Ordinarily I do not repeat my private conversations after a social gathering. Moreover, most of the time the talk is trifling, banal, or silly. But recently, I have noticed a change: a consensus has emerged on important issues that is thoroughly misguided but still deserving of analysis. Let me cite the examples.
I continually hear that “all religions are the same.” This is a position fostered by atheists and radical secularists since any other stance would undermine their basic premise. It should be apparent, however, that different faiths make different claims about truth, morality, and fealty. While Judaism and Christianity have a similar core and antecedents, they are quite different from Islam, where text and teachings are often in direct opposition to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Emerging from this position on religion is another false claim: “We all worship the same God.” This position is narrowly provincial. There are thousands of gods worshipped by hundreds of religions and sects, each manifestly different with idiosyncratic demands. The very worship of gods takes different forms, in different communities, for different people.
Since we “all worship the same God” and God is good, it stands to reason that His children will be good as well. But experience indicates that not all people are good. The gnostic idea that we are innocent and perfectible but corrupted by institutions overlooks the obvious point of who created the institutions. Moreover, if one accepts the idea of original sin, perfectibility is a chimera borne of well wishing that overlooks empirical evidence.
Similarly, there is the widely held belief that “extremism is bad and moderation is the solution.” Clearly Aristotle warned against extremism. But moderation can be as destructive as extremism when there is an unwillingness to defend with passion that which is right. Extremism in the name of liberty is not a vice, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater. Ideas that are good and true deserve vigorous support and the best response to bad ideas is rarely moderation.
Coruscating through the bloodstream of the West is the wrongheaded view that “Western civilization should feel guilty” for its policies. President Obama has engaged in an apology tour pointing out to enemies and friends that policy antecedents created so many of the globe’s problems. This attempt at soul searching and purging of guilty feelings is both irrational and unhelpful. Of course some policies in our past were wrong. Western civilization is imperfect. But this position overlooks extraordinary accomplishments, political freedom and technical achievements. As I see it, this reliance on guilt is ostensibly a silencing strategy, a way to sabotage critical analysis.
Another silencing ploy is to suggest that any external criticism must be countered by an internal criticism as well, e.g., the Koran promotes violent behavior but then Christianity promoted the Crusades. In other words, you cannot challenge someone’s beliefs because the tables can be turned on you or your actions. This tactic violates logic; however, my conversational challengers are not necessarily interested in logic.
Last is perhaps the most seductive of bad ideas: an unshakeable belief in progress — “everything is always getting better.” This quasi Marxist and Darwinian view is sheer nonsense. Bad ideas can have devastating consequences. Good societies can become corrupt and unfree if they exchange good ideas for bad ones. As Ronald Reagan noted, each generation has an obligation to fight for the retention of liberty. Argentina was the sixth richest nation in 1900, but squandered its wealth on misguided policies. Ideologies do not invariably get better or more moderate with the passage of time.
In fact as Max Weber noted in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: “For the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”