On Charles Cooke, Conservatism, and Atheism

Atheismby John Kirke  2/27/14
I’m no thorough scholar of conservative thought, but I do occasionally pick up a gem. In 1970, William F. Buckley co-edited a book with Charles Kesler, originally titled American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century and revised under the title Keeping the Tablets (which I own), and for that book he wrote an introductory essay, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”

I don’t think any conversation about conservatism and atheism is quite complete without a few key lines from that essay.

Can you be a conservative and believe in God?  Obviously.  Can you be a conservative and not believe in God?  This is an empirical essay, and so the answer is, as obviously, yes.  Can you be a conservative and despise God and feel contempt for those who believe in Him?  I would say no.

Buckley continues, “If one dismisses religion as intellectually contemptible, it becomes difficult to identify oneself wholly with a movement in which religion plays a vital role.”

And, on the other hand, he writes that, because Christians hold that faith is a gift and there’s no accounting for who does and doesn’t receive that gift, “The proreligious conservative can [] welcome the atheist as a full-fledged member of the conservative community even while feeling that at the very bottom the roots do not interlace, so that the sustenance that gives a special bloom to Christian conservatism fails to reach the purely secular conservatism.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with WFB here, since I believe that Paul’s letter to the Romans authoritatively teaches that God’s existence has been revealed to all, but it’s good to see that this sort of question has been around, and I do agree with his main point, that you cannot be conservative and an anti-theist, as opposed to a mere agnostic or atheist.

At NRO, Charles C.W. Cooke recently wrote an essay on the intersection of atheism and conservatism.  It’s remarkable to me that it doesn’t appear any conservative theists are getting much traction there in the comments, and I’m commenting here in part because I don’t think there remains much worthwhile discussion at NRO’s comment threads.  (It also doesn’t help that I can’t trust that comments there won’t disappear without warning.)

Cooke’s piece has all sorts of problems, and they need to be enumerated.

1. I think Cooke is misrepresenting American history.  He points out the relatively late date of references to God in the Gettysburg Address, the pledge, and the motto “In God We Trust,” all to claim that we are “one nation under the Constitution,” but he doesn’t mention that the Constitution’s preamble references the “blessings of liberty.”

(Blessings from Whom?  The word has an obvious theistic connotation.)

And, he mentions the deism of Thomas Jefferson whose reference to “Nature’s God” may have allowed for a prime mover who otherwise didn’t interfere with creation, but he ignores those claims in the Declaration of Independence that point to a MUCH more active deity – a deity who endows mankind with certain inalienable rights (an endowment that dovetails with the Preamble’s “blessings of Liberty”), and a deity upon whom the founders depended.

The Declaration concludes by asserting the Founders’ “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” and that’s an an odd thing to claim if their belief was in a watchmaker who set the cosmos in motion and then walked away.

These founding documents were drafted between the first two Great Awakenings, and so it’s absurd to treat them as the result of an unadulterated post-Christian enlightenment.

And, the same First Congress that passed what would become the First Amendment also passed a resolution calling for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.  The earliest legislature of our supposedly “secular state” affirmed, “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

It’s sheer revisionism for Cooke to suggest that overt theism didn’t appear in our politics until the Civil War.

2. I think Cooke goes too far in trying to shoehorn atheism into conservatism.  It’s one thing to say the two are compatible, another altogether to suggest that the former emerges from the latter.

Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. Think, perhaps, of how we approach new gun-control measures and inevitably bristle at the question, “Why don’t you want to do this?”

It shouldn’t need to be said, but there’s a huge difference between deference to newly proposed regulations and deference to the belief in the transcendent – a belief that has persisted for literal millennia across nearly all cultures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated.

He writes, “much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also,” but there’s very little that’s authentically conservative in his “latent skepticism of pretty much everything” and his “dislike of authority and of dogma.”

Those attributes may make Cooke ANTI-LEFT, but that’s not enough to be conservative (see Rand, A. and Derbyshire, J.) and his anti-authoritarian skepticism isn’t conservatism by any cogent definition.

(He mentions other conservative atheists, including George Will, Charles Krauthammer, S.E. Cupp, and the HotAir blogger Allahpundit.  Krauthammer is more of a deist who thinks outright atheism is implausible (start at 3:45), but set him aside.  On marriage, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Will strongly defend a position that he has said is “literally dying” in terms of demographics;  Cupp believes that the GOP ought to make the conservative case for “same-sex marriage;” and Allahpundit would have voted no on California’s Proposition 8 if he had had the chance.    It’s certainly true that there are conservative theists who support the radical redefinition of marriage, however much their doing so violates the clear teaching of their faith, and I don’t believe one must appeal to religious dogma to defend marriage, but I wonder if I’m not going too far in speculating that those who reject the long-held belief in the divine find it easier to reject other things, including the long-held recognition of the complementary nature of the sexes.)

In some respects, Christianity isn’t conservative either.  Read Mark 7, and you’ll find that, while Jesus of Nazareth was an outright reactionary in submitting to Scripture as God’s written word, Jesus was also a radical in subverting the oral traditions that grew around that Scripture like so many barnacles.  Some of the central claims of the Christian Good News — that God became man and that God offers the gift of His own Spirit to dwell in man — is FAR more radical than the merely human solutions that so many Marxists promote in the guise of the social gospel.

I’m a Christian first and a conservative a distant second, and I’m not going to pretend that I can squeeze the comprehensive revelation of the former into the VERY partial philosophy of the latter.  As humans we’re all works-in-progress, with contradictions and personal tastes, and it’s absurd to try to twist an external ideology to perfectly match your own identity.

(With Christianity being my primary identity, the goal is for me to conform to its teachings – more specifically, for me to become more Christlike.  It’s NOT to make orthodoxy look more like me.)

It was kinda funny, so many years ago, when Jonah Goldberg asked readers, what’s the most Burkean line in Animal House?  But it would be narcissistic for him to try to argue that all raunchy comedies are conservative just because that particular conservative likes them.  It would make him no better than John Derbyshire or Rod Dreher, who both seem willing to recast conservatism into their own, idiosyncratic (and VERY different) images.

3. I’m not sure Cooke is as friendly to faith as he would like us to believe. On the one hand, he denies that the devout is “in any way worse or less intelligent than myself,” and he writes that American religion “is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.”

On the other hand, he rejects agnosticism and says he actively denies God’s existence “much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves.”  I myself have never known an atheist who compared God to fairies without subsequently comparing theists to children who believe in fairy tales.

It’s a difficult thing indeed to prove a negative, and yet Cooke makes the positive affirmation that there is no God, that the creation exists in the absence of a Creator.  Is it really likely that he thinks the evidence is strong enough to lead to that kind of affirmation, but still weak enough that people can find good reason to believe otherwise?

4. I’m not sure Cooke even understands and acknowledges the antagonism that is possible in atheism.  In part of his criticism of Brent Bozell’s statement, Cooke accuses Bozell of confusing disbelief in God with hatred of God.  He writes that the confusion is “a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there).”

Evidently, Charles Cooke has never met or even heard of a parent who disowns a child over some grave offense.  “I have no son” is a denial of the child’s existence that is quite clearly rooted in hatred for the child.

Okay, “one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there,” but one can certainly pour contempt on somebody by treating him as if he were dead or non-existent.  Denial cannot lead to hatred, but hatred can certainly lead to denial, and atheists aren’t exempt from the human tendency of being led by one’s emotions.

Whether Bozell was also begging the question gets back to Bill Buckley and the Apostle Paul.  If WFB is right and even a partial divine revelation isn’t part of God’s common grace to all man, then certainly a person may deny God’s existence in good faith because he hasn’t been shown that He exists.

But if I understand Romans 1:18-20 correctly, Paul has taught that what can be known about God is plain to everyone – His eternal power and divine nature, if not His grace and His subsequent plan of redemption.  The claim echoes Psalm 19, which teaches that the heavens declare God’s glory, and that their voice goes out through all the earth and to the end of the world.

Maybe I’m drawing conclusions that are too broad:  maybe Paul’s point is that God’s invisible attributes have been made known to all groups with no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, but not necessarily to every single person without exception.

Perhaps the charitable thing is to hope that non-believers, agnostics, and even outright atheists are arguing in good faith.  As a Christian I should pray that God does reveal Himself to everyone, recognizing that He may use His imperfect church (and this imperfect Christian) as His means of communication; I should also trust Christ’s promise that those who earnestly seek the truth will find Him. (Matt 7:7, cf. John 14:6)

In the meantime, a person who denies God’s existence can still be an ally in the conservative movement and can certainly be an ally on issues where we find common ground.  We should judge each other, not just by our positions, but how we get there, and it is Cooke’s arguments for a conservative atheism that I find problematic.
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John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949). • (3738 views)

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John Kirke

About John Kirke

John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949).

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22 Responses to On Charles Cooke, Conservatism, and Atheism

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    He writes, “much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also,” but there’s very little that’s authentically conservative in his “latent skepticism of pretty much everything” and his “dislike of authority and of dogma.”

    Those attributes may make Cooke ANTI-LEFT, but that’s not enough to be conservative (see Rand, A. and Derbyshire, J.) and his anti-authoritarian skepticism isn’t conservatism by any cogent definition.

    Great points. And this…

    but I wonder if I’m not going too far in speculating that those who reject the long-held belief in the divine find it easier to reject other things, including the long-held recognition of the complementary nature of the sexes.)

    And…

    I’m a Christian first and a conservative a distant second, and I’m not going to pretend that I can squeeze the comprehensive revelation of the former into the VERY partial philosophy of the latter.  As humans we’re all works-in-progress, with contradictions and personal tastes, and it’s absurd to try to twist an external ideology to perfectly match your own identity.

    Great essay. But unlike you, John (which is probably to your credit), I don’t give atheists all that much credit. I don’t believe that one can be a conservative and an atheist, although certainly an atheist’s values might line up here and there with respect to specific conservative policies. But as Buckley said, “…at the very bottom the roots do not interlace….”

    I’ll cut-and-paste the comments I made to Timothy into this thread later. But I don’t want to steal your thunder.

    But let me just say, it takes a real man to admit that there is something bigger than his own ego and intellect (vast though that juicy chess club brain may be for some). And I’ve always noted a kind of obnoxious egotism in libertarians (let alone atheists). There is indeed something missing at the roots.

    Myself, I’m an interesting (and perhaps also obnoxious) case. I’m an agnostic (well, that doesn’t really describe me) who questions how much we can know about the Creator in terms of motivations and rules as is relevant to a human life. But I’m not stupid. I do not think we created ourselves or that some “quantum field” could ever lead to consciousness, let alone existence. To me, God is great and God is also very obscure (but real). I’ll just sum up by repeating what I had said earlier:

    Atheism is a rejection of a moral order apart from the mind of man. How then atheism can be compatible with conservatism can happen only in the minds of clever and verbose intellectuals.

    There is a deep “roots” aspect of conservatism that cannot even make any sense to many libertarians, let alone atheists. Atheists, libertarians, and Leftists all share the same centrality of “I will” as the grounding for society. No conservatism can grow from that soil.

    • John Kirke John Kirke says:

      As a philosophy, atheism is deeply flawed because of its relationship to the belief in materialistic naturalism – the idea that the material universe is all there is. Take it to its logical conclusion, and you’d have to discard the moral law (or at least human awareness of the moral law), human free will, and even human rationality.

      The last bit is a bit tough to get one’s head around — it’s on my to-do list for an essay in the next couple months; in the meantime, C.S. Lewis’ Miracles is a great place to start — but it means that atheism cuts off the very branch on which it sits. If a person reasons his way to a philosophy that denies reason, he’s gone off the rails.

      You could see the beginnings of that train of thought with John Derbyshire, who in 2008 wrote a piece for the NR print edition about how neuroscience might eventually undermine our confidence in human self-consciousness, and he did so around the same time he was ranting about Ben Stein’s movie Expelled.

      “The ‘intelligent design’ hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization.” — but Derb contemplates the possibility that neuroscience might lead him to conclude that “perhaps reason, like freedom, is an illusion.” (Yeah, that’s conservative!)

      He wrote something similar four years prior for NR, and despite this they let him hang around as an ex-pat conservative!

      Lately, however, and particularly after reading [Tom Wolfe’s] ‘I am Charlotte Simmons,’ I have begun to worry about the darker side of these discoveries [of human science] — about their dehumanizing, deconstructing effects. The neuroscience is especially troubling. The vulgar metaphysics we all carry round with us includes the vague idea of a self, an ‘I,’ imagined as a little homunculus crouched inside our heads an inch or so behind the eyes, observing and directing all that goes on in our lives. It seems probable that this is as false as the medieval notion of the sky being a crystal sphere. Yet if the self is indeed an illusion, then what is to prevent that dissolution of all values foreseen by Nietzsche? In Charlotte Simmons’s world, a world without the self, what is virtue? What is wisdom? What is responsibility?

      “I worry that ‘I’ am/is an illusion,” is not really intelligible.

      As an -ism, atheism is ultimately corrosive all principles upon which conservatism is based, but I think some atheists AS INDIVIDUALS can be considered conservatives (or at least allies in support of a common cause) because they don’t live up to their stated beliefs.

      Their contradictions and human foibles keep them from the insanity of atheism: while they take the explicit step of denying the Creator, they don’t take the logical step of denying what depends on the Creator. Instead, they continue affirm those other core beliefs that their stated atheism can not possibly explain: human rationality, human freedom, and the transcendent moral law.

      Atheists can be conservative, but I’m not sure it’s a great idea to endorse atheists as the intellectual leaders of our movement: if they’re thorough thinkers, they can’t be conservative, and if they’re not thorough thinkers, they probably shouldn’t be our leaders.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        “The ‘intelligent design’ hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization.” — but Derb contemplates the possibility that neuroscience might lead him to conclude that “perhaps reason, like freedom, is an illusion.” (Yeah, that’s conservative!)

        That brings to mind what it really means to be an atheist. There is a hope that the universe “is not like that.” That is, that it does not contain a god, that there is no authority higher than man, no reason greater than his own. To my mind, that is a sort of arrogance.

        Now, mind you, I have little tolerance for people who say “Do this because god says so.” But that’s not what we’re talking about here. The fallacy of “argument by authority” applies just as well to “Because Al Gore says so” or “Because Ron Paul says so.”

        What we’re talking about here is whether or not man can, and should, be constrained by anything, if his will alone is his universe, and if “reason” is to be his only means of measurement (with “reason” and “rationalizing” forever so intertwined that libertarian or atheistic reliance on “reason” is a very dodgy thing indeed).

        This is why I could never be an atheist no matter how high my pile of doubts becomes. It’s because I don’t want to be “like that.” And I know what “like that” is all about, and my aspirations (as well as my personal intellectual integrity) aim higher than that.

        And all that gobbledygook about “Maybe there is no I” is simply where atheism/materialism always take man: to the absurd. This alone is hard evidence that atheism is not the way to understand our universe.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I don’t believe intelligent design and don’t think it has yet reached the point of a usable scientific theory, but I think it may reach that status, at least as one of the modifications to Darwinism. (There’s a reason I refer to Darwin as the Copernicus of biology.) I wonder if its critics (such as Derbyshire) are aware that Alfred Russell Wallace (co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection) was in effect the first IDer — he didn’t think the human brain could have evolved by purely natural means.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I suspect some big surprises are in store by the time they iron out the holes in Darwinism. For now, Intelligent Design works only as a philosophical or metaphysical point of view with perhaps some sound rational conclusions such as “One gets intelligence only from intelligence.”

          And the metaphysical aspects are no small thing. Ultimately the important points of our existence are unknowable to science and the metaphysics is what we’ll have for the foreseeable future to play with.

          But within a strictly material framework, science works very well. It’s just that when you mistake this “works well” for “it explains everything” that you get into trouble. When a person hangs their religion, philosophy, politics, and/or metaphysics on the fact that science works well within a quite limited material framework, that’s when you get into trouble. That’s when you run into this obviously bloviated, if not childish, radical materialist conclusions (There is no I!) that prove the idea of reductio ad absurdum which is ultimately the grounding (such as it is) for atheism.

          Again, as you know, I don’t say that as a bible-thumper but as an amateur metaphysical sleuth. But as things stand right now, if they can’t find a standard gradual-evolution answer to the Cambrian explosion, Darwinism as a theory for explaining complexity and the information content in DNA is kaput. On the other hand, there is probably no proving God either.

          Wow. Look what just happened. The universe didn’t just blow up. For our side, it’s okay to speculate one way or the other. But you couldn’t have this kind of open, exploratory conservation amongst atheists. For them, their conclusions are already drawn: There is no god. (Translation: We will never even allow the hint of any philosophy, or acknowledge any fact, that gives the barest of credence to the idea of god.)

          I would make a very poor atheist because I just can’t subscribe to that kind of bullshit. And to then pretend that I could also be a conservative…well, put me in today’s minority. I see no way to be a conservative and to be an atheist. But then, this nation is full of people who suppose they are conservative (or very conservative) and are no such thing.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            “”Wow. Look what just happened. The universe didn’t just blow up. For our side, it’s okay to speculate one way or the other. But you couldn’t have this kind of open, exploratory conservation amongst atheists. For them, their conclusions are already drawn: There is no god. (Translation: We will never even allow the hint of any philosophy, or acknowledge any fact, that gives the barest of credence to the idea of god.)””

            That is why I particularly admire those scientists who make it clear that science is very good at figuring out the basics on how things work, but not why or on first things.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              One of the least attractive things to the libertarian or atheist mind is the bending of one’s will or mind to tradition or to the opinion of authority or precedence. In some respects, this is a worthy — and quite American — disposition. We ousted a king, after all.

              This is one of the genes that goes into making up conservatism. And an important gene it is. But there are implications if this is the one or predominant gene.

              The first thing to understand about atheists, in particular (aka “Brites”) is that they think they know everything. In public, if they will at least indulge in courtesy, they will say that religion has its place. But, in fact, for most that place is last place, if there is a place at all.

              The idea of a Creator, and a moral order that is above man, gets in the way of the inherent willfulness of the libertarian and atheist identities. Surely most of us have gone through those phases, perhaps giving up much of that rank willfulness in our adolescence, tempered by experience. And, to be honest, I was doing rather embarrassingly shallow radical materialist metaphysics and philosophizing long before many of these noted atheists caught wind of the idea. And I’m all for free enquiry.

              But radical materialism is ultimately empty calories. And it is my belief that most atheists are indeed anti-religion not just of a different metaphysical bent, as if they were Methodists instead of Baptists.

              Consider if God is real, if there is a purpose for our lives, if — however tentatively we understand it — there is more to existence than random particles bouncing off each other in the the blackness of empty space. To turn away from this possibility is to have a radical and very different outlook at life in a way that cannot be underemphasized and which influences one’s politics profoundly, whatever superficial similarities one may point to between atheists and conservatives.

              And I speak plainly and, hopefully, sincerely, something that I find is extremely rare in atheists. So how do you know that an atheist is conservative? Because he tells you? I just don’t trust that. The atheists are somewhat on a Jihad just as Islam is. And I think Taqiyya (the sanctioning of lying to deceive one’s enemies) applies to them as well.

              That doesn’t mean all atheists are dishonest or bad people. But it must be acknowledged that they belong to a dubious and destructive ideology.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It is clearly possible for an individual to be an atheist and conservative. Atheism can be simply a part of his life, but not necessarily what motivates his day-to-day actions.

    However:

    People do not form and join organizations unless there is something about the organization which is important to them in some way. An individual may like to watch Star Trek. But to found or join a Star Trek Club and visit Star Trek Conventions indicates a person’s interest in Star Trek and related subjects is very important to that person.

    So it is with atheists. When a group of people form an organization to identify themselves as atheists, I would suggest they formed the organization to push some agenda. In this case, an anti-religious agenda. Is it conservative to try to disabuse people of their religious beliefs? Is it conservative to organize to denigrate religion? I think not, so I question whether any organization which is formed around atheism per se, is really conservative.

    I would suggest it is probably more a proselytizing Libertarian group, i.e. Leftists in drag.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It is clearly possible for an individual to be an atheist and conservative.

      Maybe we need a new name for these types. Frankly, not being as religious as I could or should be, I think of myself as a somewhat incomplete conservative.

      Whatever the case may be, Mr. Kung, I particularly like what John said here: As humans we’re all works-in-progress, with contradictions and personal tastes, and it’s absurd to try to twist an external ideology to perfectly match your own identity.

      That is another way of John saying that his politics is not his religion. Can atheists say the same? One of the recurring themes of Dennis Prager (but not just of Dennis Prager, certainly I believe G.K. may have commented on this as well) is that with Christians having a religion, they need not make politics or the state their religion (in theory, anyway…it must be noted that the “social gospel,” and now the “social justice,” types of religious people are doing just that….the state is said to be the stand-in for God and His very instrument).

      I think libertarianism (let alone atheism) has too much of that “true believer” gunk mixed up in it. Libertarians and facts often don’t keep the same company. The same is true with atheism where it’s simply the identity that is uber alles. If this were not so, why would they give a rat’s ass as to whether they had a special booth for themselves at CPAC? Instead of yet another fractious identity group, they ought to choke down their pride and instead identify with the larger principles of conservatism. Maybe they would learn something.

      My own general thoughts are that rather than religious belief necessarily being a crutch that messes up man’s “rational” brain, it brings a dose of humility. And there is no conservatism whatsoever without this deeply-rooted humility. With humility comes a real appreciation for limits (one of the core ideas of the Constitution). To me, there is much too much hubris in the people who typically identify as atheists.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The reference to “true believers” brings up an important point. If faith is indeed a gift, then there are probably many who reject the usual faiths but still have the “gift” — and thus apply it either to anti-religious causes (hence militant atheism) or to secular ones (which has the problem of what happens when reality doesn’t match their religious dogma). I suspect that absolute ideologues — whom Elizabeth calls “ideolators” (as a Southern Baptist daughter of a missionary to Japan, she tends toward religious terms) — tend to have that problem in general. I consider conservatism more of a pragmatic ideology, whereas libertarianism and leftism (which is basically totalitarian) are opposite absolute ideologies.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          “libertarianism and leftism (which is basically totalitarian) are opposite absolute ideologies.”

          When taken to their logical extremes, I think they are really different sides of the same coin. This is particularly so if one defines Leftism as Marxist/Leninism.

          In the old circle graph of political ideologies which we studied in political science in college, they pretty much met at the same point although one supposedly came from the right side and the other from the left side of the circle.

      • John Kirke John Kirke says:

        Brad, in my experience it’s rare to meet a social-gospel type of Christian who actually affirms the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and I think the causality is an interesting open question: do these people turn to Marxism (explicitly or not) to find meaning after they have denied the central tenets of the faith, or do they deny these embarrassing claims of the miraculous in order to emphasize the politics and make the religion more palatable?

        Either way, I don’t think they’re mature Christians, those who attempt to recruit Christ to their own political cause rather than conform to His eternal cause. The only defense is that they have a long pedigree, as people in the first century were hoping to recruit Jesus as a military messiah to drive out the Romans.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    Cooke seems to be deliberately ignorant of the militantly christophobic nature of the atheist movement (as I pointed out in a response). He has a point that those who don’t believe in something won’t hate it — which is precisely why many of us find the militant christophobia of modern atheism so interesting. As for historical theism in US politics, Cousin Abe got his “house divided” idea from the Gospels, and when Douglas challenged him in debate, Lincoln argued that Douglas had a credibility problem in challenging Gospel.

    As a deist and a conservative, I definitely agree with Buckley that it’s possible to be a religious skeptic and a conservative, and also that faith is a gift that I lack. (I’m more of a materialist/rationalist — but note that unlike so many who call themselves skeptics, I don’t place absolute faith in that.) I can also say that it’s quite easy to oppose homosexual marriage for reasons having nothing to do with religion.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One of the things I particularly dislike about atheists is their unfounded arrogance. They go around spouting their belief that there is no God as if this was a provable proposition. In this they are a worse than the worst fundamentalist of any religion. You may recall my short piece “Atheistic Fundamentalists”. The reaction this received merely confirmed my suspicions in this regard.

      I agree with Wittgenstein that the most important questions are those which cannot be answered. Oh that the atheist fundamentalists of the world would learn a little humility as Brad suggests.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      As a deist and a conservative, I definitely agree with Buckley that it’s possible to be a religious skeptic and a conservative, and also that faith is a gift that I lack.

      Unless one’s job is to be seen to be righteous, each of us may have a calling that we either cooperate with or don’t.

      My job is to be a smart-ass, but to do it with thoughtfulness and style. One of the largest errors made today is to mistake liturgy for one’s true character (and this applies just as well to the “liturgy” of those who march in the typical victim-of-the-week parade or who go to church every Sunday). Outer forms are not everything. What we declare ourselves pales in comparison to who we are. And if I know that, you can bet that the Creator of the universe knows that and more.

      That is not meant to be a feeble apologetic for vapid and value-free ecumenicalism. It’s simply a truth of life.

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    “Keeping the Tablets” is indeed an excellent set of monographs edited by Buckley and Kesler. It is worth taking the time to obtain and read ( I have it in front of me now.) Kesler was my graduate Prof at Claremont and very hard to please initially. After being carved up over several less than thoughtful papers, I finally caught his eye with a critique on Hegel.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One thing I find missing in secularists, atheists, and many libertarians, can best be described as a lack of “soul.” That’s not to be confused with undirected and rampant emotionalism. I mean a lack of depth…as in seeing further and with a little bit more wisdom.

    When the world is nothing more than the clash of zealous ideologues, that’s no fun. Man needs to see outside himself. His ego and his emotions, although important, cannot be the only guide or his most important guide.

    There’s a chilly coldness to “rationalism” that has nothing to do with the lack of sentimentalism. But I do believe there is something missing in the mind, heart, and character of a person who has not considered the wisdom of the ages, whose supposes his own mind — if only because of its proximity — is the best judge of all things. A terrible starting point for any person is to suppose that he is smarter than all the rest.

    The long history of man shows that he can readily be a vicious animal. To some extent, if atheism leads to barbarity it is because it has no vision of a human other than as an animal, a mere material thing. Again, how this philosophy can be squared with conservatism is beyond me. It’s not enough to be anti-Left.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A. J. Delgado has a sensible view on this subject: CPAC is Right.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yes, I commented on that one too, arguing that the only mistake CPAC made was inviting American Atheists in the first place.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        One of the issues resolved by Mr. Delgado, Timothy, is that this wasn’t some theoretical atheist-conservative group who wanted to set up shop at CPAC in sympathy with the Reagan Revolution. This was your typical rotgut, hate-religion, left-of-center (probably way left-of-center) smarty-pants, obnoxious bunch of “Brites” who I think are the typical and predominant atheists. To my mind, I wouldn’t give them a booth at the city dump, let alone at CPAC.

        I was thinking a little more about this subject last night, which is an occupational hazard when you have a word count to fill. But I think at the heart of this issue in regards to the supposed possibility of conservative atheists is the fact that reverent man will produce a better nation than intellectual man, let alone the kind of world built by the kind of smart-pants, sacrilegious, anarchistic “Brites” who typical inhabit the radical material universe of atheism.

        I don’t think many libertarians such as Cooke recognize this simply because they are simpatico with those who don’t believe, with conservatism coming in second (which is one reason I don’t believe that there is any such thing as an atheist conservative and am very suspicious about just how compatible most libertarians are with conservatism).

        Required reading for libertarians (and conservatives) should be a couple of Theodore Dalrymple’s books. I would throw in a couple of those by Thomas Sowell as well. What you will learn is that intellectuals tend to invent all kinds of notions that are sweet in the head but toxic when played out in real life. And libertarians and atheists tend to be “intellectuals” of this kind.

        To my mind, that is a grave error. It seems to me we have three main ways to focus our lives: God, the state, or our ego/intellect. Of course, any life is going to intersect on all three, as it should. There is no utopia. Balance and reasonableness, rather than radicalism, general produce a better person. But I’m talking about the general focus. Those who focus on the state are the kind of pathetic “Progressives” who end up being little more than parasites on the rest of us. But under-stated is that those whose center of gravity is the intellect aren’t all that much better. They tend to be just as destructive. One should remember, as Sowell notes, that most of the worst influences in modern history (such as Marx) were these kind of disembodied “intellectuals.”

        Anyone who has gone to college in the last 40 years has generally come out of it with an irreverent smarty-pants disposition. Everything is mocked. Nothing that is good is considered real. They’ve been taught it’s all a facade. Thus the “secular” man — whether on the Left or right — is not a friend of true conservatism. A conservative, first and foremost, does not discard something just because it came before him or did not arise from his “special” mind. And he does not start out with the belief that everything that exists must be justified to his mind or be destroyed.

        Conservatism is not a formalized extension of one’s ego, as it so often is with the ideology of libertarians and atheists. Humility and reverence for the past (and for life and reality itself) produce a man fit to build on a solid foundation, in contrast to the more juvenile or destructive trends of libertarians and atheists who seem to be nihilists at heart.

        I see people such as Cooke as someone who has yet to slough off the worst aspects of his college education.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          A lot of people may not know why you refer to the atheists as “Brites”, so I’ll explain it here. Some years ago, a group of atheists suggested calling themselves “Brights”, the better to insult those who believe in God. Michael Shermer, who has often been a very reasonable sort, supported this and argued that it wasn’t intended to insult non-atheists. (This, along with his credulity on CAGW, led me to lose all my respect for him.) My own view was that those atheists (naturally Richard Dawkins was a big supporter) would best be labeled “Arrogants”.

          Well, I graduated from Purdue in 1973, so I guess I’m no more of a smartass than I already was.

  7. Rosalys says:

    “…I’m commenting here in part because I don’t think there remains much worthwhile discussion at NRO’s comment threads. (It also doesn’t help that I can’t trust that comments there won’t disappear without warning.)”

    This is not my parents’ National Review. How sad!

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