Religion Causes War, Part One

One of the most wearisome bromides of our dogmatic scientific atheists is the claim that religious belief — which they conveniently weave together with the question of the existence of God — causes wars and oppression. This is used as a rhetorical argument to undercut belief in a divine being, on the grounds that the extremes of religious enthusiasm cause men to fight and kill for their beliefs in ways that more rational, scientific men would not. There may be some truth, or at least half-truth, in this hypothesis — but on its face it is far from obvious that this contrast presents the dogmatic scientific atheist in a particularly favorable light. For one could argue — in fact, today it would be very difficult to find evidence against the proposition — that while religious enthusiasm may be more likely to lead to wars, dogmatic scientific atheism is more likely to lead to unconditional surrender.

This outcome should not even be surprising after a moment’s reflection upon the reason religious belief leads to wars (according to the dogmatic scientific atheists). In short, religious men fight, and risk their lives willingly, because they believe there is a cause, a goal, and a meaning higher than their own immediate physical survival or their own subjective preference. The dogmatic scientific atheist, by contrast, being what I would call a naïve materialist, clings steadfastly to his certainty — a dubiously rational presupposition, it seems to me — that there is nothing “higher” than himself, which is to say nothing in the universe but more matter, which may be mysterious in the sense of being unknown, but which cannot yield any ultimate meaning or purpose of life. Indeed, the dogmatic scientific atheist effectively denies that life itself is anything but a chance reaction of certain types of matter interacting in particular ways, and therefore insists that man’s existence as such is nothing warranting explanation at all, except in the same materialist scientific terms that everything else may be explained.

It follows from this fundamental difference between their views of life and its sources that the religious man is more likely to value the principles of his existence — higher beings, ultimate truths — above his own physical survival, whereas the dogmatic scientific atheist is more likely to value his immediate physical continuance. Hence, even in its noblest theoretical forms (which generally eschewed overt declarations of atheism), modern scientific materialism systematically reduced human nature and morality to “the desire for self-preservation,” deliberately opposing and dismantling the pre-modern moral premise that prioritizing one’s own material survival was not only dishonorable, but almost definitive of the vice of cowardice.

This, incidentally, explains why Locke elevated the right to property ownership to such an extraordinary level of significance in his theory of human nature. Seeing the danger in the modern political project he was helping to develop, namely that it could make men craven and low-minded in their adherence to mere survival as the primary goal of life, he sought to provide a sense of individual identity that would entail something beyond mere survival as such. He found his solution in the idea of self-ownership, the property right one naturally has in one’s own body and mind, and by extension in the product of one’s efforts. This, he and the other early liberal theorists hoped, would be the principle to elevate men above the desire for bare animal survival, and to unite them in communities dedicated to the mutual protection of property, which is to say of achievement, self-development, something distinctly human in us, rather than withering man down to a beast (or rather a collection of atoms) bent on simple material continuance.

The danger Locke seems to have intuited has now been borne out in historical facts. Take away from modern scientific-material man his dignifying reverence for property, and particularly for property’s key term, self-ownership, and behold the true, unadorned product of modern materialism, the unreflecting adherent to dogmatic scientific atheism: a man who will sacrifice anything rather than risk his life, who will comply with anything to avoid disturbing his most immediate material comfort, who will obey anything, and even rationalize his blind obedience as prudence, in a desperate attempt to evade the practical inconvenience of having to face up to his oppression honestly — let alone, nightmare of nightmares, to resist it.

When our dogmatic scientific atheists rail against the wars and killing carried out in the name of faith over the centuries, they inadvertently reveal their own lack of will to fight or die for anything. Lacking a belief in anything higher than themselves, but also having rejected the classical liberal exaltation of property rights as essential to the moral life, they are left with no meaning or purpose in their own lives nobler than physical survival — no passion for anything but wealth and comfort, no faith in anything but the power of government, no longing but the piddling lust for material self-preservation or self-gratification, and “peaceful coexistence” protected by an absolute state presiding over a pacified, disarmed, disimpassioned populace of obedient workers prepared to bow to any degradation rather than sacrifice their smartphones and soma. (That this extreme portrait of the moral life of the dogmatic scientific atheist may be met with real-life counterexamples is no argument against the principles I have outlined here. I have no doubt that the most prominent and successful dogmatic scientific atheists live, at times, for more than mere physical survival and comfort — which only goes to show that, much like their spiritual kin the moral relativists, these men cannot actually live consistently according to the principles they claim to espouse. They have some passions of their own, some “higher purposes,” all their quasi-rational arguments against enthousiasmos notwithstanding.)

Religious men have often killed and oppressed in the name of their gods. Religious men have also, in many cases, fought and died to defend freedom and resist tyranny in the name of their gods. Great passions and self-forgetting desires can have both damaging and ennobling effects, to be sure. The lack of passion, however, to the extent it becomes generalized throughout a civilization, leads in only one direction, and kills all belief in, or even hopes of, anything worth fighting for. The passion for something higher than himself makes man’s existence rough, painful, and uncertain — and also, at times, beautiful, glorious, and heroic. The passionless life of universalized dogmatic scientific atheism (“certainty,” as the adherent imagines it) reduces man’s existence to the mindless tides of matter in motion, and thus would erase all the defining achievements of our race by eliminating their motives. No one has ever risked his life, or staked his soul and his future, for comfort, pleasure, and entertainment. And only a naïve materialist would surrender himself to the reduction of being and freedom to nothing but a prolonged, “peaceful” continuum of comfort, pleasure, and entertainment.

The same passions that lead to war and oppression also lead to civilization, freedom, and art. The strategy of eliminating war and oppression by suppressing their passionate sources has proven, through the grand experiment of modern scientific materialism, to lead to the meek surrender of beauty and freedom, and unthinking compliance with each and every degradation of totalitarianism — the uniquely scientific perfection of tyranny — in the name of an ever more trivialized conception of self-preservation. When will our dogmatic scientific atheists, enlightened men of empirical facts and evidence as they see themselves, accept the certain and verifiable results of this experiment?

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