother Jim more vigorously). One could reject both without repercussion.

It
would be accurate to say Brother Jim and the Bible group solicitor
appreciated pluralistic coexistence. Perhaps they were mindful of
how freedom of conscience suffers in tyrannies and understood that
imposed faith (if such a thing is possible) is no path to justice
– advocacy yes, imposition no.

"[I]t
bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."
So wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the majority opinion
in Santa
Fe Independent School District v. Doe
, which nullified student-led
prayer at football games. Unlike Brother Jim and the Bible group
solicitor, the six-justice majority (only two of them Democratic
appointments) imposed their exclusivist sentiments upon the students
in question. When it comes to matters of faith, there exists a presumption
of illegitimacy. (To put it in legalese, strict scrutiny must be
applied to the devout.)

Call
it the excommunication of the Almighty. If a theocratic intolerance
once reigned in parts of America, a similarly intolerant and more
expansive secularism has been entrenched thanks to elite institutions
such as the Supreme Court. (For those who equate judicial imprimatur
with Holy Writ, ask them their take on a case like Bradwell v.
Illinois, where the Court held women could be barred –
pun intended – from practicing law.)

Some
scholars won't hesitate to indicate their desire for a godless America.
Take the prominent philosopher Richard Rorty, votary of John Dewey
and avowed leftist. He writes in his recent Philosophy
and Social Hope
, "Dewey had stories to tell us about
our progress from Plato to Bacon to the Mills, from religion to
rationalism to experimentalism, from tyranny to feudalism to democracy."
Note the parallelism between religion and tyranny and its inferior
rung on the ladder of progress.

Rorty's
most explicit antipathy to religion manifests in Contingency,
Irony, and Solidarity
. Convictions grounded in transcendent
truth have no place in his prescribed polity:

"[I]n
its ideal form, the culture of liberalism [not classical, of
course] would be one which was enlightened, secular, through
and through. It would be one in which no trace of divinity remained,
either in the form of a divinized world or a divinized self.
Such a culture would have no room for the notion that there
are nonhuman forces to which human beings should be responsible.
The process of de-divinization which I have described…would,
ideally, culminate in our no longer being able to see any use
for the notion that finite, mortal, contingently existing human
beings might derive the meanings of their lives from anything
except other finite, contingently existing human beings. In
such a culture, warnings of u2018relativism,' queries whether social
institutions had become increasingly u2018rational' in modern times,
and doubts about whether the aims of liberal society were u2018objective
moral values' would seem merely quaint."

When
Rorty elsewhere writes of "philosophical pluralists like myself,"
it rings just a little hollow in light of these sentiments.

Another
philosopher, Hilary Putnam, offers a counterpoint to Rorty. A former
Marxist-Leninst and SDS faculty advisor "connected with a Maoist
group," Putnam concluded in 1972 "that I would rather
be governed by Nixon than by my own u2018comrades.'" He offers
a piece of wisdom for those who think revolution denotes salvation:
"What is wrong with the argument that u2018it will take a revolution'
to end injustice is that revolutions don't mean an end to
injustice." (Putnam's description of Peruvian philosopher Francisco
Miro Casada gives a good idea of his current politics: "I found
him a man who represents the social democratic vision in its purest
form.")

"As
a practicing Jew," Putnam writes, "I am someone for whom
the religious dimension of life has become increasingly important."
He finds in religion "a sense of human limits," the converse
of "the deification of man" rejected as humanism's great
falsity. This isn't to say Putnam is uncritical of religion. His
criticism, however, is informed by recognition of alternative deficiencies:

"The
sense of the sacred is not necessarily a good thing; it can
lead one to do terrible things. Of course for that very reason
in the nineteenth century people said we should stop believing
in the sacred, and then we won't do terrible things any more.
Then we had two very atheist dictators, called Stalin and Hitler,
who between them killed even more people than anyone had killed
in the name of the sacred."

Reich,
homo Sovieticus, El Hombre Nuevo – these chiliastic designs
drown their beneficiaries in blood. Theism may be purged, but the
diabolists remain.

I
doubt Rorty and the like seek to resurrect Nazism or Stalinism.
All the same, I'll stay skeptical of godlessness as a panacea.

May
11, 2001

Myles
Kantor [send him mail]
edits FreeEmigration.com
and lives in Boynton Beach, Florida

Myles
Kantor Archives

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