On March 22nd, 2012 I sat down with Lord Christopher Monckton for a one-on-one discussion of education, journalism, Catholicism, Islam, conservatism, and philosophy.
Jerry Falwell came to prominence in 1979 with the creation of the so-called “Moral Majority.” A group of evangelical Christians whose aim it was to influence the politics of the United States in such a way as to have society conform to their notion of what was moral.
The target of this group was the Republican Party and in 1980 it was credited by some with getting Ronald Reagan elected President.
The one defining characteristic of evangelicals that is crucial to understanding how they influence, not only the conservative right wing in the United States but also the newly created Conservative Party in Canada is their literal interpretation of the Bible as the word of their Abrahamic God. Evangelicals believe that their God created the Earth in seven days. They believe in Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood and they believe that the world is about 6,000 years old. Most importantly they believe that everybody must be “saved” by recognizing Jesus as their personal “savior.” To this end they have become involved politically in an attempt to change the laws of the US and Canada to lead the population out of their “sinful” ways and into a path more “moral” whether we choose it or not.
I have written before about how alike the Conservatives are to the Liberals in their economic policies. They are both socialists. Up until the early 1990s there was little difference between the two spectra of the left wing; Conservatives were interchangeable with Liberals. With the alienation of Western Canada by the Mulroney Conservatives in the 1980s we have seen an attempt by the evangelicals to infiltrate the halls of Parliament Hill through the creation of the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance (for which I ran for as a candidate) and now the Conservative Party of Canada.
On many of the issues of personal behavior we can see a clear difference between the new Conservatives and the Liberals. Examine this list of issues and consider how a Conservative might approach the issue versus a Liberal.
- Assisted Suicide
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Gay “Marriage”
- The Death Penalty
- Sunday shopping laws
- Human Cloning (if such a thing were possible). and
- The teaching of creationism in schools
Evangelicals, believing that your body, being a gift from their God, belongs to their God and that you should have no choice in tampering with their God’s creation. You cannot take your own life, you cannot adulterate your mind with drugs, you cannot tamper with natural reproduction etc.
A liberal, on the other hand, is more prone to allowing us a choice when it comes to our actions. This difference is due, in part, I believe from their religious beliefs, if they exist, of Liberals versus the religious beliefs of Conservatives (at least contemporary Conservatives). The following comparison of the professed religions of party leaders should illustrate what I’m talking about:
- Louis St. Laurent – RC
- Lester B. Pearson –United Church (which does not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible)
- Pierre Trudeau – RC
- John Turner – RC
- Jean Chrétien – RC
- Stephane Dion – RC
- Paul Martin – RC
- Michael Ignatieff – Russian Orthodox
Here are the professed religious beliefs of some recent conservative Leaders
- Joe Clark – RC
- Brian Mulroney – RC (which brings us to 1988)
- Preston Manning = Christian and Missionary Alliance
- Stockwell Day = Pentecostal
- Stephen Harper = Christian and Missionary Alliance
All three of the past conservative leaders since 1988 profess religions which are evangelical.
It should come as little surprise that the majority of Liberal leaders were Catholics. The Catholic believes that in order for an action to be moral the person must have made the action freely without compulsion. He must have had a choice. This tenant of Catholicism is partially responsible, I believe, for the relaxing of personal behavior legislation beginning with Trudeau. For example the abolishment of the death penalty which occurred under Trudeau but was attempted to be brought back in by the Conservatives under Mulroney. But Mulroney being a Catholic himself allowed a free vote and the attempt by the more evangelical Conservatives failed.
From the rise of the political evangelical movement in Canada beginning in 1987 to the recent majority government of evangelical Stephen Harper Canadians can expect, at the very least, a continuation of restrictions on personal freedom such as our repressive drug laws. We can expect some private member’s bills in the next five years attempting to roll back the clock on legislation which had gotten the government out of the bedrooms of Canadians. Look forward to a renewed effort to censor adult content on television, look forward to a crack down on prostitution and teenagers smoking pot.
Thankfully since many of the newly elected Conservatives are not of the evangelical persuasion the likelihood of these motions passing are slim. Especially given that Harper, evangelical or not, who no doubt wishes to be reelected will not give his support to this Conservative hidden agenda. The genie of personal freedom has slowly been let out of the bottle, thanks mostly in part to the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to put it back in will mean that the Party that does so will be quickly relegated to the left side of the house.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #200, May 19, 2011)
Before I get into this I better clarify what I mean by the terms science and religion. The word science comes from the latin “scientia” meaning “knowledge” and science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on a method of gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.
Religion is a bit more difficult to define succinctly because it can mean different things to different people but by religion I mean the belief without evidence, that there exists a personal God who created the universe and takes a direct interest in the goings-on of everybody on this planet.
Recently, we have seen attempts by both sides to blur the lines between the two views.
In an article in the Globe and Mail Saturday, April 3rd, by Erin Anderssen entitled “Scientists investigate if atheists’ brains are missing a ‘God Spot’” we find that
An international scientific network has been formed to collect research on atheism. Pitzer College in Los Angeles is expected to announce the first secular studies department in the world this spring.”
It would seem to me that any University is a place of reason, insight, research, rationality and therefore is almost by definition a place of secular study. To have to actually set up a department of secular studies only goes to highlight how universities are failing us and have, to an increasing degree, become places of mysticism and irrationality. The lines are blurring.
From the same article
Last December social scientists gathered at the University of Oxford for a conference on atheism.”
It is well worth noting here that the vast majority of scientists are atheists. Fully 93% of members of the Academy of Sciences in the US are atheists (meaning they don’t believe in a personal God which interacts directly with human beings).
During this conference they posed the question, “If religion or spiritual belief is the human default position, how does atheism happen?” This question can only be gotten away with in Universities of today. If there is a “default” position at all it is atheism. A child is born with no inherent, or default, knowledge of any religion, God, or spirituality in a religious sense. Newborns are cognitively tabula rasa. They may, as they grow, develop a sense of wonder and awe at the world around them but that is not the kind of spirituality these scientists are questioning. A child must be taught about a God. Quite often religion is taught in a disciplined environment where any contrary beliefs are punished either physically or psychologically, for example you try to understand and adopt the beliefs of your parents in order to please them. So religion is NOT the human default position. To put It briefly we are born atheists and the majority of us are quickly indoctrinated into a religion by mere happenstance of where we are born.
With this faulty premise in hand the social scientists are asking such questions as “Do atheists’ brains work differently?; Are atheists smarter than people who believe in God?; Is religion innate?” These questions point to a complete lack of understanding about epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy which deals with the science of knowledge and how we know what we know. Higher order concepts such as God, religion, or spiritualism do not come from any special part of the brain. There is no ‘God Spot’ any more than there is a Liberal spot or a Santa Clause spot.
This kind of research, while scientifically futile, is also understandable because it has happened before. There has always been research to try and prove neurological differences in the races or the sexes. Some of the research is actually valid but to suggest that that atheists’ exist because they lack a ‘God Spot’ in the brain is a futile attempt to dismiss the different philosophies without looking into why people believe the things they do.
Dr. Jordan Grafman, a neuropsychologist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. has actually done research on believers while they prayed and found that the areas of the brain involved were the expected areas of memory and feeling; no special section was suddenly activated. In other words there is no ‘God Spot’ no special part of the brain which distinguishes believers from non-believers. Of course once you consider that since there are atheists who once believed in God and likewise believers who were once atheists you quickly realize that you could have easily predicted the outcome of Dr. Grafman’s experiment.
The question “is religion innate?” is interesting because it is not simply asking about belief in a God as such but in the common observation that people want to attach some kind of meaning to phenomena we can’t explain. Of course it is only natural to want to attach meaning to the unknown and before science and reason it probably would have been natural to consult a priest, shaman or soothsayer to come up with the answer. Before priests and shamans in would have been common to concoct some other fictional character as a causal factor in unexplained events like Apollo, Zeus, the angry volcano spirit.
Today of course science has provided us with many of the answers to many of our questions and has, as it should, come up with many more questions for us to answer. But today we no longer find it natural to turn to mystics for answers but to science. At least I would hope so. Religion has historically been an invention of man to establish an order to society; to group individuals under a common set of values and moral codes in order to facilitate community. For this I say that religion has served a useful purpose. But to continue to use religion as a social ethical glue is no longer necessary and given our understanding of science and reality can be harmful.
Ayn Rand said that “Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very —how should I say it? — dangerous or malevolent base? On the ground of faith.”
Current statistics on the growth of atheism prove that man can live moral, peaceful, cooperative lives without belief in a deity.
5-9% of Americans
If there is anything to learn from the growth of science and the increasing number of atheists it is that as a species we are evolving. We are maturing philosophically.
Science trumps religion as a means of discovering the universe. Religion is static, unyielding, resolute, fixed. Like the 10 commandments holy books could be written in stone. While certainly there are many Christians, Muslims and Jews who interpret ‘sacred’ writings in different ways there are billions of human minds closed off to science and discovery because they take the words in these books to be the ultimate in truth. There is no room for discover, inquiry, or growth.
Religious people often describe atheists are being arrogant, know-it-alls who think they are superior and more intelligent than people who have faith in a personal God. The exact opposite is true. For any scientist to continue to go to work in the morning it is with the belief that they are ignorant, they lack knowledge, they have yet to answer a question, and they have yet to discover something. This is a form of humility. Contrarily there are legions of religious people who make it a career to preach to people, to convert, to proselytize.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #146, April 8, 2010.)