Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » December 2005 » Don't do as I do, do as I say....

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12/05/2005: Don't do as I do, do as I say....

James Wolcott raises an interesting point: how many of the defenders of increasing visibility of religion in the public sector are really sincere believers?

Wielding a sword of truth and a surgical scalpel of reason (he's quite ambidextrous), NRO's John Derbyshire pierces the fatty deposits of bad faith in the postures of religious piety by certain conservative eggheads.

His takeoff point is a recent essay-review by Gertrude Himmelfarb of Darwin in The New Republic, about which he has incisive things to say, particularly regarding her scientific illiteracy. But the chief item of interest is the attitude toward religion by Himmelfarb's husband and the co-godfather of neoconservatism (coequal with Norman Podhoretz), Irving Kristol.

Citing and quoting from an excellent article by Ronald Bailey on the neocon campaign to discredit Darwinish (I remember being puzzled when such pieces began popping up in Commentary amid the usual battle cries and attacks of gout), Derbyshire writes:


"We seem to be in Straussian 'noble lie' territory here. Sample:

"'Kristol [Himmelfarb's hubby] agrees with this view. "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he says in an interview. "There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."'

"Translation: 'We cognitive elites know religion is a crock, but it helps keep the bubbas in line, so we must pretend to be in sympathy with it.'

After resident idiot Cliff May sticks in his two cents, Derbyshire retorts:
"BOOB BAIT [John Derbyshire]
Cliff: No, don't buy that.

"Look through that Bailey piece again:

"'A year ago, I asked Kristol after a lecture whether he believed in God or not. He got a twinkle in his eye and responded, "I don't believe in God, I have faith in God." Well, faith, as it says in Hebrews 11:1, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." But at the recent AEI lecture, journalist Ben Wattenberg asked him the same thing. Kristol responded that "that is a stupid question," and crisply restated his belief that religion is essential for maintaining social discipline. A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."'

"Here we have a guy who plainly doesn't believe in God, but who thinks that well-padded intellectual elitists like himself ought to evade the issue in public for fear of demoralizing the proles and perhaps jeopardizing some padding thereby. I can't think of anything nice to say about that; and in fact, the only things I CAN think of to say would not be suitable for a family website...

"These are the people who are pushing 'intelligent design' in the conservative movement. Not only am I glad and proud to have spoken out against this preposterous hoax, I wish I had done so more forthrightly."

On a more vulgar level, I think the same dynamic is at play in the entire "War on Christmas" sham perpetrated by Fox News and rightwing talkshow hosts. They rant on and on about how Christianity is the kick-toy of the Hollywood left and snobby liberals and the ACLU, how Nativity displays are being vandalized by Nation readers disguised as wild raccoons, pound the anchor desk to demand prayer be restored to public schools. And yet how religiously observant are most of these blowhards? How often does Rush Limbaugh attend services? Or does he spend every Sunday on the golf course? Would John Gibson or O'Reilly mouth off to any of their Jewish friends (assuming they've accumulated some over the years), "Look, pal, I have no problem with Hanukah, just remember this is a Christian country, we're the majority, the majority makes the rules, what we say goes, so don't get bent out of shape when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas--and tell George Soros that goes double for him"? It's easy to swagger in front of a microphone, and I suspect most conservative demagogues practice a strange form of hypocrisy: talking shit in public that they would be wary to do in private. (Most hypocrites do the opposite, talking trash one on one that they would never say over the sanctity of the airwaves.)

Mind you, I have no proof, but I imagine that the Fox Newsers, like Kristol and co., profess and promote religious faith must more than they practice it. They caricature liberal elites for "looking down" on religion while they themselves only pretend to look up to it, like Noel Coward imagining himself a nun. They approve of religion in part because, you know, it gives the little people something to do and makes them more manageable.
[edited slightly; quotes from Derbyshire indented to make attribution clearer --LRC]

Len on 12.05.05 @ 08:24 PM CST

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