Mar 10, 2014
Troy Jollimore on the God Debate
Posted on Apr 2, 2009
There is also good reason to resist Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s attack on the idea that Bush’s religiosity, and that of the electorate, had bad effects on his domestic policy. Their reassurance that “Bush and his fellow theocrats ended up doing almost nothing to undermine American secularism” is surely premature: The truth of this claim remains to be seen. (It will depend in part, among other things, on the future behavior of his Supreme Court appointees.) Meanwhile there can be little doubt that Bush’s religious proclivities, and his desire to please his evangelical supporters, had negative consequences on the health of the American republic. Consider the ban on stem cell research, the drastic underfunding of scientific research in general, or the pressure on scientists to skew their research results in order to accommodate the administration’s views on global warming and other such matters. (It is worth noting that the latter two go entirely unmentioned in “God Is Back.”)
Or consider Bush’s backing of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. As Micklethwait and Wooldridge correctly observe, the measure failed to pass, but they neglect to mention that it lent momentum to other, parallel efforts—including the successful effort to pass California’s Proposition 8. The success of Proposition 8—another religiously inflicted social injury that barely rates a mention in “God Is Back”—casts considerable doubt not only on Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s benign view of religion, but also on their anti-judicial bias, and their populist contention that legislatures expressing the alleged will of the people are generally more capable than the courts of reaching acceptable positions on civil rights issues.
The view of religion as both benign and necessary has deep and insidious roots. In a revealing moment near the end of “God Is Back,” Micklethwait and Wooldridge write, “Secularists hoped that science would marginalize religion. In fact, the advance of science—particularly biotechnology—is raising all sorts of religious questions.” This, to my mind, is fascinatingly confused. The passage is designed to suggest that biotechnology has somehow found evidence for religious claims: If science “in fact” raises religious questions, then clearly religion is validated by science! But of course, what biotechnology raises is not religious questions, but moral ones. The thought that morality must be fundamentally religious in nature—that we cannot talk about values without talking about God—is a preconception, a prejudice, and one that many secularists are growing understandably tired of hearing repeated. (For my part, I must confess that I find morality much easier to understand without the mysteries and confusions injected by belief in God.)
One must already have faith in faith to conclude that the world must be seen through the lens of faith. And one must have such faith, too, to view religion in a predominantly positive light, given all that has been done in its name. Micklethwait and Wooldridge are surely correct to claim that religion—not God, but religion—is back. I remain, as yet, unconvinced that this is either an inevitable development or a happy one.
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