Secular Right

The new blog Secular Right is a sensation in the conservative/libertarian blogosphere. If you like that irrepressible old codger John Derbyshire, and I love me some John Derbyshire, then you will love this blog since he is responsible for its genesis. Secular Right provides such fine fair as this post showcasing contributor Heather MacDonald as she challenges people who refuse to vote for atheist candidates:

Warren would apparently feel more secure if a president said: “After consulting God, I have decided to bomb Iran,” than if he said, “After consulting my advisors, all available intelligence, and our allies, I have decided to bomb Iran.” A Warren defender would likely say that the two statements boil down to the same thing. But if consulting God merely ratifies what a president learns from his human sources, then the consultation is a meaningless superfluity.

No, a properly religious President, in Warren’s view, is presumably prepared to change his merely human-derived knowledge based on what God whispers in his ear. If he is not prepared to revise his conclusions, then his decision-making is no different from that of an atheist.

So why would Warren be so confident that God has spoken to the president and that the president has properly interpreted the message?

If the president of Iran said: “After consulting God, I have decided to bomb the United States,” Warren (and most other Americans) would presumably be utterly certain that the Iranian president had not been taken into God’s confidence. But why? Perhaps Warren is naively ethnocentric. God, in this view, would either never answer a Muslim’s prayers, or would do so only in ways that protect America.

Count me among the people that feel uncomfortable when his political leaders place too much emphasis on consulting their invisible friends.

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Me too

Agreed.

Stopped reading after the second sentence.

Or am I, as a gay libertarian, "overreacting"?

Gee, a conservative who is just as willing as a liberal to tell people how they should think, despite any personal perspective on the issue being thought about. Go figure.

If I want that sort of oblivious sub-intellectual drivel, I'll read Ann Althouse.

KipEsquire, A Stitch in Haste

I am interested in the

I am interested in the self-awareness of a group designating themselves as "secular right", and the fact that such a group was instantly popular after forming. Libertarianism is a thin frosting on the cake of American politics. A large group of conservatives who are fed up with the degree of religiosity in the thought of their movement, and many of whom are willing to consider liberal social ideas, is a promising sign. The conservative movement has roughly 100x the size and 1000000000000x the influence of the libertarians, which it is sympathetic to.

This is a sign that the right is moving in a more secular, and more tolerant, direction. It means that it is likely that fewer nasty laws will be passed, and more places will be nice to live for people with a variety of social lives. And it also means that fewer people will recoil when they hear the word "libertarian". At least it means a shrinking of the population who reject libertarians as godless libertine heathens.

It means that it is likely

It means that it is likely that fewer nasty laws will be passed...

Heather MacDonald supports the Patriot Act.

It's entirely consistent to

It's entirely consistent to think that the Christian God would not listen to a Muslim's prayers. If you're really a monotheist, you can hardly be a religious relativist. On the other hand, assuming that an all-knowing God will inevitably on your country's side is a dodgy proposition.

And I agree, KipEsquire; this criticism only makes sense if you already agree with their secular priors, and have no problem trashing all religions as "invisible friends."

My conscience

"I have consulted God" is surely functionally equivalent to "I have consulted my conscience/personal judgment." That is to say, when a religious person does something which he represents to himself as consulting God, what is presumably happening is that he is mulling something over in his own mind, applying his own judgment to it. Which is something everyone does all the time and therefore not something to be afraid of unless you are afraid of people. And, by the way, it is not nothing, since conscience and personal judgment are not nothing. It is not nothing to take time out to mull over something in solitude. So this scenario is simply inaccurate:

Warren would apparently feel more secure if a president said: “After consulting God, I have decided to bomb Iran,” than if he said, “After consulting my advisors, all available intelligence, and our allies, I have decided to bomb Iran.” A Warren defender would likely say that the two statements boil down to the same thing. But if consulting God merely ratifies what a president learns from his human sources, then the consultation is a meaningless superfluity.

The two statements do not boil down to the same thing, unless we assume that the speaker has no conscience and no judgment - that is to say, unless we assume that the speaker is a criminally insane idiot.

While readers of Secular Right may share Heather MacDonald's apparent assumption that the President is a criminally insane idiot, I think many more will not share this assumption and so will find the argument unpersuasive.

Count me among the people that feel uncomfortable when his political leaders place too much emphasis on consulting their invisible friends.

I am comfortable with it, for the reason I gave.

popularity

well, i bought the domain on nov. 22nd on a lark. it really blew up fast. most of the readers FWIW seem to identify as libertarians, though neither derb or heather would identify as such. also, to my surprise most of the links have been from conservative/libertarian or atheist blogs. very little linkage from left-liberal blogs; rather, benign neglect.

I might have not picked the

I might have not picked the best post to highlight, razib, but I do find it to be an interesting blog. I like the cross-section of commenters. It does my mind good to wander outside of libertarian circles now and then.

My son works?

"I have consulted God" is surely functionally equivalent to "I have consulted my conscience/personal judgment."

No, they are not equivalent. Believe it or not, adding "God" into the equation can and does functionally change things.

I like this better:

"...could be viewed as potentially similar."

Consulting God is Different

"No, they are not equivalent."

Yeah. The difference between "I think all women should dress in tents" and "Allah says all women should dress in tents". Consulting God gives it an air of authority that it doesn't deserve among other differences. One other difference also being that "consulting God" usually involves relying on the morals of a first or seventh superstitious nomadic tribesman.

You own conscience and judgment is partly superstitious

Your own conscience and judgment is partially superstitious and partially obsolete - maybe not your own, but that of most people, atheist or not. This is not unique to the religious. If you fear the religious on this account, then logically you should fear humans.

The difference between "I think all women should dress in tents" and "Allah says all women should dress in tents".

Arguing from the authority of scripture is vastly different from reporting a personal conversation with the deity. Nor is a politician the Pope or anything like the Pope as a religious authority.

Authority Granted by Speaking with God

"Your own conscience and judgment is partially superstitious and partially obsolete - maybe not your own, but that of most people, atheist or not."

Well, if my beliefs aren't obsolete now, then they will be in the future. I'm perfectly willing to accept my own fallibility. What I object to is using the supposed authority of an infallible and omniscient god to back what is often error, or superstition. Especially when it is being forced down my throat via the state.

Arguing from the authority of scripture is vastly different from reporting a personal conversation with the deity.

Well I'll grant that someone arguing from a personal conversation is more likely to be viewed as crazy.

Nor is a politician the Pope or anything like the Pope as a religious authority.
That depends. Historically we've had figures like Henry VIII in our own history. Lots of state violence has been informed by religious belief, like believing Indians don't have souls.

Present day there are many politicians in non-western countries who do use religious belief as authority to violate the rights of others. It's that belief that informs the voices in their heads, or however you want to characterize "personal conversations with God".

One would think that anybody with a direct line to God, one where god speaks to them, has at least some authority. Entire religions have been based on such claims, and used to justify great atrocities.

Muhammad claimed to hear such voices and was a political leader. Funny how his personal preferences ended up in the Qur'an.

Not the same thing

Well I'll grant that someone arguing from a personal conversation is more likely to be viewed as crazy.

But they're not actually crazy. Such religious talk bears a thin surface resemblance to mental disorders involving e.g. auditory hallucinations, but it is in fact not a result of a mental disorder. Someone who says that his prayers were answered is in only the rarest of cases actually schizophrenic.

Muhammad claimed to hear such voices and was a political leader.

But we're not talking about a modern-day prophet. Your argument is that in theory a politician might become the prophet of his own religion, as Mohammed did. But the actual cases that gave rise to the current discussion are not like that.

I'll also add that Heather MacDonald is making it up, not even bothering to ground the discussion in the actual events. Such an approach allows enough wiggle room for anybody hostile to the religious to make up pretty much whatever they want. At least MacDonald isn't outright lying - admitting all throughout that it's pulled out of her ass. Here are the admissions:

Warren would apparently feel [followed up by a made-up scenario]

A Warren defender would likely say...

a properly religious President, in Warren’s view, is presumably prepared

Warren (and most other Americans) would presumably be utterly certain

Perhaps Warren is

MacDonald is making up scenarios and making up reactions to them, and then performing speculative psychological analysis on the made-up reactions to the made-up scenarios. Weak stuff.

Still Not Comfortable with "God Speaks to Me"

"But they're not actually crazy."

Neither are the guys who flew planes into the world trade center.

Someone who says that his prayers were answered is in only the rarest of cases actually schizophrenic.

There's schizophrenic crazy, fly planes into buildings crazy, start wars crazy, persecute non-believers crazy, all sorts of different kinds of crazy. Someone who is actually claiming that god speaks to them is on my short list for "delusional to the point of doing something stupid kind of crazy"

But we're not talking about a modern-day prophet.

I'm not talking about anyone specific. I'm talking about why "god spoke to me" makes me uncomfortable coming from a politician. I'm disputing what you said about how harmless it is.

Your argument is that in theory a politician might become the prophet of his own religion, as Mohammed did.

You misunderstood. That was not my point. I could of used Ayatollah Khomeini or any other politician who claims that god is speaking to them to justify their atrocities. They don't have to become the prophet of their own religion in order to do harm based on their belief that god spoke to them. Note: No one thinks Henry VIII is a prophet although he did found his own "church" if not religion.

"But the actual cases that gave rise to the current discussion are not like that."

I agree because Rick Warren isn't a politician. Although he has claimed the god spoke to him and told him to become a pastor.

I'll also add that Heather MacDonald is making it up, not even bothering to ground the discussion in the actual events. ... Weak stuff.

Yes, I agree, but I wasn't trying to defend her. I was arguing with this chain:

"Count me among the people that feel uncomfortable when his political leaders place too much emphasis on consulting their invisible friends."

"I have consulted God" is surely functionally equivalent to "I have consulted my conscience/personal judgment." That is to say, when a religious person does something which he represents to himself as consulting God, what is presumably happening is that he is mulling something over in his own mind, applying his own judgment to it. Which is something everyone does all the time and therefore not something to be afraid of unless you are afraid of people."

As for Rick Warren. He does think God speaks to him and apparently God tell him the most despicable things about me. So fuck him.

Influence of Superstition on Judgment and Politcal Power

I agree that generally, most superstitious belief in this country is of no danger to me. However, I want to address superstitions with regard to persons in power:

This is what we should be discussing (for now). The original point:

Count me among the people that feel uncomfortable when his political leaders place too much emphasis on consulting their invisible friends.

Below is a fairly correct observation (about people), but it is a sweeping gesture with not enough specifics. I'll be commenting on this point of view when compared to the original point. I always want to add quickly that obviously, the devout person and an atheist vary drastically in the amount of their superstition. You seem to suggest that once it's there, it's all on the same level. No. But I could be misreading you too:

Your own conscience and judgment is partially superstitious and partially obsolete - maybe not your own, but that of most people, atheist or not. This is not unique to the religious. If you fear the religious on this account, then logically you should fear humans.

Maybe I'm reading you wrong, but this doesn't quite add up to the situation at hand. It's not addressing the issue for one. We're not talking about "people in general".

Having a position of power, and voicing superstitious beliefs is incredibly relevant to the differences in the kind of reasoning that would trigger concern, when ordinarily it wouldn't. Your suggestion that "most people" have superstitious judgment, is not relevant here.

People in power who speak with superstitious terminology can raise a red flag (for many), and the raising of that flag is a relevant reaction. It is not a contradiction that their concern for ordinary folks does not rise to the same level. If this bad apple is bad, the consequences are far greater.

Most humans can make many mistakes, have many beliefs and hold many superstitions dear, without having the responsibility of an entire nation on their shoulders (potentially).

So it doesn't logically follow "in general" that you have to fear all people, based on your theory of "general superstition" to the same level as a person in "Political Power" when both parties spew superstitious jargon. Degrees play a role here. So do a lot of specifics. Once you change the details, you change the logic.

- What's the context?
- What's the decision?
- What was said?
- What can we find in researching the behavior of this person in regards to superstition?

Edit:

Just a few additions to clarify what I'm responding to, and what I think the issue is.

Prove it

Go ahead. I explained why they are the same. Now explain why they are different.

God Told Him

I know because God spoke to me too and has indicated that they are different.

Win.

Win.

Prove it?

I don't quite have the ego yet, to proclaim in all audacity that THEY ARE THE EQUIVALENT! Obviously, they can be both. Which is why I said they have the potential to be similar.

This must be taken on a case by case basis. Detail for detail. Word for word. Person by person. History by history. Example by example.

Can superstitious belief influence judgment? I say yes.