February 02, 2011
Elite views on religion and censorship
What is true about elite attitudes to WikiLeaks also applies to religion and censorship. I am pretty confident that many of the elites in society are convinced that there is no god and that religious books like the Bible are fiction. As James Mill said to his son John Stuart Mill, "There is no God, but it's a family secret." But they do not share this fact with ordinary people either because they think they cannot handle the truth or they think that religious belief is a good mechanism for social control.
Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate (2002, p. 131) quotes neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol on this firm belief amongst the elites that people should be shielded from the truth. Kristol said in an interview:
"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. 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."
In an interview with Humanist Network News (HNN), Pinker says that Kristol thought that atheism is true but should be kept a secret, reserved for just a few. These people even advocated 'intelligent design' as a strategy for keeping the atheistic implications evolution by natural selection at bay, even though they realized that it lacked any evidence in support.
HNN: You mention Irving Kristol in your book The Blank Slate, and his opposition to the teaching of evolution, based on the notion that people can't handle the truth and need the security of religion. Irving wrote that atheism was a truth that should be held in secret by a few sages.
SP: It is ironic that the secular Jewish intellectuals should be more conservative on evolution than the pope, or at least the last pope. This new pope has lurched to the right. John Paul II agreed that evolution was the best explanation for the human body and for and bodies and brains of animals.
HNN: Would you call that theistic evolution?
SP: Yes, that's it. Evolution is responsible for everything but the human soul. We got a soul injection. Actually, it wasn't even John Paul that introduced that idea. That was introduced by Pius in 1953 in his encyclical acknowledging the evolution of man.
HNN: What do you think, though, about Kristol's idea that most people need religion and that atheism is a truth that they can't handle?
SP: This is an idea associated with Leo Strauss. This is an empirical hypothesis, and I think it has been falsified. Namely, the nations of Europe are overwhelmingly secular, many of them are majority atheist, and yet their rates of violence are far lower than American states in the Bible Belt. So if you want to know what kind of ideology leads people to be civilized versus to shoot each other to death, we have the answer: the atheist countries have homicide rates of one per 100,000, while Southern American states have rates 10 times as high.
The reason that some of these atheist intellectuals foster religion is because of their firm belief that only they have the intellectual mettle to deal with the absence of an external meaning to life that a denial of god implies. Pinker quotes Kristol as saying (p. 131): "If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded – or even if it suspects – that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe."
Of course, there is no evidence at all that this is an 'indisputable fact'. This is simply Kristol's belief that supports his smug assumption that only a few people like him are possessed of an intellectual fortitude that can handle a godless universe. The fact is that atheists of all stripes lead happy and meaningful lives without the crutch that belief in god provides.
It is the same with censorship. The people who want to censor what others can read and see are only too willing to act as judges and preview materials to decide what should and should not be released to the public. But why is it that they think they can watch and read this material without themselves being corrupted? Are they superhuman? Kirby Dick's documentary This film is not yet rated (2006) describes the secretive private organization that determines the ratings that films receive in the US. This unelected and unrepresentative group of people has taken upon itself the 'burden' of sparing us from seeing things that its members think might harm us but they are somehow immune to. They cannot, of course, ban films but the ratings they give can result in films not being selected for screening in most theaters, thus effectively preventing people from having access to them.
In all these cases, we see an elite that reserves to itself the right to have access to information and decide what is appropriate to be shared with the rest of us.