It remains a remarkable piece of intellectual compartmentalization that anyone commenting on the United States, a culture dominated by Christians, who hold nearly 100% of positions of power in our government, and who dominate our prisons as well, could blame all our ills on atheists. It would be like someone in pre-war Iraq, with its Sunni dominated government and Shia dominated populace, blaming all their problems on the Kurds.
Yet here comes Melanie Phillips to tell us exactly that:
"I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda -- and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.
The financial crisis was brought about essentially by a public which threw away all notions of prudence and committed itself to spending today what it could never afford to pay back tomorrow, and a banking, regulatory and political sector which ruthlessly and cynically exploited and encouraged such catastrophic irresponsibility with a criminal disregard of the ruinous consequences for the poor. The financial crisis and our social meltdown are thus combining to form a perfect cultural storm.
The link between all that and the US presidential election is – as Oliver himself acknowledges – the figure of Sarah Palin. It seems to me that the reason she has sparked such an unprecedented campaign of lies, smears, abuse and dangerously unhinged hatred (if you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the readers’ posts on this very site) is because, as I wrote in the Mail on Monday, she stands against the tide of secular nihilism in the culture wars. Oliver and I dare say Hitchens (although I have not discussed this with him) may be shoulder to shoulder with me on foreign policy but they stand on the other side from me in the culture wars – what I see as nihilism, I suspect they view as progressive -- and it is no coincidence that they both stand also for militant (or in Oliver’s case, rather less militant) atheism which they assume (falsely, in my view) is synonymous with rationality. Palin’s evangelical Christianity, and the moral and social positions that flow from that faith, would therefore strike them as beyond appalling. That’s why Oliver sees her as embodying anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism...
I don’t much care whether Palin believes in a hundred ridiculous things before breakfast -- because what she stands for is a defence of bedrock western moral values against the nihilistic onslaught. Although like many others I do not like the way she has used her family on public platforms, the fact remains that the reason the image of her cradling her Down’s Syndrome baby Trig was so electrifying was that she was making the most explicit statement possible that, in a society which has so lost its respect for human life that it believes it is actually a progressive act to destroy unborn lives 'on demand' (and Obama actually opposed anti-infanticide legislation in the Illinois state senate) she stands for a culture of life against our culture of death, which sees no innate value in human life and will destroy it with increasing abandon if it is not deemed to be ‘useful’ enough.
The moral relativists -- most viciously embedded on the left but represented in conservative circles too under the ambiguous banner of libertarianism which prevents such circles from grasping the threat being posed to real liberty -- understand very well indeed that, as the first culture warrior from the opposing camp to stand on the threshold of power, Palin poses a threat to the established amoral order which must be resisted with all the ferocity they can summon. That is why she has been the target of this astonishing campaign of lies and smears -- most of which have been uncritically accepted by large numbers of people who play no role in the culture wars at all, but believe that if the media say something is so with one voice, then it must indeed be so."
What planet does this woman live on? Fortunately, she has an astute group of commentors, and they fisk her well:
"It would be interesting to see what percentage of people who took out subprime mortgages are atheists. I suspect that number would be quite low, in which case your analysis of the causes of the present crisis seems unfounded, at best.
Also, as has been said before, you can start talking about 'militant atheism' when atheists blow up St. Paul's Cathedral. Until then the militancy is all on the side of the Judeo-Christian tradition (of which Islam is part)."
" I take exception to your assertion that moral good can only come from a religious background."
"let's face it, imams and ayatollahs are religious, Osama bin Laden is religious.
I and many other humanists defend 'bedrock western moral values'. We support Israel, we understand the power of the Enlightenment."
"We really must find out where these militant atheists hold their meetings, find out who is in charge and in the name of God put a stop to them!"
"Unfortunately Sarah Palin wouldn't understand a word of what Melanie has written, and having read it twice, I'm still having difficulty in getting a handle on it.
What is all this stuff about Obama being a 'candidate of this cultural Marxist onslaught against western values'. The closest he gets to being a so-called Marxist is his belief in 'spreading the wealth around'........does that make Gordon Brown a Marxist?
And what 'western values'could Melanie be talking about? The values that have brought poverty, wars and the degradation of the natural environment to this planet?
Perhaps Obama is on the right side of history.....to lead the 'onslaught' on these values."
"If, as Melanie says, the current financial breakdown is a moral crisis, which she then attributes to 'militant atheism', how is it that there is a financial crisis in the USA, which is still a deeply religious country? How come their bedrock Christian values didn't save them from this malaise? Or is the problem entirely due to atheist bankers?
And while she is answering that, perhaps she can give us a proper definition of 'militant atheism'. In fact, Melanie implies atheism is the same as nihilism, and lazily yolks together atheism with moral relativism and political correctness. Does she really think people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are moral relativists and nihilists? Of course not. The truth is more complex. What riles many religious people is the fact that it is possible to be an atheist and a decent, moral human being. For some reason, they find that thought uncomfortable and threatening."
"Atheists make up a tiny percentage of Americans, perhaps 5%. There are virtually no atheists in prisons. We caused all these problems? Get a life."
"Can you really be serious? Morality is so obviously improved by atheism, as Norway and other predominantly atheistic nations demonstrate. The places with problems are those who cling to superstition. Morality is impaired by religion, not the other way around (Palin is a great example of this)."
I can't improve much on that. There is a de facto religious litmus test for American politics, and atheists flunk it. Believers control the government, and yet we are to believe atheists are to blame for all of this? Atheist Democrats of course. It is amazing how consistently the party of personal responsibility attempts to blame those absent from positions of power for all our ills.