Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Sea Change

In the religious conservative Michael Novak's endorsement of Mitt Romney, one sentence jumped out at me:

I remember his father's campaigns and what an upright man he was — and no one even breathed a word against him because of his religion.

Mitt's father was George Romney.

George Wilcken Romney (July 8, 1907July 26, 1995) was an American businessman and a politician. He was chairman of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962. He then served as the 43rd governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969.

Romney was a candidate for President in 1968, ultimately losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. He is the father of former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Romney is famous for making one of the greatest blunders in the history of Presidential campaigns when he said, "When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." (Apparently, "I've been brainwashed by communists" is not the most effective campaign slogan.)

George Romney was a "Rockefeller Republican," the type of moderate that conservatives used to sneer at. It is interesting to note that his son Mitt is at least as moderate as the father, but the Republicans have become a big government party, so he is considered a mainstream conservative today. A Goldwater Republican, if there were any left, would be marginalized as an "extremist."

But to get back to Novak's statement, it raises the obvious question: why? Why was George Romney not attacked for being a Mormon, but his son Mitt is?

I've considered several closely related answers. Politics is dirtier and character attacks are more common now than they were 40 years ago. With the rise of the Religious Right, religion is a bigger factor in politics today. With the dumbing down of America, voters can't understand abstract issues anymore.

I've come to a broader explanation. 40 years ago religion was not taken seriously. Nobody thought to attack George Romney for his Mormonism because nobody thought it was important. Religion was relegated to "church on Sunday" and was not a factor in the rest of life.

Religion was not taken seriously in philosophy departments. Nietzsche's famous line, "God is dead," was a profound statement of the place of religion in the modern mind.

The last 40 years have seen a sea change in our culture. Philosophy has collapsed into the black hole of postmodernism and people are turning away from such nihilism to religion, mistaking its answers for values and ideals they can live by. Most people cannot tolerate the void of values they find in contemporary philosophy.

Today religion is taken seriously. Christian fundamentalists think Romney's Mormonism is of the utmost importance, and some might not vote for him because of his religion alone. Even the secular MSM discuss Romney's religion (although as the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party, there might be some cynicism in this as they work to destroy a Republican front runner).

The change in our culture that Leonard Peikoff warns us of is real and dangerous.

Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

We have seen a massive cultural change in the last few decades with the rise of religion. Unless this trend is reversed, freedom will continue to suffer. If you want an example of how religion and big government are allies, just look at the current presidency. Under "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based initiatives" state power has grown and individual rights have eroded. (No one uses the banner of "compassionate conservatism" to dismantle the welfare state and ensure the rights of individuals.)

UPDATE: Minor style edit.


Anonymous said...

If you are interested, here are three links to a religious conservative's website all having to do with Romney. These links reveal the Conservatives arguing among themselves about Mormonism. You will see that many of them disagree with Mormonism because it is *heretical* to Christianity.

This site belongs to a true Augustinian Christian Conservative and is a great barometer to judge the state of true traditionalist Christians.

John Kim

Anonymous said...

I agree with your evaluation, Myrhaf. I think you have nailed it on the head.


Myrhaf said...

John, that's quite a blog. In his post attacking National Review as atheist, I found this gem:

The reality is that we are bathed, we are immersed in the non-material every instant of our existence. Our life, our consciousness, our ability to form words and concepts, our very sense of selfhood, all these things exist in a realm outside of matter, a realm invisible to material investigation and therefore nonexistent according to Steorts. An atheist is like a man standing in the sun with an umbrella over his head insisting the sun doesn't exist and despising people for saying that it does.

The only difference is that there is evidence for sunlight, but no evidence for what this blogger calls reality.

This blogger is merely more consistent than most conservatives. As such, he is probably the vanguard; 10 years from now they'll all sound like him.

Inspector, I'm always glad when you agree. I hate to get into an argument that stretches 45 comments long.

johnnycwest said...

Very good post - you are correct. I attended church and Sunday school when I was young and church was much more like a feel good social club back then - in the late 60's. As you point out, the dumbing down has lead many to consider arguing over religion to be deep abstract discourse. I have seen religion move into a more central place in many peoples' lives. It is taken much more seriously by many.

It has also become "cool" to be religious - yick!

I understand that JFK was controversial in some circles because he was Catholic. I would think this was more simple tribalism - he is not one of us - than anything substantial beyond some vague fear of the pope influencing the presidency. When I was young, one's choice of religion seemed akin to being a Ford or Chevy family.

I think Leonard Peikoff is absolutely correct in pointing to the extreme danger of the rise of religion - no other threat to our society comes close.

Anonymous said...

"This blogger is merely more consistent than most conservatives. As such, he is probably the vanguard; 10 years from now they'll all sound like him."

That's the danger. I read Auster's blog consistently to get a sense of where the conservative movement is going and it is scary. He is a racialist who views non-whites and non-Asians as intellectually inferior and not possessing the same civilizational abilities as whites. He therefore supports racial separatism as well as the ending of all immigration (especially of non-whites). He wants to end female suffrage as he feels that women will always vote for the caretaker state. He wants to turn back sexual liberation by force by censoring Hollywood; he doesn't want there to be any depictions of heterosexual relations out of marriage. Why? Because sexual liberation leads to liberalism which leads to a people that are not right with God and such a people will not defend themselves against Islam. Oh and that brings us to his anti-Islam views. Yes it is good to be anti-Islam, but I've come to see that Christians like Auster really oppose Islam because it is a competitor of Christianity. To finish off Auster's views, he is militantly anti-secular, anti-atheist (they are not real Americans because America is a country "under God"), he despises homosexuals and believes they must be forced back in the closet, and boy does he hate Darwin and material science (unless it proves the inferiority of blacks), and the finale, he hates immigration (what a surprise).

The scary thing as you suggest is that in ten, twenty or thirty years the majority of Christians may not sound like Bush and Huckabee. They will sound like Auster. In such a culture Objectivism will have to go underground. Those type of Augustinian Christians will not allow it.

I am starting to really agree with Dr. Peikoff. The M2 Christians are coming. The D1 and D2 Leftists time will soon be up and those M2s are waiting in the wings. Scary stuff.

John Kim

Anonymous said...


BTW, here are some comments from that discussion the conservatives are having regarding atheism. See how many philosophical flaws you can detect. Its a case study in philosophical detection. And only Objectivists can provide answers. Not that the conservatives would ever listen:

"Steorts insists that religious belief can be credible to a wholly rational thinker on wholly rational grounds. What are the wholly rational grounds for a reliance on rationality?"

"Parts of the world can explain other parts of the world, but the world cannot explain itself. Unless there be some ultimate foundation for explanation, which does not itself stand in need of explanation, no explanation whatsoever can be complete."

"Hume unanswerably demonstrated that it is impossible to prove on the basis of sensory experience alone that the world is rational."

"Thus unless there be some such ultimate foundation for all explanation, it will be impossible for us to understand anything, even provisionally, and justify a claim that we have any epistemological purchase on things... Thus it is not theism that must demonstrate its rationality, but atheism."

And finally this:

"The modern West is the first atheist culture in history. The mission of conservatism is to resist liberalism and unbelief."

and this:

"But now NR--once upon a time an essentially Catholic magazine--has made itself a mouthpiece for atheism instead of serving as a refuge against it."

Can you imagine, condemning NRO because it is not religous enough.

John Kim

Anonymous said...

My last comment, I promise. But I can't resist posting this from arch empiricist Richard Dawkins:

"Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software..."

As disgusting as the Christian Right is, I can almost (almost) understand why they have such hatred for "secularists." When they look at a guy like Dawkins (and Dennett and Sam Harris), they see someone who really is a materialist. Their knee-jerk reaction is therefor back to God, Jesus and "transcendence." Both sides of the false alternative.

Thank God (metaphorically speaking) for Ayn Rand.

John Kim

Anonymous said...

Inspector, I'm always glad when you agree. I hate to get into an argument that stretches 45 comments long."

Ah, what are you worried about? You'd just lurk in it anyway!


Seriously, though, great post. "Sea Change" is right - and I don't like the look of them there seas.


Myrhaf said...

No one has seen him... and yet they know he is there. Men call him... the LURKER.

[cue music stinger]

Myrhaf said...

John, that Hume quote is a nice example of how subjectivism leads to intrincisism. When men lose confidence in the evidence of the senses, they turn to faith.

In general, the answers to this argument start with "Existence exists." This statement is true and cannot be refuted. From there I would note that A is A, a thing is what it is, every entity has identity.

The problem with mystics is that you're dealing with people whose philosophy rests on their emotional whim. They believe in God because they want to. Usually it's a waste of time to argue with them.

EdMcGon said...

I have to disagree with your post's basic premise. Considering what JFK went through in his election, I would say religion was far more of a limelight topic than it is today.

I would say the reason George Romney's religion did not get vetted was because he was going up against the 800-pound political gorilla Nixon. He never had a chance against Nixon anyway, so why bother vetting Romney?

The difference for Mitt is that he does have a chance in this generally weak GOP field, so his religion has to be considered.

Myrhaf said...

I think the Catholic problem with JFK was more of a conspiracy theory thing than a matter of religion. People were worried that JFK would "take orders" from the Pope. There's a long history of this fear of a papist conspiracy going back to Henry VIII.

johnnycwest said...

The specific details of historical periods will always allow for different interpretations of similar events. We cannot allow those details and differences to obscure the essentials. There is no doubt that religion is becoming a much more potent force in the world and in the United States. We deny this at our peril.

Myrhaf, your post is spot on - the essential fact is that religion is taken much more seriously now. It is central to many people's lives and their politics. We are in for the biggest fight for our civilization and perhaps our lives.

Religion resonates with some people and their psychology in ways that communism, statism generally or environmentalism never can. I wonder if Ayn Rand were writing Atlas Shrugged now, she would include more on the dangers of religion than statism by itself - different sides of the same irrational coin. Of course religious rule would lead to statism. I would prefer a non-religious statist to a religious one.

Anonymous said...

"The problem with mystics is that you're dealing with people whose philosophy rests on their emotional whim. They believe in God because they want to. Usually it's a waste of time to argue with them."

I agree, but the arguments that more scientifically aware mystics offer for the proof of god are quite sophisticated. I was shocked by this. Now ultimately its pointless to try to convince them because no one who dedicates himself to the defense of god against science can ever by persuaded by argument. But that being said, if one were to try, it would take more than just basic philosophy to do it. I think you would need to know a fair amount about science. Also, mystics rely on the "gaps" of science (and by that I mean what science has not figured out yet like sub-atomic stuff) to posit their god.

If you have the stomach for it, here is a rather sophisticated attempt at "proving" the existence of god and a discussion that follows it by true believing Christians. After reading this, I'm not entirely sure that religionists like these base their belief solely on feelings. They think that because of the failure of current science to answer really deep metaphysical questions that this proves an "ordering power" created the universe. What I'm thinking as a result of this is that it may be the case that religion and god wont fully be dead until rational philosophy can penetrate the hard sciences and answer the questions of quantum theory, free will, metaphysical indeterminacy, etc, etc. Today's skeptics aren't going to convince anyone of anything.

John Kim